By Mayshad Mag
Amanda Selwyn is the vibrant founder of Amanda Selwyn Dance Theater and nonprofit organization Notes in Motion Outreach Dance Theater. For the past 20 years, Amanda has simultaneously built her professional modern dance company while contributing to the future generation via Notes in Motion, offering in-school dance programs in New York City schools. She is someone who miraculously gets it all done, while maintaining her dynamic personality, personal wellness, and passion for building community. Read on to learn more about Amanda Selwyn and why we find her career so inspiring.
We are honored to partner with and support Notes in Motion and the talent behind the organization. We’ll be celebrating with Amanda on Thursday, March 5th, at her 20th Anniversary Gala where our own beloved founder will be honored. Join us by purchasing your ticket here.
MM: Could you please describe yourself in a few words and tell us a bit more about your roots in dance?
AS: I started out in dance and theatre – I choreographed my first dance in the 1st grade for the talent show and never stopped dancing since. My training formalized when I was about 10 when I started studying jazz, musical theatre, modern, tap, ballet, and acting. I did my undergraduate degree in dance and theatre at Northwestern University and my graduate work at NYU in Performance Studies. Through dance, I present work that touches the human experience while not being constricted by formal narrative and storytelling. That said, my theatre roots are strong and when I create my abstract dance theatre work, I strive to create signposts for audiences to make meaning for themselves.
What motivates you to be the person you are today? Where does your passion come from?
In addition to being a choreographer, I am also a yoga teacher. Yogic philosophy and my personal practice inspire a lot of my creative work and also my approach to organizational leadership and cultivating community. The 5 Yamas, as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali summarize these values I strive to live by everyday: Ahimsa, non-harming; Satya, truth; Asteya, non-stealing (this includes honoring your teachers), Brahmacharya, honoring how you direct your energy; and Aparigraha, non-hoarding (living simply). I am innately a very passionate person. I have a lot of energy. I am a relentless multi-tasker; I simply don’t know how to do anything other than 150%.
How do you organize, plan, and prioritize your work?
I live by my calendar and make a lot of lists. I believe in being over prepared and then being in the moment, able to throw out all the plans and listen to what the moment requires. This method has guided me well over the last 20 years of my company. I try to empower my team, staff, board, collaborators, and volunteers to be self-guided and have agency and imagination over their contribution towards the whole. Running a non-profit is very much a non-stop effort; my struggle is usually to prioritize leisure and rest. But when you love what you do, you just keep doing it and it usually does not feel much like work.
What do you consider to be your mission and/or purpose in life?
I feel most connected to purpose when I am creating choreographic work, leading others in creative endeavor, and building community. I feel strongly that this is my dharma and what I am here to do in this life.
How would you define empowerment? What does it mean/signify for you?
Empowerment means stepping into your truth. Honoring and respecting your mentors and teachers and finding you own voice to contribute to the collective. Empowerment involves taking risks, trusting yourself, being humble to receive criticism, and learning from mistakes and challenges along the way. It is empowering to change, to evolve, and to expand. Empowerment is not a stagnant thing – it is a living breathing energy that is fundamental to entrepreneurial and artistic endeavor.
How do you get inspiration in your everyday life?
I am inspired by human behavior which I can observe in abundance in the energy of New York City – its diversity, its passion, its physicality, its relentless force and rigor. I am also inspired by visual art, especially many surrealist artists like Escher and Magritte. I love sculpture and movement of all kinds. I love to watch crowds, pedestrian everyday movement, gesture and communication. I observe how people connect in public and in private. In contrast to all of the inspiration that I glide through in this amazing pulsating city, I probably am most inspired when I leave it. I love to spend time near the ocean, on long hikes in the mountains or in jungles and forests; I take any opportunity to travel and see the world. When we pause from the everyday, we gain wisdom and perspective – art gives us these moments as does nature and our connections with others.
When was the last time you really challenged yourself? What did you do?
I feel like I keep upping the bar for what is challenging for me. I love physical challenges and am eager for my next big one – I ran the NYC marathon, trekked in Peru to Machu Picchu, hiked down and up the Grand Canyon. In my own dancing and yoga practice with my aging body, I constantly face ever-changing limits, injuries, and challenges. It is humbling and even more challenging to evolve within your limits, to sometimes do less and by doing so, accomplish more. I am striving to work smarter not harder both with my physical body and in my intellectual and administrative pursuits.
How do you feel you’re making a difference today? How would you like to make a difference in the near future?
The dance education programs that Notes in Motion brings to young people all over NYC are making a huge difference in lives and communities. I am energized by the stories of transcendence, change, risk-taking, personal growth, joy, and success for children who otherwise live in worlds dominated very much by struggle. Dance is liberating. It removes stress and gives people a chance to live in their bodies. Movement is a universal form of expression that transcends difference. It matters. Art matters. Our mission is to bring this magic to the families, schools, and individual children we serve. Through our dance programs in all five boroughs of NYC, we create opportunities for personal growth and offer new hope, leadership, and joy to the amazing young people from all walks of life in this city.
In your opinion, what changes need to be made in order to provoke the kindness, generosity and humanity in people?
Power and money often get in the way of kindness and generosity; our culture values commodity over compassion. Money is energy and just like with our words and actions, people need to be thoughtful about where they spend their money. And time. People spend a lot of time in this culture talking about how they never have enough time, but we expend so much energy staring at social media and television to the detriment of our personal relationships. We need to listen and pause more. I think that a major shift in action and energy – valuing arts, community, education, cultural experiences, storytelling – would do a lot to change the way people behave from day to day.
Based on the following description, how would you say that you relate to the Mayshad Woman Philosophy?
I relate on a fundamental level to the Mayshad philosophy and am so inspired by the work that Nezha is doing to celebrate leaders who promote human empowerment and gratitude. I am thrilled that she has partnered with Amanda Selwyn Dance Theatre/Notes in Motion to celebrate our 20th Anniversary as our Gala Honoree. I look forward to partnering with Mayshad even more in the future and discovering more ways to build bridges, celebrate women who make things happen, and change lives.
Being a Mayshad Woman is a choice that women make to live stimulated lives with a positive philosophy based on gratitude, acceptance, accomplishment and human empowerment in order to be who they want to be. Mayshad Women handle different aspects of their lives with confidence and make sure to always stick to their values, in other words, to stay themselves. Mayshad Women are free spirits that design and drive their own lives while inspiring others to do the same.