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Arts / Performing Arts

The Queen of Dallas Dance Takes Some Bold Steps

Melissa Young Thinks Big While Leading Dallas Black Dance Theatre

BY // 04.26.19

After 11 years as a dancer with Dallas Black Dance Theatre, Melissa Young went on to become rehearsal director, academy director, associate artistic director, and then interim artistic director. This season — her 25th with the company — marked her first as artistic director.

A few weeks before the 2018-2019 finale presentation Spring Celebration — a must-see performance featuring premier Latino dance company, Ballet Hispánico, and celebrity choreographers Jamal Story (Cher’s dance and aerial supervisor) and Darrell Grand Moultrie (one word: Beyoncé) — we got to know the woman who is running the show.

Congratulations on your appointment as artistic director! What are you looking forward to most about the role?

I am delighted to take on my new role as artistic director! I look forward to bringing countless ideas and collaborations into fruition. As I have learned from our great DBDT founder, Ann Williams, I know my desires and dreams can never be too big! Also, I look forward to uncovering more layers of who I am as an arts leader, getting the world acquainted with Melissa M. Young, the “Artistic Director,” taking big chances, and wearing the crown of fearlessness — all with excellence and consistency.

Tell us some of what you have planned for the coming seasons.

I want to push the envelope by challenging both our dancers and audiences with the repertoire and collaborations we present. I always want our audiences to be intrigued by the ways we will evolve artistically as a company with a sense of familiarity from our past.

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For the 2019-2020 season, we plan to have new works by Hope Boykin, Joshua L. Peugh, and Benoit Swan Pouffer. I know each of these choreographers personally and they are exceptional artists in their own right.

They each have a powerful, unique point of view. I love that these particular choreographers know my dancers well, in terms of their overall abilities, and they will challenge and elevate the dancers’ artistry to higher levels.

We are thrilled about continuing our partnership with The Dallas Opera. In April 2020, DBDT dancers will perform in their production of Pulcinello. The Dallas Opera has commissioned our veteran company member Sean J. Smith as the choreographer. Our 43rd season will be filled with excitement and I cannot wait for you to experience how it will unfold!

This is your 25th season with DBDT. In what ways have you seen the organization grow in that time? 

I still take a pause in wonderment when I process this being my 25th season! With being here over half the life of our organization, I have seen growth in every area. Over the decades, DBDT’s mission and values have become more finely tuned. The magnitude of growth has been tremendous in the quality of the dancers and choreographers we attract, the multitude of services we provide, and our administrative staff is rock solid.

I believe our value and worth continue to rise in ways that exceed the expectations of many people.

What about the Dallas art community as a whole? 

I have seen our Dallas arts scene grow, by various organizations expanding their reach to include more cross-disciplinary collaborations, elevate their productions by choosing to go the color/gender-blind casting route (which I think is fabulous) and continuously finding ways to present their art to the people in our community who may not have easy access to what we know can be a life-changing experience. Art feeds our minds and heals our spirits.

You are deeply involved in supporting the arts, not just on a local scale but internationally as well. What drives your passion for this? 

I am deeply passionate about the arts because I know it is at the very root of who we are as human beings. Art is our life’s breath. Art is our grounding source. I embrace a global outlook because my Honduran heritage plays a strong part in the way I view my own life and my surroundings, wherever I may be around the world. The fusion of one’s lineage, combined with multiple experiences, are what make the importance of dance, music, and visual arts necessary elements that are woven into your DNA to create a rich and intricate tapestry.

Art is what bonds us together. This isn’t a new idea or concept, but I know life would not be as rich and dynamic without art. Life is art. It’s not a singular occurrence.

At what age did you fall in love with dance? What was your journey like? 

I began dancing at age five but I fell in love with dance around age 14. When I saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles, a huge jolt of energy went through my body when I saw dancers on stage that looked like me.

From that moment on, I knew THIS was what I had to do. There was no turning back. There was no plan b to fall back on. My family is an extraordinary factor in me getting to this point in my career. Their unconditional love and support are unwavering. My entire family is successful in their respective career fields. Being surrounded by their greatness allowed me to easily follow suit. I had no option but to stay on track because they were all rooting for me.

DBDT dancers in Thrown for a Loop by choreographer Lily Weiss, photo by Amitava Sarkar
DBDT dancers in Thrown for a Loop by choreographer Lily Weiss (Photo by Amitava Sarkar)

My journey has not been easy but as I look back on everything leading up to this moment… I wouldn’t change a single thing. When your circle of support is strong , you eventually realize anything is possible. Above all else, always leaning on my faith allows me to stop worrying so much and enjoy being in the present moment.

What advice do you have for aspiring young dancers? 

My advice would be to find someone you aspire to be like to become your mentor to guide you in the direction of your desires. Surround yourself with like-minded people. Remind yourself to remain patient in the process throughout the phases of your journey. And, stay focused by keeping your eye on the prize. If you want something, claim it because it is yours.

What is greatest misconception about the industry? What do you find people are surprised to learn the most?

The greatest misconception about our dance world is that people think we just have fun all the time and every step to get to the finish line of a project is easy and glamorous. They don’t realize there are countless details to get a production up from start to finish.

Regardless of the aspect in the arts industry, everything takes careful thought, planning, and consideration, with so many factors involved. The outcome must always be about the good of the whole.

When you’re not busy working, where can we find you? What do you like to do in your free time? 

In all of my spare time (she chuckles), I really enjoy my quiet time and try to be as low-key as possible. Beach getaways are my happy place. Ultimately, spending quality time with my loved ones is what really rejuvenates my soul.

What is your favorite song to put on when you just want to have fun and dance? 

My favorite band of all time is Earth, Wind and Fire. Their music is timeless and always puts me in the best mood. Ironically, two of my favorite EWF songs do not have lyrics: Africano Power and New World Symphony. When it comes to listening to music and dancing, I’m more of the “let’s sit back, chill, and groove,” kind of person.

Dallas Black Dance Theatre‘s 42nd season finale presentation, Spring Celebration, is May 17 to 19 at the Dee & Charles Wyly Theatre. For information about purchasing tickets, click here

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