Learning Curves: At a Crossroads
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.
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.