Entrepreneurship and Career Development

Entrepreneur of the Month

Nick Pupillo

Entrepreneur of the Month: January

Nick Pupillo: Making Moves for Contemporary Dance

Congratulations to  ballet innovator and Jacobs alumnus Nick Pupillo, Project Jumpstart's January Entrepreneur of the Month. Nick is an established dancer and choreographer, who formed Visceral Dance  after completing his studies at IU.

The Chicago company and center serves to explore the everchanging world of contemporary movement.

Nick's work has been described as "a stroke of choreographic genius...complex, tumbling changes...in this portrait of perpetual motion." (Chicago Tribune)

Project Jumpstart: You studied ballet at IU and then pursued a performance career. What prompted you to switch your focus to starting your own business?

Nick Pupillo: Even though I enjoyed the experiences and opportunities of my performance career, I knew that it was time to create something new and different in the dance world. Since I was young, I always wanted a dance company in order to create, but I knew that I needed a dance center to provide a space for the community for training and a home for my company. I wanted to make a company that allows people to grow and build confidence and strength in a positive environment.

PJ: You wear many different hats within Visceral Dance, from choreographer, to teacher, to artistic director; how do you go about managing and balancing all of these roles?

new dancers

Caitlin Cucchiara, Paige Fraser and Noelle Kayser in She Three by Nick Pupillo.
Photo by Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth

NP: I decided to build the company in stages, focusing first on creating a youth company to train young, aspiring pre-professional dancers. The experience and knowledge I gained from that has been paramount in my growth in running a dance center and having a professional dance company. Each component has been designed to support one another and to strengthen the overall brand. Now that each division is in motion, I am learning daily how to balance each role. Managing all of the roles has been a challenging experience, but as time has gone on I have built a staff of people that support my vision of Visceral, and I couldn't be more grateful.

Nick at Culver

Nick working with young dancers from Dancevision- a student dance group from Culver Academies in Culver, Indiana.

PJ: Visceral Dance places a strong emphasis in working with pre-college and young dancers. Was this in your original plan for the company? Do you feel that you share in the artistic responsibility to cultivate the next generation of dancers?

NP: I realized the importance of developing an environment that worked in dance education as well as having a company of adult artists. I started the youth company and progressively built upwards, founding the main company in 2013. Building a foundation of young dancers has helped build the culture of Visceral. It is important for anyone working in the field to be aware of where dance is going and the next generation of dancers need to be ready not only for what is current but also what is on the cutting edge. Having both a main company and a youth company, I can create works and develop repertoire on more seasoned artists while preparing my students for careers that will require that kind of work and even more.

Visceral Dance

An additional photo from Visceral Dance's performance at the Harris Theater. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

PJ: Given your classical dance training at IU and your current work with contemporary dance, what value do you place on having a classical background in dance?

NP: A classical background is a tremendous asset for all dancers. While the work I create now is not focused classically, I am still influenced by my background and apply it naturally in all of my work. There is a sense of line and coordination in the body that classical training hones in on. While not always needed by a dancer or used by the choreographer, classical training is an important tool for a dancer to have. What I learned from IU in classical ballet, I applied to my career as a contemporary and jazz dancer and now teach to my students and give back to my dancers in companies.

PJ: What did you find most helpful while you were at IU? Is there anything that you wish you had done differently or had taken advantage of while you were a student to prepare you for your career?

NP: My time spent at IU shaped me not only as a dancer, but gave me the confidence and ability to become a choreographer and teacher. The supportive faculty at IU believed in me and my path. Leslie Peck and Viollete Verdy nurtured my choreographic talents. I owe my confidence as a successful dance teacher and choreographer to the two of them. In retrospect, specifically at the beginning of starting my own dance studio, choosing a business minor would have been an asset.

Nick in rehearsal

Nick in rehearsal with company dancers.

PJ: So many people from IU tend to gravitate towards Chicago post-graduation. What is it about Chicago that makes it appealing to artists?

NP: Personally, I was drawn to the opportunities to dance for a major company. Chicago has a vibrant, creative culture. My goal, as well as some of my fellow directors, is to grow the dance and cultural scene, making Chicago a dance hub for the U.S. While New York is definitely an arts hub, there is a feeling of community in Chicago that is very special. Over the years of developing Visceral, we have worked with so many different artists. Numerous dance companies and independent artists rent our space for their rehearsals. We have collaborated with many musicians for the youth and professional companies. Many student groups come to train with our faculty who range from former dancers with the Joffrey and Lar Lubovitch, to our own company members. The sense of opportunity in Chicago is well-supported. Starting a youth company, dance center, and professional company, I have found a tremendous amount of support and encouragement. Chicagoans truly want the arts to thrive here.

PJ: What trends are you currently seeing in the dance industry? What do you think aspiring dancers should be doing as they prepare for their careers?

NP: Broadening their horizons; being just classically trained may not be enough to succeed in this evolving dance world. As I mentioned before, classical training is an essential tool. Now though, dancers need to look for training in many more current approaches, such as Gaga, a movement language developed by Israeli choreographer, Ohad Naharin. The ability to utilize and blend these methods together is required of the professional dancer today.

Dancers also need to develop their collaborative abilities. Many choreographers now rely on much more creative interaction with dancers, and dancers should explore how they can contribute to the creation of choreography. Dancers should seek out opportunities to explore dance by training at intensives, attending performances, and even watching videos online. There is so much information readily available today and directors and choreographers expect dancers to be much more aware.


Footage of the Visceral Dance Company performing Nick's work "Impetere."  

PJ: When you think "entrepreneurship," what comes to mind in contemporary dance?

NP: In developing my own company, as in any business, there is always a balance between my vision and satisfying the audience. I have worked to develop a company with a bold vision in a forthright direction while also attempting to appeal to wide ranges of audiences. We have created a number of unique performances that both satisfy and challenge audience expectations.

There are so many choreographers creating their own companies to serve as vehicles for their work. While I do choreograph for the company, I believed it was important to give other choreographers a platform to create and to give my dancers a deep and thorough repertoire of challenges and inspirations.

As an entrepreneur, I work to create a substantial brand at Visceral that creates a home for superior training, thought provoking performances, and leaves a lasting impression on students, dancers, and audiences. In an art form like contemporary dance, which is always evolving, the balancing act is constant. My sense of entrepreneurship has to be clear but also continuing to change to exceed not only audience, student, and dancer expectations, but my own as well.

Visceral Dance

An additional photo from Visceral Dance's performance at the Harris Theater. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

PJ: Full disclosure, can you count how many times you have performed The Nutcracker in your lifetime?

NP: 14 performances a year for over 20 years. My first performance was in 1987 at the Ruth Page Nutcracker at the Arie Crown Theater.