Updated: Feb 15
A few weeks ago, Atlanta Film and TV was fortunate to have a conversation with Hollywood/Broadway Director and Choreographer, Otis Sallid.
As a television show director, Otis has directed several shows such as Living Single, For Your Love, A Different World, and the dance sequences for the Nikki Cox Show. His children’s television show credits include, Out of the Box for Disney Channel, and Gullah Gullah for Nickelodeon. He has also produced and directed the opening sequences for The Jeff Foxworthy Show, Suddenly Susan, Living Single, and the ending title sequence for Sister Act II. During the holiday season, Otis produces and directs Mariah Carey in her show at the Beacon Theater in New York City. He has choreographed shows such as the Academy Awards, the Grammy Awards, Debbie Allen at Radio City, School Daze, and Malcolm X.
Originally from Harlem, New York, Otis grew up in a place called the Lincoln Projects. He shares with us how he fell in love with the art of dance and the moment when he realized he wanted to pursue dance as a livelihood.
"There was a community center, I went there, and I opened the door to the gymnasium, and there were these people dancing. And, I looked up, there was the most beautiful woman in the world. I had never seen a more beautiful woman in my whole entire life! I couldn’t take my eyes off of her while she was dancing. Her name was Shawneequa Baker-Scott who was one of the pioneers of dance in New York City. The next thing I knew, she saw me coming into the community center every day watching the girls and her dance. She pulled me over - because they always needed boys to lift the girls from one side of the stage to the other. And the next thing I know, she had me audition for The High School of The Performing Arts, the same school that the show FAME was about. I auditioned, and I got in!"
After sharing with us how he got accepted into The School of the Performing Arts, he then goes on to talk about how his mother was an advocate for him and admits that “at first I didn’t get into the School of the Performing Arts. My mother went down to that school and asked, ‘why didn’t my son get in? He’s just as good as anyone else here.' And, they changed their minds!”
"I came out of the School of the Performing Arts, and I auditioned for The Juilliard School, and I got in! I went there for a while, but I couldn’t finish because we didn’t have the money, and I didn’t have the support, and I didn’t have the pedigree to understand what was needed. You needed a certain amount of stability to go to school like Julliard. So, I ended up having to get a job and I ended up landing a few major Broadway shows like Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Wiz, Me and Bessie, and Coming up Town where I was Gregory Hines’ understudy for a while. I started to work, and I was able to work on my craft, which was wonderful. I put a dance company together while I was in one of the Broadway shows, and I didn’t have all the money to produce it in the theater, and Gregory Hines said ‘I’ll give you the money to do it.’ And, I said ‘Gregory I’ll give it back to you,’ and I did."
- Otis Sallid
Atlanta Film and TV: During your time as a student in New York City, you were taught by many of the greats: Eleo Pomare, Thelma Hill, Alvin Ailey, and Martha Graham — just to name a few. Can you name a singular common thread each of them possessed as, both, dancers and instructors?
Otis Sallid: There was a sense to always be in the pursuit of excellence. To be in the pursuit of excellence is a muscle. Another thing I learned and what I teach my students is ‘Do not be committed to people who are not committed to your commitment.’ What happens when you’re in the pursuit of excellence? The devil pops up! When you’re trying to make something happen, the devil pops up. It’s just the nature of things. So, you have to discern that that person is not for me. They tell you that the Stradivarius Violin is the most expensive violin that you can buy. And, they always say ‘Put your Stradivarius away,’ because it’s not for everybody. If you’re out there trying to reach for some goal, you just can’t be out there for everybody.
Otis shares some advice to those pursuing a career in the film and television industry.
"There’s nothing wrong with volunteering. You don’t always have to be paid. You should volunteer with people who you know, love, and trust and whose work you want to be around. You should just give it. If they aren’t paying you, that’s okay, because you need to learn it and if you ain’t got it, then you need to go get it. A lot of young people now don’t want to do that. When I first moved to Hollywood I would volunteer for everything. I would shoot with any director that I liked and I would offer my services. By the end of that year, my reel could not be touched. There's nothing wrong with volunteering. I still do that today. The business isn’t always about money - sometimes it is! But, it’s about relationships. And, it's not always about you, (the actor, dancer, etc.) but, the emphasis should be on the work, and you'll always come out ahead."
- Otis Sallid
Atlanta Film and TV: What are some projects you’re currently working on, and what’s the next big thing we can expect from Otis Sallid?
Otis Sallid: “Commercially, I am a director and I’ve been asked to write and direct online The Catholic Charities Fundraiser on February 27th. I’m writing a new musical that I am very proud of called Joe about Joe Lewis, the heavyweight champion of the world. Whitesnake is helping me with my new opera I’m working on called The Moon, my Afro-Asian Apocalyptic Opera, that I am excited about because I write every day. And, I’ve created something called Atlanta Repertoire Theater (ATL REP.) I’ve made a deal with a couple of local businesses to start shooting local talent in interesting places such as Starbucks, Waffle House, just really supporting the culture. So, we’re looking for serious talent to shoot. Lastly, I am working on Hidden Shange which will be September 24th and will be about all the hidden works of Ntozake Shange. I am really committed to using local artists, because I don’t think they get as much of a shot here, and I am trying to find ways to make the ecosystem of the arts in Atlanta profitable."