Sandra Urquiaga started working as a DJ simply because of her lifelong love of music. She was, after all, always buying the new releases once they came out and would make tapes for friends by recording different songs from the music she had.
"As a kid, I would always try to record mixes on the radio by Bad Boy Bill, [who] was one of my favorites," Urquiaga said. "At that time, I only knew of the music I heard on the popular radio stations. As I got older and started going out to the clubs, I came across a lot of house music."
Today, Urquiaga is also known as DJ Sandra Suave, spinning a wide variety of music: hip hop, Latin, house, reggae, disco, and more. House music is her favorite to spin and also her favorite to dance to.
"The more I went out, the more I got interested in [being a] DJ," she said. "Most of the time, I would just stand in the DJ booth and watch the DJ's work, watch how they moved the crowd, the techniques they used, and just how much they enjoyed it."
About 15 years ago, she watched Bad Boy Bill and Paul Johnson spin at the Metro. She also stood about 10 feet from DJ Jazzy Jeff when he played a hip-hop set at the now-closed Crobarand she studied every movement he made, how precise and calculated he was." I loved watching the DJs so much that I asked one of my DJ friends to help me pick out my first set of DJ equipment and began learning to DJ as a hobby," she said.
DJ Sandra Suave has opened for some of the best DJs in the city and played in some of the top local venues, such as the House of Blues, the Godfrey Hotel, the Shrine, Dolphin, Progress Bar, Evil Olive and more.
Urquiaga, 36, who lives in the Irving Park/Avondale neighborhood, is an out lesbian and "in a relationship," she said. Urquiaga is a special education teacher for CPS, and a part-time club and mobile DJ. Every Friday night, DJ Sandra Suave is at EM Lounge, 4247 W. Armitage Ave.
Urquiaga was born and raised in Chicago and attended Delaware State University on a full-tuition basketball scholarship and played for the Hornets from 1996-2000. She then returned to Chicago, continuing her sports ventures through local amateur leagues. She also competed in flag football and softball in the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago.
She recently graduated from Scratch Academy"to further enhance my skills as a DJ and keep true to the art of DJing," Urquiaga said. "I was taught a variety of scratch and mixing techniques from world-renowned DJs."
She competed this year in her first DJ battle at the Center on Halsted.
"Unfortunately I didn't win, but I had a great time performing," she said.
DJ Sandra Suave made her debut in 2004 when she and two other women started an event-planning and promotions company called B.BLYSS! Productions. They produced events which catered to upscale and professional women of diverse cultures, backgrounds, sexualities and interests. They still continue to host events.
"My first night DJing was at one of our events in 2004 or 2005," Urquiaga said. "I had been DJing just as a hobby prior to that. I was the opening DJ and I was extremely nervous. I was [worried] I would mess up. Back then I used all vinyl so I was always terrified of bumping the needle off the record. Sometimes I would even have slight anxiety and couldn't stand it when people would try to talk to me while DJing. I didn't want to lose focus. At times my business partners would come up to ask me questions and I would shoo them away because I didn't want to be distracted. That's how nervous I [was]. I remember it went OK for my first time. The advantage I had was that I knew the crowd, so I knew what kind of music to play.
"Over time I got more comfortable, but only DJ'd at our events. It has only been in the past few years that I started to look at DJing as more than a hobby and decided to devote my time and effort to practicing, getting to know all the ins and outs, and started DJing outside of our events."
Urquiaga is in her 14th year as a teacher of students in grades one through four with autism. Though very challenging, she said the work also is "extremely rewarding."
"Even the smallest gains a student makes is rewarding," she said. "My first experience with autism was when I would come home from college for the summer. I worked with 3- to 5-year olds with autism. I was immediately drawn to them and wanted to help them. I also worked with high school students with autism. These kids were higher functioning and extremely knowledgeable in certain areas. I was very intrigued and saw the growth that the kids could make. After I student-taught in a 3rd-4th grade general education classroom, I realized I wasn't as a happy as I was working with autistic children.
"After I graduated, I decided I wanted to teach students with autism and this is where I've been ever since. I also coach my students in Special Olympics. We have a basketball team and a track & field team. Even though it can be stressful and challenging at times, it is what I'm most passionate about and I love doing what I do."
DJ Sandra Suave has also taken her show on the road, as she is a guest DJ for Festival At Sea, an annual chartered cruise with Carnival Cruise Line.
"The best part of being a DJ is being able to move the crowd, seeing that they are having a great time and enjoying the music I'm playing," she said.
Urquiaga will return to Delaware State in mid-October for Homecomingand DJ Sandra Suave will spring into action as she'll be working a few Homecoming weekend gigs.
"I have been fortunate, blessed to have a job I love to do, to be where I'm at today, to have a supportive family and amazing friends. I am grateful and appreciate all these things," Urquiaga said.
Urquiaga ( aka Sandra Suave ) will be among those in the "By Women For Women: Everything Old is New Again" female-DJ competition at Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St., on Saturday, June 13, at 5 p.m. For more information, visit www.centeronhalsted.org .