In 2013, Fernando Salazar left his hometown of Guadalajara to go to dance school in New York City. Four years later, he was choreographing routines for Prada and ELLE Magazine.
We sat down with Fernando to discuss about his career journey, his mentors, and why it is so important to just keep moving forward.
Photography by Jacobo Ríos Foreword and interview by Helen Shaw
Fernando, what ignited your passion for dance?
“When I was little, I wanted to move my body every time I heard music. My first performance on stage was choreographed by my sister – I was probably only 6 years old and it totally traumatized me because I thought the people in the audience were laughing at me. I had stage fright for many years after that.
Those people probably were laughing at me, but I kept dancing at home, watching music videos on MTV. It was always a very closeted passion, because back then I knew, as a boy, I would have been bullied or not “socially accepted” as a dancer. It wasn’t until I got into an arts-focused high school that I took my first ballet lesson. The teacher said to me, “Fernando, do you really want this? ‘You’re a terrible dancer!”
Fifteen years later, I am a choreographer living in New York City, and I am not terrible!
Watch Fernando Salazar’s choreography for Prada and ELLE:
You moved to the US in 2013. Why did you move, and how was it, settling into NYC?
It was this kind of romantic Hollywood vision, where I moved to NYC to be on Broadway and in movies as a performer and a creative. “The American Dream”…
I attended a dance program at Broadway Dance Center in 2013. When I look back I don’t know how I did it! I was very brave and excited about absolutely everything! I barely spoke English and I didn’t know anyone in the city. Seven years later, I still can’t tell if I have settled in. New York is a city that’s constantly changing, people come and go and the amount of audio visual information is ridiculous. Every person that moves here is an overachiever, or at least they are training to become one. I have met the most talented, hard working and ambitious artists here.
New York City eats you and vomits you daily until you are ready. I guess some type of survival mode has become my new normal.
Who are your mentors?
Having mentors is crucial. We need to at least surround ourselves with people and stories that inspire us.
My last dance teacher in México, Paty Geyer, encouraged me to keep dancing and learning, she and her husband Ivan Arino founded a dance studio in my hometown, Guadalajara. Both of them were successful dancers in NYC; their story really gave me the initiative to move here.
My first mentor in NYC, Sheila Barker, helped me to find my voice as a dancer and choreographer. I remember after my first class with her, she told me, “You have…funk! You are a funk dancer!” She invited me to perform on a Frank Hatchett memorial, he had recently passed away and was her mentor and the founder of Broadway Dance Center. That became my first performance in NYC, literally days after I arrived.
A couple of years later I went back to teach dance in Mexico and I became a mentor myself, to younger students looking to become professional dancers. My parents are also my mentors: they are both teachers and the hardest working people I know.
Tell us a bit about your production company, Youngtale! How’d you start it up?
Youngtale started when I met Kevin Chiu, the most brilliant cinematographer I’ve ever encountered. We decided to collaborate on videos that involved movement and dance: I directed and choreographed some videos with him, and we quickly realized the partnership was working very well. Months later we turned Youngtale into a business. We mainly produce and choreograph music videos for NYC artists.
You’ve had some amazing career moments: Prada, Elle Magazine, Festival de Cannes. How did you get your notable breaks?
Time and hard work. I’ve gotten jobs through my network – friends recommending me to clients, that sort of thing. Some jobs have come through Instagram! The power of social media and self advertisement is weird, but it’s real.
The projects I consider to be my best work are projects I wasn’t getting paid for. I am constantly sketching out videos and ideas that I want to film and choreograph in the future. I guess the secret is to keep moving forward. I have gotten so many NOs in my career, but I have the stamina to keep creating and to keep working on the things I love.”
Dance is some kinda magic power that moves me. It has taken me from the lowest to the highest point in my life.