Something about the way Nick Palmquist walks into his class at Steps on Broadway immediately puts dancers at ease. His body language and warm smile invite them to let their hair down and embrace the fun of dance. But it's not just his appearance that lessens their insecurities. Palmquist is of a generation of educators and choreographers who prefer to use praise more often than intimidation as a teaching tool.
"You don't need to be a hard-ass to make people respect you," he says. "In 2018 dancers work so hard and are so prepared by the time they get to New York or L.A., they don't need to be crushed. Who are we to break them down?"
He has developed this approach over his career as a commercial dancer in New York City (his credits include "Saturday Night Live"; New York Spectacular, Starring the Radio City Rockettes; "The Tonight Show, Starring Jimmy Fallon" and more) not only for the emotional well-being of his dancers, but as a more constructive way to help them improve. He says that on one job he worked, the choreographer shouted "Wrong!" so many times in rehearsal, it felt like the dancers were being waterboarded with it. "I have never met a dancer who wasn't dying to give the choreographer what they want," he says. "So, if someone doesn't get your correction right the first time, say it in a new way. Different dancers have different incentives to learn, but nobody needs to be scared into being amazing."
Photo by James Jin, courtesy of Palmquist
His two favorite tactics for communicating corrections are using metaphors to help dancers understand what he's looking for and giving specific praise. "Be excited to tell people what you love about their dancing. Don't just tell them they did good. Be expressive with your feedback so they can discover their skills and build from them confidently."
Ultimately, he aims to create a space in which all can feel welcome to take class. "There is no consequence if you're having an off night when you come here," he says. "Whether you're at your best or at your worst, by the end of class we are all cheering each other on."
GO-TO BREAKFAST: "My favorite breakfast is anything my fiancé [dancer Marcelo Gomes] makes me. I have no culinary inclination at all, but he makes amazing smoothies and salads."
AFTERNOON ENERGY BOOSTER: "I eat a lot of tuna. It's cheap, easy and great protein. I also live on Clif bars and protein shakes because I am constantly in transit."
FAVORITE BOOKS: "The Harry Potter series will always have my heart. Such beautiful words, amazing structure and completely original story. The Velvet Rage had a tremendous effect on me when I was coming out three years ago, and it really helped me work through a lot of emotions and questions."
ITEMS HE NEVER LEAVES HOME WITHOUT: "A bottle of water and headphones. If I have music in my ears, I don't need too much of anything else."