"I was always supershy about singing and everything. I was uncomfortable with my singing," she says. "If I didn't hit a note in somebody else's song, I'd be like, I can't sing."
That insecurity changed over time, but first Curiel worked as a dancer and choreographer in Los Angeles. At 18 years old, she captured the attention of the late Prince, who recruited her to direct the music video for his 2014 single "Breakfast Can Wait."
"He gave me full creative control, let me have my vision with the video, and gave me a full budget for it," she says. About 1,000 dancers turned out to audition for the video, and on the set, Curiel made a point of advocating for fair pay for the dozen or so dancers who made the cut. From personal experience, she knows well that the industry has a tendency to take advantage of dancers who are pursuing big dreams.
"The pay, I just don't think is enough," she says. "You do rehearsals and tours and work long hours."
Now 22 years old, Curiel is concentrating on her career as a singer and songwriter. She released her debut EP, Summer With Friends, last September, and recently she's been back in the studio working on her first full-length record, which is scheduled for release this summer. Much of her music draws from the trap movement's trunk-knocking bass, copious amounts of hi-hat, and zoned-out R&B vocals and rapping.
"I definitely love that vibe," she says. "I think I sound different as a female in the industry, because I don't think there's a girl that's doing it like that. But I'm always going to drop R&B records, I'm always going to drop hip-hop and trap, and I'm also going to show the Dominican side of me." Indeed, on the recent single "Yo No Se," she raps and sings entirely in Spanish.
Naturally, Curiel is accompanied by a team of backup dancers when she performs live, and she says her history as a dancer has helped her feel more comfortable as a performing vocalist. "I think there's a whole different level of performance within my brand — that's what I'm known for," she says. "If you come to a DaniLeigh show, there's going to be a vibe."
It suffices to say Curiel has found confidence in her singing voice. "I think when I started tapping into my tone and all of the different inflections I could do with my voice, that's how I found the way I write and how I sing now."