Daniel Madoff

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Photograph: Anna Finke

When did you start dancing and why?
I started at the age on ten, and it was because my mother took classes with an Israeli folk-dance troupe and didn't have anywhere to put me.

Where were you?
Baltimore. One day, my mom brought me and said, "Why don't you come up and dance with us?" And I wasn't really aware that I was doing anything different from anybody else, but apparently I picked it up quickly, and she said, "Okay—this is what you're going to do." So she put me in this studio. I said I would take tap and jazz. That was it. I refused to take ballet. Why would I take ballet? What did that mean?

Why did you refuse?
I don't know. I had to warm up to it. I don't know if I'd ever seen any ballet up to that point. I grew up listening to musicals with my family, but never ballet.

You could relate to tap and jazz because of musicals?
Yeah. My teacher said, "You don't have to take any ballet if you don't want to, but it will help your jazz." [Laughs] So I agreed, but I said, "I'm never wearing tights, never," and then I wore tights. There's a reason! You need to see your legs. It was exciting. I think about it all the time because I've done a lot since, and I like to pick up new things. One of the blessings of being a young artist is having a limited scope of insight as to how good or bad you are because then you just keep working, and little by little you get better. And a year later, you're like, I was so bad last year. It just continues that way. Thank God we have no accurate insight as to what we really look or sound like.

When did you start ballet?

I was ten. It was pretty much right away. I mean, it wasn't Vaganova or anything. It was with this man, and he was very good. There were five of us, and we grew up dancing together. One is with Hubbard Street now, and one was with Miami City [Ballet] and he went to Trockadero. I was there until I went to high school. Then I auditioned for Baltimore School for the Arts. I didn't get in. Norma Pera, the big teacher there, just didn't think I was very good, so I went to Carver Center for Arts [and Technology].

Did you study academics there, too?
Yeah. I was the valedictorian actually. [Laughs] It was weird because there were some people who were much, much, much smarter than I was, but the way it worked there was that you had to be good in both your academics and the arts. I graduated and went to NYU for a semester, but I didn't like it very much.

Why?
Small studios, and I think that the training they have there...it's a great program for some people. I wanted something a little more old school. I wanted them to beat me up a little more than they were doing. I think it's for personalities in a way. Some of the most talented dancers I ever met I was in school with there. But I was looking for the rigor, the old-school technique. I met [former Cunningham company member] Gus Solomons [Jr.] there, and I hit it off with him really well. We're still friends, which is funny because at Purchase—this is going a little ahead—but for my senior project, when I was already an understudy at Cunningham, I chose Gus as my choreographer. He made this really difficult solo for me. I remember one of the teachers, Richard Cook, who has since passed away, said, "I have never seen fucking dancing like that in a senior project ever." It was so hard, but it was in line with what I was doing at work. And actually [Cunningham dancer] Silas Riener did the same solo; we both thought it was so hard, but I don't think we would think it was as hard now.

That's funny. So you ended up transferring from NYU to Purchase?
Yes. I'll never forget: Linda Tarnay asked me why I was transferring, and I said I thought the men's class could be a little more difficult. Bigger [studio] space. She asked me, so I answered, and she said, "Well, aren't you a little young to have so many preconceived notions about what a class should be like?" I said, "Thank you very much." And I left. I really wanted to go to Juilliard, and I auditioned and I got cut first. It was [under Benjamin] Harkarvy, and a lot of the people that I would end up working with and knowing very well were sitting in front of me. It was like the future of my life: Richard Cook, Kazuko [Hirabayashi], Stephen Pier. Christine Dakin was probably there, Terese Capucilli. It kept happening to me actually. Dance is a small world.

Was Juilliard a huge disappointment?

Oh my God, yeah. I was so upset, but my bank account is very happy. I don't know that it necessarily would have been a good place for me. I'm not a huge fan. They seem like very, very talented people all put together in one place. This is not across the board, but it seems there's a certain level of entitlement that comes with it, and it just drives me crazy. I'm glad that I don't have that.

What led you to Purchase?
I was really upset at NYU, and I actually went to talk to Ana Marie Forsythe and Denise Jefferson at Ailey, and they said that they would have actually let me go there, too. I re-auditioned at Purchase and they asked me quickly why I chose not to go to Purchase [originally], and I said I wanted to be in the city. So I'm walking out of the building and they call me and say, "Okay, you can sign up. Come and fill out all of the paperwork." That's basically why I went there, because I was like, Oh, okay. I could have just as easily gone to Ailey.

Maybe it's good you were out of the city, because you could immerse yourself.

Oh yeah. All you do is dance there. You just dance and you don't have any worries, and everyone you know is within walking distance. I came in [to New York City] a lot. At least when I was there, there were a lot of people still connected with New York who were bringing ideas that they'd seen here and using them in their choreography at Purchase.

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