Emmy Winner Mickela Mallozzi On How Travel Can Improve Our Lives and Help To Improve Society

Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine
Published in
11 min readSep 21, 2022

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There’s so much diversity in dance and music. I think it’s important, especially for Americans, to understand that dance is not the silo of ballet, hip hop, or tap. There are so many different languages of dance, which translates to cultures, people, subgroups, genders, races, and sexuality. I decided there were so many dance groups and dance organizations that weren’t culturally based or neighborhood-based. That’s usually how we do every episode, and I thought, how can we do an episode featuring these groups that empower their communities? So we’re meeting with a group called the Pacemakers, a 65+ age dance group that are the official dancers of the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team.

I had the pleasure of talking to Mickela Mallozzi. Professional dancer and trained musician Mickela Mallozzi is the 4x Emmy® Award-winning Host and Executive Producer of Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi, a dance travel series airing on PBS. From re-discovering her family’s roots in Southern Italy to dancing tango in Buenos Aires, the series covers Mickela’s adventures as she experiences the world, one dance at a time. She has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, O Magazine, Dance Magazine, Forbes, and more.

Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi is the 30-minute travel TV series highlighting the traditional dance and music culture from each country and destination visited around the globe. Show host and creator Mickela Mallozzi began the series to combine her two passions in life: travel & dance. All six episodes of the upcoming Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi Season 5 feature dance and music cultures within the five boroughs of NYC.

Can you share a story with us about your backstory and what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ll try and make this very short and concise. I used to work in the music industry for years., but I danced my whole life since I was a kid and played instruments. I went to music school for University, went into the music industry, got burnt out after a few years, quit cold turkey, and started dancing again. I found that dance kept calling me back, but I always traveled for fun. I caught the travel bug when I studied abroad in Florence, Italy, for my sophomore year, and from then, I fell in love with my roots, my family’s language, and the idea of travel and so whenever I would travel for fun, which I really made a point to do cheaply and expensively, I would go to a place where I couldn’t speak the local language.

I only speak one other language, which is Italian, but I found that dance and music were a way to connect with people when I couldn’t speak the local language. So there were festivals and holidays happening, and I would jump right in with the locals, and this magical door would open up from dancing with people. So it wasn’t just about learning the dance. All of a sudden, I’m invited into someone’s home. Their mother was cooking me lunch, or I was salsa dancing in Mumbai, India, and the next day we were invited to their brother’s wedding. So it was like I kept seeing these things happen over and over again, and I thought this was an incredible way to travel back in 2010, I was in the middle of the night sleeping, and I had this aha moment. I became a dance teacher at that point.

I started dancing again as a full-time dance teacher in New York City. A performer woke me up in the middle of the night and was like I’m going to start a TV show where I’m going to learn as many dances and go to as many places around the world as I can, and everyone thought I was nuts and fast forward here we are today, four Emmy awards later. This is our fifth season. Now, Season 6 is coming out in early 2023. I’ve been to over 40 countries. I’ve learned hundreds of dances and connected with so many wonderful people on screen, thousands of our fans who feel connected to me, and a little bit more connected with the world. So it’s literally a dream come true. I had this dream of what Bare Feet would look like through a process of trial and error because I’d never been on camera. I didn’t have any production background or hosting background, and I sort of figured out how to make this come to fruition. I believe I have the best job in the world.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career, and what was the lesson or takeaway?

In my second episode, I decided to go back to my family’s hometown to film our season, our pilot, and there was no example to give to anyone. I went to NYU, so my friends that went to film school, I hired them. We stayed at my grandmother’s farmhouse, convincing my family of what I was trying to do or convincing the group that I was dancing with. There was no show like this before. So the concept was really strange to people. So there was this learning curve for me to translate like this is what has to happen.

We’re all here to share this dance together, and that was the biggest lesson learned was like it doesn’t matter. It’s been liberating to understand that. Like it’s okay if you mess up. It’s okay if you get on the dance floor and you’re not doing the perfect steps. It’s okay if you’re not perfect at these things. I think people believe that travel means luxury, travel means spending so much money, that travel is unattainable and the thing that only rich people do. That’s not true. It’s liberating to understand that.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

So Season 5 is out now. Because of Covid, we couldn’t travel internationally, and last year in about March of 2021, the vaccines were rolling out, and I realized that the world was going to start opening up again. Our Season 2 was Bare Feet in NYC, so it was the premise of traveling the world within the five boroughs, and I knew New York City was going to be an incredible opportunity to show the resiliency of the city and its people and what the next chapter of New York is gonna look like — how dance, music and the arts are essential for a community, especially during a time of recovery.

So there was a sense of urgency to tell stories of New York, but also of what we had been through for the past year and a half of the murder of George Floyd and the anti-Asian hate movement that was happening. So we thought this was an opportunity to really shine a light on diverse voices that don’t always get the opportunity.

Can you share three reasons with our readers why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in music and dance, and how can that potentially affect our culture?

There’s so much diversity in dance and music. I think it’s important, especially for Americans, to understand that dance is not the silo of ballet, hip hop, or tap. There are so many different languages of dance, which translates to cultures, people, subgroups, genders, races, and sexuality. I decided there were so many dance groups and dance organizations that weren’t culturally based or neighborhood-based. That’s usually how we do every episode, and I thought, how can we do an episode featuring these groups that empower their communities? So we’re meeting with a group called the Pacemakers, a 65+ age dance group that are the official dancers of the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball team.

I met with Cesar Valentino, who is a vogue icon. Voguing started as a means of self-expression for the LGBTQ and gay community in the 80s in New York, and it’s this way of feeling empowered and accepted in the world. When people watch our show and I get these messages, that’s when I know I’m doing my job. When they say, “I never knew about that. Thank you for showing me about this culture, about this group. I want to know more, and I want to understand more. I’ve seen something like this, but I never understood what it was about.” And just like any other part of a culture that isn’t familiar to you, dance is part of that.

Travel is not always about escaping but about connecting. Have you made efforts to cultivate a more wellness-driven experience?

Well, it’s always been that. When I started Bare Feet, I would travel and automatically jump in with complete strangers. I like to say I make new friends by dancing with strangers. That’s the mantra of Bare Feet, and that’s what inspired me to do this. I think what’s amazing is if I run into fans, they’re like, you’re exactly like you are on television. That’s because this project started from something I did. I started the show because this is what I would do when I would travel. I would dance with people. I can’t imagine traveling and just sitting on a beach and not talking to anyone from that place.

I have a vocabulary of dance in my body. So they feel comfortable with me. It’s not like I’ve never danced before. They feel more comfortable with me and keep teaching me more, but they’re doing it because they see that I’m passionate about dance. So if you’re passionate about something, an art class, find those people in the local place you’re going to so you’ll have that natural connection. It’s really beautiful. When you travel, what do you remember when you go home and talk to people? I met that crazy cab driver. It’s never, there was this beautiful shot here, and I got a beautiful shot there. You see it on your Instagram. Fine. But it’s the stories that stick with you or the characters and people that you meet. You’ll never forget them.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

It’s a lot of work. It’s really interesting you asked that question. I have had this really weird conversation recently with good friends, and I love it — there’s a whole group of us. This journey so far has been 12 years long with Bare Feet since 2010, and I see that person who started Bare Feet as another person. I was in my late 20’s when I started Bare Feet. I’m now 40, and I’m really proud of her. I don’t know how she did it. It’s this very strange out-of-body experience where the persistence, the perseverance through it, and the passion for it. I still have those things, but the blind ignorance, if I had known it, would’ve taken 12 years to get to this point.

They always say it’s like a marathon. It’s not a sprint. Always go back to the purpose of why you’re doing something. Always ask yourself, what’s your why? And keep asking yourself that question over the years of your journey of building a business if you want to pursue being a travel host, if you want to be a storyteller if you want to be an influencer, if you want to be a producer, whatever that is. Always ask yourself, what is your why? The beautiful thing is the mission of Bare Feet has never changed. It’s always been about connecting the world through music and dance, and no matter what opportunities have come my way, I have kept really strict with that mission because I understand that it’s very powerful.

And I’m ready for what’s next. Like this was all sort of this dress rehearsal, but it’s a lot of work, and you have to invest in yourself. You have to start investing your own money and time into a project. It’s like a small business. Someone’s not going to give you the money to start a concept. You have to invest in yourself first and prove that it is something people want. People will then follow. It’s a lot of investment of your time, money, patience, persistence, and reaching out to your community. People want to see you succeed. Don’t try to be someone else. Don’t try to be me. You can be a dancer and traveler. That’s awesome. I want more of them in the world, but don’t try to do what I’m doing. Do what you do best. That’s where you’re going to succeed.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

One of my first bosses in the music industry. It was a pretty relentless job. I was his executive assistant. I was also a junior manager for one of the bands. I learned probably the most from working for him. I worked in music management, so there were putting out fires all the time. Figuratively and sometimes literally, but putting out these fires for the band, for the business side, personal, all these things, and he would kind of drop these nuggets of, okay, this happened right now. I need you to fix it. Figure it out, and he’d leave the room with no direction.

If it’s not going straight and I hit a wall, let me try and go around it, under it, over it, or drill a hole through it and not have someone coddle me or give me the exact answer. This has helped me profoundly because there was never an answer for me. I never had an answer. There was no one here saying, Mickela, you need to talk to this person. They’re gonna sign you. That never happened. I never got signed, you know, but there were people that did introduce me, but the whole time I had to figure out, okay, this isn’t working, let me go this way. It was a painful lesson to learn, but it has empowered me exponentially to feel independent enough to mess up and figure out what the right answers are. I didn’t always get the right answers and do the right things, but it had a profound impact.

How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world?

I try to mentor other young producers and hosts. I try to do as many speaking engagements to kids and really show how accessible this can be. I also want to bring dance to other people. I can’t be the only one who’s having a great time. I host community events every summer with the city in downtown Brooklyn where we connect local artists and have live music and dance performances. Okay, now you’re here, and you’re going to learn these dances and have a cultural exchange. This is what travels about, even if it’s within our own backyard. I hope that the show, we’re on PBS, you’re not on PBS to make money. Let’s just say that you do it because you love it.

I feel like my mission is to bring educational, informational, and entertaining programming that helps make the world feel like there’s hope, that there’s joy. You know, there’s so much television out there that maybe some people feel better about themselves because they’re like, I’m not that crazy. I don’t want that for my show. I want people to feel like, wow, life is beautiful because there are beautiful people in the world, and diversity is beautiful, and my neighbors are beautiful, and the countries that I’ve never been to that always seemed scary on the news are actually really beautiful and wonderful. So I hope I’m making the world a little better.

How can our readers follow you online?

If you go to travelbarefeet.com or follow us on all the socials @travelbarefeet, you can sign up for a monthly newsletter. I send a monthly newsletter about what we’re doing and upcoming events. We have marathons coming on Create. We’re also on all your local PBS stations, the PBS Passport app, and pbs.org. So if you want to come and dance with me, or if you want to come on a Bare Feet tour, we’ve started creating tours based on episodes of our show.

This was very meaningful, Mickela. Thank you so much!

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Savio P. Clemente
Authority Magazine

TEDx Speaker, Media Journalist, Board Certified Wellness Coach, Best-Selling Author & Cancer Survivor