The Freelance Dancer Who Wants to Hire Other Freelancers

Photo by Rachel Neville, courtesy of Donna Salgao

Donna Salgado knew she wanted to be a choreographer as early as her preteen days in the Nutcracker snow corps. "I'd be standing there, in B-plus, thinking about how it might be better if the teacher put us in a circle here," she says. After eking out a career as a freelance dancer in New York City for a few years, she finally made good on that dream and founded her project-based contemporary ballet company, CONTINUUM. "I started my company to give opportunities to great dancers who weren't getting seen," says Salgado (who still performs as a freelance dancer). "I felt this responsibility." Now, seven years later, she's still providing opportunities—this time, to emerging choreographers. Salgado is curating the contemporary ballet portion of Bryant Park's Contemporary Dance Festival this month. "My curatorial focus is independently produced dance," she says. "There's a rich community of artists in New York who are so dedicated to their craft, and I want to give them exposure at this awesome space in the dance capital of the world."

Training: BFA in dance from Towson University; MFA from SUNY Purchase

Performance: Eglevsky Ballet; Connecticut Ballet; ad Hoc Ballet

Choreography: Founded CONTINUUM Contemporary/Ballet in 2010

Teaching: The School at Steps on Broadway; Joffrey Ballet SchoolOn the importance of ballet class "If you don't have anything going on, go to ballet. If you're filled to the brim, go to ballet. You have to be prepared at any moment for that next gig. And you have to be able to demonstrate without injuring yourself, even as a choreographer. There's nothing worse than not being able to demonstrate for your dancers."

How she handles directing herself as a performer "If I'm in the section I'm working on, I have to videotape. That's key. I'll have someone come in and watch and give me notes. It could be something as small as holding your breath in one section. You need someone to tell you to breathe. Or I can call on my sister Vanessa [a dancer in the company] to step out and give me notes. She's really honest, and she knows I won't take it personally. It takes a lot of discipline—there've been a couple of times when I didn't do that, and I wasn't fully happy with the project."

On finding the right music "One time I went to a music concert that was really avant-garde. I didn't connect with it at all. On the way home, I saw a bunch of musicians on the subway platform. They got into my train car, and suddenly I was surrounded by them playing. Their music was so infectious. I just started bopping my head along, tapping my foot. When I got out of the subway, I started crying, because I'd really connected to that music. It was so serendipitous. I ended up making a piece, Prismatic Abstractions, using all of that [Jon Batiste's] music."

Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

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For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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