Bits 'n' Pieces: Travel and awards enrich local dancer's life

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Franco Nieto, 25, a dancer with the Northwest Dance Project in Portland, is going places with his dance career. First, he danced in London in festivities surrounding the Olympics. Then he learned that he will accept the Princess Grace Award for Dance in New York City on Oct. 22. Nieto is one of only six being honored with the award that recognizes emerging artists in theater, dance and film.

"Hard work really pays off," Nieto said. "Most people who win (the Princess Grace) are from well-known ballet companies," Nieto said. "To have a smaller company recognized, and having (fellow Northwest Dance Project dancer) Andrea Parson win two years ago, the company's finally getting recognized."

He cited the encouragement from his family, fellow dancers and mentors as the impetus that pushed him forward.

From touchdowns to tights

A former football player, Nieto discovered his passion for dancing relatively late -- at age 16 -- when he started attending Vancouver School of Arts and Academics.

He's found an extended family in Northwest Dance Project, a contemporary dance company led by Artistic Director Sarah Slipper.

"You feel that you can be completely open here. It's a setting you can grow in and push your boundaries," he said.

Nieto performed in Northwest Dance Project's "State of Matter" choreographed by Ihsan Rustem, which won the Sadler's Wells Global Dance Contest. The dancers were invited to perform in the Cultural Olympiad festivities surrounding the London Olympics.

"London was one of those places I've always wanted to go," Nieto said. "To have a chance to perform with Northwest Dance Project in what I consider to be a great work, it was such an honor."

Dancing for the staid British

"The choreographer is from London," Nieto said. "He warned us not to expect a lot of applause from the audience because the British are reserved." The dancers were astounded to receive a standing ovation. "It was a beautiful experience," Nieto said.

After performing in London and picking up his award in New York City, Nieto looks forward to resuming teaching dance classes. "I get such a high from teaching," he said. "Maybe it's because I had such good teachers growing up." He danced for Clark County's Columbia Dance in high school.

He added that seeing dancers change and grow is "one of the best feelings ever."

Nieto will dance in Northwest Dance Project's season opener "New Now Wow," Oct. 4-6 at the Lincoln Performance Hall in Portland. The show, which emphasizes male-focused movement, features world premiere pieces by three award-winning choreographers. To learn more, visit NW Dance Project.

— Ashley Swanson

Bits 'n' Pieces appears Fridays and Saturdays. If you have a story you'd like to share, email bits@columbian.com.