MILLTOWN — Saint Mark’s will join a few other Catholic high schools in offering a dance team beginning next year, and the director of that crew is bringing some serious credentials with her. Michelle Figueiredo is a former captain of the Philadelphia 76ers dance team who has been performing, teaching and judging dance for nearly all of her 29 years.
Figueiredo and Saint Mark’s admissions director, Rob DeMasi, met through a mutual acquaintance, and connected when the opportunity at the school came up. She made her first visit to the campus in late February and is excited to get things going.
“I’m really excited that I have the opportunity to build it from the ground up so I can kind of make it my own,” she said. “I’d like to create a really versatile dance team that excels in different styles of dance, and also create young dance leaders.”
The team, which will be co-ed, will start in the next month or so with an interest meeting, followed by auditions. Figueiredo said she will conduct some dance camps in the summer, and the team will be ready to perform in the fall. She envisions the dancers not only at sporting events, but also at charity events and a spring showcase. She would like to collaborate with other clubs or teams at Saint Mark’s on activities.
Saint Mark’s principal Thomas Fertal said the school has had a dance team over the years, but it’s been small and has lacked consistency and leadership. The move to expand the team is part of an effort to increase the offerings in the fine and performing arts.
“We have more students coming with dance scholarships as we look to offer more opportunities. We want to have a more formalized team for competition and school assemblies and activities,” he said. “There will be more opportunities as well in our musical productions as we have dedicated choreography and such as well.”
To get the dance team where the school wants it to be, a professional had to come aboard, he added.
A native of Little Egg Harbor, N.J., Figueiredo said her mother tells her she cried the first time she went to a dance class at age 3. She returned some time later with her mother’s best friend, who had five daughters, and it has been a passion ever since.
After graduating from Pinelands Regional High School — which, Figueiredo notes, has the exact same colors as Saint Mark’s — she attended Rider University in Ewing, N.J., where she was a member of the dance team and earned two degrees, one in dance performance. During her senior year, she started with the Sixers dance team.
She was with the basketball team from 2012-16, the last two years as captain. The team performed at all of the home games, and it did some promotional and charity appearances. She also had some opportunities that otherwise would never have occurred. She was a member of the NBA all-star dance team twice, for which the league selects one dancer from each team. That enabled her to dance at all-star games in New Orleans and at Madison Square Garden in New York. She also traveled overseas.
“With the Sixers, I went to China four times and danced on an NBA China tour. That’s really cool. While I was there, I got to explore the Great Wall of China, which is something I never thought I’d see in my life,” she said.
Her other major at Rider was in behavioral neuroscience, a degree she also uses professionally. Her full-time job is with a healthcare company and involves working with patients who need bracing, orthotic equipment and cryotherapy, to name a few.
“I go in, fit the patients, teach them how to use the products and devices,” she said.
At night, she teaches dance in Philadelphia, where she lives, and she sometimes adjudicates dance competitions on the weekends. All of her dance experience will help her at Saint Mark’s, she said.
“I’ve danced for so long and have done so many things within dance that I have a really good understanding of how things should run and operate. I can draw from all of my different experiences, and hopefully, that’ll work out and be run efficiently and smoothly,” she said.
She looks at the opportunities dance has afforded her, and she wants to give younger people a chance to do the same. She said the sport can build leaders, and there are some college scholarships available for dance.
“If I can condition these dancers to be young dance professionals and leaders, they can have a lot of opportunities at the collegiate level and the professional level,” she said.
When she is not dancing or working at her full-time job, Figueiredo loves to spend time at the beach and on the water, and she enjoys spending time with friends and family. She lists cooking and reading as interests.
She is ready for her new adventure at Saint Mark’s. “So excited to be here. Excited to see what’s to come, that’s for sure.”