Q & A:
- What was your favorite class, who was your favorite professor, or what is your fondest memory of Hofstra?
I would have to say my favorite class was Advanced Ballet taught by Professor Lance Westergard. A teacher who can continue to inspire students day in and day out is truly the most valuable kind of educator. I've always been drawn to people like that and have tried to model my own teaching style in that way.
- What was your first job after graduating from Hofstra, and what was the most valuable thing you learned there?
After a rigorous audition process, I earned a position on the Knicks City Dancers (KCD) in 2008. I performed for five years and was named captain of the team in my fifth season. Today, I am the manager of entertainment teams for the New York Knicks and New York Liberty as well as the coach of the Knicks City Dancers. Working for Madison Square Garden, the world's most famous arena, has been a truly invaluable and humbling experience. Through the years I have not only grown as a performer, but I've also grown as a woman and as a leader. I've had the unique opportunity to thrive on the entertainment side as dancer, but also on the corporate side as a manager and a coach. The lessons I've learned, relationships I've built, and projects I've brought to fruition have undoubtedly helped to shape the person I am today.
- What inspired you to pursue a career in dance?
I was inspired by dance at a very early age, and I knew this would be the focus of my career. Perhaps this is cliché, but I couldn’t imagine a future without this being my focus; I’m not certain I had a choice in the matter. I’ve always been drawn to this incredible art, so I simply decided to follow my instinct.
- What advice would you give to Hofstra students?
The best advice I could give to Hofstra students is to simply work hard toward your goals, and if you apply yourself you can absolutely attain them. I earned a BA in dance and psychology from Hofstra. It wasn't easy managing both workloads; however, it surely prepared me for the work. I'm now today at Madison Square Garden.
- In one word, how would you describe Hofstra?
- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In the future I hope to not only advance in the entertainment department at MSG but I also hope to have become an instrumental part in the development of the program. The KCD continue to set the standard for professional sports entertainment while embodying the essence and timeless appeal of New York entertainment at its finest. I feel privileged to be a part of that legacy, and I look forward to my future contributions to this stellar program.
- What is your favorite aspect of being head coach for the Knicks City Dancers? Why?
My favorite part of coaching the Knicks City Dancers is having the opportunity to work with the country's best dancers, choreographers, producers, and costumes designers. In addition, our work with the Garden of Dreams Foundation is perhaps the most important part of what we do. The nonprofit organization works with the Madison Square Garden Company to help children facing obstacles such as homelessness, extreme poverty, illness and foster care in the tri-state area. Our involvement in this cause is one of the most rewarding aspects of my position.
- How do you manage your position as head coach with your other responsibilities?
It's not easy balancing coaching with the rest of my responsibilities as manager; my day does not end at 5 p.m. I direct all KCD rehearsals and work every Knicks and Liberty home game. I also attend promotions and appearances locally and internationally. However, I have an extraordinary staff of performers, captains, coaches, athletic trainers, choreographers, and costume designers. Additionally, I am fortunate to be part of the best event presentation department in the professional sports entertainment industry. All of this work couldn't possibly get done without each and every one of them.
- Out of your performance portfolio, which one stands out in your mind as the best? (That can include any performance, i.e., commercials, plays, or dance shows.)
The experience that stands out most to me as a professional dancer was performing live with Pitbull at Fashion Rocks on CBS. However, my five years dancing with the Knicks City Dancers was by far the most memorable in my career!
Melissa Unterstein graduated from Hofstra University in 2007 with a BA in psychology and dance. After studying ballet, modern and jazz, Melissa went on to pursue a professional dance career in both concert and commercial dance. She has been featured in live performances, TV shows, and commercials, and has performed with recording artists such as Pitbull and Jason Derulo. In addition to performing, Melissa is a ballet and contemporary dance teacher who has won regional and national choreography awards for her work. In 2008 Melissa became a member of the Knicks City Dancers. She went on to perform with the team at Madison Square Garden for four seasons. Melissa took over the role of coach of the Knicks City Dancers in 2012. Today, she is the manager of entertainment teams for the New York Knicks and New York Liberty. Melissa directs the Knicks City Dancers, Knicks City Kids, NY Sticks Drumline, Air Elite Dunkers, Timeless Torches and Lil’ Torches. She resides in Massapequa Park, New York, with her husband, Kevin – a Hofstra alumnus and associate head coach for the Hofstra Men’s Lacrosse team.