DNA travel is becoming increasingly trendy, but no one has done it quite like Mickela Mallozzi. Mallozzi is the four-time Emmy® Award-winning host and Executive Producer of Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi, a travel series highlighting the diversity of dance which airs on public television stations nationwide and on Amazon Prime globally. On her show, Mallozzi, a professional dancer, and trained musician, journeys around the world, following dance in the lives of everyday people wherever she goes. The new series takes it one step further as she unearths and follows her DNA trail, including her family’s heritage in Southern Italy. It’s DNA travel, one dance at a time. Mallozzi is an energetic whirlwind, but she recently stopped just long enough to talk about her new series, which has just started to air.
Everett Potter: Mickela, in the new series, you set out to discover dance and music from destinations based on your own DNA map. How did you come up with this concept?
Mickela Mallozzi: I come from an immigrant family – both of my parents were born in a small town in Southern Italy, a place called Minturno, and we actually filmed the Bare Feet pilot episode in Minturno. I set out to rediscover my own roots through dance and music as the catalyst for this entire idea of experiencing the world one dance at a time through Bare Feet. So many of my fans loved that personal story, and when we featured the immigrant stories in the second season, Bare Feet in NYC, I was inspired to try and recreate that emotion of digging deeper into my own roots. But I only knew I was Italian, and both sides of my family can trace their roots back to Minturno for generations – so, I decided to get my DNA tested and base every destination from this new season on my own DNA map! It’s been a life-changing experience, to say the least.
Potter: What company did you use to research your DNA?
Mallozzi: I used the four major DNA products on the market: 23andMe, AncestryDNA, MyHeritageDNA, and NatGeo Geno 2.0 – I wanted to have as much information to play with as possible. All of the tests came out pretty similarly – a nice Mediterranean swath, but there were some beautiful outliers that I took some artistic liberty in assembling this new season. You also have to remember to take this information with a grain of salt – the results are 100% determined by the test data group, so your results depend on the populations taking these DNA tests. That being said, there are definitely emotional moments throughout this season where I meet with people who look like my relatives, including in Morocco and Uzbekistan! It’s an incredible feeling to feel so connected to such a foreign place and culture, much different than the one I grew up with.
Potter: So where did your DNA trail lead you for this season’s shows?
Mallozzi: Italy is geographically situated in an interesting place in the world – constantly invaded by varying cultures over the centuries, visited by traders, mariners, etc. I was very lucky that my DNA make-up had enough diversity to do an entire season. And again, I was able to cherry-pick specific destinations from the regions in my results that I wanted to visit. The regions included in my DNA map are of course Italy, but also the Iberian Peninsula, The Caucuses, The Balkans, the edge of Central Asia, North Africa, Northwestern Europe, and The Middle East.
Potter: Is it possible for any of your fans and viewers to go to any of the places that you’ve unearthed and dance themselves?
Mallozzi: Of course! That’s the whole point – I want to inspire so many people to maybe book their own DNA holiday or vacation based on their results! And as always, if my viewers are willing to try some of the dances and music from these places, even better! I would say the most accessible of the places we visit is Ireland since trad sessions take place every night in pubs almost everywhere in the country. A little bit of lager or Irish whiskey can always help the apprehensive dancer to jump up and join in as well. There are also amazing opportunities to take dance lessons in Irish step dancing, sean nos dance, Irish ceilis and set dances, and just surrounding yourself with the music gets your toe tapping. Seville, Spain is an incredible city to take flamenco lessons, which I highly recommend! And pretty much every destination we feature, I would want my viewers to consider visiting because of their beautiful dances and music – that’s why I loved visiting them as well.
Potter: Any surprises in your DNA?
Mallozzi: Uzbekistan is the furthest east that my DNA takes me, and when we went to Bukhara, centrally located in the country, I met a woman named Liliya who was my dance teacher. She resembled my mother’s side of the family – my mother’s sister and all of her first cousins – it was uncanny. And I felt an immediate connection with her just because she felt so familiar to me. Here I was, almost 4,000 miles away from where my family comes from in Minturno, Italy, dancing with a woman who looks like she could be my relative. That magical moment happened so many times while filming this new season, it was quite powerful.
Potter: What is it about dance and travel that you find so compelling?
Mallozzi: Dance is 100% a universal language that I’ve been using to connect with people since I can remember. I like to say, “I make new friends by dancing with strangers,” and I’ve been using dance as my superpower well before I started the Bare Feet TV series – that’s actually what inspired me to start Bare Feet in the first place because that is how I traveled for fun. Whenever I was in a place where I couldn’t speak the local language, I would find opportunities to dance with people – either at a celebration or holiday. And of course I loved the dance and music experiences I was having, but what was even more powerful were the immediate friendships I was making by sharing a quick dance – all of a sudden I was invited into someone’s home for a meal with their family or I was invited to a sibling’s wedding the next day! None of these amazing experiences would have been possible without starting that initial conversation through dance. Plus, dancing is just so much fun.