Dance Mogul Exclusive Interview…
Dance Mogul Q + A:
Dance Mogul: What was it like growing up in Italy?
Diego Salterini: I had a very lovely youth, my family was middle class, my Dad worked in the Ministry of Transportation and my Mom was a stay-at-home Mom…
I grew up in sports from the age of 4, Swimming first, then swimming and Judo, then only Judo until the age of 18/19. At that point, I started taking some dance classes but did not dig deep until I was 20. At that time I also discovered my true sexual preferences, nothing traumatic, it was a natural transition to discovering that I am a gay man and the moment that I decided to involve my family, there was great understanding, no fuzz!
As far as the arts in general, when you grow up in Rome, you navigate through an outdoor museum all the time so in a sense it becomes visual background to your life, something you don’t really pay attention to… although I always enjoyed sightseeing, when you are taken by the day to day activities the time to go visit the Colosseum fades away pretty fast. Since I moved to the US in 1997 I have learned to appreciate more and more the incredible sites that Rome and Italy, in general, have to offer, so every time I go back, which is at least three times a year, I make time to see something.
Since I started taking dance seriously around the age of 20/21, my life found focus and the roots I needed. Everything revolved around dance and once my first dancing job started, it was nonstop until I moved to the US at 31.
Dance Mogul: What drove your decision to move to the States, did your family support your decision?
Diego Salterini: On the surface, it was love or better an infatuation but once you think about it after a while it really was a good instinct.
I was working very successfully in Italian television in Milan and off and on in the fashion world as a dancer/model. In the fashion world, I met a guy who eventually i started a relationship with. He is from Honduras but lived at the time in Miami Beach. In August 1997, I came to Miami Beach to visit him and he brought me to PAN Performing Arts Network in South Beach where he was taking some dance classes. There is where I met Hannah Baumgarten (his teacher), who immediately became a dear friend. We knew that we were meant to be together as artistic partners. To make a long story short I went back to Italy, finished my contracts in television and theater, and came to the US to a community that welcomed me with open arms. The Director of PAN Performing Arts Network, Ilisa Rosal, offered to sponsor me and I started teaching in several studios here in town. That is how I met another pivotal woman in my life, Elizabeth Bergman the Chair of the FIU dance department at the time, who also offered to co-sponsor my VISA to stay and work for the University. That s how it all started.
So you can say that it was an infatuation but in reality, what I was doing in Italy did not satisfy my soul, it was very well-paid work that I was doing not because I was the best dancer in Italy but because I had been working for a good amount of time, I was well known and, sorry for saying this so bluntly, I looked very good on camera. I was getting paid way too much and soon a younger dancer, who looked better than me on camera and could do anything I could do even better than me but would cost them way less, was meant to come up the ranks. It really was my time to go at the peak, rather than wait for it to all go away on its own.
The real love became my artistic relationship with Hannah, we are artistically married and Dance NOW! Miami, which we established in 2000, is the fruit of our artistic love affair.
Dance Mogul: What did you learn the most being in front and behind the camera?
Diego Salterini: I have been in front of the camera way more than I have been behind it, but if the larger question is about being a dancer vs a director, I think that a lot of my decisions are guided by my experience as a dancer. My work right now develops more in concert dance than in video or commercial dance, anyway what I learned is that I cannot take for granted the fact that dancers decided to allow me to “use” their bodies, their physical instruments, to develop my ideas. I am grateful every day that I have ten incredibly talented artists that are willing to wait for me to come up with stuff for them to dance to. It’s a gift that is invigorating and frightening at the same time.
Dance Mogul: What have been some of your favorite moments dance has brought you?
Diego Salterini: Up to e certain time in my career, it was really about the great sense of gratification when people clap at your performance. I can remember almost all of those moments. At a certain point with age, of course, the desire to be on stage has vanished and it’s about the work that you create; every premiere of a new creation is a uniquely frightening moment that is forever imprinted in your memory.
On a different note, as the Director of an organization that Hannah and I have created from the ground up, one of our most remarkable achievements was to establish and bring to completion a collaboration with one of the longest-standing modern dance companies in the world: The Limón Dance Company. Last year we shared the stage with them here in Miami, Broward, and West Palm and now, in May, we will share the stage with them in NYC. This is an achievement that we could not ever imagine when we first started and gives us a huge amount of pride and joy.
Dance Mogul: Tell us about Dance NOW! Miami?
Diego Salterini: First of all, let me give you your mission statement which pretty well encapsulates what we do; Dance NOW! Miami’s mission is to be a leading company of excellence, to create, promote and produce contemporary dance of the highest caliber, and through performance, arts education, community leadership, and innovative programming, nurture new talents, foster artistic collaborations, and make the art of dance accessible to diverse audiences locally, nationally and internationally. Dance NOW!’s educational mission is to provide multi-faceted training and pathways to higher education, professional opportunities, and inclusion for Miami’s economically, culturally, socially, and geographically diverse population.
Considering this, I can say that we are a company with two directors, one rehearsal director, one technical director, two costume designers, a good amount of artistic collaborators, and ten dancers; with a strong Board to help us through all this. We work in a traditional structure but our lean machine with not much overhead, allows us to move swiftly and adapt quickly to any situation. We are based at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex.
Hannah and I are prolific choreographers but we like to challenge our dancers with a wide-ranging repertory that includes the work of Isadora Duncan, Doris Humphrey, José Limón, Gerald Arpino, and contemporary choreographers like John Lehrer, Chris Rudd, and more. Our dancers train in Ballet, Modern, Contemporary, and Jazz dance. We perform in traditional and non-traditional spaces… from Gardens to museums and art galleries to the Broward Performing Arts Center. In the same show, you might see a piece EN POINTE and a piece barefoot. We try to keep our audiences on the edge of their seats. For better-detailed information about our history please refer to: https://www.dancenowmiami.org/history
Dance Mogul: What advice do you have for the upcoming generation of dancers?
Diego Salterini: This answer could be very long as there are many things that I would like to say to the new generation of dancers… I will instead reduce it to a couple of stand-out points for me to seek the company that is right for you. Check the videos and the pictures that are available online and see if you fit in… if you don’t fit in go somewhere else. When a company Director or a choreographer does not offer you a job is not because they are evil is because you are not what they are looking for at that time. Decisions about casting artists are informed by many many things, including costumes, looks, type of movement, etc. You might be the best dancer in the world but might be the right one for them at that time. Go visit the companies that might interest you, talk to them in person, go take classes with them, and let them know you are interested. Your life should revolve around the classes that you take while you are not working. When I was younger unless I was working in a show, I was taking classes, and all my other sources of income had to be scheduled around the fact that I had to take one or two classes a day. Your body is your instrument and the fact that you have finished college does not mean that you can or should stop taking classes. You must take care of your instrument and while Pilates, Gyrotonic, cardio, and weight lifting are definitely necessary things to do to maintain, you MUST go take your technique classes, not feel-good classes, but technique classes (which DOES NOT mean ballet only but whatever is the technique you want to train in)
The fact that you have taken a couple of choreography classes in college and that you have an ease in creating movement does not make you a choreographer. You need to live a life, you need to get your heart broken, and you need to experience real joy and true loss… this is what will inform your life and… therefore your work. Learn other choreographers’ works, and work in companies that do repertory work… the more you experience the more you will have to draw from when you create your own work.
Dance Mogul: Tell us about your current projects.
Diego Salterini: In the immediate, Dance NOW! Miami is finishing the season with a bang with performances at Coral Gables, Aventura, Ft. Lauderdale, Lake Worth, Harlem NY, St Louis Missouri, and Florence Italy. Our educational activities will also conclude with the World Dance Summer Intensive from June 13 – 16 at the Little Haiti Cultural Complex.
As it’s normal for our organization Hannah and I are already finalizing our next season and planning the following one. There is always a lot going on but we do like to give our audiences consistency so the basics are the same. Performances in the tri-county area, educational activities, artistic collaborations, etc.
Most importantly at this time, we want the readers to know about our upcoming performances of “The Relativity of Icarus” and “Gli Altri/The Others…” respectively historic reconstructions of an iconic work by Gerald Arpino and a new creation by Hannah and myself. These performances are coming up and you can find all the details here:
Dance Mogul: What would you like your legacy to be in dance?
Diego Salterini: I love this question because it’s a clear sign that I getting older… haha…
I have been thinking about this lately and brought this to Hannah who, besides my husband, is one of the very few people I have this kind of existential conversation with.
I often wonder if I ever created a masterpiece in my career as a choreographer; something that is remarkable and that in a few years, once I am gone, will be worthy of bringing back up. I don’t know… really… I know there are some of the works that I truly like but are they rising to that level?! I guess only time will tell….
I do know for a fact that Hannah and I have created one masterpiece together and it’s Dance NOW! Miami. When we started we did not have name recognition and not even ten cents in our bank account to back us up. With grit, discipline, and determination we have created what has been voted in 2022 by the Miami New Times, the best contemporary dance company in South Florida… we danced on stage with one of the most important dance companies in the world (the Limón Dance Company), we have traveled the world and created international collaborations in Mexico, Italy, and Portugal. Dance NOW! Miami is my/our legacy. Hannah and I will work till our death to make sure that once it finally arrives the moment to let go, the company will stand proud on its own two feet for years to come.
Dance Mogul: As a teacher, why is dance education more important than ever?
Diego Salterini: I don’t think that dance education is more important than ever, but just AS important as ever. Dance is an amazing tool to gain confidence, learn discipline, and develop your body and your mind. The problem is that often, these days, dance is taught by people that might have a degree in dance but have never danced in their real life. Nothing wrong with a Bachelor in the arts, but that is not what makes you a good dance teacher.
I think that good dance education is dissipating and what is more important than ever is to go back to trusting those of us who know more, who have done more, who have been on more stages, and who have danced more roles. They did more, and they know more… while this is a general statement that is not always true… it is mostly true. Trust your elders… here you go another piece of advice for the younger generation!
Dance Mogul: Is there anyone you’d like to thank for helping you on your journey?
Diego Salterini: The list is long but I will give you the essentials: My husband Larry makes my life better every day. Hannah Baumgarten who makes my life better every day even when we disagree. My mentor, Roberto Salaorni taught me everything I know even when he did not say absolutely anything. Ilisa Rosal who gave me my first VISA. My parents were ok with me moving so far away even if I did not have the chance to be near them during their last years. The incredibly vibrant Miami artistic community accepted me as soon as I showed up with my suitcases full of (often stupid) opinions.
Dance NOW! Miami Program III
Thursday, May 11 at 8:00 pm in Lake Worth
Friday, May 12 at 8:00 pm in Fort Lauderdale
Saturday, May 13 at 8:00 pm in Aventura
Duncan Theatre 4200 S Congress Ave, Lake Worth, FL
Broward Center for the Performing Arts Amaturo Theater, 201 SW Fifth Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, 3385 NE 188th Street, Aventura, FL
For Duncan and Aventura, $50 for reserved seating, and $20 for students with valid ID. For Broward, $50 for reserved seating, $20 for students with valid ID, and an early bird special of $25 for all until April 1. Advance tickets for all venues at www.dancenowmiami.org/events/program3.
FOR MORE INFO:
(305) 975-8489 or [email protected]