“This is my mantra in life: Embrace the chaos. Because it makes for really good stories.”

We’re always dreaming big and finding ways to keep moving forward with our passion projects here at Passion Passport. We started the Storyteller Series to bring thoughtful travelers and storytellers to our NYC home, Primary, each month. Our first two events tackled travel photography with three talented women and meaningful storytelling with journalist Neil Shea.

Last night, we hosted Mickela Mallozzi, Emmy® Award-winning producer and host of “Bare Feet with Mickela Mallozzi,” mentor on our Passport Express program, and longtime friend of Passion Passport.

Season one of her Emmy® Award-winning series took her around the world, from rediscovering her family heritage in Southern Italy to being the only foreigner at a dance competition in the Cook Islands. Then season two saw Mickela discovering the world through the music and dance of the five boroughs of New York City.

We recapped her presentation and key tips from the night.

Finding Happiness through Dance

Mickela kicked off the night by getting the audience on their feet. Everyone in attendance stood and joined Mickela in dancing an abbreviated version of the Tarantella, a type of folk dance that originated in Southern Italy, where Mickela’s parents are from.

After a few minutes of clapping, linking elbows with partners, and turning in circles to the sound of an Italian song, there wasn’t a single face in the audience without a smile.

“Your heart’s pumping, right? You’re sweating a little bit; you’re smiling more,” Mickela said. “You made a connection with someone next to you … It’s a really immediate feeling that you get, that I don’t think you can get any other way. And I was really fortunate to figure that out.”

Finding your Voice: Creating your Passion Project

The first part of Mickela’s presentation focused on finding your voice, which she considers crucial to being any kind of storyteller. She encouraged everyone to pursue what they know and love.

“I know how to dance. I love to travel,” she said. “When I started this, I didn’t know how to produce a TV show, I had no journalism background, I had no TV production background, I had no hosting background, I am not a trained actress — none of that stuff. But I knew I had a good story.”

Mickela’s ability to immediately connect with people gave her an idea — an idea that has kept her up every night since. She wanted to experience the world through dance and tell her story through video.

The first episode of what would later become “Bare Feet” took Mickela to Southern Italy, where she rediscovered her heritage by attending a festival in Minturno, where her parents immigrated from over 40 years ago. Several years and a lot of road bumps later, Mickela is in the process of creating season three of her show.

“When you start a passion project, it’s going to take a really long time to make it work,” she said. “So you really have to like it, a lot.”

Mickela is proud that she’s never wavered in her mission. The initial idea was to travel the world and dance with people — and that’s what Mickela is still doing today.

Overcoming Challenges: Sticking with your Passion Project

Mickela is no stranger to challenges. In the six years she’s been working on “Bare Feet,” she’s had to overcome many obstacles, including having her footage held hostage for over a year by a production company. Her advice to sticking with a passion project through those challenges started with one key point — don’t give up on your project.

“You just have to have an end goal, and you’ll figure out the steps to get there,” she said.

Things like utilizing your network of family and friends, talking to strangers, and making an effort to listen to the people you’re working with can make all the difference. Mickela encouraged everyone to get interview subjects talking about the things they love — “When someone’s talking about something that they absolutely adore, their face lights up,” she said. Making an effort to listen can make all the difference, as Mickela knows well. When she reached out to the board of a dance festival in the Cook Islands known for never allowing press or tourists to attend, it was her genuine interest that convinced them to let her join them.  

“Talk to people. Connect with people. That’s what travel means to me.”

Mickela also told everyone to embrace the chaos and experience the moment. Travel isn’t best experienced through the lens of a camera, so put it down and just let yourself be in a specific moment for what it is.

“Anything can become a good story,” Mickela said. “Just embrace it and go with it.”

Making it Sustainable: The Reality of a Passion Project

The final part of Mickela’s presentation was all about how to ensure your passion project is sustainable, how to keep it moving forward.

“It will drive you crazy,” she warned. “But that’s okay.”

She advised that everyone be their own biggest advocate, get used to, but never settle, for hearing “no,” and to acknowledge all accomplishments along the way, no matter how small. “Dream big,” she said. “Put it on your wall and look at it every day.”

Mickela told everyone to create their own rules — it’s what Bourdain did, it’s what she did, and it’s what you should do. Learn along the way. Be proud of what you’re making.

“It’s supposed to be scary,” Mickela said. “If it wasn’t, everyone would do it. If you don’t care about it enough, it’s not worth it.”

After the presentation, Mickela answered questions ranging from how to keep a personal relationship alive while traveling to what she would have done differently in starting her show to her favorite style of dance (answer: it’s whatever dance she learned last). Mickela’s transparency left us inspired as creative pursuing our own passion projects, and made us all think about what we can do to dream bigger.

We would love for you to join us for our next Storyteller Series event! Sign up for our weekly newsletter to find out about our upcoming events and join the community.

Photographs by Mickela Mallozzi and Passion Passport.