One Year Later: Melani Part 1

 Melani DeGuzman is a professional dancer, choreographer, producer and teaching artist. If you’ve ever wondered how to move into a new city successfully– find a community that support you and your art, make a living doing work you love and stay focus on pushing your craft — than Melani is an example to follow.  This fall I got a chance to sit down with Melani in Central Park, celebrate her one year anniversary since moving to New York City and dig into some of the amazing things she’s been able to accomplish in that time [Choreographing a music video, so-producing a show, teaching at dance residencies across the country etc… etc….]. The list is LONG so hold onto your socks. This is a two-part interview.

What’s your background, how did you get into dance?

My name is Melani DeGuzman. I’m from Los Angeles. I started doing musical theater in middle school but soon stopped because my program wasn’t greatIt wasn’t until college — when I stepped into an intermediate choreography class at Santa Monica Community College — that I discovered dance as an art form. It’s extremely hard; you have to connect with your physical body while exploring this higher realm of artistic spirit. I found it fascinating.

What drew you to take that first class?

I am drawn to move and create and loved that this class was interdisciplinary.

While I was in this class I realized I didn’t have the physical tools I needed. I was scared every time I entered the classroom; I had no coordination, my core was a mess, all I had was this fire to create and dance. The first piece I made was to Passion Pit sleepy head.

How did that passion develop?

I spent two years getting as much technical training and performance experience as possible before transferring to Loyola Marymount University in 2012. I was accepted as a Sociology major. I wasn’t sure about dance because everyone at Leola started dancing when they were 3 (and were very very serious). But before I knew it I had a 22 credit semester with 4 technique classes on top of my sociology course work and… well.. that’s how it all started.

What brought you to NY?

Upon graduating Marymount, I committed to a program in Israel called the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company’s Training Program. My three close friends in the program all trained and lived in NYC. In deepening my friendship with them, I was drawn to visit New York. I came and was immediate winded. I LOVED just walking around and by the end of the day I felt full. My visit lasted for a week and a half. That’s all it took. Returning to LA I said to myself, “I have 6 more months here and then I’m moving to New York.” I had no idea how but I knew that I’d make it happen.

Did anyone particular help you when you first moved?

My best friends told me places to check out (Brooklyn, Gibney). But I did most of the work on my own. I research a lot through Facebook,Instagram and dance websites. They helped me by giving me names and institutions but I connected the dots myself.

Give us your first year in review:

I spent my first few months focused on training and doing small gigs as they popped up:

  • My first project was with a girl I hadn’t met yet —Nuria martin Fandos . It was a music video with a couple of rehearsals, a fun and cheesy concept. Filmed in Bushwick. I was inspired by Nuria who is an emerging dancer herself, was making her own connections and being trusted to choreograph and create this music video.
  • My second project was with Suku Lab dance. It was a conceptual film. Short rehearsal process, really weird and cool. I enjoyed it and did it because I knew I’d need the footage.
  • One project that surprised me was this jazz musical theater piece. I wasn’t sure about it, I never saw myself as a sexual creature but my friend believed in me. All I could think was, “uuugggghh, I don’t wear heels”. But then we started and…oh my god— it was really fucking fun! We performed at Peridance in February and then in she added singing and we performed it again in Philadelphia.
  • Kevin Clark of SOLUQ dance theater had this wonderful piece he wanted to revived about the Holocaust. He made it back in Albuquerque was going to perform it at the Moving Beauty Series. The rehearsal process was about three months long. This was the first project that resonated with me and what I wanted. It was under a choreographer who was smart and used movement study of GAGA to push his boundaries and elevate his choreographic intentions. The process was so fulfilling and deep. This is when I felt, “I’m headed in the right direction”. I am finally attracting work that I can grow from.
  • I showed a works in progress improvised solo with an amazing percussionist, Sam Budish at Gibney’s November Showdown.
  • I showed a new solo in collaboration with a sound artist, Charlotte Acevedo titled “Poderoso”- premiered it at Arts on Site Performance Party May 2017
  • I worked with artist Kathryn Sauma for her company, Assembled Hearts creating conceptual dance films in collaboration with Jake P-Senicka
  • I Joined my first contracted seasonal part time company, Curet Performance Project, directed by Megan Curet.

What have you learned since moving here?

Its funny because you’re auditioning a lot and its often not connected to your heart. Just remember even when you’re not getting stuff, things often pull though later. People are watching you, even if you don’t realize it.

In April/March I had a shift in my consciousness. I decided I would be a multi-dimensional dancer/artist.I want to help a theater producer, I want to get into immersive works, be apart of those weird interdisciplinary paintings were you barely move. Rather than killing myself looking for contemporary work, I’d open my heart up to other projects. As soon as I shifted my mindset people started contacting me for all sorts of projects.

Some Key things Melani did:

  1. She did the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company’s Training Program in Israel. This expanded her network, helped define her dance style, and inspired her to discover NYC.
  2. Upon moving to NYC she immediately did a dance Intensive (Gibney Bates).
  3. Send out her resume one week before moving so that she’d arrive in time for interviews.
  4. Checked outIdealist. organd Craigslist for teaching artist opportunities and rates.
  5. Came to NYC already knowing her living expenses and the income she’d need to survive.
  6. Continues to connect with fellow-minded artists and art supporters using FB and Instagram. These have turned into collaborations, and jobs, and lasting friendships.
Featured photograph by: ALEXX Duvall

How Can I get in touch with Melani?

1. Her Website  | 2. Instagram  |  3. Facebook

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