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Ellen Sinopoli: A Life of Dance

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Her feet are artistically inclined, as are her heart and soul. Ellen Sinopoli, founder and creative director/choreographer of Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company, which she founded in 1991, brings unparalleled original dance works to the Capital Region. Her name and reputation are synonymous with creative art.

She moved to the Capital Region after living in Boston and New York City. Since beginning her choreographic career over a quarter century ago, Ellen has created over 85 new works, and her numerous collaborations and projects serve as a conduit to bring together talented regional and national artists from varied genres that include visual artists, sculptors, architects, composers and musicians, poets and storytellers, videographers, photographers and physicists. Ellen and her dancers also share their artistry and movement skills with school children and special needs populations through residencies, performances, creative movement workshops and movement story hours.

Ellen is truly a master teacher, and her efforts to educate young people about dance are extraordinary. She is Coordinator of Dance Programming at Russell Sage College, and she has taught at Siena College, Skidmore College, Union College, Albany Berkshire Ballet, Saratoga City Ballet and Guilderland Ballet, among others. 

Nurtured in the Arts
Born and raised in Hartford, Connecticut, she commented, “Even though I lived in a fairly large city, my elementary school was small and very local. From the second through eighth grade, my classmates were the same with just ten-plus students. Both my elementary and high schools were mostly composed of middle-class families. These were also quite diverse, both ethnically and religiously.” Ellen has her bachelor of arts in dance from Adelphi University, and her master’s degree in library science from City College of New York. 

Not surprisingly, her parents were both artists. Her father was a professional violinist from the age of 16, and his parents immigrated from Russia and Rumania, while her mom was a professional dancer from age 13 and could trace her roots to the Mayflower. “I was in a dance studio probably before I could walk and spent my entire childhood as a student of dance where my mother taught,” Ellen smiled. “When I was in high school, I studied ballet and modern dance. I was very fortunate, as most young people then weren’t exposed to modern dance as a teenager but learned more about this art form in college. Truda Kaschmann, legendary dancer and the mother of the modern dance movement in Hartford, was my modern dance teacher in high school and she was the person who initiated me into the world of modern dance. I developed a lifelong love for it.”

At college, members of the Paul Taylor Company were among her teachers. “Their artistry and teaching left a great impression upon me,” she smiled, “I feel very fortunate to have been exposed to this high level of talent.” She noted that Paul Taylor, who was an internationally renowned choreographer, recently passed away. 

Ellen had a brief interruption from dance early on when her husband was in the military during the Vietnam war; she often traveled with him. After this time in the military, their son, Jason, was born. Several years later she re-entered the world of dance on a very intense level. They were living in the Boston area and she was able to return to her dance career in her late 20s, performing with regional dance companies there. “I also started teaching at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, a private arts high school that taught music, theatre, dance and visual arts. I taught there a number of years and began doing some choreography within the Boston community and school itself,” she continued. 

“We moved to New York City when I was in my mid 40s for a year. I was working through what I wanted to do since I was no longer performing and decided I wanted to concentrate on developing my skills as a choreographer. When we moved to the Capital Region for my husband’s work, I was certain that I wanted to work with professional dancers and that’s when I formed my own dance company. I formed this company with the premise of making art where you are. This is where I was living, and I incorporated and the company became a 501(c)(3). The Capital Region has been very supportive. I reached out to many people to pick their brains as I was setting out on this new endeavor. Everyone I reached out to was very supportive. It is very special when you find that type of community. We are in our 28th year!”

Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company has always been a concert dance company. Ellen was the sole choreographer. As the company grew, it began to develop arts in education and outreach programs so Ellen and her dancers could bring dance to new audiences. Today, the company is all three things: concert dance, arts in education and outreach.  

ESDC’s vibrant arts in education program reaches several public and private schools each year. The company was recently invited to work with Saratoga Performing Arts Center to serve the Capital Region’s middle school population through SPAC’s Classical Kids program. These students will have the opportunity to attend the New York City Ballet at SPAC this summer.

Nurturing the Community
ESDC’s outreach programming brings dance to the public in a variety of ways through performances and workshops in varied venues, including galleries, playgrounds, libraries, museums and outdoor performance spaces. ESDC has an established partnership with the Center for Disability Services to serve its special needs population, as well.  

“We have been invited to perform several times at Sage College’s Opalka Gallery, which is a visual arts gallery,” she continued. “Once a year we work with the curator to select an exhibit that will lend itself to an ESDC site-specific performance that will be free and open to the public. That’s a wonderful example of the type of long-term partnerships we strive to establish. 

Ellen is inspired daily by her company dancers. The daily movement experience brings her extreme artistic satisfaction. She expressed that her dancers are talented, committed, creative and stunning both in the studio and on the stage. “These six dancers have been dancing with me at ESDC for a varying number of years that range from one to 15 years. My dancers come from different cities and states, including Minnesota, Pennsylvania, the Capital Region, Utah and Brooklyn.” 

The company’s first concert was at Skidmore College and featured collaborations with other artists. She continues to reach out to other artists to make many of her concerts a collaborative effort. Ellen usually creates one to two new works a year. 

Her company was asked to be in residence at The Egg in Albany, New York, a year after she started it, and it has maintained this relationship throughout. The Egg has two theatres; one seats 982, the other, 450. The company performs primarily in the large theatre but is sometimes in the small theater as well. ESDC also performs in many venues throughout the Capital Region. 

Sharing the Love
In an effort to attract young dancers to the world of modern dance, ESDC established The Egg Kids Project. Through an audition process, several teenage students are selected to participate. Each year, one of her dancers, Sara Senecal, creates a new dance that is performed at ESDC’s annual performance at The Egg. “Through The Egg Kids Project, these students get the experience of being on that stage in a concert that involves professional dancers. The young dancers are very interested in this premise, and we often get young dancers back year after year. This year, the young dancers will also perform at our annual fundraising gala.” she noted.

Ellen started teaching at Russell Sage College a few years after she moved here; that was over 25 years ago. That job has grown into a full-time position. “I consider it a nice balance to work with students of dance and with the professional dancers with my company,” she reiterated. “At RSC our dance programming supports creative arts in therapy majors who are concentrating in dance and musical theater or theater majors. Many of the students are taking these courses to keep dance in their lives. All of the dance courses are elective courses. It’s nice to work with dancers that aren’t necessarily driven to become professional dancers but simply enjoy the art form. I very much want to be a part of that with them. My students at RSC bring youth, enthusiasm, bravery and an openness to their study of dance,” she reflected. I am committed to bringing dance to as many individuals as possible whether they are future artists or future audiences,” she expressed.

Ellen lives in Troy. She and her husband, Tom, who recently passed away, were married 51 years. The two met in college and very much enjoyed social dancing. Their son, Jason, is 48 and lives in Brooklyn. He works as a lighting designer in New York City. When she’s not working, Ellen enjoys gardening and reading books, but her true passion has always been modern dance and choreography.

She has appeared on Schenectady Today and WMHT’s Local Artist interviews for PBS’ Fall Arts Festival, WMHT’s Our Town Troy and WAMC’s Roundtable. In 2002, she received the Educator of Excellence award from WTEN, an affiliate of ABC. She was one of the 100 Women of Excellence honored by the Albany-Colonie Regional Chamber of Commerce in 2000 and was a recipient of the 2000 Arts Awards from the Albany/ Schenectady League of Arts in the Capital Region of New York State. 

Ellen’s advice to other women resonates strongly. “Whatever your goals and dreams are, it is critical to get the very best training and education in that field. Especially in the artistic field, there are many talented individuals with equally strong ambitions. One has to be determined and committed. Living the life of an artist is about seeking out and fulfilling your vision. Be the very best you can be. Our society is truly defined by our culture and our artists. Be proud to be a part of that. And, if you want to enter the world of dance, find mentors to advise you. That is paramount for success.”

ESDC announces its New Dance/New Dancers Gala! Saturday, May 18, 2019. Join them for their next performance, Saturday, April 12, 2019, at 8:00 p.m. at the Hart Theatre in The Egg. Visit for more information.