When I was no more than three, I would ask my parents if we could watch the “Guy Sleeping” movie again - otherwise known as my favorite part of Fantasia 2000, Rhapsody in Blue. George Gershwin’s concerto was an essential part of my early love for music. I’ve played piano for most of my life, but never expected that I would end up here and be able to do this for a living. I am now a piano performance major in my junior year at WMU; this past December, I got to live out my childhood dream performing as the soloist in Rhapsody in Blue!
Many graduates from the WMU Music Theatre Performance (MTP) program have graced the stages of Broadway, Chicago, National Tours and major regional theatres. It is always exciting to graduate and to have your theatre dreams come true. In addition to these opportunities, many music theatre students have taken their talents to the high seas. Performing as a cast member on one of the numerous cruise line has become a very lucrative and exciting way for young music theatre graduates to see the world and jumpstart their careers. While life on a cruise ship may not be for everyone, it is certainly an experience worth exploring.
The halls are once again filled with energy, campus is reawakened with bustling students, and spring semester has officially begun. But as we open up new textbooks and enter another exciting season of events and activities, let's not forget that it is still a time for the arts.
Why? We asked a few of our students to share their take. Here's what they had to say:
This past July, with nerves, excitement, and a U-Haul filled with her life’s possessions from four years spent in Kalamazoo, Cecily Shives moved across the country to begin her career as a professional ballerina. Unfortunately, however, this new life chapter did not start off on the right foot.
Just three weeks before her contract was set to commence with Ballet San Antonio, Cecily slipped and fell in rehearsal, breaking the fifth metatarsal in her foot. With an injury infamously known as the “dancer’s break,” Cecily was forced off the dance floor and into a boot before her professional career even started. The pain and frustration of being unable to dance, combined with the inevitable anxiety of coming into a new environment, left Cecily devastated.
My fascination with music’s effects on the brain began during childhood. I remember sitting in my bedroom as an 8-year-old listening to Avril Lavigne’s 2002 album Let Go on my portable CD player. I sat for hours playing my favorite songs on repeat until I memorized every vocal nuance. Listening to music created otherworldly adventures. The sounds of my favorite songs gave me chills and vivid visual experiences. Music’s power to manipulate emotions mystified me even at a young age.
Battling mental illness as an adolescent, I turned to music, singing in particular, for spiritual grounding. I ambled through middle school in a cloud of depression that made it difficult to connect with the people around me. However, singing gave me the power to express what I could not express through words. Listening to music allowed me to experience the positive and powerful feelings I could not feel otherwise. While singing, the world around me slowed down, and I saw my environment with more clarity. Making music felt like breathing in oxygen after being underwater for too long. It helped me make sense of my life and the world I lived in.
I always wondered...how? What’s going on in my brain when I’m singing and listening to music?
Those first few weeks after move-in almost seemed like summer camp. It felt like any day I would return to my own bed, home-cooked meals, and of course, my dog. The weeks eventually turned to months without returning to the place I grew up, and I was really missing home. I isolated myself to my dorm room and constantly reminisced about my friends, family, and being able to shower without flip flops on.
When I first came to Western, I was only sure of two things: one, dance was an integral part of my life that I never wanted to live without, and two, I only had four years to figure out how I was going to make that happen. My original plan was to double major in dance and education. I told myself it was a great way to combine my love for dance with my strengths of leadership and organization, but I realized it was mostly just an easy way to avoid the “do you really expect to get a job doing that?” question that artists get a lot. I did have a desire to teach, but I could teach dance without putting myself through the rigor of an additional degree.
Despite having two professional dancers as parents, Cecily’s dance journey wasn’t choreographed for her. Just watch her move about the stage or studio, and you’ll see that she got to where she is with her own commitment, resolve and talent.
“You’re only in this because your dad is with the Joffrey,” Cecily recalls peers sneering and suggesting when she was younger. While at times she internalized these resentful jabs and doubted herself, her dad, Willy Shives, reinforced that she was deserving of every role and spot because of her own abilities as a dancer.
“Even the times that I questioned it, he reminded me that he wouldn’t put me in a place that would reflect poorly on him,” she said. “I know I’ve earned [my success], but this flak is something I’ve had to deal with my whole life.”
Since graduating from Western Michigan University's Department of Dance in 1994, Melanie George has forged a multifaceted career as a jazz dancer, choreographer, educator, scholar and advocate. From our Q&A conversation with Melanie, it is clear that these roles do not just overlap. Rather, they are deeply intertwined and synergistic. According to Melanie in her artist statement, "my scholarship purposely and strategically informs my choreography and pedagogy. I have great interest in upsetting traditional hierarchies in dance on the stage and the page."
For the past week, we have been lucky to have had Melanie back on campus bringing her wide-ranging expertise and perspective to our students. Last Friday, Melanie served as a celebrity judge for the annual Dancing with the WMU/Kazoo Stars competition and scholarship fundraiser, offering thoughtful praise, critique and commentary on the evening's performances. Over the past several days, Melanie has also worked in the studio, teaching jazz dance classes and staging new choreography on first-year students. And later this afternoon, in recognition of her years of research, education, innovation and excellence in the world of dance, Melanie will be presented with the 2017 College of Fine Arts Distinguished Alumni Award for the Department of Dance.
Get to know more about Distinguished Alumna Melanie George in her interview with the Fine Print: