As she sipped her green tea across from me, I got to know an extremely down-to-earth and light-hearted person, who dares to ask for what she wants in life.
Melissa Panetta, a professional dancer by trade, has done everything from teaching community dance-inspired fitness programs to showing off her moves on Lopez Tonight. She is an SFU success story, but also a source of inspiration to anyone struggling to find opportunities that satisfy their passions.
Panetta began her journey at five years old at Dance Steps in London, Ontario. She later trained and competed at the Oakville Academy for the Arts in Oakville, Ontario. Panetta recently graduated from Simon Fraser University with a degree in dance and kinesiology. Her post-SFU journey is now taking her to Chicago, as she has been recruited by the Thodos Dance Company.
The Peak sat down with Panetta and asked her how she got here, and what’s next.
The Peak: When did you start dancing and what created that interest for you?
Melissa Panetta: I started dance when I was really little, and I have loved it ever since!
P: What made you decide to pursue dance professionally?
MP: It’s always been my passion and I [couldn’t] really see myself doing anything else. So I wanted to give it a shot [. . .]. When I don’t perform [it’s like] something is missing. . . when you get on stage, it’s just a certain feeling that you don’t get [anywhere else]. It’s hard to put into words, but I don’t think I could go without that.
P: Did you ever doubt the path you chose?
MP: Yes, definitely. I mean, it’s a hard career, just because you get a lot of noes along the way. But I knew it was going to be hard and it’s something that I really like doing, so it’s worth it in the end.
P: How did you deal with that rejection along the way?
MP: You just can’t take it personally. It’s hard for the first couple noes, they hit hard. But I also have a great support system at home. It’s amazing having such supportive parents. They really helped me along the way.
You just have to look at [everything] as a learning experience. Even if I didn’t get the outcome that I wanted, I still learnt something from it, so it was still worth it in the end.
P: Why did you decide to come to SFU?
MP: I took a year off after high school because I wasn’t really sure what to do. I knew I wanted to pursue dance, but I wasn’t really sure what school I wanted to go to. I’m originally from Ontario, so I looked at the schools there at first, but nothing really interested me. Then, I found out that SFU allowed me to do both kinesiology and dance programs.
P: So, you knew that your interest was also in kinesiology from the beginning?
MP: Yeah! I wanted to have kind of a backup plan, but just in case dance didn’t work out. I wanted something in my back pocket. SFU was one of the great schools that allowed me to do both! Kinesiology was also a great way to support my dance major, because you have to know the body and all that tech stuff.
P: What did you enjoy most about going to SFU?
MP: I would say the people! My program was so small, so we really got to know each other in depth. Especially when we were collaborating every day. It was great to know so many different people from so many different places.
P: What did you enjoy most throughout the dance and kinesiology programs at SFU?
MP: I really liked how you get such [a large variety of] teachers and instructors. It was really nice to go through the four years and have so many different genres of dance throughout.
The kinesiology program also offered so many opportunities. I found there was so much outside support. All of the teachers I had were really supportive.
P: How did your years at SFU change you?
MP: I think coming into SFU, talking from a dance perspective I was [very technical]. So coming to SFU really broadened my artistic side.
P: Can you share a bit of your artistic vision with us?
MP: What I lean towards is more of an organic movement style. I really like physicality, which can be seen in so many different ways. Essentially, I really love seeing strength and power in movement. . . I lean more towards the physical part of dance and more strong movements.
P: How did you get selected for the company in Chicago?
MP: I Googled “contemporary dance companies auditions” and found the open audition. So, I made the trip to Chicago in March. There were a bunch of rounds [I had to compete in]. It’s pretty intimidating, because they don’t know our names — all they see is your resumé, your headshot, and what you just did in the audition.
P: Will your interest in kinesiology be something you get to further pursue in Chicago?
MP: For sure! Through the company that I’m working with they have on-site physios and chiros, so we get to work with them personally. We will need them on site, of course, in case of injuries, but I’ll also get more exposure to the field through them.
P: What are you looking forward to most about moving to Chicago?
MP: I’m excited about moving to a new city. I’m excited to just take that next step and explore. I am a traveller for sure, so I love a new adventure!
P: Any advice to dancers? Professional or hobbyists.
MP: I think just remind yourself why you are doing dance. If you really love it, [remember] why you really love it. What made you start that very first dance class? Sometimes people really think about the technical side of it, and trying to make everything perfect. But you have to remind yourself of your passion, and don’t ever lose that.
P: Any words of wisdom for current SFU students?
MP: I think just enjoy the time you have here, because it goes by so quickly. I didn’t realize how quick four years goes [by]. Just enjoy the ride and have fun.