by Lee Anne Myslewski

Imagine waking up on a clear morning at the beginning of a new artistic adventure…the sun is high, the humidity is already in the air. And you’re headed to one of the largest outdoor theaters in the US…to that sacred backstage space. When you arrive you meet a tiny blonde pixie with a regal carriage, a serious dance pedigree and a will of steel…who accepts no excuses, but with a combination of high expectations, exuberance and encouragement runs you through a two hour marathon of stretching, barre work, runs across the floor, and short combinations.

This is the scenario that greets our Studio Artists as they embark on dance class with choreographer Susan Shields.

When we’re planning the curriculum for the Studio singers, there are two big questions that we use to decide whether a session or topic should be covered:

1. Is this something that they’ll likely get as part of their undergraduate/graduate curriculum?
2. Is this topic integral to their artistic or professional development?

Usually, we’re searching for that sweet spot…something they’ve had limited experience with as a student (tax law for freelancers, for example), but that is essential to their success as artists.

Sometimes, as is the case with our fantastic Italian coach Franca Gorraz, the answers to both #1 and #2 are both “yes!”

But some could say that, for example, our focus on ballet fundamentals, doesn’t meet either #1 (Movement for singers? Sure. Eurythmics? Most definitely. But ballet? Not on a regular basis…) or #2 (How does knowing the difference between a tondu and a battement make one a better singer?!).

I’d beg to differ.

When you immerse yourself in these morning sessions, Susan challenges you to make art – not with your voice, your most-favored medium – but with your body.

And suddenly the goal changes. The simple fact of finding yourself an artistic beginner in a foreign discipline? Humbling. But being able to make those connections between art, physicality and breath? A-ha moments, in the most exciting way.

Being able to make those connections with 11 other singers who are prodigiously gifted at vocalism, but are also new to ballet, is liberating.

(Sometimes you just need to hear the message through a different messenger.)

We have two more classes with La Bionda this summer before the routine pushes the morning classes aside in favor of evening rehearsals and performances. While there is magic to be found and mined in those rehearsals, I’d wager that there are also powerful spells cast during those early morning dance classes.

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