dance

Dancer finds success as "The Fourth Fantana"

Sure, Shakira Barrera is a dance major at the Mason Gross School of the Arts, but she’s also a missionary of fun.

No, really: In September 2009, Barrera, 19, won a nationwide competition to become the fourth Fantana girl in Coca-Cola’s 2009-2010 Fanta beverage marketing campaign. The four sexy spokesmodels, promoted as, yes, “exuberant, flavorful missionaries of fun,” have been singing and dancing their way through flirty advertisements, as well as a variety of personal appearances, on and off since 2002. They appeared in a Maxim magazine photo spread and earned sufficient pop-culture cred to merit parodies on Family Guy – remember the elderly Sanka Girls? – and MADtv. Catch Barrera clad in yellow as the pineapple-flavored Fantana at fanta.com.

Nabbing the coveted fourth Fantana slot, winning $5,000, and flying out to Los Angeles for a photo shoot in December was “surreal, and it was an eye-opener,” says Barrera, a sophomore from Englewood, New Jersey, who’s been dancing since she was 3 years old. “I put so much effort and work into it, and to get this in return is great. It doesn’t feel like a job at all.”

Coca-Cola asked applicants to submit a 1-minute song-and-dance video online. The winner was selected by a combination of more than 350,000 online ratings and a panel of judges. Unfortunately, once Barrera was notified of her win, she had to keep mum until her appearance on the now-defunct MTV talk show “It’s On with Alexa Chung.”

“I screamed, and everyone in the house was like, ‘What’s wrong?’ I ran up the block and was screaming for a minute straight,” says Barrera, who was at home with her roommates in New Brunswick when she received the call. “I live with five other girls, so it was hard to keep it in.” Instead, Barrera celebrated quietly with her mom, who, she points out, “has no rhythm at all, but she loves music.”

Now Barrera is back on campus, leading a double life as a Mason Gross student and a Fantana. She says she’s not certain how long the Fanta gig will last.

In the meantime, Barrera says she’s thrilled to be a working entertainer.

“For me it’s hard to express emotion through words,” says Barrera, who counts salsa among her favorite dance forms. “It’s hard for me to express emotion in general … (But) even when I’m angry, dancing might be good. Dance can be expressive through body language. Every time I dance, I can put some emotion out there. It’s never emotionless.”

The emotions she’s putting out there now, as a missionary of fun? Pure, pineapple-fueled bliss.

“We want to make everyone…have fun,” she says. “We’re having fun, and we want everyone to feel the same way when they see us.”

We’ll drink to that.