PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — For Mileyka Mateo, dance is everything and always has been.
"Dance is my outlet you know if I’m having a bad day, I dance. If I’m having a happy day, I dance. It’s where I get away and where I can find myself," she said.
According to her mom, Milka Rodriguez, she was hooked from her first lesson.
Rodriguez recalled, "If she was sleeping and I was watching one of her routines and she hears the music she would move her arms in her sleep so dance was the magic touch for her."
Her passion for the art of the dance guided her to Bak Middle School of the Arts, Dreyfoos School of the Arts, and Southern Dance Theater.
"This is my home studio where I grew up dancing in it’s a really special place for me," said Mateo.
Mateo, a proud Puerto Rican, said at various stages of her dancing journey as a young girl she faced bullying for looking different than other dancers.
There were tears she said, but at the end of the day it pushed her to work harder.
"I hope that I can be a role model for these young girls especially that feel that they don’t have anyone that looks like them and that they may feel outcast that you can do it you just have to continue striving just believe in yourself and you will make it," Mateo said.
Mateo’s mom said the hard work was coupled with sacrifices to make sure they could pay for costumes and trips to competitions.
"I really enjoy watching her dance now," said Rodriguez, "I remember not paying my bills so I can send her to anywhere the group was going."
The hard work and sacrifice paid off for Mateo, after graduating she signed a Broadway contract to perform in Westside Story.
"It’s about Puerto Ricans and you know, the racism and the racial controversy that is still alive today," said Mateo.
Her cast ended up winning a Grammy Award for their recording of the production. For a young Hispanic American woman, the opportunity was special and reinforced for her the importance of representation in the arts.
Mateo said, "I cried my opening night onstage happy tears of joy. Blood, sweat and tears."
Her accolades continue from there - landing a spot on the Orlando Magic dance team and sharing the stage with other influential Hispanic American women you might recognize during last year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show.
“I think my proudest moment was being part of the super bowl halftime show with Shakira and J LO because it was two women so that was history and second of all they were Hispanic so it was amazing to be onstage with two women who have impacted the world in so many ways,” said Mateo.
In a full circle moment, Mateo is back home where she plans on teaching dance in the Palm Beach County School District.
"If I could just change one life that’d be enough for me so I just hope I can do that," said Mateo.
From a stage a little bigger than her bedroom, we have the feeling she’ll inspire many more.