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."

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Securing the correct music licensing for your studio is an important step in creating a financially sound business. "Music licensing is something studio owners seem to either embrace or ignore completely," says Clint Salter, CEO and founder of the Dance Studio Owners Association. While it may seem like it's a situation in which it's easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission—that is, to wait until you're approached by a music-rights organization before purchasing a license—Salter disagrees, citing Peloton, the exercise company that produces streaming at-home workouts. In February, Peloton settled a music-licensing suit with the National Music Publishers' Association out-of-court for an undisclosed amount. Originally, NMPA had sought $300 million in damages from Peloton. "It can get extremely expensive," says Salter. "It's not worth it for a studio to get caught up in that."

As you continue to explore a hybrid online/in-person version of your class schedule, it's crucial that your music licenses include coverage for livestreamed instruction—which comes with its own particular requirements. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about music licensing—in both normal times and COVID times—as well as some safe music bets that won't pose any issues.

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A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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