As many of you know, while Julian and I were in New York City last year, he spent a week taking classes at Broadway Dance Center. One of the highlights of that week were the three classes he took with Salim Gauwloos, who many people know as “Slam.” Julian even gave up the chance to dance with Broadway choreographer Joey Dowling on the second day of Slam’s class, insisting that he wanted to continue with Slam’s series instead. He never regretted the decision for a moment.
I asked Slam at that time if he’d be willing to contribute to My Son Can Dance and he agreed to answer some questions for me. It’s taken me this long to follow-up with Salim, who graciously offered answers to every one of my questions.
Before I give you the great information he offered, let me tell you about Salim. Bear with this long bio, because I want you to get a complete picture of the varied skills this man possesses as well as the different experiences that make up the scope of his career. If any dancer sets a great example of being a jack of all trades and master of all of them, it’s Salim. Julian aspires to be just like him. (And, yes, you will find some wisdom from Salim at the end of the bio—and more to come in the next post.)
Salim’s career began when he began training in his native Belgium at the Ballet of Flanders in Antwerp. At the age of 17, Salim auditioned in Belgium for a scholarship to the prestigious Steps Dance School in New York City. Out of the two thousand dancers that auditioned, Salim was one of the two dancers who were awarded the scholarship.
In 1990, he began an association with Madonna. (Yes, THE Madonna.) He is most famous for his performances in The Blond Ambition Tour and the documentary film, Truth or Dare; he has also performed in several of her videos, such as Vogue, Hanky Panky and Holiday (live).
In addition, he has performed in music videos for the most popular artists in the entertainment industry. Also, he has worked with Mia Michaels’ company R.A.W and with Margo Sappington’s Company The Daring Project. In a different venue, he performed in New York City Opera’s productions of “Salome,” “Daphne,” and “Candide.” Plus, he has performed on Broadway; his credits there include Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida on Broadway, and Mambo Kings, The Workshop.
Salim has acquired a reputation as not only as an extraordinary dancer but also as an exceptionally gifted choreographer. He was selected to showcase his choreography in the prestigious Ballet Builders in 2002, 2004, and 2006. His work choreographing the number for Aida’s performance at Broadway Cares Equity Fights Aids won “Gypsy of the Year 2003.”
He presented two world premieres set on Orlando Ballet under the artistic direction of Fernando Bujones, which received rave reviews. The contemporary solo titled “Coming of Age” that Salim created for Joseph Gorak ( who is now a member of ABT but was the all around winner of the Youth America Grand Prix 2006) was performed at the Gala “Stars of Today meet the Stars of Tomorrow” held at City Center. In 2007, he created a piece in Buenos Aires titled “Between Hope and Fear,” which was presented as part of Argentina?s Mozarteum Program 2007, and has set a piece on the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company titled “11:11.” In 2008, he won the choreography award at the YAPG in South Carolina and presented a new work titled “The Room” at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford CT.
Salim has been invited as a master teacher to Ballet de Monterrey in Mexico, as well as Amsterdam Dance Center in Holland, Arena21 in Zurich and ImpulsTanz in Vienna. Most recently he choreographed the Wella Trend Vision ?09 Campaign shot by world-renowned photographer Alexi Lubomirski, as well as the Sebastian Trilliant Campaign featuring Charlotte Ronson, shot by Robert Lobetta.
Pretty impressive, no? He knows his way around a ballet studio, a Hollywood video shoot, a Broadway stage, a YAGP competition, and more. So, who better to offer some words of mentorship to our sons…and to us parents as well? So, without further ado, here’s what Salim has to say:
1. At what age did you start dancing, and why did you begin dancing?
I started dancing at age 13 in my native Belgium. First, I was a gymnast, and I loved it, but at the same time I was starting to take jazz classes. My jazz teacher told me that I should audition for the Stedelijk Instituut voor Ballet, a prestigious ballet school in Antwerp. I did, but didn’t get in the first time. I auditioned a second time and then got accepted. From there my intense ballet training started for six years.
2. What style of dance did you do with Madonna and with other performing artists?
While working with Madonna, I did a blend of a lot of different styles—jazz, modern, classical, some hip hop, and, of course, voguing. But the amazing thing was that we mostly all came from a ballet background; only one dancer was a hip hop dancer.
For other artists I worked with at that time, like Aretha Franklin or George Michael, the style was funky but still very technical.
3. Did your earlier classical training help you succeed in your work as a back up dancer and on videos? Did you have training in other styles as well?
Of course, it did! While I was training at the ballet school, I was also training in Graham and jazz.
The classical ballet gave me beautiful lines, and the Martha Graham technique and jazz made me really strong.
I think what made me successful was my ambition and drive. I was always in the dance studio, never really happy, always wanting my body to do more and better.
[Come back for more from Salim! Next post: How to succeed on Broadway.]