As Mariana Zylstra walked across the stage as a new graduate of Free State High School in 1999, she had no idea that she would become a professional dancer in Brazil. She and her husband, Slleyk, will be featured on Monday’s edition of “Dance the World” on the Travel Channel. The show airs at 9 p.m. on Knology Channel 67.
“Against my father’s advice to take a couple months to decide what I really wanted, … I put my shades on and headed to Arizona State University in search of what I wanted to be, who I was and who I would become,” Zylstra said.
At ASU she started off as an architect major because she loved art and “was good at math, so I figured it was a good match,” Zylstra said.
However, Zylstra would not stay committed to the architecture world for long and graduated from ASU with a degree in plant biology and medicinal remedies in 2003.
Zylstra wanted to attend a naturopathic medical school, but did not have the funds and found a job as an administrative assistant at the Fannie Mae Arizona Community Business Center.
“It was at this time that I was first introduced to capoeira,” Zylstra said. “I was earning good money and dancing on the side as a hobby.”
After seeing Zylstra in action, the dance director asked her to lead the group while she was away.
Zylstra “eagerly agreed,” and although she did not know it at the time, this would be one of the best decisions of her life.
Dance took Zylstra to heights and places her imagination could not have even prepared her for.
“It’s funny how certain things just seem to happen. Looking back it almost seems like it was meant to be, but at the time I was devastated,” Zylstra said.
She was “devastated” because she lost her job at Fannie Mae because of the recent housing crisis, but she used money from her severance package to pay for a trip to Brazil.
She had met her husband taking lessons from Rosangela Silvestre, and learned much more as she adjusted to the everyday life of Salvador, Bahia, Brazil.
“I met my husband, Slleyk da Bahia, and I fell in love with his ‘alegria’ or happiness and his philosophy of life,” Zylstra said.
Zylstra is now 29 and pursuing her master’s degree in dance. She is fluent in Portuguese; has created two dance companies, three websites and a clothing company; and currently works as a translator/interpreter communications director “while also finding the time to teach English, yoga and give a couple of massages.”
“Looking back, I wish I would have taken my dad’s advice, but then again I probably wouldn’t be where I am today,” Zylstra said.