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Daniel Salas: From Ballet to Business

Born and raised in California, Daniel Salas (’19SPS, Nonprofit Management) never imagined moving across the country. His passion for dance eventually led him to pursue a job as a Major Gifts Associate at the American Ballet Theater (ABT).

He focused on raising funds for ABT’s initiatives and training programs to expand its role as America’s National Ballet Company. In addition to his full-time job, Salas attends Columbia University’s School of Professional Studies and plans to graduate in May 2019 with a Master of Science in Nonprofit Management.

In May 2018, after we’d produced Daniel’s story, he fulfilled his prediction that he could one day work in policy and advocacy when he took a development role at the Clinton Foundation. Working closely with the Chief Development Officer, he supports the nonprofit’s mission to create economic opportunity, improve public health, and inspire civic engagement and service.

Q: What led you to your interest in working for a ballet company?

A: I was actually a professional dancer here in New York City and I was doing it pretty successfully. I was pretty happy, but then there came a time when I was seeing the state of the arts in America and where they were going and how it was playing out funding wise on a federal level. And I was asking myself, ‘What can I do?’ Not just as an artist on stage, but what can I do to help perpetuate this art form and to help further the art form and make it last.

Q: Was it tough balancing a full-time job and school?

A: I called my advisor at Columbia and talked to the program director and they were incredibly supportive.… They want their students to succeed, but they also want their students to have this real world experience. So in their eyes, it was no conflict for me to have a full time job while also studying full time.

Q: Why did you specifically choose the Nonprofit Management program at the School of Professional Studies?

A: I chose Nonprofit Management because you can take courses in healthcare allocation or global issues of poverty, and you can really get a full range of what we do in the social sector. So even though I’m working in the arts now, maybe in 20 years I want to go work in policy and advocacy in the nation’s capital. You’re not just funneled to one field in this program, you have access to everything.

Q: Now that your career has shifted from dancer to employee, do you ever find yourself missing dance?

A. I miss aspects of dancing, but if I’m being honest, it never left me. Even though I’m not dancing on stage, I still feel as if my body is dancing. The joy and the freedom I felt dancing on stage, I feel when I’m on campus learning, or when I’m in my job and I’m doing something to advance the art that I don’t think I would be able to do if I would to be just physically performing. I feel like I’ve lived two lives now. I danced the roles I wanted to dance. I danced the work I wanted to dance and the theaters I wanted and the stages I wanted to dance on. And then I hung up my tights and my ballet shoes and now I’m going in this direction. It’s so interesting because, yes, I was so fulfilled dancing and I was so happy. But I’ve been feeling things I’ve never felt before.