The art of persistence and self-belief is a common thread among top athletes and performers. And Kiwi dancer Angelika Zueva is a first hand example of the value of tenacity and determination.
While the accomplished professional dancer has enjoyed riding the wave of success, auditioning for singers the calibre of Cher, Jason Derulo and Nicki Minaj; she has also had to overcome setbacks and disappointment, more recently learning to cope with the physical and mental challenges of a potentially career destroying injury.
Just months after taking a huge (and scary) risk; leaving New Zealand to pursue her dreams in LA, a torn ACL put a halt to her rapidly progressing career.
Currently back home in New Zealand recuperating from surgery, she’s determined not to give up. INSPO finds out more:
Having started dancing as a youngster, it was love at first twirl for Angelika and she knew she wanted dance to be part of her future.
“From a very young age I knew that all I ever wanted to do was perform and entertain. I’ve been fortunate to work with top New Zealand choreographers, dancing as one of the original members of Rina Chae’s company Street Candee, and working on many live and television performances,” she says.
After packing up her life, Angelika decided to fully back her dreams, moving to Los Angeles in 2017.
“In less than a year I was fortunate to work with some top LA choreographers on jobs like Kids Choice Awards, Jimmy Kimmel and Soul Train Awards and others. However, my story isn’t as simple as it may sound.”
Despite being completely new to the LA scene, Angelika was signed with one of the top dance agencies less than two months after her move.
“This was a big deal,” she admits, “as representation is essential to making it as a professional dancer in LA – no agent means no auditions which means no jobs. For many people it can take a long time to get signed with a top agency, sometimes even a couple of years, so getting signed so quickly really was a big deal.”
Angelika was thrust straight into the limelight, with her first audition after getting signed for music legend Cher, followed by Jason Derulo, Nicki Minaj and JoJo Siwa among others.
“Despite being new in LA and unfamiliar to choreographers, I was fortunate to get to the final stages of many auditions and booked a couple of my first jobs.”
After such a promising start, life took a dramatically unexpected turn just two months later.
“By complete accident I tore the ACL ligament in my knee during a dance class. This required surgery, along with facing a lengthy nine month recovery before returning to full dance ability.
“It’s fair to say that I was completely devastated,” she says. “I’d made drastic changes in my life moving to the other side of the world to pursue my dream – only to get injured just four months after the move.
“It really is all about how we deal with what life throws at us.”
“I went from dancing every single day to not being able to dance at all.
‘It would have been really easy to just give up and come back to New Zealand, but I knew I had to pull myself together and make it work. I couldn’t just go home.”
Following her surgery (in LA) and completely restricted from dancing, Angelika started thinking of other ways she could be involved in the industry she loved.
“I reached out to a couple of choreographers, and Chris Smith (whose credits include Kanye West, Rae Sremmurd and French Montana) needed a personal assistant.
“The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. For the first few months after my surgery I couldn’t dance, so Chris got me to do PR type jobs and I got him a couple of magazine and podcast interviews.
“As I continued to recover from my surgery, he got me involved more with dance jobs that he choreographed. Although my knee wasn’t fully recovered and I couldn’t perform on stage, I was able to help during his choreography and rehearsal process for various big jobs, including the iHeartRadio Festival in Las Vegas, The Four on Fox (television singing competition with DJ Khaled, Diddy, Meghan Trainor and Fergie), Soul Train Awards and Teen Choice Awards.
“I was able to learn so much through these experiences, as a dancer and as a person. When I reflect back on it, it’s crazy to think that at my lowest point I could’ve just given up and flown back home.”
Angelika admits that the change of pace and focus wasn’t easy; “especially knowing that dancers with whom I danced with were still going to auditions, booking jobs, going to dance class and getting better.
“I had to focus on the bigger picture; knowing that my knee would recover and while waiting do what I could to stay involved in the industry, and work to make myself stronger.”
A trip home to New Zealand to visit family coincided with the final stages of recovery, and Angelika anticipates returning fully to dancing soon, with her recovery tracking well.
“I have a few dance jobs lined up while here in New Zealand, and plan to return to LA soon, hopefully to pick up where I left off before my surgery. This time hopefully stronger and better, and with more industry knowledge.
“I want to share my story, as hopefully my experience can inspire others who want to make that leap to pursue their dream, or are perhaps experiencing a setback like I have.
“It really is all about how we deal with what life throws at us. I’m sure glad I pushed through my setback and didn’t give up on myself and my dream.”