“As true as possible, as honest as possible and as kind as possible. If it takes me places great.”
How lucky am I to have an amazing friend in Michael Cusumano. Michael began dancing at age six and was in American Ballet Theater by age fifteen. After spending years in ABT he took a chance at Broadway where he landed jobs in Chicago and All Shook Up. Many fun cameo appearances and then fell into teaching. He now is a full-time teacher at Pace University, Broadway Dance Studio and travels. A performer at heart, he still dances, shares his better half in a very fun comedic way and aspires to make people happy and hear them laugh.
I first had the chance to meet Michael at Broadway Dance Center in NYC. I loved the way he taught with love, carried himself, and his fun personality. Since he has ventured to Ohio a few times to teach the students I work with at Patty’s Dance Center. We became fast friends. I have loved watching him teach, watch his social media adventures and can honestly say we are ballet soul mates.
As we all know I love people. Love knowing their hearts, what makes them tick and why they do what they do. I have been wanting to combine my love of dance with my passion for people with some fun interviews to share with all of you. What better way to start then with Michael! Our only flaw in this interview is we could talk and share for days. So you may need to listen in bite size nuggets.
In this interview you will learn…
A little about Michael
Dancing in a ballet company
Process of auditioning and hearing no
A touch of Broadway
Teaching ballet and Cusumano philosophy
Finding your true self and listening to your gut
Dancing through the pandemic
A touch of Self Love
Follow Michael Cusumano on Instagram at mikeycusumano and can also be found sharing ballet as madameolgav .
Have you ever been moving a million miles an hour and suddenly you are sick and down for the count? We often are terrible at saying no or shutting things off and actually resting. Our bodies force us to stop. The universe has shut down for the time being. The pandemic has slowed life, the constant moving, buzzing and running. Yes we all miss everything about being able to go to work, travel even dinner out, but when will we have this time again. Things have stopped and we are at home with our families. No travel, no running, still living, surviving and moving in a very new existence.
I am hopeful this time brings us a new gratitude for all things we normally take for granted. And also gives us a new appreciation and closer relationship with those people that we sometimes find ourselves passing in a hall or at the front door.
As with all things the dance world has changed. There are online dance classes popping in to all social media feeds. Connecting, choreographing and collaborating across states, living rooms, in tiny bedrooms, studio apartments in NYC and living rooms where a passing cat or dog can be found. What all those rooms are filled with are love. Love for dance, love for each other, love of connection and music. Our dance studio has successfully ventured online and its beautiful how everyone has come together. Here is a playlist I have been playing loud in the kitchen, in my makeshift dance space and on some zoom ballet center- stretch classes.
From the sky today with some beautiful sunshine. A clear sky and clear head. I have started traveling a lot again, I love meeting people and connecting in person. In the last couple weeks I have met a few people who are listening and loving my playlists. Also some secret dancers who are using my barre work. Of course it made me so happy because I love sharing and want it to bring people happiness. This playlist has been around all of September but I hadn’t gotten a chance to share it with all my twirlers. I won’t continue to tell you how much I love music and feel it is my love language. Excited for you to have it, play it, hear it and share it!
As we move into October we come to that sweet end of an amazing year. Goals, dreams and the never ending chase for happiness all in play. Good news is you still have time. Time to make it happen, time to pivot, chase the dream and always chase happiness. Happiness is a butterfly, here fluttering, gone, then back. As usual I am always chasing happiness.. Note the WINS, have gratitude in what you do have. I mean what is happiness? Really just our mindset on our life and where we are at. Again all the power is yours. So be the happiness, be the butterfly, find it in yourself. And when you land in one garden or flower and it doesn’t feel just so, flutter to the space that brings you joy!
Here are some songs…. For the car, the dance classroom, while you workout, for some ballet barre in your living room and to share with a friend.
I was thinking through what the last year brought and didn’t bring. What I learned and apparently what I still need to learn? And to celebrate all the last year brought…. If you are reading this you probably had a moment with me and if you didn’t you better show up in the coming year because it will be the best yet!
When I started typing this I was thinking of all the things that went wrong, what I could have done better. The place I wish I was verses where I am. Then the gratitude voice came in and I started thinking about what an amazing year this was, all the things I got right, the things I kicked ass at. I looked at how far I have come and how I have set myself up to take this year to the next level.
So lets start out with some Kelli WINS…
I think I am the healthiest and happiest I have been.
More balanced in life (chuckle but its real)
I have learned how to say no when I can’t do something
I moved into the first place of my own/ just mine plus three. I found it and made it happen!( ok so Karen helped a little)
I learned how to put air in my tire by myself – It’s real.
Cameron started his sophomore year at Ohio State.
Kenzie is the most independent, strong, resilient girl and we jumped from a plane on her 18th Birthday!
Emerson is going to school without tears!
Mason is an amazing reader, and math rockstar. Also pretty theatrical.
I LOVE my job. I feel confident in it, I love the brand and my team. The women I get to work with everyday, inspire me to be better.
Dance is still my heart. I think I have learned to lead with my strengths and I know those lift, teach and build great dancers. I also have worked on my weaknesses. It is my happy place, where I breathe easy, a safe place where I am comfortable and I soar. Last year I didn’t know that but I got my ballerina sass and grace back.
Amazing friends. I wish for you friends like mine. Who know me, see me for who I am, lift me, show up, make me laugh, tell me when I am wrong and tell me when I am right. Balcony friends who always pull me up. My everything!
I learned that in hockey its goals not points.
I have had a blog forever but this past year found the space and the words I wanted to share. I have gotten so much positive ballerina feedback. Feels so good to know my words don’t just drift into space.
I started taking advantage of airlines points, hotel points and Kroger points…. ( LOL)
I traveled…… I am too lucky and too tired to name all the places.
I had such a fun summer. No pressure, no meaning, JUST FUN!
I found music again.. I think there was a time that music seemed heavy, and the lyrics were too much. I am loving making playlists, sharing them and playing them with my windows down.
I took a college writing class.
I took ballet classes in LA, NY, Chicago, Columbus.
I started running again consistently.
I rode my bike 100 miles to End CANCER. ( Yes DAD working on the donation part next year I promise)
I read at least 6 books.
I had some incredible mentors in work, ballet and in life.
I LOVED hard. I am an all in lover and no regrets for being that way ever.
I “Marie Kondo” ed my life, my house, my relationships, work, projects and time. BOOM
I hiked, alone, with kids, with friends. Love the peak and the views.
I chased every sunset and got up early to see lots of sunrises.
I got Venmo.
I went to concerts, Broadway shows and a few hockey games.
I hired a life assistant. I mean this could be life changing.
I binged watched too many shows. If you need a show ask.
I believe I led with kindness in all ways and in all places.
All the things I learned I need to keep working on.
Letting GO – We all know I love people. I see the best always, and when I don’t see it I hope for it to appear. I know it’s in that person and I know if they try they can find it. The hard part is accepting people for how they are actually showing up and not for their potential. This happens in all spaces of my life. In the dance room. The dancer that I know is gifted and could blow everyone away, but they show up quiet, not focused, no drive and no fight. I can’t want it for them. It happens at work also. The hardest is when it happens in your personal life. When you see the person for so much more then they are willing to give and show up as. I dream big always and sometimes its hard to let go of the wish, or hope or dream of what it could be, and instead accept what is…
Buck UP – WOW we all do this. The going gets tough, things are hard and instead of figuring out the solution or what would improve things we are stuck in the why. Why it is tough, every single excuse, person and obstacle in the way. Generally those things and people are out of our control. So seeing the situation, recognizing it and then doing everything in your power to take it on and make the situation better. Out of the victim mindset.
Don’t sell yourself short – It was brought to my attention that I lead thoughts ideas and feelings by lowering everyones expectations instead of leading with confidence.” I think we will make it when you travel.” “This is probably a really silly idea you would never want to do but… ” I never realized I was doing this and I am going to change it NOW.
Stop trying to prove yourself to people who don’t care and don’t matter- If they are questioning who you are, making you doubt who you are, they aren’t your people. WOW do I do this everyday. I have a side of perfectionist to my personality. I know that seems comical because I am the perfect disaster. I am always trying to explain, satisfy, justify, defend, prove show how hard of a worker I am, what kind of mom I am, friend, sister, girlfriend, dance teacher. The truth is, if I show up as my best self. If I lead with what I know is right. If I am the best possible mom I can be. It won’t matter who questions, argues and wonders. And most likely their questions and confusion are in themselves not in me.
Grace – I think for the last couple years due to circumstance I got caught up in age. What it meant to be getting older? I’m not in my twenties anymore and did that make me less, not as much fun, not as hot and attractive? But guess what….. I have never ever been so confident in what I bring to the table. There is something to be said for knowing who you are. Knowing what you want, knowing what you don’t. Understanding life, work, relationships, children, your body, strengths, weaknesses, who your real friends are. Who really loves you. So this year I promise to just be. Not to question it, not to fight it, just to be.
Those are four pretty big things to work on… Hoping you are alongside for the challenge. Thank you for being a part of my world. It matters and you matter.
My birthday wish is that your list of wins is twice as long, and that the things you want to work on come easy …
Hey my sweet ballerina friends…. A few months ago when the dance season was wrapping I asked everyone to stay IN. Stay consistent, keep stretching, take classes, listen to music, ballet barre in your bedroom and cross training. Then the summer sun came, too much free time, good friends and things that not only took our hearts and energy but did make us smile. Summer happiness crept into my life as well and the sunshine stole my heart. Which is why you haven’t heard from me in awhile. I actually have a million things to write about, so you may hear from me a lot in the next few weeks. I was having a hard time trying to decide where to start… I decided to start with one of my favorite gifts, which is always a song.
The last couple weeks I have been really focused on choosing music for this years ballet pieces. Listening, listening again, crying, dancing and listening. And so tonight I decided to start from the very beginning. The place it all starts- with a song. Without music what is dance? So it seems that as I look to the first week of dance, and my first blog for this dance season I should start with what matters The MUSIC.
As we all know I am addicted to music. All music moves my heart and I think it is my secret love language. As a dance teacher choosing music for you dances is crucial. It makes and breaks your class and the year. Choosing the wrong song can be painful, not only for you but for your students. It causes you to dig deep and try to find inspiration every week that should easily be found in the musicality of the music. Here are five things to think about as you listen to music and match it to class lists.
Age and ability. This is obvious but the song needs to fit the students, Their maturity level as a dancer. Can they grasp the music, the notes and the theme?
Music that was used the year prior. You want to give the class and students knowledge and the challenge of dancing to different types, tempos and ideas.
Does it move you? I honestly think this could be one of the most important questions to ask yourself. If I cry when I listen to the song I know it is on the keep list. If it doesn’t move my heart and my soul I know it won’t move my spirit when I start to put the movements to it.
Can you see the vision? If I like the song I can lay out the dance in my mind in two quick listens. This does not mean I have actual steps, movements and transitions but I have an overall lay out of ideas that will move the dance forward.
Does it challenge you as a choreographer? hmmm do you want it to? Last year I honestly picked songs that were easier for me to create to. They didn’t make me think, but I loved them and they all came together. This year the songs that I have chosen are more difficult. When I was working on some ideas today, I considered bailing on one song, but… I know in my heart it is the right song. It moves me, I see the layout of the dance, it will move the students and I know they will grow. I also know it will push me, it will make me think, and it isn’t going to come easy to me. Guess what I am up for the challenge.
During the Summer I created a list of songs I loved. All that had potential for me to use in the coming year. Now that my songs are chosen I thought I would share with you the list of songs I did not use. I also have included some songs I used in years past. Click below for a playlist of ballet ideas. I hope as you pick songs, you dream, cry and are inspired to create big things. Music is the blank canvas. You are the paint brush and your dancers are the paint. Choose the songs that will bring color to your year, to your dancers, the stage and to all that watch.
I would love to play any role you need me to from afar. So if you need help choosing a song, seeing the vision, creating the steps or inspiring your students let me know. I want to share my love for dance across miles, oceans and skylines.
As always my gift is my song and this ones for you! Love Kelli
So excited to share this playlist. It is filled with songs I love. I have been playing them all to death, when running, in the car, in the kitchen and even falling asleep. So many good ones to use for some center barre at home or laying beside the pool.
Hoping you are jumping into whatever makes you happy this Summer!
So excited to share some new things on the blog this month, starting with introducing you to my amazing friend Kerry Wee. Kerry and I both grew up in Ohio and danced together through high school. After graduation we took very different life paths. Kerry ventured off to LA where she became an aerialist, dancer and choreographer with much professional success. So proud to know her, I aspire to be her and I love I can call her my very close west coast friend.
As dancers it is important to know, dance and be able to create in multiple different styles. Moving into the professional world it is also important to test your abilities and try new things on and off the ground. Kerry zoned in on her aerial skills after moving to LA. She performs as an aerialist, teaches and trains. She has an amazing blog and shares tips and tricks in her online space. I wanted to share my great friend’s work with all of you.
Read one of her blog entries below. Click on the link to subscribe to Wrap Your Head Around Silks to learn great insight about the dance world and fall in love with silks through Kerry’s eyes.
Rules on how to behave in a class setting exist for both the teacher and the student. They help facilitate a serious learning environment where the teacher has the undivided attention of the students and vice versa. They create structure and a safe place for the vulnerability that students experience when trying to comprehend, absorb and execute something difficult like silks. At some point in our lives, we have all been in a classroom environment and have been informed on the do’s and don’ts. Here’s your cheatsheet from a classically-trained dancer’s perspective.
Be on time.
Punctuality is what we attempt to do everyday with all of our appointments. We all have busy lives, but if you commit to going to class, then commit to being on time. Filing in late is disruptive to the teacher, the other students and it takes away from your own training time.
Having said that, this is a simple rule but not always so easy to do. I’ve got a long time student (who is also my editor) who races from her job through LA traffic to just barely make it to 6:30pm silks. On top of that, she’s got a boss who doesn’t seem to understand that getting to aerial is the most important thing in the world! Sarcasm aside, I get it. Even with the best intentions, sometimes it’s difficult to be on time. In other circumstances, it is possible to get in the car just ten minutes earlier. Make this small effort and you’ll feel more settled when the session begins.
Come prepared to work.
In any learning scenario, if you don’t do your homework, dress accordingly and follow instructions, you’re not going to reach your goals. When you walk into the studio focused and prepared, you are respecting your teacher, classmates and your own time. Aerial space in almost every city in the world is limited. Even in LA there’s a shortage of open gyms and classes during primetime hours (weekday evenings and weekends.) Take advantage of your studio time with the right mindset to receive the full benefits of your practice.
Have a good attitude.
Good energy is just as contagious as bad energy. As they say, “One bad apple spoils the bunch.” If you’ve had a crappy day, be aware that your classmates may only have this time out of their entire week to enjoy being in the air. In addition, you never know what how hard your classmate may be struggling to make this positive despite their own terrible day. Try to be positive even if it’s just for the good of the group.
Take corrections well.
Accepting and absorbing corrections can be challenging because it can feel very personal. Depending on many factors including your relationship with the teacher, how you feel that day, your strengths and weaknesses, corrections can feel like criticism. As a dancer, I often took it that way and it negatively impacted my growth and my experience in the process. I had to shift my perspective to get more out of my career. If your teacher corrects you, it’s a good thing. It means that he or she wants you to get better. In fact, any correction given in class can be applied to your practice. Soak it up like a sponge.
Get off your phone.
Put your phone down, you don’t need it. When you’re on your phone, your attention is divided. You get cheated out of your learning potential and it’s disrespectful to the teacher. You’ve committed to going to class and if it’s not a family or work emergency, then it can wait. Classes are usually an hour to ninety minutes, so being without your phone is doable. I challenge you to go DARK during that short amount of time.
Stay engaged for the entire class.
Being mentally present when you’re learning aerial is extremely important because your own life is in your hands. Most people are acutely aware of this, therefore I don’t usually see students mentally disengaging when they’re in the air. However, what I do see all the time, is that disengagement before and after airtime when other students are on the silks. Whether it’s stresses at work or at home or the very common addiction of checking your phone every five minutes, there are plenty of things that work against us in our task of staying in the present moment.
Here’s an exercise that I picked up in yoga that helps me keep my mind from wandering. Take note of the feeling of the fabric in your hands, the sweat on your brow, how the studio feels to you and the voices around you. Concentrate on what your body feels like in that moment and nothing else. Remind yourself that whatever needs your attention can wait.
Do not instruct other students.
Students instructing students in class is the most common thing that I come across when teaching aerial. It’s usually born from a place of empathy and helpfulness but with it comes an adult version of the game “telephone.” The teacher instructs and a student tries to help out a peer by repeating the instruction. They have only heard it once and more often than not, regurgitate it incorrectly. It’s like the blind leading the blind. Learn from your classmates by watching their mistakes and successes but let your teacher do the teaching.
Put on your listening hat on.
Listening is one of the most important human skill sets to practice. My teacher used to say to me, “you can’t really listen when you’re talking.”
Somedays I am a teacher and other days I am a student. Writing this blog and working with an editor is a good example of role reversal. As someone who wasn’t actually trained to write who is now doing so quite a bit, I know that I need guidance and corrections. When my editor takes out the time to make detailed notes, handing my drafts back bleeding red ink, my response back to her is always THANK YOU, regardless of how my ego may be reacting. She is trying to make me better and it’s my choice whether or not to take it in. Fighting it or arguing out of a bruised ego will not serve me.
As an aerial instructor, I give my students my time and all of my experience through lectures, instruction and corrections. Mentally checking out while your teacher is instructing you or your classmates cheats you out of what you could get out of class and devalues the time, knowledge and effort that your teacher puts in. On the flip side, when I’m in aerial class, I am a student who follows the same rules and I’m grateful to do so. It’s luxurious to have the time to work on myself with my ears open and mouth shut. Try refreshing your practice with these simple guidelines and I’ll bet you’ll see the payoff pretty quickly, whether it’s a feeling of stability with more structure, a sense of calm or a physical improvement.
It’s June! Time to think summer and warm weather. The weather that gives all the positive vibes that we have been longing for. So with that positivity today we talk about always being on our toes. This has come up for me a lot in the last year from a perceptive of work, dance, money, and dating. It’s something we should always be doing which is why I am writing about it.
They say “Summer bodies are made in the Winter.” You know that old trick don’t wait until it’s time to put the bikini on and start working out. If you wait it will always be to late. Workout, train, watch those carbs all winter so when the time comes you are bikini ready. Yet often we wait and then go into psycho workout mode. The gym has certainly been popping this month. Soon everyone will realize it’s too late and back off their workouts until January when they make it a new years resolution.
This logic applies in all areas of life. With Beautycounter people are working hard for a volume amount and a certain number of leaders to make it to the top of the compensation plan. The ones who make it, are the ones that work to increase their volume, and are stable and consistent. If you dabble and wait, your business won’t be ready to accept strong go getters. As a leader you wouldn’t have the needed volume or be strong enough to have a stable, strong business organization. You always must be on your toes, ten steps ahead, and ready.
DANCE – What do you want in your dance world? Sure you are always pushing in class, striving for more turns, leg a little higher, to be noticed and to be chosen for certain parts and sections. But what if you were preparing for two years from now. What if you were always prepping for that audition in LA, a broadway show or to assist Mia Michaels. I see so many dancers who have amazing natural talent. They thrive, they perform and they grow. Then in March and April their senior year they decide they are going to go after that big dream. They haven’t auditioned before, they have no idea how they will support themselves, no headshots, no resume, and they have never tried singing. GROUND ZERO! Very much like cramming for a test that you have not prepped for.
What if – What if you were ready? What if you took some singing classes, auditioned for the local Summer play just for the stage direction and dance? What if you got a job and saved every penny for your “when I am poor in NYC fund?” What if you not only worked in the classroom but out of the classroom- stretching, turning, cross training to build endurance and strength. What if you increased your musicality by listening to all music. WHAT IF!!
Take this Summer to plot and plan the dancer you will be for the 2019/2020 season. What improvements will you make and how? Will you stretch this summer, run, do all those sit-ups and planks we have been talking about. Prep yourself now so that you can make strides to be the a stronger dancer when you walk in the first day of class. Write down your goals and then write down what activities you will do each week to get there. Start now-
When you show up it matters. When you show up as your best self in all places you will feel it. There is something to be said for being ready. I think most of us are flying by the seat of our pants, rolling with it, trying to survive the day we are in. You know this is how I live, but I can tell you that I have visions and dreams for five years – ten years down the rode. Everything I do today is getting me there. Even what you are reading is part of my Kelli Master PLAN. So yes live in today- be present- live like there is no tomorrow, but there is a tomorrow. Look at your life and what you are doing today. Is how you are showing up, what you are doing, where you are and how you love, is it prepping you on goals and dreams you have.
It is not luck – success comes from being READY and in the right place and time. If you aren’t ready it honestly won’t matter if you are in the right place at the right moment.
Summer is just around the corner and I am already in total sunshine mode. For many of us dance recital is over and our schedule of school, eat, dance, sleep is on a little break. Time for a little freedom which is good, but if you are anything like me you feel a little lost. I will have some upcoming posts to remind you the importance of dancing this Summer. But I want to start off by saying – dance is done and take some time for you. This playlist is purely a fun one… A little heartbreak and a lot of joy…. So play it at the pool, on a run, in your car or even doing a little center barre in your room.
We know how passionate I am about dance. But really what I am most passionate about is people. I love understanding why someone makes the choices they do. I can get all wrapped up in who a person is and what makes them tick, dance, sing, paint or write. Or even what drives the creativity of a movie scene, theater staging or the lyrics to a song.
Art is an extension of a person, and as an artist a piece of yourself that you are offering up to the world. Really the inner most feelings, thoughts, a piece of your soul. When you research extremely talented artists, often they have had troubled lives and art is a release of all the emotion and baggage they hold onto. Or they don’t hold onto, because Art is their way of releasing it. The very best dancers I have come across are the ones that break the wall, let down the barrier and let their feelings and emotions pour out. They pour it onto the stage into the laps of their audiences. The audience is pulled through the journey of emotions, joy, fear, sadness, despair. The greatest dancers and artists genuinely feel the emotions that they give.
I have been dancing since I was three and have had amazing opportunities. I have always danced from my heart and have always been driven by music. Mia Michaels has always been someone I aspired to be. I took from her in New York city as a young little thing and was always impressed by her presence. She owned the room, exuded confidence and pushed all dancers to their brink. Last year she came to our studio and taught a master class. I really had no business being in there. I am way past my dance days. But it was fear, out of my comfort zone and my 17 year old daughter reminded me I may never get the chance to dance for her again. I know how she teaches, I know her style and I have danced in her classes multiple times before. But what she pulled from me that day, or what I gave her was something I had never done before. I don’t claim the dancing was good, it really wasn’t about that. It was about letting go, a journey and sharing your innermost secrets in movement. I think I danced out every broken relationship I had ever had, all the sorrow and grief of letting go, and the pain of knowing in my heart what isn’t mine. I danced, I jumped, I felt it all, and the people who were watching felt it too. That is dance, that is letting go and that is Art. Because Art is Truth. It is the darkest corners of your soul, it is what you sometimes hide, or are ashamed of, and through art it finds its place in the light. It tells people they aren’t alone. it brings them joy, tears and a new perspective.
I love people and I love what they bring to this life. I love to watch people create, be fearless, give a piece of who they are openly, honestly and authentically. It is brave, raw and true. So when you walk into a museum, when you listen to the song lyrics, when you read a poem, when your second grader hands you their artwork, really see it and see them. When you dance, when you spin, hear the song, partner, perform. Really be you and let go. Let me see you, all of you. Not just the parts you love, but all the pieces who create who you are, because that is dance, and that is art. Really that is life and we only have one. So show up in your truth and be proud of it.
As recital season is upon us. Take the stage in a new way. Take a moment before the night begins. Think of who you are, why you are there and what pieces you are ready to give. And I promise I will see you, all of you, I will see your truth!