This week’s Dancer/Choreographer shout out goes to Melanie Buttarazzi. Melanie is a Toronto native and has been dancing since the age of four. Growing up she studied many different styles of dance such as ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop, ballroom, salsa, and flamenco. She attended Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts in high school where she studied in their dance program. By the age of 13 she began to pursue dancing professionally and went on to continue her study at York University. Throughout her training at York University, she studied ballet and modern techniques as well as cultural dance from around the world. Her studies also included production and film, as well as the, sensory connection between the mind and body through dance. During her studies she also had the privileged of choreographing her own pieces with professional dancer. Upon graduating York University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in dance, she began traveling and performing across North America.
Melanie has had the several opportunities during her years of performing as well as being a part of So You Think You Can Dance top 18 finalists, as a salsa/ballroom dancer. As well, she has performed and competed in many national dance competitions throughout Canada and the United States for over a decade. In addition to her performance experiences, she has also been a Latin and Ballroom dance instructor/choreographer for students ranging from young kids to adults. Several of her students have went on and competed in ProAm competitions.
In 2010 Melanie decided broaden her dance career to move to Los Angeles to pursue her dreams as a performer, she has also performed on stage with artists such as J-Lo, Pitbull, and Neyo, and has taken part in various cabaret shows in. In addition to stage performance, Melanie has also appeared in several film productions both as a dancer and an actress. She has had roles in numerous national commercials, such as Budwiser, Sony, Phillips, Bud Light, as well as short and feature length films.
Melanie continues to tour North America dancing flamenco on stage with her father, renowned guitarist musician Robert Michaels. Throughout her experiences performing in large stadiums as well as intimate settings, she has had the opportunity to meet people from various places and hear their opinion on what dance brings to their lives. While touring with her father, she became involved in several outreach programs at elementary schools in various areas, where she spoke to students about her experiences in dance. It was these programs that gave her the inspiration and desire to show the world how important of a vehicle dance is for people to express themselves.
In learning about the joy that dance spreads to others, Melanie was inspired to take on this new project and give dance to individuals who don’t have the opportunity to have these experiences. Through this she has created a program called Fostering Dreams Through Dance, to empower and inspire foster youth to find their passion and voice through the art of dance. Fostering Dreams Through Dance is not only a program where foster youth take classes from world-renown chroeographers. Over a period of 5 weeks, a film crew will document the youth, and their instructors, taking you on a journey before, during and after they are introduced to dance. Melanie and the film crew will document they immediate positive changes that happen in a short period of time to spread the awareness of the power of dance.
Bio Provided by Melanie
Find out what Melanie had to say in this week’s feature…
Nikki: Do you remember the first time you started dancing?
Melanie: The first time I started dancing I was 4 years old standing in front to the television watching MC Hammer’s music video “Can’t Touch This,” and danced around trying to copy the dance moves. I remember at that moment saying to my parents “I wanan dance and do what they’re doing.” My parents laughed and thought it was cute but I kept pestering them about it for a few weeks until they finally put me in dance class. Ballet was my first class and from then on I took Jazz, and tap, eventually leading to hip hop, lyrical, modern, flamenco and then latin and ballroom.
Nikki: Do you remember the first song you choreographed to? (Or your earliest memory)
Melanie: Growing up I would choreograph to almost every pop song out there, but my first choreographic piece was in high school, I went to an arts high school called Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts. My first piece was to “Come together” by the Beetles. It was modern based, with movement inspired from Martha Graham and Jose Limon techniques.
Nikki: Your personal advice for dancers when it comes to free styling?
Melanie: I absolutley love freestyling, it allows you to tap into the emotions that your feeling at that very moment and express them through movement. It also has such a freeing aspect where true art with no expectations is created. My advice would be to always explore freestyle and create your own movement. You can take elements of all techniques you’ve learned and create your own style and tell your own story. So much creativity evolves when you let go and move freely. Its beautiful!
Nikki: Getting in the zone to choreograph, what does it take for you?
Melanie: Getting in the zone for me is getting inspired by a song. Music is my driving force when I create new pieces. I feel like the music dictates my movements and whatever comes out organically at that moment I tend to always stick with.
Nikki: Who are some of your biggest influences in the Dance industry?
Melanie: Martha Graham, Bob Fosse, Charlie Chaplin, Isadora Duncan, Jennifer Lopez, Esmaralda Enrique, and Joanna Leunis.
Nikki: Name a Toronto Choreographer you enjoy working with and why?
Melanie: One of my best friends, Shane Simpson. We’ve choreographed so many pieces together for many years and we have the most fun doing so. We choreograph super quick and can understand what each others thinking and next move before we even speak. Its like we can read each others mind its incredible! We also barley speak with actual words when we choreograph, its more like sounds to create rhythms, its quite funny if you hear us.
Nikki: Name one of your favorite artists to work with and why? (It does not have to be a pop star. Any type of artist that a Dancer would work with i.e.; another Dancer, Choreographer, Musician etc.)
Melanie: I would love to work with Kenny Ortega, and Adam Shankman because they are such great people and create amazing pieces that I would love to be a part of.
Nikki: Qualities you believe Toronto Dancers possess?
Melanie: I believe Toronto dancers have a great sense of passion and drive. They are always striving to learn more and expand their horizon to be divers dancers. Its inspiring to see the determination and passion that Toronto dancers have and it really sets them apart.
Nikki: What was your experience like on So You Think You can Dance Canada?
Melanie: My experience on SYTYCD was life changing. It made me realize my dream even more and that’s when I decided to take my career further and move to Los Angeles where I’ve been dancing and acting for film and television.
Nikki: Any advice for emerging dancers and choreographers working/training in Toronto?
Melanie: My advice is to stay true to your art and your movement. You have a spark that seperates you from the rest so don’t worry, you do not need to look like the person next to you in dance class. Your voice is unique and needs to be expressed. Find your inner voice and let the movement do the talking.
Nikki: Any upcoming projects, shows or classes you would like to share with the T.D.O.T. network?
Melanie: Right now I’m doing a dance documentary that brings dance to foster youth who have always wanted to learn how to dance but never had the access to it. The focus of the documentary will follow the lives of 6 foster youth before, during and after the dance program taught by world renown choreographers. This dance program and documentary is designed to empower and inspire foster youth and propel them to find their voice through the art of dance. We will see in a short period of time, the positive changes that happen with each youth. The youth will receive scholarships to some of the top dance studios in LA and we are also trying to link this program to post secondary schools as a funded program for the youth to get a college education.