NAHANT — From an early age, Sallee Slagle knew she had to dance — it was in her blood. Now, after one last performance at Town Hall Saturday night the founder of Forty Steps Dance is reflecting on the 30 years she spent performing in the town and the journey along the way.
“How many small coastal towns like us have been able to say they have their own modern dance?” Slagle asked.
Her career in dance began at the age of three at a little studio near her home. When she was five, the family moved, and there was no studio nearby. At the age of six Slagle said to her mother that she needed to “go back to dancing class.” There, in her new dancing studio, Slagle met her first mentor, Felicity Foote.
“She inspired me in so many ways,” Slagle said.
Foote taught her that she could communicate with dance and movements, and that to become a dancer she needed to be strict about her discipline. Dancers who worked with Foote were able to perform in Germany and Switzerland.
From there, Slagle studied at Boston Conservatory where she met her second mentor Ina Hahn, who danced with Doris Humphrey, and immersed Slagle in modern dance technique and traditions. After graduating, Slagle performed with several dance companies, but then she reconnected with Hahn and danced with Hahn’s Windhover Dance Company for over 25 years.
Slagle then moved to Nahant about 40 years ago, because she loved the ocean, and she opened her dance studio, Dance Dimensions, upstairs in the building of the American Legion.
“For a long time, the children were the full force of my dance studio and adults were supplementary,” said Slagle.
It was in Nahant that Slagle developed her Forty Steps Dance choreography, the name of which was inspired by one of the local beaches and nature, and her own passion for modern dance. The moves of the dance as well as the music chosen for the performance are reminiscent of the surrounding nature and of the sounds and deep powerful movements of the ocean.
“I connect with the ocean,” said Slagle.
With that passion Slagle soon organized a non-profit for modern dance, and she fundraised to pay her dancers. She explained that although ballet was her first love as a young girl, it was modern dance that finally took her heart.
“Modern dance is more expressive and also inclusive of different styles and movements,” said Slagle.
Samantha Wilson, who joined the group in 2008, and who participated in the Saturday performance, said that although before Forty Steps she danced on different stages in Boston, including Emerson Theater, Forty Steps was the first place who paid her for the performance.
“I finally did it,” said Wilson describing her feelings when she was paid her first $50 for a dance performance.
Slagle said that at times it seemed almost impossible for her to keep going, but as she felt driven by her spiritual and artistic motives, she always continued, and after a little while Nahant recognized they had their own performing dance company.
“It took a little while for Nahant to know they had their own dance company before they have embraced their unique cultural richness,” said Slagle.
Slagle said that she feels very lucky to be supported by the community, her family, and her husband. She said that she wants that modern dance moves forward and is carried on, and she hoped that her artists would use some of Forty Steps Dance movements in their future performances. Her dancers, as one of them, Liza Tremsina, put it, were inspired by Slagle’s energy.
“We need artists to feel alive,” said Slagle.
Slagle who danced herself at the performance said she inherited good genes from her family, and her mother is 97 and is doing well.
As for the future of the troupe, Slagle said she hopes to see a reincarnation somewhere at some point.