When Miracles Happen
The Story of Auti Angel
By Natalie J. Maniscalco & photos by Alejandro Hidalgo
"Once a dancer, always a dancer. The spirit of dance never dies, no matter what happens to your body,” says Auti Angel, a dancer, singer and actress from California who recently performed an awe-inspiring number at the 7th Annual Connecticut SalsaFest to raise money for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Born and raised in a tough neighborhood in the suburbs of California, Auti grew up with a passion for the performing arts and an instant attraction to hip hop dancing. "I was J.Lo before J.Lo," Auti says with a laugh, "I danced with LL Cool J and went on tour with different rap artists. I was about to sign a record deal as part of an all-Latin female Hip Hop group when the course of my life changed in one single moment almost 20 years ago.” While driving home she was side swiped by an unknown driver who fled the scene of the accident after she swerved out of control to hit the center divider head on, severing her spinal cord, and leaving her paralyzed from the waist down. “That was May 3, 1992, a day I will never forget,” she continues. “The record company wasn't willing to wait, but I told them, 'I'm still me!' The group tried to replace me, but they couldn't and fell apart. I was saddened they didn't move forward because they still needed to follow their dreams."
Wheelchair bound, she faced a challenging future, with the expectations by others that she would no longer be able to dance. “I went to rehab and they only taught me to become dependent on being in the chair. But then I learned my first wheelie trick and I didn’t have to let the wheel chair control me any longer,” she says. “I was born to be a dancer and this is why I can still dance in a wheelchair.”
Although she’s made incredible strides within the hip hop industry and has proven that her wheelchair, currently decked out in silver chrome and leopard fabric, is not a crutch, she’s now beginning to learn new Salsa moves and tricks. Audiences at the 7th Annual CT SalsaFest held at the Hilton Hotel in Stamford during Memorial Day Weekend had the honor of seeing Auti perform her new salsa routine for the first time. Standing ovations and tearful eyes testified to how much of an impact this incredible woman has on so many people.
"I'm still here to show people there is a reason to be here and to help people find their purpose,” says Auti Angel. "Learn to love yourself. Remember that God never gives us anything that we cannot handle. So no matter what obstacle or challenge may come your way; it is always 'Overcome-Able!' Find your beauty in the rawest form and you will capture and affect your inner soul. If you're not dead, there's got to be a reason why you're still alive, so live life to the fullest and fulfill Your Purpose to reach your destiny."
Auti continues to be an inspiration in so many ways including the development of a new non-profit organization Save A Soul Foundation (www.SAVEASOUL.info), a mentor based program for at-risk youth. “My ultimate goal is to have a youth center that will provide resources and tutoring, while teaching different trades that will apply to their goals in life,” she explains. “It will include at risk kids who are able-bodied and disabled. Save a Soul grew out of my own experience when I was asked to speak at the Los Angeles Central Juvenile Center. It seemed to set them free to hear me and hear my story. I was moved to reach out to our at risk youth. I could hear God's voice saying, 'Save A Soul. Once you save one soul, that soul saves another soul, so it repeats itself.'"
Auti has chosen to see and live her world as an expansion with infinite possibilities and horizons clearly defined. Life often seems unfair and challenging, forcing some people to make difficult choices and decisions on how they want to live their life. It takes a level of commitment, determination, and patience to get through the rough times, especially when it seems easier to just give up. We all fall down and although it’s tough, Auti is the purest of examples that life is really about how you pick yourself back up. And as she likes to explain, “I am a rolling miracle and a follower of my heart’s desires.”
For more information about Auti Angel, please visit www.autiangel.com