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Dancer’s ‘All In’ makes dream come true

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Shania Hernandez as a member of the Denver Nuggets Dancers. (Gina Hernandez Photo)

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For Shania Hernandez, there was a burning desire inside of her that would not let her work, sleep or eat until she knew if she had done everything in her power to make it happen. Hernandez had an uneasiness in her stomach because she felt like life was passing her by. Hernandez was unhappy because she felt like she wasn’t doing the thing she was put here on earth to do: dance. Hernandez didn’t think she was working toward her destiny.

Born to dance

Dance has been a part of her life since she was a 2-year-old kid in Georgia. Hernandez would be outside of the room in the hallway practicing the same routine her sister, Tialana, was performing in dance class.

“She was 5 when she started competing,” her mother Gina Hernandez said. “She has always wanted to dance and loved dance, so we let her pursue it.”

Shania Hernandez as a member of Charlie’s Angels. (Arnold Roe Photo)

Upon moving to Roswell, Hernandez took tap, jazz, and ballet from Miss Minnie’s and future mentor Kim Castro. Hernandez danced for Charlie’s Angels for four years. She loved to dance so much she lived it morning, noon and night.

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“Since I moved to Roswell,” Hernandez stated, “Kim (Castro) has been the coach who has pushed me to make sure I got everything done, and she never let me quit.”

Shania Hernandez was an all-around athlete and a standout gymnastic performer and did cheer at Gateway Christian when she was in middle school. She did tumbling, she played basketball, ran track and played soccer while in high school at Roswell. She was so good as an athlete in high school that she was offered a track scholarship from New Mexico State University in the high jump.

Shania Hernandez as a member of the University of New Mexico Lobo cheerleading squad. (Gina Hernandez Photo)

When she went to college at the University of New Mexico, she wanted to test herself against the best. The dance team had tryouts with girls from all over the country. Hernandez was friends with Castro’s daughter, Allie, who was a year older than her and already on the UNM team.

Before trying out, Castro went to all of UNM’s dance clinics with Hernandez and her mother and helped her with the dance routines. During these grueling sessions, Castro would help her with technique, choreography and give her tips about what she needed to fix before trying out.

“Shania (Hernandez) always had great ability,” Castro said. “I saw it in her when she was younger and I taught her at Miss Minnie’s before she even got into high school. I taught her ballet, dance, and jazz when she was younger and then she had gymnastic skills which helped her out.”

Hernandez states that the toughest part about the UNM tryout was that style was different because she had not done it before. All of the work and preparation worked because she made the team and was a member of the UNM dance team for four years.

Another difference between UNM and Roswell is that at Roswell, they don’t do court-side dancing, which took her a little time to get used to.

“Kim taught, and teaches everybody,” Hernandez said, “that it’s not what you think is good enough, but you can always do better. That attitude always prepared me for whatever team I tried out for. My mindset was that I know that I can do that, but I need to do it better to reach that next level. I would always hear Kim in the back of my mind saying, ‘that’s good, but you can do better.’”

All In

A fan from UNM asked Hernandez if she was ready to quit dancing. She went home that day and started looking at teams and watched some of the Nuggets and noticed their dancing style was the closest to what she was used to doing.

“I noticed how sharp the Nuggets danced,” Hernandez said. “I saw how they were the closest to how Roswell danced and that they were one team. Denver seemed like the perfect fit. So, I just decided to move here and tryout.”

Not one to rest on her laurels, a friend told Hernandez about the Denver Nuggets having an open tryout. Hernandez told her mother and father, Gina and Adam Hernandez that she was moving to Denver.

Both told Shania Hernandez that she wasn’t set up to make such a big move. In Shania Hernandez’s mind, it was settled, it was her Waterloo moment in life. She moved to Denver on a leap of faith.

She quit her job, found a job, rented an apartment and selected roommates. Whether she made the Nuggets or not, there was no turning back or returning to Albuquerque. As soon as she got to Denver, she found a job in marketing.

“I put all of my eggs in one basket,” Hernandez said. “I relied on all the training I had gotten and hoped for the best.”

Hernandez would have been nervous and a little intimidated before the Denver Nuggets tryout. But she had been through so many different tryouts and felt that she had trained for the Nuggets tryout her entire life. Hernandez had a calmness during the tryout.

“Normally, I’m nervous,” Hernandez said, “but during the tryout, I wasn’t. I felt like I had all of the training I was going to get and thought, if it happens, (making the team) it happens.”

The Nuggets tryout was a full day tryout, then she went to training camp for a week. On the following Saturday, she had a final tryout. Hernandez says it was a two-week process with practices and interviews in between. She went through training camp and then she found out she made it on the team a week later.

Hernandez was one of 16 ladies to make the team out of the hundreds that tried out. Shania Hernandez was good enough to supplant a couple of veterans. There were 15 veterans returning to the team and she felt it was a really tough tryout. She would like to dance as long as she can and plans to tryout next year.

“I had doubts,” Hernandez said. “It is normal, but at the end of the day, it’s about how hard you worked all these years. That’s the thing Kim tells all the girls every single day at practice, ‘The practice you put in now is going to make up for it at the end of the day.’ I just had to look at it that way. I danced for 20 years and I was ready.”

Hernandez feels like it’s not only the dancing and work she put in, but it is the mindset instilled in her by Castro. A mindset that she had trained as hard as she can and she is ready to achieve and compete, it’s just whether she (Hernandez) would go out there and perform or not.

“I think her being a Lobo dancer got her ready for the Nuggets,” Castro said. “I wasn’t surprised that she made it, I was surprised she made it that fast. I feel like anyone that’s on my team, I will do my best to prepare them for the next level if they’re serious about it and they have the ability. I knew she could do it if she really wanted to do it. She had natural talent and was a hard worker, as well.”

Castro thinks that if dancers can get through her program, the sky is the limit for them. Discipline is one of the keys to her program and success.

“She has come into her own,” Gina Hernandez said. “She (Shania Hernandez) knows who she is, and doesn’t compromise who she thinks she is for somebody else.”