Megan Mekjian

I’m am so excited to present Megan Mekjian’s audition advice!  Why am I so excited you may ask?  Megan is an extremely strong singer, actor, dancer, AND teacher!  As such, I thought she could provide some particularly insightful audition information.

I met Megan at an open theatre dance class at CAP 21.  She was the teaching assistant and I was immediately wowed by her dancing – especially her precision!  The teacher introduced the two of us and we became fast friends.  It has been such a blessing to have her huge heart and upbeat personality in my life.  She is one of those girls who will eagerly do whatever is possible to help her friends reach their goals and is TRULY happy when they succeed.  As such, one can only be overjoyed with Megan’s own successes!  She is currently thrilling audiences as Fruma Sarah in the national tour of “Fiddler on the Roof.”  She was gracious enough to take time out of her busy schedule to share her audition advice with the Muscles for Musicians blog!

So – I am thrilled to present to you – MEGAN MEKJIAN!

Can you share a little bit of your dance background?

When I was 4 years old, I saw a children’s theatre production of Annie and turned to my mom and said, I don’t want to sit here, I want to do that! With persistent enthusiasm I began to perform in the school musical and did shows with the children’s theatre that ignited my passion. When I was about 7, I started taking dance classes. Initially, I just took dance to be a well-rounded performer. However, in the process of taking class, I became more and more enamored with dance itself. I have been studying ballet, jazz, and tap all throughout elementary, middle school, high school, college, and beyond! Because of shows or being on the road there have been some gaps in my training time. However, whenever I have the opportunity, I am always eager to get back into class!

How has your approach to auditions changed over the years?

When I first started auditioning in New York, I went to EVERY audition and sang basically the same song every time. As I have discovered myself more as a performer and person, I have been able to target auditions more specifically. I am now willing to sacrifice auditioning for EVERYTHING in order to spend more time preparing for auditions that I know I am right for. This has helped me both in the audition room and for my psyche. It is significantly more fulfilling to look at auditions as an opportunity to explore a role and character. I like to think of it as my chance to play a role that I would love to play.

Where do you like to stand during auditions and why?
In dance calls, I like to stand near the front in the beginning, but not directly expose myself to the creative team. This gives me the opportunity to see the choreography clearly without the pressure of being watched while I am trying to pick up the combination.

What do you wear to auditions?

I always wear something that I feel really good in! I like to incorporate the style of the show into my outfit as much as possible, but for me the most important thing is feeling confident and fabulous!

Do you have any advice on picking up choreography quickly at an audition?

Ahh!!! Always the challenge!! For me it is absolutely a matter of concentration. With so many possible external distractions (the other dancers, the creative team, hating your outfit, etc…) I am just constantly telling myself to focus back in on the steps and the choreographer. Easier said than done, though!!!!

What do you do if you are having trouble picking up a combination or style?

I really try to just pick up whatever I can. When I start getting down on myself, it is just the hardest hole to climb out of. I try to keep it positive and pick up whatever I can, even if it is just one eight count.

Would you suggest asking the choreographer questions if you are having trouble in an audition? If so, what kind?

When you ask questions in the audition room, it automatically draws attention to you. I try to only ask questions when I am confident I will be able to incorporate the direction into the combination. I think it is better to just get something wrong, then to get something wrong after the choreographer has specifically told YOU how to do it right. However, I think if you have the combination for the most part and are a little confused about something specific, asking questions is wonderful. Also, on the flip side, if you are given a correction and you take it, that is a fantastic opportunity to make a really great impression!

If you were to recommend one style of dance for a singer who moves to study – which would it be and why?

I recommend they study ballet because it really is the foundation of most dance styles. It will be the most prolific dance form as far as learning universal terms, positions, and steps.

Which classes do you take that you feel are most helpful for auditions?

I like taking any dance class! Picking up different combinations and teaching styles is so helpful for the audition room. For singing auditions, I like working with an audition coach on my material. I love having another pair of eyes to assess my work. It gives me a sense of confidence and also the opportunity to work out any musical kinks before presenting it an audition.

You are equally strong dancer as a singer – what would you say is the main difference between how your prepare for dance call versus a singing call.

In a weird way, I guess I prepare similarly for both dance and singing calls! For both, I do as much research on the role I am right for before I enter the room. For a dance call, if possible, I try to familiarize myself with the choreography. I use youtube to look up the show and/or choreographer and if I know anyone involved in the production I try to hire them to teach me the choreography. In a singing call, I also use youtube to research the music and composer. I then try to find a song with a similar message, style, and range as the character I am going in for.

What is the best audition advice you’ve ever received?

You are enough. Tell the story the best way you know how and trust yourself. If you try to be someone else or what you think they want, you are constantly chasing your own tail. They might as well just hire the person you are trying to be. However if you go in as the authentic you, you may or may not be right for the role, but at least you are only competing with yourself!

Michelle Joy

Michelle Joy IS a bundle of joy!  Every moment she is around you feel as though life is covered with sunshine.  She is also a spectacular dancer!  What really sets her apart aside from her impeccable technique is the emotion she brings to her dancing.  I saw her in Damnation of Faust at the Met Opera and was astounded by her free and passionate movement.  


It is incredibly exciting to be able to share her audition advice with you!  One thing that has always impressed me about Michelle is her laid back energy at auditions.  It is almost as though she is there just to have fun and go with the flow.  (In her own words: “I just try to perform my best.  I remind myself that everything else is out of my control.  When I was a younger dancer I used to compare myself to other dancers in the room.  Now I just try to stay focused on myself.”)  I think that attitude is part of what allows her to be so successful!  


But enough about my observations of the glorious Michelle Joy – let’s let her speak for herself!:)






Can you give us a little background your dance career?
  I’ve been dancing professionally for ten years nows.  I received my dance training from Houston Ballet Academy on full Scholarship.  After I graduated at age 17 I landed my first paid job with Colorado Ballet as an apprentice.  I later danced with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, American Repertory Ballet and The The Metropolitan Opera.  I’m currently performing this leading role a workshop of a new show, 49th St and Other Stories.
How has your approach to auditions changed over the years?
   
  I find I’m less stressed about auditions, I just try to perform my best.  I remind myself that everything else is out of my control.  When I was a younger dancer I used to compare myself to other dancers in the room.  Now I just try to stay focused on myself. 
Where do you like to stand during auditions and why?
  I like to stand is where I can see the combination the best and practice the steps.  Sometimes the most space is in the very front, (because some people are scared to stand there) and sometimes it’s in the back row.
What do you wear to auditions?

  I seem to do the best when I am wearing just a nice leotard and booty shots or something that shows my body.  Directors and choreographers want to see dancers, not their wardrobe.
Do you have any advice on picking up choreography quickly at an audition?

  I try not to over analyze any one step and let the entire combination sink it.  Paying close attention to the counts helps memorize the combination faster.
What do you do if you are having trouble picking up a combination or style?
  If I’m not familiar with the style I try to pay more attention to the counts and make sure that my body is in the right place at the right time.  Hip hop and tap combinations are very difficult for me. 
Would you suggest asking the choreographer questions if you are having trouble in an audition? If so, what kind?
  Yes, but I try to be specific, such as: “what is on count seven?” or “can you repeat the opening section?”
What was your most challenging audition and how did you conquer it?

  The most challenging audition for me was when I auditioned for American Repertory Ballet.  The audition was six hours long including a class, repertory, partnering and improve.  They kept making cuts after every different combination.  I had no idea I was going to be there all day long.  I ended up signing the only female contract at the end of the day, but I couldn’t walk for a week.
If you were to recommend one style of dance for a singer who moves to study – which would it be and why?

  I would suggest a musical theatre class such at Richard Pierlon’s class because the first hour you spend in the center working on technique and flexibility and the second half you work on a combination.


Which classes do you take that you feel are most helpful for auditions?

  Deborah Roshe’s jazz class at Steps on Broadway helped me learn to pick up choreography quickly and to put counts to every move. 

As a dancer who sings – how do you approach a singing callback? Do you have a different mentality than during a dance call?

  Naturally I’m way more nervous about the singing portion of the audition.  I’ve been taking weekly voice lessons for the past 3 years which has given me more confidence.  My voice teacher and I always prepare a song in advance for an audition which I may or may non get called back to sing.
Are there any classes you would recommend a non-dancer take to work on audition skills?

  Lisa Lockwood’s class at Steps is a great basic ballet class with lots of begging adults.  I think that taking a ballet one or twice a week will help anyone with the basics for any dance audition no matter what the style is.  
What is the best audition advice you’ve ever received?

  You’re not going to get any job sitting in your apartment.  Showing up is the most important thing whether you think you are right for the show or not.


Marisa’s Audition Advice

I first met the stunningly beautiful (inside AND out) Marisa Merliss while working on a production of “Fiddler on the Roof” with the Village Light Opera Group.  She was brought in as an assistant choreographer.  From the moment she stepped into the rehearsal room, she brought nothing but sunshine and happiness.  We had a huge cast which was comprised of performers ranging from six to eighty-six years old, most of non-dancers.  All needed to meet the challenge of executing the original Jerome Robbins choreography at a professional level, and yes this included the infamous bottle dance!  (Our brilliant director demanded nothing less than the best!)  Marisa was a true gift.   She attended every rehearsal, drilling the choreography with the cast and individually helping each performer with their technique, style, and emotional connection to the material.  Thanks to her hard work and expertise, the audience left the show saying that they couldn’t have seen better on Broadway.  She was asked to come in and do the same for the company’s production of “Carousel” this past spring.  While I was unable to attend, my friends who did all praised Marisa’s work above all compare.  In addition to her choreography/dance captain skills, Marisa is a gorgeous dancer and captivating performer.  Because of this,  I thought sharing her insight would be a beautiful way to start off the “Audition Advice” series of this blog.  So without further ado – here is MARISA MERLISS!

Can you give us a little background your dance career? ( where have you trained/worked, what would you say is your primary style)

I’ve been dancing since I was 3 and trained at the Hartford Conservatory, Atlanta Ballet, and currently take class at Steps, BDC and Peridance . Since graduation I’ve danced in several musicals, a few casino shows, and tons of dance industrials, concerts, and photoshoots. I’m currently the fit model for Capezio dancewear and am in the Off-Broadway Cabaret Show Erotic Broadway-Vintage Variety. I don’t really have a primary style at this point though theatre dance and tap are what I’m enjoying most these days.

How has your approach to auditions changed over the years?

I used to get so nervous and worked up at auditions. I would get hyperfocused on what the people behind the table where thinking and if I fit into their idea of what they were looking for, etc, etc. Now I tend to look at it as an opportunity to dance and perform, I walk in and have a good time. And if I get a job great, if not at least I had a fun day!

Where do you like to stand during auditions and why?
In the front close to the middle of the room. That way I’m seen, I can easily see what the choreographer is teaching and when it comes time to switch lines I can work out the choreography and screw it up, if need be, in a place where less people can see me.



Do you have any advice on picking up choreography quickly in auditions?

Stay IN THE ZONE and focus Focus FOCUS!!!!! Forget about the train delay that almost made you late for the audition, the fight you had with your boyfriend/girlfriend the night before, if you’ll be able to sublet your apt. if you get this job, blablablaaaaa…..keep what ever is weighing on your mind out of the audition room and out of your head. If there are a few steps you can’t get, even after you’ve asked the choreographer for help just focus on what you’re good at and figure out a way to get through it without drawing extra attention to your weaknesses. Don’t apologize in words or expression. Smile and perform with confidence, a lot of times choreographers really want to see if someone can pick up a style and perform rather than perfect every little step they threw at you in 10 minutes. Don’t sweat it, just go for it!

What do you do if you are having trouble picking up a combination or style? Would you suggest asking the choreographer questions if you are having trouble in an audition? If so, what kind?

If it’s a style issue I’ll pay close attention to the choreographers assistant since they are typically someone they have hired multiple times and who gets their style. Definitely ask a question if you need to, I wait for an appropriate moment and ask the choreographer or preferably the choreographer’s assistant. I also pay attention to the answers of the questions other people are asking. If the choreographer gives specific direction on a step, esp. one you asked a question about, do your best to execute that movement the way they directed you. Choreographers, just like directors, want to know that you are directable.




What was your most challenging audition and how did you conquer it? 

Hmmm…..I’ve had so many different kinds of challenging auditions it’s hard to choose. The first “challenging” audition that comes to mind was a dance agency audition about 4 years ago. I had been out of commission for 5 years due to severe injuries and multiple surgeries I had after having a terrible accident in a show I did. I was #622 on the sign in list and wanted to leave from the time I walked in the door. There were some really talented looking people covering every inch of the holding room and I remember feeling more intimidated than I was comfortable with. They brought us in the audition room in groups of 60 and taught the choreography so fast and I could barely see what was being taught through the sea of people. Then it was time to go and I thought to myself “ok, I can stress over getting half the steps and look like a fool or just go for it with the steps I’ve got, smile and enjoy the fact that I’m dancing again and hopefully look like a little less of a fool”. I did the latter and a week later I had a dance agent!



Are there any classes you would recommend a non-dancer take to work on audition skills? 

YES!!! Jim Cooney’s Beginner Theatre Dance Class at BDC is fantastic. If you want to focus in on Fosse Technique or learn choreography from shows Diana Laurenson at BDC/Steps is great. Jeff Shade has a great Beginner Theatre Dance Class at Steps which is so fun and creative, it helps you get out of your head and really enjoy “the dance” as he calls it! Find a good ballet class to work on your strength and I would recommend find a dancer friend and do a trade. Rent a studio, practice basic dance moves across the floor and work on specific choreography you may need to know for your auditions, then you help them on their audition songs or monologues. It’s a great free way for you both to boost your audition skills!

Lastly, you are an incredibly fit person, what sort of cross-training do you do to stay in shape? Is there anything you would especially suggest to singers?


Well first off, thank you! And secondly the best thing I think you can do is to find a couple or more workout that you enjoy or semi-enjoy doing. The best way to lose inches, tone, or if your at your optimal weight/size the best way to maintain it is to confuse your muscles. Change it up, don’t do the same thing every time you workout. I run a couple times a month but I can’t stand the treadmill or the eliptical so I picked up rollerblading and biking. Both of these activities are easier on your joints and less counterproductive to dancing. I also do pilates, occasionally yoga and I stretch every day. If you are into non-dance workout videos I really enjoy Rev Abs and Brazilian Butt Lift by Beachbody. I do a lot of workout video shoots and these programs were the ones I found to be most effective and fun.





Any other words of wisdom?

Hmm…..let’s see…..
Don’t offer to do anything in an audition that you don’t want to do 8 shows a week. If you’re worried about injuring yourself in an audition don’t be afraid to say no or walk out, jeopardizing your health is not worth it.
Find a way to enjoy the audition process and surround yourself with supportive positive people at auditions and more importantly in life!


***




You can learn more about Marisa Merliss and her career by visiting her website.  You will see that in addition to being an incredible dancer, she is a kind giving spirit, who is intelligent (She’s a pediatric nurse!) and a national baton twirling champion!  You can currently see her in Erotic Broadway at the Triad at 158. West 72nd street!  

SPOTLIGHT ON JOE! (Recommendations from an Adult Beginner)

My next spotlight is on my friend Joe.  I met Joe doing a production of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF with a wonderful company called The Village Light Opera.    He played an incredibly dashing and compassionate Fyedka.  He is a very talented musician excelling at voice and piano.  I can’t wait until GLEE discovers his overabundant talent and casts him!    
I have so much admiration for him because he tackling dance full force as an adult beginner.  He has put physical fitness, movement, and dance as a top priority in his life.  So many adults get frustrated and give up.  Not Joe!  He makes a commitment and keeps it!  His movement is definitely paying off!  Recently, he was one of the top dancers (and singers!) in the House of Peers in The Village Light Opera’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s IOLANTHE.  He has been kind enough to share his experiences and favorite classes with this blog!  I hope everyone is as inspired as I am!
NOW INTRODUCING JOE!

Six months ago, I had never taken a Dance class in my life. Sure, I’d done a grapevine in Annie in High School and I’d done about ten thousand Jazz squares in other shows, but I’d never had a need or desire to take Dance beyond that. Six months ago also marked the time that I decided to get serious about pursuing Musical Theater performance, and I knew that meant the inevitable: time to start taking the Dance classes that I’d put off for years. I, like many, had no idea where to start, so I began by picking the brains of every dancer I knew.
Early in my search, I happened on the gem that is Roy Arias studios. Located at 43rd and 8th, they are part of the Times Square Art Center. The studios themselves are not the most aesthetically pleasing, but what they lack in facilities, they make up in excellent teachers and friendly students. I’ve never once felt looked-down on or out-of-place, as I have on occasion at the bigger studios. The classes are very affordable, at $14 for a single class or $13 per class if you buy the 10 class card. They also do a workstudy program like the one at Steps; workstudy students work in the office for a few hours per week in exchange for discounted classes.
New York is a wonderful place because there are so many studios and teachers. However, I found that it is often daunting to know where to start when faced with so many options. Here’s the secret I found: you don’t need to know. You just need to do SOMETHING. Have an open mind and be ready to step out of your comfort zone a little. Don’t worry about looking foolish or having the right clothing or shoes (refer to the earlier article if you have questions). Just jump into a beginner class anywhere. Some studios even offer classes at the “Basic” level which are designed for people who have no real dance experience.

Joe dancing in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

Here are the classes that I take regularly, which you should definitely check out if you are new to the world of Dance:

I love Hitomi. She is about 5 foot nothing and has the best sense of humor in the world. The Basic Slow Beginner class is great because she designs it for people, like me, who’ve had no dance training. She spends the bulk of the time on basic fundamentals, usually at the barre. She will end with a simple step across the floor.
7pm on Fridays at Roy Arias.

Shelley is great. She is friendly and helpful, but serious and will correct you when you’re wrong. She is demanding, yet affectionate. She spends the first half the class on warm-up, barre work, stretches, and isolations. The other half is dedicated to learning a Jazz combination she’s choreographed for that day. It is always challenging but approachable.
7:30pm on Wednesdays at Roy Arias. She offers the same class Mondays and Fridays during the afternoon.

Another class of Shelley’s which directly precedes her Jazz class. Think of this class as Aerobics taught by a dancer and designed for dancers. It’s a very energetic hour-and-a-half. Take the two back-to-back and really kick your butt!
6pm on Wednesdays at Roy Arias. She offers the same class Mondays and Fridays during the afternoon.

Jeff’s class at STEPs is a lot of fun. While Jazz and Ballet are great for technique, Jeff’s class is really about using that technique in the context of Musical Theater. He does warm-up and stretching, work across the floor, and then a combination with a lot of Broadway flair.
7:30pm on Mondays and Wednesdays at Steps.

Very similar to Jeff Shade’s class and technique.
1:00pm on Saturdays at Steps. He also teaches Wednesdays during the afternoon.

Okay, I’ll admit that I am way over my head in this one. However, Rachel is out of this world. She just has this energy and sass about her that is infectious. It’s impossible to not love every moment of her class, even if you are falling over yourself.
Rachel is not on faculty at Roy Arias, but teaches “In Residence”. Check the website for when she is teaching.




***M4M note — Rachel subs at many dance studios in the city.  Here schedule is updated on her website.  

Me and Joe backstage during IOLANTHE

SPOTLIGHT ON JEN!

This is the week of spotlights!  Today I would like to spotlight an incredible woman named Jen!  She has a supernatural talent for finding the ridiculous in every situation – including DANCE CALLS!  She is the consummate non-dancer, but boy is she funny with fabulous singing chops!  No one has more fun than her in dance calls – which she will explain after I finish rambling about how amazing she is.

I first met Jen doing FIDDLER ON THE ROOF with The Village Light Opera where she played the greatest Grandma Tzeitel the world has ever seen.  One day we were both waiting for an audition together.  Since we had a few hours to wait, we left to eat dumplings (one of my many obsessions) and she told me about HER blog! http://www.jen365.blogspot.com/     HER blog is so awesome it was featured on CNN and in Cosmo Magazine!   The purpose of this blog is to try something new everyday – and her new things were usually crazy such as brushing her teeth in an elevator, wearing a mustache for a day, adopting a blue-footed boobie, and castrating a calf!  Check out her blog!  It’s inspiring!  She has changed it this year to “trying things she is bad at” – and this week it’s all about DANCE!  Keep checking it for updates on her progress!

I have learned so much from Jen about comedy and living life to its fullest!   I have also learned about patience and how to truly see the good in every single person and in every single situation.  A kinder heart has never existed.  She decided to channel this kindness towards helping me with my own blog.

So without further ado – let me introduce JEN!

M4M: What is your pursued career?  

Jen: Writer of books who auditions for low-pressure shows.
M4M: What are favorite forms of exercise and why?  

Jen: Free dance. The kind where there’s no choreography, no instructor, no elitists, no judgments. Just loud music and legwarmers. 

M4M: What are your favorite classes (in any form of fitness) in the city and what do you love about them? 
Jen: Dance Dance Party Party, which is all of the above and more. You wear whatever you want, dance however you feel and participate as much as you feel comfortable. Last time I went I wore a tutu and hot-pink Chucks.
***M4M note – you can see a video of Jen dancing at Dance Dance Party Party here on her blog!  

M4M: What do you do at home or on the road to stay in shape when you can’t get to a class or the gym? 

Jen: Rejoice in having such a lovely excuse! But I do travel a lot, and since I fear DVT almost as much as I fear dance auditions, I try to walk and stretch my legs in the galley during long flights. This usually means that a coffee pot gets knocked over, or a flight attendant has to clear her throat kinda loudly, but I have yet to accidentally open the emergency hatch with my foot. 

M4M: How do you approach a dance/movement audition? 


Jen: With abject fear and a deep desire to run.  I usually avoid auditions with a dance call. In the rare case I actually go through with it, the only option left is to just sell the hell out of it. If I can’t show that I can dance, I can show them how funny I am. I’ve had to learn how to commit to the gist of the choreography, since I’m too clunky to make the technical parts look good. What I lack in grace I make up for in enthusiasm. This has yielded desired results only once ever. 

M4M: What advice would you have for non-dancers in a dance audition?  (or what has been the most helpful bit of advice you’ve received regarding dance and movement auditions.) 
Jen: SELL IT! If you know you’re going for a non-dancing role, do the dance audition in character. It’s better to have them notice your exuberance than your terrible extension. 
Jen backstage FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

SPOTLIGHT ON DANIELLE!

Next in our SPOTLIGHT series is the gorgeous, talented, and infinitely generous Danielle!

I first met Danielle in ballet class at STEPS where her long legs were the envy of everyone in the class and her cheery hard working personality inspired all!   Though she hadn’t chosen teaching as her profession at the time, she was already working as a teacher at the “School at Steps.”  She asked me to be her teaching assistant for a class of three year olds.  This task seemed incredibly daunting to me, but I was soo gobsmacked by how Danielle made ballet fun and appropriately challenging each of her students, from the one who would rather be coloring outside to the one who would be future prima ballerina.  They were truly lucky students.  (Her students today continue to be lucky students!)

She also has a super power that I can only dream of – she is a FABULOUS TAPPER!  (I am quite possibly the world’s most horrendous tapper.  I have virtually zero sense of rhythm, I’m a ballerina so my feet always want to point and be above my head instead of relaxed and tapping near the ground, and to make matters worse, I’m actually allergic to the metal the taps are made out!  Now if that isn’t a sign!)  At any rate, Ms. Danielle generously offered to help me learn to tap, and I cannot even begin to express how grateful I am for the patience and humor she brought to each of our sessions.   Knowing my unwavering love of THE LITTLE MERMAID, she would even bring in arrangements of UNDER THE SEA knowing that if any song was gonna get me tapping, that was it!

THE BEST NEWS OF ALL is that YOU TOO can take class with Ms. Danielle!  She teaches both Zumba (at Steps Wed. at 8 p.m. and Ballet Hispanico Thursday at 7 p.m.) and Pilates (at Pilates on Fifth!)


Here’s a description of her Zumba class:

The Zumba® program fuses hypnotic Latin rhythms and easy-to-follow moves to create a one-of-a-kind fitness program that will blow you away. Our goal is simple: We want you to want to work out, to love working out, to get hooked. Zumba® Fanatics achieve long-term benefits while experiencing an absolute blast in one exciting hour of calorie-burning, body-energizing, awe-inspiring movements meant to engage and captivate for life!

***(M4M note – Zumba is a FABULOUS way to get into dance, even if you have never danced a day in your life!  We will hopefully be doing a Zumba special in the future featuring Danielle!)

I NOW WITHOUT FURTHER ADO – I INTRODUCE YOU DANIELLE!





What is your pursued career?  (Singer, dancer, actor, lawyer?) 
I refer to myself as a “Movement Educator”. I primarily teach dance to kids, but I am also a licensed ZUMBA Instructor and Certified to teach Pilates (Mat and Machines)

What are favorite forms of exercise and why?  
I love to move so I try to mix it up regularly! I did a lot of Pilates before I started teaching it but I am trying to rekindle my love for it. I am currently loving Yoga and Gyrotonic. Of course, there’s also dance class- ballet, tap, jazz, modern….Since I started teaching Zumba I have no interest in Cardio equipment except the rebounder.

What are your favorite classes (in any form of fitness) in the city and what do you love about them?
Classes at Sonic Yoga, especially those taught by Johanna Aldrich (she is AMAZING- you will think about your life in ways you might not usually- while you have your shoulder tucked under your elbow and your other knee by your ear-it’s everything yoga shoud be- contemplative, yet hot and sweaty, and flowing and a kick tush workout!)  They also do 6 week beginner workshops regularly for people who have no yoga experience at all.

Barre Sculpt and Cardiolates at Pilates on Fifth– These classes take pilates ideas and meld them with ballet barre work and weights and the rebounder, respectively, and they are fun ways to mix up your routine.

ZUMBA (is it too self serving if I say taught by ME) I teach at Steps on Broadway and Ballet Hispanico, but you can find amazing classes all over! http://38595.zumba.com/ It’s FUN and it is a non monotonous way of doing cardio!

What do you do at home or on the road to stay in shape when you can’t get to a class or the gym?The flexband is your best friend. It’s tiny and portable and makes doing mat work or just toning and stretching exercises more interesting on the road. I also like www.ultimatepilatesworkouts.com. Its a free service if you want to use it on your laptop, or you can pay to download workout videos to your mobile device. Katherine and Kimberly Corp lead a whole slew of awesome Pilates workouts to suit every need and level.

How do you approach a dance/movement audition and what advice would you have for non-dancers in a dance audition?  
I don’t (audition) anymore, because I’m an amazing teacher and a mediocre auditioner. However, I had the most success at auditions when I was wearing something that I felt good about my body in. (Leotards, goodbye. Hello, Lululemon tank and Skort). I also found that I performed best when I was really relaxed and didn’t get over invested in any specific call. If you put forth all of your energy when you take dance class, treating an audition “like class” in your head really helps. If you take class regularly and give it your all and take risks in class (It’s great to fall on your but in class), you have a stronger arsenal of things to help you in auditions.

Spotlight on Cara!

First of all, I would like to thank everyone who is following this blog for following this blog!  Secondly I would like to thanks several of my friends who offered to contribute their expertise to help make this blog more informative.  I sent out a questionnaire, and they kindly filled out their answers.  The first person I would like to spotlight is Cara.

Cara is an inspiration to everyone she meets.  A multi-talented, intelligent, kind, beautiful young lady who truly embodies the “never give up” attitude. You would be hard pressed to find someone who genuinely loves performing as much as she does.  She is also a true role model on how to always be supportive of friends and cast mates.  She has performed with several ballet companies, in a production of Cabaret, and as a solo dancer at the Met Opera!   You can see her in “Great Performances” production of Thais starring Renee Fleming!    She is currently performing in the Vegas Spectacular JUBILEE! much to the dismay of all who miss her presence in New York.  Vegas is a lucky city!

Without further ado – here is her advice for dancers who are just beginning to discover the art form in which she is building her career.

M4M: What is your pursued career?:

Cara: Musical theatre performer (singer, dancer, actor,) dance focus, currently a female dancer in Jubilee! (Las Vegas)

M4M: What are your favorite forms and exercise and why?

Cara: Well, nothing can compare with a good dance class. If I’m having a rough day, class always perks me up. It’s a great workout for mind and body, not to mention your creative side! I’m also addicted to pilates! I can feel the difference in my body when I’m out of pilates for too long. It just makes me feel centered and fit and prepared for my class or performance. Pilates is a great workout that is easy to adjust based on your fitness level or just how you’re feeling that day.
M4M: What are you favorite classes in New York?

Cara: My fav classes in the city are:
 For Pilates, definitely Robin Powell’s class at Steps! She is such a great and supportive teacher (as well as person, she helped me get the job I have now!) and her class will work you’re whole body.
 Diana Laurenson’s Musical Theatre Performance class at Steps and BDC (Broadway Dance Center) You actually learn Fosse rep from a true Fosse dancer. She works on your whole performance, even encouraging students to sing! She is super nice and takes a personal interest in all her students. Plus it’s a joy just to watch her demonstrate!
 Dana Moore’s Theatre Dance class at Steps. No one is more just plain cool than Dana, and her combos reflect that. She uses her own choreography, but it’s in the Fosse style. I also love her warm up, it gets you all warmed up and feeling good for class (with great music).
 Crystal Chapman’s Tap class She goes through everything step by step and it’s amazing how much she can fit into one class. She’s one of the best pull-back teachers in the city. She gives every student individual attention so even beginning tappers can make real progress.
Debbie Roshe’s Jazz class She tought me to dance to counts (no small feat!) which is a very important skill for dance auditions. Her class is a mix of jazz , hip hop, and balroom, and she focuses on precision.***
Martha Chapman’s ballet class at Dance New Amsterdam lot’s of fun, great for beginning or intermediate ballet students, or more advanced dancers who want to focus on technique.
James Kinney’s Theatre Dance class (subs at Steps and BDC) upbeat and fun with a great combo!

M4M: What do you do at home or on the road to stay in shape when you can’t get to a gym?

Cara: I often give myself a little pilates mat at home. It’s easy to do in a small space and a great workout.

(M4M note: Pilates will help you get an awesome bathing suit body like Cara’s!)
M4M:  How do you approach a dance or movement audition?

Cara: First I always make sure that I look the part, so I wear something form fitting that somewhat reflects the show, but not over the top. I also make sure my hair and make-up look polished and nice. I also try to know what the style of choreography is going to be, so research the show or choreographer.

M4M: What advice would you have for non-dancers in a dance audition?

Cara: I think the most important thing to remember at a dance audition is not to overthink yourself. Don’t be afraid or stressed. Stay calm and just think about learning the combo and performing it as taught. Also, don’t have a Chorus Line moment of “Please God, I need this job!” There was an audition yesterday and there will be another tomorrow. This audition will not make or break you. Also, I swear casting teams can smell desperation! Last year, I had a job coming up but kept auditioning, and I got kept twice as much as I normally do! Why? I think because I wasn’t psyching myself out thinking “I have to get this”. Which is not to say act like you don’t care. Have a nice smile and warm personality, but don’t cram it down people’s throats.

****
We are hoping to feature Cara again in our blog in a FOSSE special!  She is truly amazing at FOSSE choreography and will be able to give you some amazing Fosse poses to work on at home.  She was recently features in a production of Cabaret where she stole the show!:)

***Muscles for Musicians note.  Debbie Roshe’s class is amazing, but will probably be a little more than appropriately challenging for a beginner.  

Where to take class in Manhattan

So it’s January 1, 2011.  (1.1.11) I’m sure many of us have made resolutions to be healthier and start taking those dreaded dance classes.  But where to go?  Here are some recommendations from me.

Steps on Broadway:
www.stepsnyc.com

Broadway Dance Center:
http://www.broadwaydancecenter.com/

West Side Dance Project:
http://www.westsidedanceproject.com/

Ballet Arts:
http://www.balart.com/

MMAC (Manhattan Movement Arts Center)
http://www.manhattanmovement.com/classes/

Dance New Amsterdam
http://www.dnadance.org/site/

Roy Arias Dance:
http://royariasstudios.com/arias-dance-nyc/

All of the above mentioned dance studios offer wonderful classes, and everyone is going to mesh with different teachers and classes.  I’m going to discuss my personal recommendations below, but it’s definitely worth experimenting with different classes to see where you feel the most comfortable.

What most people would consider the two “main” studios in Manhattan are Steps and Broadway Dance Center.  They are both wonderful studios and share many of the same teachers and students.  Based on my observation, more students at Broadway Dance Center seem to be focused on “theatre dance” where Steps seems to have more “ballerinas” and “competition dancers.”  That being said, I’ve seen ABT and NYCB dancers at both studios and Broadway dancers at both studios.  I have always felt the dance students at both locations are respectful, friendly, and supportive.

STEPS happens to be my favorite dance studio in the city, but I’m more than slightly biased as I work there.  (They have a fabulous “work study” program where you can get unlimited classes for $3.50.  If money is an issue I highly recommend you look into it.)  Some beginner classes I would recommend for starters are:

Zumba with Danielle Pierce (Mondays at 8 p.m.)  This is a fabulous fun way of getting movement in your body!

Jeff Shade’s BEGINNING Theatre dance class.

Robert Atwood’s BEGINNING ballet.

Lisa Harvie BEGINNING jazz

Germaine Goodson’s BASIC tap

Adam Metzger BEGINNING tap

Robin Powell’s Pilates (great to find your core!)

I am less familiar with classes at Broadway Dance Center, but I have taken some amazing belly dancing classes there with Amira More.  i would highly recommend those.

Ballet Arts is a wonderful hidden studio!  It is very similiar to Steps and Broadway Dance in terms of teachers, class offerings, and professionalism, but the classes tend to be smaller and more low key and laid back.  I’ve enjoyed every class I’ve ever taken there.  If you are at Ballet Arts – check out Stephen Reed’s Open Level Theatre Dance class!  You will be hard pressed to find a kinder more comfortable and supportive atmosphere!

MMAC offers wonderful silks classes!  Learn the silks and boost up your special skills set for auditions.

Dance New Amsterdam is more of a “contemporary dance” haven.  I highly recommend Hicks and Eliasberg’s classes.  They truly epitomize love for the dance and will foster you as you become the best dancer you can be.

I’ve never taken class at Roy Arias or West Side Dance Project, but I’ve been told they are very supportive and good at working with singers who don’t have strong dance training or are just beginning as adults.  Many singers who felt uncomfortable at other dance studios found wonderful dance homes at both studios, so they are definitely worth checking out!

The trickiest part about finding a class that is right for you, is that the levels listed on a studio’s schedule aren’t always indicative of the actual level of the class or other dancers taking the class.  For example, David Howard teaches a beginning ballet class, but it is attended by principle dancers at the American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet.  If you are unsure about a class, you can always call a studio and ask for class details and what level dancer they recommend take the class.    The classes I listed above are truly beginner friendly.  If a class is listed as “basic” or “absolute beginner” it is typically truly for beginners.

Studios also offer workshops that are very beginner friendly.  For example, Steps offers “A Taste of Tap” which is a truly beginner adult workshop.  If you find a studio you like, check out the workshops they offer.  Here is a link to Steps on Broadway’s Adult Introductory Workshops.  Not only are they great classes, but also a great way to make friends who are facing the same dance challenges as you.

Now…stop reading and get to class!:)