The Most Influential People in Dance Today: Gilda Squire
Gilda Squire got her first lessons in branding at the investment firm Goldman Sachs. Today she manages ballet's most visible star: Misty Copeland. Squire's approach to Copeland's endorsements and outside commitments, carefully crafted with the ballerina, has established a new professional framework for dancers, one that straddles a range of media platforms and opportunities.
After graduating in 1996 from George Mason University, Squire moved to New York City and started as an administrative assistant at Goldman. Moving over to its corporate communications office, Squire realized that she had found her niche. It was there that she learned about the power of branding. "I loved the idea of shaping how you think about something, like the image that MSNBC has created," she says. "It included public relations but put it in a bigger picture."
A book lover, Squire next went to work in Penguin Books' publicity department. She branched out on her own in 2008. At a New Year's Eve party in 2010, friends were talking about an African-American ballerina who appeared with the rock star Prince. Squire found herself inspired and fascinated by Copeland's story. Soon they began working together. But there was a wrinkle: Copeland wanted Squire to be more than a publicist; she was looking for a manager. "I think Misty had started to realize that she could use her voice for good," says Squire. "I knew I could handle the PR end, get her story out there, but to take responsibility for someone's career—I was scared."
At the outset, Copeland set one rule, says Squire: "Ballet will always be in first position. Anything that Misty does has to put ballet first." This means scheduling Copeland's commitments very far out to accommodate ABT's rehearsal and performance schedule. It also means that Copeland chooses opportunities, from an upcoming Disney movie to her Under Armour commercials, that keep her in pointe shoes. Copeland's active social media presence not only promotes her books and performances, but showcases young dancers of color and reinforces the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
What does Squire feel is the key to making all these different elements work? And is it a template for other professional dancers? "These elements are spokes on a wheel," says Squire. "I don't think dancers need endorsement deals, but if they want them, you should think about what you stand for. Ask yourself how something has helped you excel in the art form; those are the brands to consider." However, she cautions dancers to read the fine print on any contract. "And always put your art form first, no matter how glamorous it all gets. At the end of the day, the reason you're being sought out is because of your performance."
We knew that New York downtown dance darling Okwui Okpokwasili was a big deal. Critics and audiences have been raving about her dance-theater works for years, and the new documentary about her, Bronx Gothic, has attracted the attention of the larger arts community.
But never in our wildest dreams did we imagine she'd show up in a Jay Z video, along with flex dancer Storyboard P. Though we're slightly less surprised to see Storyboard in Jay Z's "4:44" video than we were to see Okpokwasili, we're jazzed that two of our favorites are featured on such a huge platform. (We're also feeling #blessed that we didn't have to subscribe to Tidal to watch this.)
Throughout the years, choreographer Seán Curran has worked with a diverse array of talented collaborators—from Kyrgyz music ensemble Ustatshakirt Plus to the the Grammy Award–winning King's Singers. But perhaps none are as meaningful as his most recent group of co-choreographers: At-risk teens from the after school program and nonprofit The Wooden Floor.
Curran has been in residence with The Wooden Floor since June, where he's worked with students to build choreography based on their lives and communities:
Their creation will be shown July 20-22 at The Wooden Floor Studio Theatre in Santa Ana, California.
"Besides the stage, baking is my other happy place," says New York City Ballet corps member Jenelle Manzi.
Four years ago, she thought her baking days were over when she was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. Manzi had been dealing with pain, frequent illness and joint inflammation for nearly 10 years. Once she cut out gluten, Manzi gradually started to feel better, noticing a transformation in how her body felt and functioned. She found her joints were less inflamed, and she got sick less often.
New York City Ballet soloist Unity Phelan and American Ballet Theatre soloist Cassandra Trenary spend every day making their hard work look effortless and graceful both in the studio and onstage. That's exactly what makes them the perfect spokesmodels for the dance-inspired activewear line, Belle Force.
To celebrate our 90th anniversary, we excavated some of our favorite hidden gems from the DM Archives—images that capture a few of the moments in time we've documented over the decades.
This image was captured during a 1978 New York City Ballet tour that took the company to Copenhagen—home turf for Adam Luders (right), who trained at the Royal Danish Ballet School and briefly danced with the company before joining NYCB as a principal dancer in 1975. Next to Luders is (of course) George Balanchine, in conversation with ballerina Suzanne Farrell. And looking on with a smile? NYCB's current ballet master in chief Peter Martins.
On March 8, 2016, Rami Shafi found himself inspired to film an impromptu dance video of his best friend, Aaron Moses Robin, improvising on Gay St. in New York City's Greenwich Village. Thus was born Pedestrian Wanderlust, a collection of dance videos that has grown to include a monthly improv jam.
Shafi works with anyone who wants to take part in the project, filming videos in locations chosen by the dancers and later adding music. The videos are shot on Shafi's iPhone in one take and, other than the starting and ending points, are entirely improvised. The editing afterwards—including the music choice—is minimal. "I don't like to edit too much. It's just what it is," says Shafi. "I usually can do the editing on the train ride home."
Many people see dance and choreography as separate pursuits, or view choreography as a dance career's second act. For some dancers, however, performing and choreographing inform one another. "That's just the kind of choreographer I am. I feel things so deeply in my physicality. I have to do it to know it," says Jodi Melnick, who is a prolific performer of her own work. She also maintains an active practice as a performer for other choreographers: Throughout her career, she's worked with Trisha Brown, Twyla Tharp, Tere O'Connor and Donna Uchizono, to name a few.
Though a dual career can be fulfilling, simultaneously inhabiting the roles of dancer and choreographer requires focus, organization and a great deal of energy.