Beyond NYU: Dancing around the world won her an Emmy

Each week, WSN sits down with an NYU student, faculty member or alum who’s making change beyond NYU. Steinhardt alum Mickela Mallozzi shares how she created a travel television show that explores cultural dances from across the world.


Aaliya Luthra

(Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Adrianna Nehme, Deputy News Editor

Emmy Award-winning Steinhardt alum Mickela Mallozzi is spotlighting traditional dance forms from around the world on her travel show “Bare Feet,” which airs on PBS. Despite being initially turned down for not fitting producers’ visions of what a travel show host should look like, the concept finally made it to the air. “Bare Feet” highlights the cultural diversity of different peoples and allows Mallozzi to share her love of dance.

A lifelong dancer and musician, Mallozzi entered NYU as a music composition major before switching to the music business program at the start of her junior year. While still a student, she traveled internationally, seeking out local dance performances to immerse herself in the culture of the countries she visited. Eventually, her tradition became the basis of her four-time Emmy Award-winning show.

In an interview with WSN, Mallozzi spoke about her relationship with New York City, how “Bare Feet” came to fruition and the impact the show’s trajectory has had on her. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

WSN: What did your journey to creating “Bare Feet” look like?

Mallozzi:  I was pitching the idea back in 2010 to executive producers, and they all told me the same thing. At the time, there was no show that looked like my show, and they thought, “Well, this is an interesting idea, but you won’t be the host — you just don’t fit what a travel host looks like or sounds like or does.” So I kind of said “Screw it” and decided to hire my friend who went to NYU and we filmed the pilot first. From there, I pitched it to a third-party production company, and they held my footage hostage for a year. I paid for it. I had done all the work. They thought they were going to pitch it to Travel Channel, and for one reason or another, they decided it wasn’t worth pursuing. That year, I waited out my contract and started a blog.

I dedicated my fourth Emmy Award to the executives that told me I couldn’t be the host of my own show — and that was my second win for host. Some people who may think they know better or have a voice of authority sometimes don’t know jack. You have to listen to that inner voice inside of you.

Mallozzi’s blog, and the YouTube channel she later created, gained traction, eventually leading her to win a contract for “Bare Feet.” The first episode aired in 2014 on a local station run by the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, and the show started airing nationally on PBS in 2016. In the series, Mallozzi travels across the world and learns traditional dances from locals, all while educating herself and the audience about aspects of global cultures.

WSN: Why did you decide to name the show “Bare Feet?”

Mallozzi: “Bare Feet” is a metaphor. It’s going in with a clean slate and an open mind — to go into a place and be embraced by the culture and try anything. I’m going in there sort of with a naked canvas and with no preconceptions of cultures, and having them dress me, teach me the dances and the music, feed me and have all these experiences. If you are barefoot, that is as humble as you can get. I hope that is what comes across, because in most segments, I’m wearing shoes.

WSN: How does your love for New York play a role in your show?  

Mallozzi: Travel can mean getting on a plane and going to the other side of the world, but it also can mean going to another neighborhood in your city or town. I think people forget that. What I’m really proud of is that we’ve done multiple seasons of traveling the world in the five boroughs of New York City. We’ve done 25 episodes just in New York, and we haven’t repeated a culture or a style of dance in those 25 episodes. 

Mallozzi serves on the Steinhardt Alumni Advisory Board and is working with the school’s dance education program to create a new dance anthropology or communication course. She believes that communication through movement is a fundamental part of the human experience, and hopes to encourage others to study it as such.

WSN: What has been motivating you to continue this show for 13 years?

Mallozzi: There was this day where I was crying, thinking, “How am I going to keep this going?” And I got this beautiful email from a teacher who said that the kids in her classroom are so glad to finally see themselves represented on television. I was like, “I need to keep doing this.” You get these messages from people and realize it’s bigger than yourself. Then you figure it out, and then somehow, in the 11th hour, you find the bare minimum funding to just get it delivered to PBS. 

In the future, Mallozzi hopes to take part in more public speaking events. She is currently writing a memoir, and hopes to expand the audience of “Bare Feet” while also taking some time off to travel — without an obligation to post or share anything. 

WSN: How has “Bare Feet” changed you? 

Mallozzi: When I first started this project, it was completely for selfish reasons. I wanted to travel to as many places in the world and learn as many dances as I could. I’ve realized that it is bigger than that. I’m realizing the impact I have on the community that gets to see themselves represented on television. That’s a big goal of ours. We want to feature cultures and people that aren’t always represented in the media, and in a positive way. We want to show that travel is actually about connecting with people, and inspire them to travel differently.

Contact Adrianna Nehme at [email protected].