Rising Star Mickela Mallozzi: “Why it is so important to connect with the locals when you travel”

The whole mission of Bare Feet is to inspire people to travel — and not just get on a plane and book a trip somewhere, but travel with intention. That could even mean traveling next door to a neighborhood you pass everyday but never visit. When I travel, I meet with, interact with, and connect with the […]

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The whole mission of Bare Feet is to inspire people to travel — and not just get on a plane and book a trip somewhere, but travel with intention. That could even mean traveling next door to a neighborhood you pass everyday but never visit. When I travel, I meet with, interact with, and connect with the LOCALS. The people of the place are what make my travel experiences so unique and memorable. How else would I learn these dances and songs and rhythms from each place I visit? It would be impossible without connecting with someone who is so passionate about their art and their culture. I hope to inspire people to travel THIS way — to talk to and connect with the people that live in the places where you visit.

As a part of my series about pop culture’s rising stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mickela Mallozzi. Mickela Mallozzi is the four-time Emmy® Award-winning Host and Executive Producer of Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi, a travel series highlighting the diversity of dance which airs on public television stations nationwide and on Amazon Prime globally. A professional dancer and trained musician, Mickela decided to start a journey around the world, taking her camera with her to follow dance in the lives of everyday people wherever she went. From re-discovering her family’s heritage in Southern Italy to dancing tango on the main stage 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, Travel Channel, Dance Magazine, Forbes, and more, and she has performed on various television shows including Sesame Street and The Doctor Oz Show. Season 3 of the series premieres on PBS stations across the country starting in June 2019 where Mickela dances her way through her own DNA map!

Thank you so much for doing this with us Mickela! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in an immigrant household — both of my parents were born in a small, southern Italian town called Minturno — so the food, the language, the dancing, the music, and all of our traditions brought over by my parents’ and my grandparents’ generations really impacted me. I embraced this “uniqueness” about my family, but as I grew older, I realized, our specific “uniqueness” wasn’t so unique — there were so many other beautifully rich immigrant stories all around me, especially in New York City, and I truly loved experiencing them through dance and music. I also grew up playing multiple instruments and learning various dance styles from ballet, to jazz, to tap, to whatever I could get my hands on. That strong sense of family along with the arts in my everyday life cleared a path for me to create a career combining my passions — dance and travel!

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

I studied at NYU, and in January of my freshman year, I was invited to a friend’s father’s wedding in Scotland — it was my first time traveling alone internationally and it was the first time I can remember so vividly using dance to connect with people from another culture. In preparation for the wedding, the bride and groom held a dance lesson in Scottish Ceilidh (similar to American square dancing), and I fell in love with this feeling of connecting with strangers through dance. I never forgot that feeling, and I kept seeking out that experience every time I traveled, especially in places where I couldn’t speak the local language. I found that by using dance and music to connect and communicate, doors opened for me in every place I visited — because I shared a dance, suddenly I was invited into someone’s home to share a meal with their family. Dance and music were these magic keys that opened every door for me!

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Most recently, we were filming an episode for the upcoming Season 3 of Bare Feet, where every episode’s destination is based on my own DNA map. I was inspired to do this because I wanted to dig deeper into my own ancestral roots, but I only knew I was Italian, and both sides of my family can trace its roots back to Minturno for generations. So, we were in Morocco (North Africa is one of the many regions that came back as a result in my DNA map), and it was our very first night in the country. We walked into a café in Tangier where musicians were playing Tarab music (traditional music), and I looked at the lute player sitting on the little stage — he looked like a younger version of my father and my grandfather! I was immediately overcome by emotion and started crying — it was such an incredible moment of feeling so closely connected to a place so foreign to me.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I wouldn’t quite call this a funny mistake, but it is one where I probably learned the hardest lesson. In 2010, when I had the idea to start Bare Feet, a TV show of experiencing the world one dance at a time, I pitched the idea to producers and TV executives (I with no TV or production background, mind you), and obviously no one gave me a chance. So, I decided to film the pilot episode on my own — I invested all of my savings, I hired a few friends from NYU who studied film, and I decided to go back to my family’s roots and film the annual what harvest festival in Minturno that July. We all stayed in my grandmother’s farmhouse, and she would cook for us and feed us while we filmed around the town. I danced with the local folkloric dance group i Giullari (you can see the entire experience in our very first episode on PBS and Amazon Prime). Once we returned to the US with the footage, I put together a sizzle reel and shopped it around to third-party production companies to help me sell it to Travel Channel — my ultimate goal at the time was to be on the same network as Samantha Brown and Anthony Bourdain! I signed an exclusive one-year shopping agreement with a company named No Regrets Entertainment (looking back now, the name should have given me pause — and without any experience, I didn’t know that I should have signed a 60–90 day agreement instead!). No Regrets Entertainment said they had a great relationship with Travel Channel at the time. Two weeks after signing with No Regrets, we found out that Travel Channel had signed an identical show called Dance Around The World — No Regrets decided to hold my footage hostage for the 1-year term of my agreement, since they could no longer shop the show to Travel Channel. They also offered me the opportunity to “buy back” my footage for $30K, which I obviously didn’t have. So, I waited that year out for my agreement to expire, and I started my blog in the meantime, realizing that my goal wasn’t to be on TV but to share these incredible stories of dance and travel. That year of writing helped me work on my storytelling, which was incredibly invaluable. However, that whole process and time period was brutal, and I could have easily given up knowing that someone else was already making the show I wanted to make. But for some crazy reason, I didn’t give up — and I’m glad I pushed through! As it turned out, Travel Channel aired one episode of Dance Around The World about a year later and was dropped immediately by the network.

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

Bare Feet Season 3 is launching as we speak, which is always an exciting time for me — we’ve stepped up the production value for this new season, and I’m so proud of our storytelling. This new season is just so beautiful, and we meet so many warm and kind people along the way. That’s what really makes the show s special!

I’m also in contract with Condé Nast Entertainment to bring Bare Feet to their digital audiences, telling my stories of travel through dance and music — that is really exciting as we will bring Bare Feet to an even wider audience than just PBS and Amazon Prime! And lastly, for now, I’m partnering with Tauck to host a river cruise itinerary where fans can dance along the Danube River with me in April 2020 and October 2020!

I’m very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

Representation is key for cultivating diversity. From the people behind the camera to the people in front of the camera to the people making the decisions on what airs and does not air. When I started this journey back in 2010, every person who said, “NO,” to me was an older, white man (60+) — I didn’t fit the blonde hair, blue-eyed, leggy, ideal image of a TV show host. The No Regrets Entertainment production company consisted of two white men. Every TV executive and every producer I had any contact with from that point on was always a man, and he always said, “NO,” to me. Until I met Milly Perez, an incredible woman, a woman of color, a woman in a position to make decisions about her local TV station in New York, the number one TV market in the United States. I met Milly at an American Public Television conference in Boston, and she was the first person to give me a chance. She gave me my first slot of air time on NYC Life back in 2014, four years after I filmed my pilot episode! I was a local New Yorker, and this is what a real New Yorker looked like! NYC Life is the local public television station that has since then supported me with distribution, is now my presenting station nationwide for PBS, a co-producer of my second season Bare Feet in NYC, and the main reason why Bare Feet exists as a TV show at all! The rest of the NYC Life and NYC Media team are made up of a majority of women and a diverse group of women — and they have created some incredible local programming in New York — I am so proud to be part of such a beautifully diverse and open station as NYC Life!

From your personal experience, can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address some of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

Again, representation! Hire women! Hire women in ALL positions of the entertainment industry! And hire diverse women — women of color, single women, married women, mothers, older women, ALL women! And men, if you are in a position of power, mentor women and clear a path for them to succeed — do NOT become that barrier. And if you see other men who are that barrier, call them out on their toxic behavior!

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Patience. Patience. Patience. Patience. And patience. I started this journey back in January 2010, and over nine years later, I’m just now truly seeing the fruits of my labor. Granted, I had to learn how to make a TV show, hone my craft as a host, grow as a producer and director, find my own funding, and the list goes on and on over all of those years. This is a growing process, and the most important thing is to remember that those who succeed are the ones who stick it out the longest, those who push through the times of wanting to give up. I’m glad I have been sticking through this journey, no matter how difficult it has been. But that’s really the key to this — how long can you push through and stick with something that you love so that it doesn’t kill you?

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I’m still trying to figure out the answer to this question. It’s a difficult process, being a creative entrepreneur or any entrepreneur — when you’re in a position where if you don’t do the work, there’s no one there to catch what you’ve missed, you often have to work yourself to complete exhaustion, or at least you feel obligated to. I recently read The Sleep Revolution by Ariana Huffington, and I highly recommend it to everyone, especially people who proudly wear the “I only got only 4 hours of sleep” badge. It’s all a terrible lie — you need sleep to be more productive, and I’ve finally realized that. It’s also frightening to learn what happens to you physically and mentally when you don’t get adequate sleep. So, I’m trying to be better about my time of rest — less time on my phone, less time on social media, more time with my family, more time with my friends, making time to workout in the mornings, making time to take a 10 minute walk around the block to clear my head in the middle of the day, not feeling guilty about going to bed early, and so on. It’s the little things that add up — good and bad.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The whole mission of Bare Feet is to inspire people to travel — and not just get on a plane and book a trip somewhere, but travel with intention. That could even mean traveling next door to a neighborhood you pass everyday but never visit. When I travel, I meet with, interact with, and connect with the LOCALS. The people of the place are what make my travel experiences so unique and memorable. How else would I learn these dances and songs and rhythms from each place I visit? It would be impossible without connecting with someone who is so passionate about their art and their culture. I hope to inspire people to travel THIS way — to talk to and connect with the people that live in the places where you visit.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There have been so many people along this journey that have helped me along the way — from mentors to friends to family to strangers — I will never say I’ve done this all on my own. But, I have had to wear a lot of different hats, and I’ve had to face a lot of people telling me ,”No.” One question I get a lot is, “How do you stay motivated to keep going?” My mother and my sister have been incredible role models to me. From a very young age, my sister and I were both instilled in us the idea that anything is possible, no matter what the circumstances, there is always a solution and there is ALWAYS a way to make something possible. My sister, Adriana Mallozzi, is the founder of a tech company in Boston called Puffin Innovations, where she is creating assistive technology for people with disabilities. She herself has Cerebral Palsy, and for both of us, our parents, especially our mother, drove into us the strong sense that there are no barriers for us, even though others may think differently. I think both my sister and I have heard the word “No,” so many times, it doesn’t faze us anymore, and we really hear that word as “maybe” instead, with so much room for the opportunity to make that word a “yes”.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Figure it out.” I used to work in the music industry, and one of the most impactful jobs I had was working with an artist management company for a number of very well-known metal bands (I have definitely lived many lives!). But my boss would always tell me, “figure it out, Mickela,” whenever I would ask him a question. Artist management is about being a problem solver, and that was my job — even though my boss HAD the answers, he always responded, “figure it out,” which would drive me crazy! But it was the best life lesson I ever received — without that mentality and training, I would have never been able to figure out how to make a career in my two passions, travel and dance. I am now a full-time problem-solver, and that job in artist management is what trained me so well.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I have wanted to dance with Michelle Obama since I started this project and since she started the Let’s Move! campaign! And I’ve even pitched filming an episode with her around the US to her team when she was still in the White House. Mrs. Obama is a woman who is full of grace, honesty, and above all, compassion. She connects with so many people around the world, empowering as many people as she can along the way — and this is why I love her (and why I think so many of us do). She sees the power of lifting others up and how that benefits the society as a whole rather than sitting atop a tower in a castle and looking down below. She also brought so much joy and dance in the White House by connecting with so many different cultures, I just think she would really enjoy Bare Feet and what our mission is with the show! Michelle, I love you!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me at @TravelBareFeet on all the socials, and you can find all of our info at www.TravelBareFeet.com

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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