Steven Melendez, dancer and artistic director of the New York Theater Ballet, says that movement is a kind of universal language.

“I think that dance is such a communicative language,” Steven says. “It surpasses geopolitical boundaries. I mean, you can see somebody move and it doesn’t matter what language you speak or where they’re from, you kind of know a little bit about them.”

Steven remembers how much movement marked the stark difference between the two worlds in his life: his home life in the Bronx and his life as a professional ballet dancer. “It is really interesting to me to watch the way somebody from the South Bronx moves compared to the way somebody from Park Avenue moves,” Steven says. “And it has been really interesting in my life to try to change the way I mix in and out of different cultures.”

Steven got his start in ballet at just seven years old as part of an outreach program run by the New York Theater Ballet. By 14 years old Steven was a professional dancer with the company. The 2022 documentary “Lift,” chronicles Steven’s experience from being a participant in the Lift outreach program to eventually going on to lead the program as an adult.

Now, at 36 years old, Steven has come full circle, becoming the company’s artistic director — the company’s second artistic director in its 44 years. In this role, Steven trains dancers, curates the company’s programming and commissions new work.

In this episode of Latino USA, Steven reflects on his journey in ballet and the strategies he is putting in motion as artistic director to open the world of classical dance to new audiences.

Featured image courtesy of Rachel Neville. 

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2 thoughts on “Steven Melendez on Opening Doors to Ballet

  1. I caught the last 10 or so minutes of the feature story with Steven Melendez this evening on (KQED radio). Very inspiring and relatable. I also grew up in the Bronx (1950s and 60s)…and when Steven talked about observing how people moved and walked in the Bronx, on the subways, on Park ave., a light went on for me. Growing up in NYC as kids we had to be aware of every nuance , signal, and change when navigating the crowds, streets, trains, hallways, whatever…. It was a survival skill, regardless of whether we could articulate it as such in our formative years. For Steven, he was able to translate and apply all that observational data into his dance and choreography, and no doubt in his ability to communicate with people. For me, it came through in visual arts, music, collaborations with dancers/choreographers in the downtown scene (1970s), and eventually as a longtime massage therapist who could pick up subtle clues from how my clients moved, and figure out how to best serve them. I really enjoyed this evening’s show. Thank you!!

  2. This world is fortunate to the talent of Steven in it! I am honored to consider Steven my friend! He is a change agent…a hero!

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