Why This Manager Thinks Artists Should Wait Longer Before Starting Companies
Margaret Selby with client Michelle Dorrance, photo by Todd Burnseed
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."
Pacific Northwest Ballet principals Rachel Foster and Jonathan Porretta took their final curtain call on June 9, 2019. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, Courtesy PNB
We all know dance careers are temporary. But this season, it feels like we're saying goodbye to more stars than usual.
Many have turned to social media to share their last curtain calls, thoughts on what it feels like to say farewell to performing, and insights into the ways that dancing has made them who they are. After years of dedicating your life to the studio and stage, the decision to stop dancing is always an emotional one. Each dancer handles it in their own way—whether that means cheekily admitting to having an existential crisis, or simply leaving with no regrets about what you did for love.
We will miss these dancers' performances, but can't wait to see what awaits each in their next chapters.
A previous lab cycle. Photo by Evan Zimmerman/MurphyMade, Courtesy RRR Creative
Choreographic incubator Broadway Dance Lab has recently been rechristened Dance Lab New York. "I found the nomenclature of 'Broadway' was actually a type of glass ceiling to the organization," says choreographer Josh Prince, who founded the nonprofit in 2012.