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What Are You Passionate About

What are you passionate about

What are you Passionate About

What are you passionate about?  Makes you think, doesn’t it?  I knew exactly what I wanted to do at a very young age.  I wanted to dance.  There were no ifs, ands or buts about it.  It was very clear, never a doubt or question in my mind.

Why?…because I was able to escape when I was dancing.  On the outside it certainly didn’t seem I needed to flee from anything, but as I recall I was escaping myself.  I was a very shy, insecure child.  I could become someone else while I was dancing, someone confident and assured and beautiful.  There was nothing else I wanted to do.

Ahh youth…

But, there were definitely some set-backs.  One stands out more prominently than the rest.  When I was about 11 or 12 I was at a ballet camp one summer in Champlain Illinois and I auditioned for a scholarship for their full time school (sort of like a performing arts school, but strictly for ballet dancers).  After the audition I was presented with a partial scholarship.  My mother was very displeased.  She promptly marched up to the Artistic Director and asked why not a full scholarship as she was clearly the best dancer in the room (an unbiased opinion, I’m sure)?  He excused himself for a few minutes and upon his return he handed her a letter with the answer to her question.   It said in a nutshell that I would never make it as a ballet dancer because my hips were too big and my neck was too short.  That I would never make any audition passed the body type cut, meaning that I did not have the perfect ballet dancer’s body.  My parents, after much anguish, decided that I should see said letter.  At the time we were driving back to Ohio and I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  My dream was being shattered right before my eyes.  I wept the whole ride home and for the next few days.

Ultimately what that letter did was made me even more adamant in my pursuit of becoming the next Gelsey Kirkland.   So, I picked myself up and went back to class determined to prove him wrong!  And did I?…No, but it certainly didn’t stop me from trying!  I danced with the Cleveland Ballet all through High School, but I wasn’t satisfied.  My dream was to dance with one of the major New York City Ballet companies and I wasn’t going to stop until I did, or so I thought.

I graduated High School early and in April of the year I turned 17 I asked my parents if I could move to New York City to pursue a career in Ballet.  They were not thrilled, but were 100% supportive.  They agreed it was something I had to do and off I went.  And, oh yeah, did I mention they had a backup plan?  If I hadn’t started supporting myself in 6 months they were dragging me back home and sending me off to college.

So, this brings up a good point.  Is it the parent’s job to prepare us for failure, or do they let their children fly on their own and allow them to have their own experiences?  After all everybody has a different path.  How could parents possibly predict with any accuracy how things will turn out for someone else.

I truly believe my parents did the right thing, one by letting me read that letter and two not telling me their backup plan.  I think that might’ve put doubt in my otherwise foolproof plan of getting off the plane in New York City and immediately being discovered by Balanchine!  So, off to New York City I went and never looked back.  When we landed I hit the ground running.  I surrounded myself with creative people who all wanted what I wanted.  My days were spent in class honing my craft to within an inch of its life.  My mother used to say to me, ‘If you’re not the best in class what’s the point”.  I took those words to heart.  I was at the top of my “game”.

So, as I mentioned before that Artistic Director just happened to be right, but when that door closed many more opened!  I had to expand my “game” to suit the jobs I was being offered.  I was asked to do things I’d never done before and never knew I wanted until the challenge presented itself.

Never tell me that I can’t do something as I will do everything in my power to do exactly that.  I spent my days studying each and every new art form being asked of me so that when I went into an audition I was as confident as I could possibly be.  Don’t get me wrong I had many flaws, but I worked diligently to improve and or conceal them!

My creative desire was exploding and I was being offered opportunities I never dreamed possible.   My passion had changed course, but it was more than I could’ve ever dreamed of!

The morale of that story is, if there’s something you want to do by all means go out and do it, don’t wait.  After all what are you waiting for?  Take chances.  No fear!  My theory is that fear is something that other people have convinced you of.  It’s their unsure, insecure feelings that they project on to you.

Wipe the slate clean and take one baby step at a time, just like we did when we were kids, and face that fear head on.  Don’t be afraid to look inside yourself and find what you really want in life.  If it seems the real you is buried a bit too deep try thinking about what you used to play when you were a kid.  What you used to fantasize about back when we could be whatever we wanted to be.  Before we knew what rejection and failure was.  Before we let other people’s opinions distort our own view of ourselves.  Trust your instinct.

A while back I read a book about an Indian tribe who when raising their children never hovered.  They stayed back and observed.  They only involved themselves when they were needed.  The idea is to allow the child to listen to its own instincts.  If the parent is always telling the child what to watch out for and when, then the child stops listening and trusting his own natural instinct.

Fast forward to the present…it actually does feel like it all happened in fast motion…but I now find myself without all of that ‘passion’ and excitement in my life.  I’m comfortable and have a beautiful family that I adore.  I am thoroughly enjoying experiencing life through my son’s eyes.

So I go back to the original question, what am I passionate about?  Do I have to be head over heels about something in order to be fulfilled?  My passion isn’t as overwhelming as it was when I was young, but I know it’s still there.  Or maybe it’s possible my ‘passion’ isn’t all about me anymore.  Maybe I’m looking outside myself instead of embracing what I already have.  What comes to mind is my Meisner acting technique and the one phrase that was repeated over and over again in class, “Be in the moment”, four simple words, but oh so hard to accomplish.

what are you passionate aboutwhat are you passionate about

 

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Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye:  A few weeks ago I lost a very good friend of mine, Roy Miller, whom I’d known for 33 years. Funny expression, isn’t it?…If only he was just lost.

I was so hoping that this was just a big publicity stunt. It’s been known to boost sales for many a show in the past. I wouldn’t put it past him. After all he did get married on stage after one of the performances of “Drowsy Chaperone” which he produced on Broadway.  One of many Broadway shows he produced.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Opening Number

I met Roy the first day I moved to New York in the spring of 1980. I was 17 and he was the older and wiser 19 year old. I was living with 4 or 5 (it varied depending on the day) other girls in a one bedroom apartment on 56th and Broadway and Roy lived with a few guys two floors away.

It was very much like the show “Friends” in that we all went about our day auditioning, taking classes and looking for work and then when we got home we met up at one of the apartments (usually the guys) donned in togas & set to watch “Animal House”.

The Actor

When I met him, Roy was an actor. He was amazingly dedicated getting up in the wee hours every Thursday to pick up that week’s edition of “Backstage” hot off the presses so that he could be the first to line up for any auditions happening that day.

I had no interest in anything except ballet, but on one particular Thursday morning at three am, Roy shows me an audition for a summer stock production of “Oklahoma. His plan was to audition for ‘Will Parker’ and I would audition for ‘Dream Laurie’. I resisted as this would be my very first audition since moving to the city and it was for a musical not a ballet company, but he was adamant. “Then we could spend the summer together on the beach in Rhode Island”, he said. I didn’t even have an 8×10 so Roy got a hold of my high school picture, blew it up and stapled a resume to it (I’m not even sure it was mine come to think of it), and I got the job! I remember thinking how easy this musical theatre thing was. I later ate those words!

The direction of my life and my career changed dramatically that day thanks to Roy and I’ve never looked back. He taught me so many things as I had no skills other than ballet at the time. He got me a voice teacher an acting teacher and an agent. I have done some amazing things in this industry, things I never imaged I would ever do, all thanks to Roy’s insistence that I broaden my horizons.

He was someone who wouldn’t take “No” for an answer. He was dedicated, determined and downright belligerent. All qualities a good actor needs along with the talent of course. And talent he had, he could sing and act and move pretty well, but he could also do magic, play the accordion, and do impressions. In my eyes he could do anything and everything.

He was even the Yankees mascot which was this huge blue furry creature of a costume that he crawled into and walked around the stadium doing crazy things to entertain the crowd. He loved it! He loved everything he did. He dove head first into every job he had and was completely and totally absorbed.

The Chumley Years

Roy had a soft spot for dogs. Early on in our relationship he was on the road doing “They’re Playing Our Song” and we were in the middle of a fight with hundreds of miles between us and no cell phones so we were paying for every second spent bickering on the phone! The next thing I knew he showed up on Christmas morning at my door with an engagement ring and the cutest little Pekingese puppy I’d ever seen, Chumley . The greatest dog ever!! He was the most loyal, loving, laid back best friend anyone could ever want. He did have his favorite pee spot on the leg of the couch, but one look into those big brown eyes that seemed to say, “I’m sorry. I can’t help myself. I love you!” and all was forgiven (for both of them).

We moved to West Hollywood, California for about a year while I was shooting Fame. Our apartment had a balcony on the2nd floor. Roy concocted a pulley device so that he could lower Chumley’s crate down to the ground, Chumley would do his business then get back into the crate and Roy would pull him back up. They were so great together and so attached to each other.

Tasha

But Roy was concerned that Chumley was lonely when we weren’t around so he found him a girlfriend, Tasha. The second greatest dog ever! We had big plans for them. They’d have puppies and we’d give them to all of our friends, but that didn’t work out too well despite all of our efforts to make a love connection. We tried everything, but they just weren’t interested in each other in that way. They were way better as friends. I think that was true for Roy and me as well. We never actually officially broke up. I think because we still felt connected in some way.

The last text I got from Roy was on the 10th anniversary of Tasha’s passing. He said in the text, “She and Chumley are no doubt having a ball in doggie heaven”. I will forever have the image of all of them together up there having a blast!

Big Time Broadway Producer

Roy started his producing career at The Papermill Playhouse in 1991 where he produced hundreds of shows. When he left in 2004 he had immediate success producing on Broadway with the shows, “The Drowsy Chaperone” and “A Christmas Story: The Musical”, “West Side Story,” “Ragtime,” [title of show]”, “I’m Not Rappaport” and “The Pee Wee Herman show”.

Oddly enough one of the shows he was working on before he passed was “Animal House”.

He loved everything about the theatre. He lived for it. If anyone deserved that kind of success it was Roy. I don’t know if he ever had aspirations of being a producer. I think it was more like producing found him because he was good at it. He could charm the pants off of anyone. Broadway was lucky to have him.

Finale

I’m so proud and so lucky to have had Roy in my life. I guess I never imagined a life without knowing that he would always be there if I ever needed him. He touched so many lives in his short 52 years. He is so missed by all of us.

I have so many more memories of Roy. We spent a lot of time together and he was a very important part of my life at a very impressionable time. He always had and always will have a very special place in my heart where he will remain until we meet again.  I hate saying goodbye so let’s say until the next show!

My thoughts are with his family now and always.

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Phantom Of The Opera

Phantom of the Opera

Phantom of the Opera

Phantom of the Opera, it’s certainly the most well known show that I’ve done in my career.  It just became the only show on Broadway to surpass the 25 year mark.  It is the longest running Broadway show!  Yes, I know what you’re thinking…I was 2 when I got the job of Meg back in 1988…or at least I was hoping you were thinking that!

I was living in Los Angeles at the time just having finished filming the last year of the series Fame in which I played the character Jillian.  I got a call from an old friend of mine telling me this new show was coming to Broadway and they were having trouble finding the “Meg” character.  She needed to be able to sing, act and dance…on point!

Having been in LA for the last year, I was completely out of the Broadway scene, but I called my agent and they got me an audition.  I packed up and jumped on a plane the next day.  I went to the audition, danced, sang and read a scene from the show and then I flew back home the next morning.    When I walked in the door there was my answering machine blinking (no cell phones back then).  I listened to the message as I started to unpack my suitcase and it was my agent saying they wanted me back in New York for a callback!

I made another reservation for a round trip although this time I was going to spend the whole weekend since the callback was on a Friday.    Then I called my agents to make sure this was the last and final callback as it was getting a bit expensive!  They assured me it was.

This time when I arrived in the city I noticed on the buses and all of the telephone booths an ad with a white mask on a black background.  No copy at all, just the mask.  Then I started noticing them all over the city.   This was some ingenious advertising.  Talk about leaving them wanting more.  I guess this show “Phantom of the Opera” was going to be a pretty big deal.

Again I sang, danced and read for a roomful of people.  Afterwards they brought me back into the room and explained that I would have to sing for Andrew Lloyd Webber…at his apartment…in Trump towers the next day.

Needless to say I got absolutely no sleep that night.  I arrive at Andrew’s front door.  A woman answers and ushers me in to the most amazing apartment (more like mansion) I’d ever seen.  I walk in to the studio where there sits Andrew Lloyd Weber at the piano with Hal Prince next to him.  I give him my music as he himself played for me and as I’m singing I’m wondering if they can hear my knee caps shaking.  He then had me sing a bit from the score and then said “Thank you”.

I walked out a bit stunned thinking that was kind of cool, but I guess I didn’t get it.  So my boyfriend and I decided to rent a car and head to Atlantic City to blow off some of my nerves.  That night I happened to call the woman I was staying with in the city and she said that Johnson/Liff (the casting office for Phantom of the Opera) was trying to get a hold of me.  They wanted me to be at Chelsea studios on Monday morning.

But I was flying home on Monday!  I had no idea what was going on.  And it was Sunday so I couldn’t get a hold of my agents or the casting office to find out what this meant!

I show up Monday morning and there were about 100 people in the room.  Now I had even less idea what was going on and frankly I was too embarrassed to ask.

The Stage Manager explained that, one by one, everyone will stand and introduce themselves and say what character they will be playing.  So, we all sat down in a big circle and proceeded with the introductions.  They were all very confident in the knowledge of what roles they were playing.   So, when it came to me I said, “I’m Elisa and I think I might be playing the role of Meg, but I’m not sure?”  A burst of laughter erupted.

At that point the Stage Manager took me over and introduced me to Cameron McIntosh.  Apparently, he was the last person who had to sign off on me before I could officially be hired.  Thankfully he did and I was off and running.

It was one of the most exciting six months of my life.  Everyone who was anyone came to see the show from British Royalty to Michael Jackson.   They would keep us all on stage after the show so that they could meet us all and shake our hands (or bow in the case of Royalty).  It was a little like a receiving line at a wedding every single night for the first 6 months.

Here I am 25 (or so) years later.  Who knew?  I guess maybe Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber and Cameron McIntosh know how to put on a show!

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The Biz

The Biz

The Biz

The question I am asked most often is, do I miss the business.  It’s never an easy one for me to answer because it varies depending on the day’s events.  And it usually makes me a little uncomfortable.  That is to say, I’m not sure my answer will satisfy them, but here it goes.

There are so many things I miss.  Here are just a few;

  • My friends and the camaraderie that exists due to the nature of the business.  When you’re working life’s great, when you’re not life’s not so great, and it’s back to the old grind stone.
  • Performing.  There’s nothing like performing for an audience (or a camera for that matter).
  • That feeling in my stomach just before a performance.
  • The extreme highs that used to make my heart flutter.
  • The artistry and the creativity of making a character my own.
  • And believe it or not, the challenge.  I always did like a challenge.  Don’t ever tell me I can’t do something, because I’ll do everything in my power to prove you wrong!
  • And, of course, getting paid nicely for doing what I love and what comes oh so naturally to me and would do for free (although, don’t tell the producers that last part)!

So, yes I guess the short answer is yes.

But when my son came along my priorities changed drastically.  It used to be all about me.  Now it’s all about him and nurturing this perfect little mini person as I think nature intended.  And he’s the only one I got so it’s got to be perfect.  I don’t get another chance.  I can’t put into words how exciting it is to witness all of his amazing achievements.  I wouldn’t want anybody else to experience them, but me!

Sure I have my moments of missing “The Biz”, but I would miss my son way more!

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What The Arts Did For Me

What the Arts Did for Me

What the arts did for me

Fame

What the arts did for me…save my life!

That’s a bit dramatic, isn’t it?  Let me explain.

I was a painfully shy kid.  We moved around a lot which was good news because it meant that my dad was getting a promotion and it was always into a bigger house and a nicer neighborhood.  Sounds great except that I started to realize moving meant that I wouldn’t be seeing my old friends anymore and I’d have to find new ones.  The nicer the neighborhood got, the meaner the kids were.  Well, at least to the new kid.

With each move I got more scared and introverted.  I just didn’t fit in.  And every word that came out of my mouth felt stupid.  Everything I said came out wrong.  So, my revenge was to stop talking completely, in school at home, everywhere.  If I didn’t say anything, it couldn’t be stupid.

Brilliant idea, right?  I don’t know what I was thinking.  That was the problem.  I wasn’t thinking.  I was just scared…except…in dance class.  There I didn’t have to say a word and I was smart and I fit in and I felt pretty and popular and free of the fear!  It was like therapy for me.  I was able to work out all of my frustrations through movement.

Then I started taking voice lessons and acting classes and I found my voice (figuratively and literally) and I found who I was…who I am.

I truly believe that introducing the Arts into a child’s life will help them in whatever they choose to do.  They’ll develop grace, self-confidence and a healthy sense of competition.  They might just find out who they are.  I did.

What the arts did for me!

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Learn the Five Ballet Positions

Learn the five ballet positionsLearn the five ballet positions

Everyone can perform ballet. If you learn the five ballet positions of the feet and arms, you will be well on your way to performing ballet yourself. So if you have always wanted to learn ballet or need a refresher course, you will find the basic five ballet positions here.

The positions of the feet should always stem from the thighs rotating in the hip sockets. This is called a “turned out” position. The feet should only “turn out” as far as the hip sockets will allow. The soles of the feet should be flat on the floor. The majority of your weight should always be over the ball of the feet.

The arm positions correspond with the feet positions. The names and positions differ slightly according to the school or method you have chosen to follow such as Vaganova, French, Cecchetti, etc. The arms should be soft, but held from the back. They should slope down from the shoulder to the elbow, to the wrist and then the fingertips. The hands should be rounded as if holding a small ball in the palm of your hand, the fingers relaxed.

Learn the five ballet positions

First position

First position of the legs and feet: With the legs “turned out” from the hip sockets, the heels are placed together and the toes are as far apart as your hip sockets will allow.

 

 

First Position of the arms: The arms are rounded in front of you at waist level as if you are holding a beach ball out in front of you.

Learn the five ballet positions

Second position

 

Second Position of the legs and feet: With the legs “turned out” from the hip sockets the heels are placed shoulder length apart (your own shoulders should fit between the heels) and the toes are pointing in opposite directions.

Second Position of the arms: The arms move out to either side of your body. They should be slightly in front of you keeping the elbows rounded slightly without letting them drop below your wrists. The palms should face out.

Learn the five ballet positions

Third position

Third Position of the legs and feet: This position is rarely used in classical ballet. It’s mainly used for very young beginners as a preparation for fifth position. Start standing on your left leg with the leg “turned out” (from the hip socket), then place your right heel in front of the arch of your left (turned out) foot. So your left leg should rotate (up in the hip socket) counter clockwise and the right leg should rotate (up in the hip socket) clockwise. This position should be executed with both the right foot in front and then the left.

Third Position of the arms: Depending on what foot is in front, one arm is rounded over your head with the palm facing down (as in fifth position) and the other arm is out to the side slightly rounded with the palm facing out (as in a second position). The arms usually work in opposition of the feet.

Learn the five ballet positions

Fourth position

Fourth Position of the legs and feet: With both legs “turned out” (from the hip socket) place your right foot directly in front of your left foot with a space between the two feet the length of your own foot. Keep your weight evenly distributed between both feet. This position should be executed with both the right foot in front and then the left.

 

Fourth Position of the arms: Depending on what foot is in front, one arm is rounded over your head with the palm facing down (as in Fifth position) and the other arm is rounded in front of you with the palm facing in toward your waist (as in first position). The arms usually work in opposition of the feet.

Learn the five ballet positions

Fifth position

Fifth Position of the legs and feet: Stand on your left leg “turned out” then place your “turned out” right foot directly in front of the left with no space in between them. Your feet should be toe to heel, heel to toe with your left leg rotating in the hip socket counterclockwise and your right leg rotating in the hip socket clockwise. This position should be executed with both the right foot in front and then the left.

Fifth Position of the arms: Both arms are rounded over your head, as if your head was a beach ball that you are holding. The fingertips should be close together without actually touching. The palms facing down.

Sixth Position of the legs and feet: This position is rarely used in classical ballet. Both feet are in a “turned in”, parallel position side by side with no space between the feet. The sixth position typically does not have an official corresponding arm position.

En Bas Position of the arms or low fifth: (This is the position that the arms start in. It is also a position that you move through to get to another position.) The arms are rounded low in front of you just in front of your hips. There should be space between your arms and your body (to make room for a tutu). The fingertips should be close together without actually touching, the palms facing each other.

Learn the five ballet positions!

Click here to see – The five Ballet Positions 

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So You Want to Learn How to Tap Dance?

So You Want to Learn How to Tap Dance?

So You Want to Learn How to Tap Dance

It is really not hard to begin and it can be fun immediately!

Tap dancing at its core is about the rhythms you create and how you create them. The rhythms can be as simple or as complicated as you choose. A nursery rhyme can be a great rhythm to start with. It is the same for drummers. Where the beginning tap dancer often gets confused and frustrated is when they can “hear” the rhythms in their head but have trouble tapping out those rhythms in a coordinated way with their feet.

This is where it is important to recognize the other component in tap dancing, weight shifting. As toddlers we learn very quickly how to walk and then to run. But once we master those abilities and are able to get to where we want to go, we typically stop “teaching” our feet. Think about it. When we walk we are usually going in a forward direction while stepping right, left, right, left, etc. But in tap dancing we may move forward, backward, sideways, up and down, or not in any direction at all! We often make several sounds while standing on one foot before shifting to the other foot. In other words, the tap dancer must become very aware of where he/she needs his/her body weight to go to in order to help create the step! Children who skip, jump rope, or play the game of hopscotch learn this at a basic level very quickly.

Although the majority of the action in tap dancing rests at the feet, the truth is the entire body needs to be involved. With this in mind I suggest a game. Think of a rhythm. You can listen to your favorite song to help you find one if you like. Or you can simply use the happy birthday song. Now that you have your rhythm in your head, see how many different ways you can think of to tap out that rhythm with your feet. Do not worry about “looking good”. This is just an exercise in different ways to shift your weight.

When the music moves you, move to the music. Pretend the floor is a big drum and your feet are the drumsticks! The possibilities are endless and so is the fun. Once you get the sense of what tap dancing feels like, you are ready to learn specific steps that will lead to combination’s. Pretty soon you are doing routines and having the time of your life. So do not be afraid to pick up some tap shoes and join in!

So you want to learn how to tap dance?

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