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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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021