Margaret Selby with client Michelle Dorrance, photo by Todd Burnseed

Why This Manager Thinks Artists Should Wait Longer Before Starting Companies

Margaret Selby never dreamed that her passion for dance would lead her everywhere from working on live TV specials like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to producing hip-hop musical Jam on the Groove, from Columbia Artists Management, Inc., to public TV's "Great Performances: Dance in America."

Now, through her company Selby/Artists MGMT, she helps clients like Dorrance Dance, MOMIX and Pacific Northwest Ballet navigate the behind-the-scenes elements that get their work onstage, like booking tours, marketing and planning upcoming seasons.


She recently spoke with Dance Magazine about the behind-the-scenes work that lands your favorite artists onstage, and why choreographers should wait before launching their own companies.

Margaret Selby. Photo by Michael Benabib, courtesy Selby

What a Manager Actually Does

"I work with small and mid-sized companies, so what they need is different than big companies with a lot of infrastructure. It's not just booking dates—I always say I'm a strategist and booking is a side product. It's really about developing an artist."

"It's not a 9-to-5 job. I'm on the phone with people before I get to the office, I'll be in the office all day, then I'll either go see a show or I'll work late or I'm traveling. It's really all-encompassing."

Dorrance Dance. Photo by Matthew Murphy, courtesy Selby

How She Chooses Her Clients

"To work with a company, I have to love it. I have to want to see the show all the time. And then it's how it fits on the rest of my roster—I want artists that are complementary but not the same."

"I feel a tremendous responsibility to the people I represent, about getting them work and helping them navigate a very difficult industry. It's getting harder each year."

"I couldn't have planned the career that I have. It's important to trust your own gut. It's about seeing something before other people recognize it, and jumping on it because you believe in it—not waiting for other people to approve it."

Diavolo - Architecture in Motion. Photo by George Simian, courtesy Selby

The Biggest Mistakes She Sees Dance Artists Make

"A lot of artists put up a website and think, 'I have a dance company.' But what does it really mean? It is such hard work—you have to be really committed, you have to have a great team, an executive director, and then find a board and donors, because it doesn't pay for itself."

"I tell choreographers who want to have dance companies, 'Please freelance and make lots of works first.' Let other people pay you to make work on their dancers. Eventually the rights will revert back to you, and then you've already got pieces made for a company."

"I wish people thought more about promoting the live experience. The way to use video is to excite people to go buy a ticket, not to satiate them with video."

"I wish more dancers who want to be in the business side would look at getting into a presenting organization. If someone works in the programming department, they can champion dance from within those confines."

Shen Wei Dance Arts. Photo courtesy Selby

What Makes It All Worth It

"Part of my joy is going to a performance of one of my companies and watching the audience enjoy it."

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Here's What to Do If You Find Out Your Company Is Closing

Relegated to the last phases of COVID-19 reopening, many dance companies have hung on precariously through slashed ticket revenue, reduced government funding and slowed philanthropic giving.

"A heartbreaking reality is that some companies may not recover financially from this pandemic," says Nora Heiber, the Western executive at the American Guild of Musical Artists. Many large companies will survive by tightening their belts, but smaller groups, hardly with an abundant cash flow to begin with, may face closures, leaving their dancers afloat in a tenuous job market. We asked three experts, including a dancer who has been through a company closure, to weigh in on what to do when your job disappears.

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