“It would have been easier if we were on a float,” Nick Silverio (W ’18) explained carefully.
Instead, they had to dance through the balmy New York City and Washington D.C. streets, while wheeling a full–sized wooden door. There were 16 dancers and eight rainbow–colored doors—Nick’s was painted hot pink—and he and his dance partner shimmied through it while wearing matching white shorts and a sleeveless shirt. He kicked his leg up in a vertical split—for most people, this would mean wrenching pain, possible spinal column collapse—and then immediately knelt into the next move. It was one routine among five or six they performed along the route.
“It was so amazing and exhausting and kind of a once–in–a–lifetime thing,” Nick said.
As a working dancer, this was just one of three jobs he juggled that summer—dancing for Hilton Hotels in two pride parades, then working in pre–production choreography for Broadway’s upcoming Beetlejuice adaptation, then returning home to Shrewsbury, MA to teach dance clinics and classes.
While this spate of opportunities differs from most college summers, most people don’t make life–altering career choices at age three. When Nick started dancing, he was forced to decide between gymnastics and ballet. He chose ballet and forked onto a path that would later include Saturday Night Live, and Elf. Although at three years old, dancing on a table to Les Mis, he didn’t know that.
With dance accomplishments and an entertainment acumen already established by the time Nick started at Penn in 2013 (“I’m so old!”), he immediately joined Arts House Dance Company. He began spending his time twirling and bending in Platt Performing Arts House. Although Penn is a school with an impressive but admittedly de–emphasized performing arts scene, Nick has managed to mold his college life around dance. At graduation, he’ll pick up a diploma for a Wharton B.S. in Econ with a concentration in Commercial Dance Management. This curriculum supplemented his experience as the Artistic Director for Arts House and the Dance Council Chair of Penn’s Performing Arts Council.
“There are over 1,200 students in performing arts—that’s almost as much as Greek life,” he said, proffering the statistics from memory. “It’s pretty massive, and I think it’s so much more well–known than it was ten years ago.”
With his drop–everything–and–audition–in–New–York–on–a–Tuesday plan for graduation, Nick has had to reaffirm that he wants to pursue dance even though his classmates do OCR and splinter off into 9 to 5’s. But as one of the only guys in his girl–dominated childhood dance classes, the only person to come to Penn from his Massachusetts high school, the lone pupil in an individualized Wharton concentration, or as a soloist in an Arts House dance, he is used to doing his own thing. He doesn't need to be on the same track as his business–casual clad peers.
“But it’s totally fine, because we’re both doing things that make us happy,” Nick said.
After a freshman year toiling over the Wharton core, rehearsing in Platt, and auditioning for So You Think You Can Dance, Nick managed to get signed by Clear Talent Group—a Los Angeles–based national talent agency with clients across entertainment. Newly represented, Nick moved out of Harnwell after finals and immediately signed a lease in New York, where he would stay the summer and a subsequent gap year (actually more like a gap year and a half).
“It was really immediate, and I was really, really fortunate,” Nick said. “As a male dancer, there’s a lot less of us. I wouldn’t say job opportunities are easier, but it’s harder to find talented male dancers.”
Nick’s gap year (sans the Wharton startup narrative) included working as a backup dancer on America’s Got Talent and touring with the Broadway musical version of Elf as an ensemble member. After an inaugural performance in North Dakota, he performed the show—which includes 17 costume changes and a rollerblading scene—about 20 more times across the American Midwest. Despite the transition from dorm to hotel, squeezed among fellow cast members and usually around the youngest person on tour (Nick was 19 years old, compared to Santa, who was pushing 70), he didn’t mind the constant travel.
After twenty–odd years of performing, Nick says he can perform “anywhere,” although he prefers a shower and an hour’s notice. His dance shoes have swept across Penn’s own Irongate Theater, to Madison Square Garden, to a wedding party in Udaipur, India.
Dancing jobs have more stipulations than a stint in an office. For instance: a contract specified that he couldn’t gain more than five pounds over the course of the summer. It wasn’t an arbitrary number. He was laced into a steel–boned corset, part of a costume that was reputedly worth $20,000, and even a small weight gain could pop many expensive stitches.
Nick ate “a lot of tuna” that summer. Since he was playing a drag queen, in La Cage aux Folles, he also needed to learn how to dance in high heels while wearing a full face of makeup.
Working dancers must have a Swiss army knife of talents, and Nick’s creative resume includes, “drag makeup/performance, dislocate shoulders, tumbling.” Dance, which requires flexibility, quick movement, and rapid–fire adaptability, has perhaps rubbed off on Nick’s next–to–no–notice schedule.
“My Saturday Night Live booking? It happened in about…24 hours,” Nick recalled. A call, a last–minute train ticket, an audition in New York and then—he danced in an ensemble behind Kate McKinnon, who was playing Kellyanne Conway.
This spontaneous schedule comes with its share of unplanned snags, like getting blisters “gushing blood” from dancing in six–inch heels at a destination wedding in India. Or freezing up after getting asked to do a kip–up in an audition—a move where the dancer lies prone and then launches off the floor using their hands.
“I didn’t know if I would get off the floor,” Nick said. “But I did.”
On stage, a dancer can’t have a contingency plan, but Nick’s laser–like organization almost makes up for it. Too sensible to believe in astrology, his speculative energy is spent on stacking his Google calendar (a self–proclaimed) “work of art” and ensuring his email inbox remains at (0). His dance shoes are tucked away in a bag and his high heels are lined up in order of height, topping off at ten inches. Deft planning has allowed him balance an ever–shifting schedule and graduate in seven semesters instead of eight.
Nick “lives on Amtrak” while finishing up his remaining three classes and rehearsing around 15 hours every week. He shuttles from Philadelphia to New York for auditions and back with a regularity that his housemates find alarming (he had gone that very night to watch a friend perform in a drag show). His exact post–Penn future is being sketched out slowly, but it will likely include dance shows, a wooden floor, and a mirrored wall:
“I had a dream, in February” he said. “I had a dream that they built the Silverio Center for Dance. It was a—I kid you not—a state–of–the–art–theater. It seated about three hundred. Two massive studios, floor to ceiling windows. Gorgeous.”
If erected, it would only be a physical manifestation of the time, energy, and twirls Nick has given to Penn.
Read about the rest of the students profiled for 34th Street Magazine's Penn 10 project here.