Marissa Salemi first fell in love with dance at the age of 4 while growing up in Cranston, Rhode Island. At 15, she signed up for an assistant-teaching program at her dance studio, Atwood PAC, but it wasn’t until college that she realized teaching was a passion she wanted to continue.
She went on to teach in more than 30 studios all over New England, including the New England Dance Academy in Massachusetts and the Falmouth Dance Academy in Massachusetts. Then, in 2004, just one year after graduating Manhattanville College, she opened Breaking Ground Dance Center in Pleasantville using money she had saved—along with some help from her family.
“Before opening, I researched schools in the area and noticed that most schools either concentrated on training recreational students or pre-professional ones,” says Salemi, whose goal was to “merge both worlds, where all students could train under one roof, regardless of what type of student they were.”
In its first year of business, there were only five teachers, 60 students, and three dance studios at her facility. Fast-forward nine years to 2013, and there are now 12 teachers and 540 students. Though still in its original location, Breaking Dance has expanded twice—adding an additional studio in 2008 and another in 2011.
In addition to the 12 regular teachers, there are more than 50 teachers who come to lead workshops and make guest appearances at Breaking Ground. Most of them are well respected in the world of dance, like So You Think You Can Dance winner Sabra Johnson, choreographer Sonya Tayeh, and American Ballet Theatre soloist (and star of the movie Center Stage) Sascha Radetsky.
Mechelle Brooks, the mother of one of Marissa’s students, says, “The experience and knowledge that my daughter has received has surpassed my expectations of any dance studio in the Westchester area. Marissa’s dedication to her students is relentless, and she is forever doing what is needed to make each individual student be their best.”
Since Breaking Ground opened its doors, Salemi has taught more than 2,000 students how to successfully sway, twirl, boogie, and shake a leg. Many of those alumni have gone on to dance professionally, including Larissa Crecco, who has danced alongside Missy Elliot, Cee Lo Green, and Beyoncé; singer/performer Jillian Hervey; and Isabella Fonte, who’s currently a student at the School of American Ballet and who’s danced in The Nutcracker and performed with New York City Ballet principals like Maria Kowroski.
It’s not only mothers who are raving about Salemi, who was chosen as one of 914INC.’s “Wonderful Wunderkinds” in 2011. Breaking Ground has won top honors at various national and international dance competitions. Says Salemi: “I’ve always strived to be unique, and it’s of the utmost importance to me to go above and beyond and to give more than is expected.”
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