Our Distinguished Alumni: Marlo Martin

Marlo posing in front of a brick wall.
Posted by Brandi Engel on

Marlo Martin graduated from Western Michigan University with a BFA in Dance and moved to Seattle in 2003. She is the founder and Artistic Director of eXit SPACE, theNEST, NOD Theater, theBOOST dance festival, and badmarmarDANCE. Martin finds fulfillment and joy in celebrating and practicing all that encompasses and defines dance. Currently, you can find Marlo teaching weekly classes at eXit SPACE/theNEST while creating a new performance and studio space in Capitol Hill Seattle. She has served as an adjunct teacher for Cornish College of the Arts, and as a guest teacher for Seattle Academy of Arts & Science, Velocity Dance Center, Bellingham Rep, University of Washington, and more. As a choreographer her work has been showcased at or with Cornish College of the Arts, Full Tilt, Strictly Seattle and Next Fest with Velocity Dance Center, Bellingham Rep Dance, Seattle International Dance Festival, BOOST, SAAS, as well as self-produced work for her company, badmarmarDANCE. With love at the center of it all, Marlo chooses to teach and create work in many communities as well as create opportunities for other artists, teachers, and students to thrive. She is genuinely interested in sharing her vision and ideas through teaching and creating dance works, by developing forums for the exploration and presentation of dance, and by supporting and nurturing fellow artists.

This homecoming we are honoring Marlo Martin with our Art Educators Award.

Tell us a bit about your life. What should we know about you?

When asked to tell about my life, I instantly thought about the people in my life who love and support me and the pathways that I have created and nurtured to love and support others. I am a mom of two beautiful boys (6 and 12 years old), a friend and sister, a small business owner, a producer, choreographer, director, and teacher. My life is full to the brim; overflowing with adventure, work, art, and family. I spend my days trying my best to practice being present, taking in the ups and downs of being a single mom, a working artist, and an entrepreneur. I am grateful for my health, for the opportunities that have been given to me that helped me get to where I am now, and for my diligence and determination that is balanced with my compassion and joy. 

I am committed to developing avenues for dance to thrive at eXit SPACE and in Seattle. I live in a city that respects the arts yet continues to struggle with supporting artists. I have made it my life’s work to step forward and facilitate opportunities for artists, dancers, educators, and choreographers. I founded eXit SPACE 17 years ago and what began as a one-room studio had evolved into three locations, a theater space (opening this year), a pre-professional division, a vibrant adult program, youth classes, performance opportunities across all levels and genres, residency programs for local artists, mentorship for teachers and students, community outreach, leadership and more. 

I enjoy my job immensely. 

Let's look back at your college experience. What made Western Michigan University your school of choice? 

To be honest, it was all due to one of my dearest friends, Kimberly Gaver. Following graduation from high school, I was very ill for about a year, had to postpone college, stop dancing, and focus on getting well. After I recovered I started community college in Muskegon, MI and began to dance again. When looking to my future for undergrad I did not consider dance because I never viewed myself as that talented or capable. Kim, with her ever-present positivity and joy for life, suggested and convinced me to audition for dance programs, just to see what would happen and how it would feel. And, thankfully, I agreed. I can still remember the WMU audition at the Dalton Center. I was extraordinarily nervous but the faculty was so warm and welcoming. I had the best day and was thrilled to be experiencing dance at a level that I had not at my small, local studio. 

I really think WMU took a chance on me. I believe they saw potential within me that I was unable to see. When accepted into the program (along with Kimberly) I was ecstatic. It has been by far one of the most impactful moments of my life.

What's your favorite memory from your time at WMU?  

Well, that’s just impossible to answer. There are so many incredible memories from my time at WMU. I will share few moments that stand out. For me, it was all about the faculty and fellow dancers in the department.

Lindsey Thomas was my jazz teacher, she saw my student choreography and encouraged me to apply for the Jazz Dance World Congress. I would have never known of the opportunity and had the courage to apply (and be accepted numerous times) if it wasn’t for Lindsey’s support and guidance. It changed my perspective of what jazz dance could be, my value as a choreographer, and opened my eyes to a larger world of dance. 

David Curwen was my ballet teacher and WDP director. I had no ballet training before college, I was scared of it, it hurt my body (and brain), and was insecure. He gave me the best advice and lesson that changed my view of myself as a dancer. He had witnessed me in jazz class and asked where that dancer was in ballet. He asked me to take ballet like a jazz dancer, bring my performance and confidence to the ballet barre like I did for jazz choreography. David asked me to come to his ballet class with stage-ready hair and make-up and to put a flower in my bun suggesting it would bring out the performer in me. He also asked about my past training and upon discovering that I was a tap dancer suggested I look at ballet, especially petit allegro-like tap dancer, to look for the musicality, the rhythm and tempo shifts within the footwork. Suddenly what had felt so unnatural and impossible began to feel organic and doable. I still think of tap when practicing petit allegro and also smile when I am at the barre because of David. 

Jane Baas was the department Chair, my kinesiology and modern one teacher, and my mentor. Jane was and is a gift to me. She helped me through my most difficult moments of insecurity and my struggles to work post-graduation. I will never forget going to Jane for advice after graduating and moving to Seattle. I was down and frustrated. I wanted to know what I needed to do, what steps to take to achieve my dreams of running my own company and getting my work seen. Jane listened with compassion and answered in her honest and direct way that I appreciate so very much. Her love and support for her students is authentic and never-ending. She is the glue that holds us all together post-graduation. It is not so much the advice she gave but the way she showed me that mentorship is so powerful and impactful. Jane is the reason why I have become dedicated to mentoring others. If I didn’t have her I would not have taken the risks, been brave, and went for what I wanted as an artist. I want to be that person for other artists.

I have to mention Sherri Garber, Nina Nelson, and Derick Evans. Sherri pushed me to work at a level I did not believe I could achieve. Nina’s teaching in Laban and Bartenieff remain in my own classwork and offerings as a dance educator. Nina’s wild creativity has been an inspiration for me past graduation. And, Derick cast me in his works giving me the chance to shine and helped to elevate my self-confidence. His vibrancy and joy is something I still call upon for myself as a teacher. 

These faculty changed my life. I think about them often and share these stories with my students and dancers here in Seattle.

Dancers, including Marlo, on a dark stage in white, dancing.

What is the first thing you did after graduating to apply your degree to the real world?

Everything! My training at WMU prepared me in numerous ways but mostly my time in the dance department gave me the endurance I would need to succeed. I was trained to push, to reach, to strive. I was given the tools to succeed from WMU. From the robust training in light design and staging to choreography and technique, Senior Seminar to kinesiology. I was able to pull from numerous places to contract work and start seeking jobs.

What is your favorite part of your job? 

Creating opportunities for dancers, choreographers, educators and artists. I also adore teaching and am in love with the process of creating and producing work.

What is the most challenging part of your job? 

The concern over generating income to support the programming I want to offer and to pay my teachers what they deserve. And in most recent times Covid’s impact on my business and the art of live dance.

Four people dancing.

What tips would you give to current students and graduating seniors as they prepare to enter the "real world" and secure work?

You have already made the best choice by getting your degree from WMU. The dance department has provided you with a diverse and thorough education. I hope you took advantage of every opportunity they gave. Upon graduation lean on your many talents. Your diversity will be key to your success. You are capable and talented; you can teach, choreograph, dance, produce, and create. Employers want to work with creatives who can wear many hats. 

You will need to self-produce for a long while - get comfortable with being in a process and leading others. 

Have faith in your fellow dancers and peers - show them support and do what you can to help others succeed. It matters. It matters that you give and offer. 

Be brave and take some risks. No one will see you or your work unless you show up and try. 

It will take a while. That’s normal and that’s okay. Keep learning, keep going to class and get to shows. It matters. Show up in the community you want to be a part of

What does it mean to you to be recognized as a distinguished alumnus?

This award made me smile so big! I am very grateful to be recognized by an institution that I respect so deeply. Moreover to be celebrated by the faculty of WMU and know that I have made them proud is everything. This award offers me the chance to show my gratitude for the Dance Department at WMU.