How Northwest Dance Project’s Franco Nieto chose college
Above: Nieto in Ihsan Rustem’s Mother Tongue with Northwest Dance Project. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert, Courtesy NWDP.
As a talented male dancer, Franco Nieto could have jump-started a professional career after high school. However, he was determined to earn a college degree and mature as an artist. Though the Washington native grew up with a double interest in football and dance, he chose to focus solely on dance at 16 and set his sights on Point Park University. He graduated in 2009 with a BFA in jazz.
Now, after touring internationally with Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance, Nieto has returned to the West Coast to become a full-time member of Northwest Dance Project in Portland, where he performs works by Sarah Slipper, Andrea Miller and Didy Veldman, among other contemporary choreographers. Dance Magazine spoke with the 2012 Princess Grace Award winner about his college experience.
Why did you choose Point Park?
My junior year of high school our school attended the National High School Dance Festival. I submitted a solo that year, and was awarded a full ride to Point Park’s summer program. The following year, I had about three colleges I was interested in, and I visited all the campuses. When I went back to Pittsburgh, I got a huge welcome—the teachers remembered me and I got a warm, fuzzy feeling that just felt right. I loved that it was a versatile program, especially since I had studied modern, jazz and ballet in high school.
How has college influenced your career?
I’ve never had to go to a cattle-call audition. The connections that I made in college have kept me going. I got involved with Bad Boys through a college friend, and in my sophomore year, Point Park brought in the choreographer Edgar Zendejas. It was the first time that I had experienced contemporary movement, and it felt so natural. We kept in contact, and the following year, I went to the Springboard Danse Montreal summer program, where we reconnected. During my senior year, I did two projects with Edgar in New York and Quebec City. He’s choreographed at NWDP, and I just worked with him on a project this summer.
What made you stick with school all four years?
At first, the thought of going pro sooner didn’t really occur to me. But then I kept hearing things like, “Oh, you’re a guy, you don’t have to worry about anything, there are plenty of jobs for you.” It drove me up a wall. No! I have to be even better than a female to get a job. I can be just as good as you, and I have just as much drive. Those four years gave me the time to really get to know my body. I wouldn’t be as strong of a dancer if I didn’t go to college.
James Whiteside (Jayme Thornton for Dance Magazine)
Say you're perpetually impeccable designer Thom Browne. Say you're planning your Spring 2020 Paris menswear show along a "Versailles country club" theme. Say you want a world-class danseur to open the show with some kind of appropriately fabulous choreography.
Who do you call? James Whiteside, of course. On Saturday, the American Ballet Theatre principal—wearing pointe shoes and a glorious pinstriped tutu—kicked off Browne's presentation at the École des Beaux-Arts with a 15-minute, show-stealing solo. Whiteside choreographed the piece himself, with the help of detailed notes from the designer.
I'd been a professional dancer for five years when I realized the pain I'd been feeling in my hip and down my sciatic nerve was not going away. I had been treating it for two years as we dancers do—with regular visits to my masseuse, physical therapy, baths, ice and lots of Aleve—but I never stopped dancing. It finally dawned on me that if I kept going at the speed I was going (which was, well, speedy), the pain would only get more severe and unrelenting, and I might never dance again.
I told myself I'd take two months off, and all would be better.
That first morning when I woke up at 10 am, I had no idea what to do with myself. My life until that moment had been dictated by class and rehearsal, every hour accounted for. How should I fill the huge swath of time ahead of me?