Today we’d like to introduce you to Mark Caserta.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I got involved with dance because of the time I spent with my grandmother watching old musicals on VHS, followed by me being a tag along to my older sister. My grandmother got me inspired and my sister opened the door for me. At the time it wasn’t cool for a little boy in my neighborhood to take dance class. Growing up in southwest Philly with a sports fanatic and sports coach dad was not ideal for a young kid who enjoyed watching White Christmas and Mary Poppins with his Grammy. My sister was a tomboy who played all the sports, so I played all the sports as well, well I tried, and my dad coached. My sister was amazing, I was not, and my dad kicked me off the teams because I was twirling in the outfield. Then my sister decided to wanted to do dance, so I decided “me too!” and we both went. She hated it and left, I loved it and stayed! My dad wasn’t pleased at first, but to this day he is my biggest fan! I am here today because there is a burning fire inside me that will not allow me to divert from this path I saw myself on years ago sitting with my grandmother watching those movies. I’ve always wanted to dance, and I figured the only way to do it is to do it!
So I stuck with dancing all through my childhood, taking as many fun classes as I could, putting on as many productions, in my basement or at block parties, as possible, and soaking up all the flash and fantasy of dance and theatre that Hollywood, TV and music had to offer. I knew I wanted to be a part of that lifestyle in some way. I didn’t realize though as a young kid that I was already preparing myself for this lifestyle. I was staying out late hours to rehearse for shows, admiring the older dancers, and already imagining big productions and shows I would want to create or be a part of in the future. It wasn’t until I attended CAPA (Philadelphia’s High School for the Creative and Performing Arts) that I fully realized, oh this isn’t just a fantasy, and this can be and is your reality. I began to see that people like me, people that grew up even I the same area as me, can make an actual career and life out of dance, and I had only just begun to realize vastness of dance. I discovered Alvin Ailey and his company, and from there I was sold. I was mesmerized by those dancers and what Ailey had done for the dance community. I started to take dance way more seriously, I knew I was training and guiding myself towards a goal, dancing with the Ailey Company. I kept my eye on that goal and soon found myself in NYC studying at the Ailey summer program on Fellowship Scholarship two summers in a row. I had been idolizing people like Desmond Richardson and other amazing artists from that world. I then joined a small company in Philly, Eleone Dance Theater that was a micro plasm of Ailey Company in my eyes. I worked my little butt off, took classes super seriously, and stayed after to work on things alone, stretched every night, sacrificed some of my fun childhood essentially. The more I learned from people who were like minded in my dance and life goals, the more inspired I was, the more knowledge I gained. Then I found out about Complexions Contemporary Ballet. It was Alvin Ailey but pushed, it was all the dance I knew with a spin of innovation. I wanted to be in that company! So I spent my college career at University of the Arts School of Dance training myself to be in Complexions. I ended up doing the summer intensive in my junior year of college, and Desmond and the director Dwight Rhoden ended up being very interested in me. I received a call halfway through my senior year of college from Desmond that they were in need of a dancer NOW and wanted me to move to NYC to join complexions. It was a dream come true, everything I ever wanted, but I also wanted to finish school, close out the chapter of my life properly, so I turned down the offer. I thought it was the end for me, and that since I turned them down they would never want me again and would give me a bad name throughout the dance world. I was wrong, after finishing my year, fulfilling that journey, and even receiving an award for outstanding choreography in college, I graduated and joined my dream company! I danced with Complexions for 4 great years in New York. I traveled around the whole world, went to places I never dreamed of going or ever even heard of and danced on beautiful stages. I worked with amazing dancers from all around the world, taught students from all around the world through company outreach which sparked another passion of mine I didn’t know I had, teaching! Working with this company opened so many doors for me, meeting amazing artists I’ve always admired to open more doors, and inspiring me to create. It was during my 2nd year with Complexions that I started to get back into choreographing. I started to create small projects and small films on my own, soon collaborating with my best friend Khadija Ahmaddiya in forming a small dance film company DRIGGproductions. After my fourth year with Complexions, I began to yearn for something more, a new place with new ideas and even more culture, so I left the company and moved to Montreal where I joined Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal. The company was young and versatile and new for me, and I never was really alone and this far away from my loved ones, a good challenge I took on. It was not easy, there was a half a year in between where I didn’t know what I was doing and thought maybe I could just be a freelance choreographer looking for a dance job. Then the opportunity came along, I fell in love with the city and I went ahead and moved! I lived in Montreal for two years, well barely, because I was always on tour with Les Ballets Jazz. We toured a lot, which was incredible because I got to see even more of the world, who would of thought!? I was still somehow choreographing and setting work here and there when I could, even if it was filming little videos in my hotel room on tour, and trying to have my hand in DRIGGproductions all the while. But the touring wore me down and I missed being home, yet I couldn’t decide if home was Montreal or New York, it was all becoming a blur. After two amazing years with this company I decided something was missing and I needed to move again. Along this transition, I found love and we found our way back to New York. I spent a year between New York and Philadelphia with my partner Mikey Morado trying to find my way, and he his as an artist as well. I was choreographing, setting and creating work, dancing with Camille A. Brown and working with my company DRIGGproductions. Things were going great as a freelance artist and I loved living creatively. I found what I wanted most was to be creating work and sharing. Mikey wanted the same thing, to be involved in something innovative, creative, forward thinking with the ability to create and share with our peers and young people. My dreams were shifting and I wanted to give back and be involved more. An opportunity came up for me through a former student I taught at a summer intensive for Complexions years ago. It was a full time teaching position for Ballet and Movement/Choreography at a dance studio I highly respect and love. Mikey was offered a job there as well! I now teach there, Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano, TX, alongside my partner Mikey Morado. We co-direct the Pre Professional Program for young dancers wanting a more mature experience in preparation for professional dance careers. I am at a place now where I am doing everything I love all at once, still dancing on my own terms, and having the ability to bring in amazing artists and people that I’ve always looked up to work with the kids I teach. With all that said I am fresh off a plane from Montreal, ironically, where I just participated in Springboard Danse Montreal as an Emerging Choreographer. It was an incredible experience and a full circle moment for my Montreal life. I actually truly got to experience the city this time around, and in a whole new way for a whole new reason. This time as a choreographer roaming the streets on my off time for inspiration and soaking up the art on the weekends to use in my own work. I’ve built even more relationships there and now that I am back, I am so excited to share what I’ve learned with my students. I am very grateful for where I am, how I got here and where I came from. I can only hope to go out and make some more dreams come true, old and new on my journey! We have some exciting things coming up for Pre Pro at Dance Industry with the support of the Thriving Artist Project, check it out! Mikey and I are looking forward some great things this year, one being our collaborative new work for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance Winter Series. So that’s where I am today and how I got here in a nut shell!
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It has not been a smooth road! Beautiful views yes, but bumpy. The money or lack of was and is always a huge struggle, but you make it work. Love has always been a struggle, relationships ending badly, being too deep in love along the way. That department is great now though, so grateful! Family issues, being away for too long, missing my loved one, fighting with my loved ones. Being rejected as a dancer, being rejected as a choreographer, being rejected as a person. Being lonely on tour, being lonely around friends, being depressed about all of the above. It was very hard, but I always found, find a way to overcome all of that. I always try my best to flip my perspective on all of these situations and “issues”. The road has been generous and fruitful and beautiful as well!
We’d love to hear more about your business.
My company is myself. I am a freelance artist, an independent Choreographer. I work I create for myself would just be considered project or simply work. I have a group of friends/dancers who I usually collaborate with to create personal work for viewing or archival purposes. Otherwise I am creating work to submit to professional concert dance companies, Universities/Conservatories or festivals. All to be seen, shared and alive in the world of art and culture. What I try to uphold in any creative process I partake in is an open positive mind, heart and space.
What were you like growing up?
When I was a kid I wanted to be everybody’s friend, or probably just wanted people to like me. I was very observant and also easily influenced. I was gullible, but I was trustworthy and honest. I was also bad, I liked to run around, play games outside, climb trees, dance, and sing, put on shows. Ok maybe I was sort of a showboat at one point too! So happy my mom and cousins pretended to enjoy it! I wasn’t really into the internet until I was much older, like sophomore year in college 2008. I was that kid playing in the street or in the field. I was drawing or putting together crazy costumes to where in my bedroom or writing some silly script to a terrible movie I planned on filming and never did. I just wanted to be creative!
- Website: www.markcaserta.com
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: @doodles88
- Other: www.driggproductions.com
David Gonsier, Jae Man Joo, Matthew Caserta, Mikey Morado