LA based dance/fitness advocate Michelle Zeitlin is ready to reach out to the world with her unique brand of passion and pragmatism.
By Paul Ransom
Michelle Zeitlin is one of those polymath types; and she’s not afraid to advertise the fact. From her Los Angeles HQ she is looking to take her blend of dance and wellness to the world. When she lands in Australia in July for a brief master class tour she will doubtless be bringing her energetic, entrepreneurial zap to proceedings.
Dancer, choreographer, director, producer; Zeitlin has lived and worked on all sides of the entertainment fence and that hard won 360° perspective marks her out as something of a rarity.
“In an industry that can be filled with wishy-washiness and a shortage of integrity, I feel that being recognised for my authenticity is really a truth and a compliment,” she begins unabashed. “I love dance. I love expressing myself with my body. It is my flow; and I feel connected to the earth. That may sound esoteric or corny but I do feel that I’m in the moment when I move … We are naturally meant to move; it is our flight. When we move, we release endorphins and that’s good for our brains and our systems.”
Michelle Zeitlin is clearly big on ‘authenticity’. “Dance is honest for me,” she states upfront. “Just like when you can see ‘acting’ it doesn’t feel truthful; I feel that way about really good dance. It’s best when it’s simple. When movement is truthful, it comes from within. When I choreograph, I really start with a pulse, like breathing, and emerge from there.”
The other big string to her bow is the connect point between fitness and dance. For Zeitlin, dance is not simply a performance mode but something far more fundamental. “Dance is fitness and health,” she says. “There are unhealthy ways to practise dance but in the most basic terms dance is exercise, and good for the body.”
Obvious as that sounds, Zeitlin is taking it further. With a keen eye for business she is tapping into the growing market for programmes that address the burgeoning childhood obesity crisis. “There are many reasons kids are getting fatter and I’ve written a research paper on the subject,” she explains. “I’ve also been putting together a live show and ideas for a web and TV series that will be for the 6-12 year old elementary [primary] school set. Kids love to learn experientially and I’m combining my research, my passion for exercise and my love for kids with this project.”
Much of that fitness and financial ethos will make its way into Zeitlin’s down under masterclass programme in Melbourne. Dancers can expect a whole lot more than a few new moves. As she is quick to point out, “I teach like a director. I’m always studying the room; who is there, and how to develop the dancers.”
On the fitness front this means a merging of ideas from contemporary dance, yoga, isometrics, martial arts and cardio. A Zeitlin warm-up is “a body strengthener and builder”, rather than a straight stretch.
Yet for all her startling passion and enthusiasm, Michelle Zeitlin maintains a very cool focus on the ‘realpolitik’ of dance and entertainment. Whereas most artists find the business side of things nigh impossible (or even downright offensive), Zeitlin is a deliberate self-spruiker. It’s surely one of the reasons why her company More Zap Productions is going international.
“Being a professional dancer who chooses to subsist by living and working as a dancer, you must think of yourself as a product – a brand,” she begins bluntly. “Who are you? What do you have to say? What type are you? How do you stand out? This means the way you present yourself is really branding who you are. Dancers, actors, models and singers need to have a sense of who they are as products in a marketplace, not just as artists.”
For all of that, though, Zeitlin remains adamant about one thing. “If you want to dance, dance! Don’t do it because it’s trendy or because you want to back up Britney. Do it because you have something to say.”
So, is this what puts the ‘zap’ in More Zap Productions? “I think more zap is what I’m about,” she says. “People say ‘put the wow into it’ but that’s become a cliché, so I always thought that putting more zap into it was fresher. It’s an energy and a vitality. Motion.”
And Michelle Zeitlin certainly has energy. Her company has been involved in more than two thousand events since its inception; and it could easily have been more. “Before More Zap my company was called Triple Threat, which dancers and entertainers understand … but I once got a phone call asking for Triple Treat. They thought we were strippers!”
This is perhaps an apt metaphor for a woman who works from a space of refreshing honesty and ‘upfrontness’. Zeitlin’s modus operandi is to strip away much of the narrow thinking that can creep into dance practise. “I’m really excited about returning to Melbourne and exposing people to some new ideas that could broaden and enhance their tool kit for success in the performing arts and in the entertainment industry,” she adds.
With her consciously broad horizon approach, Michelle Zeitlin has turned a lifelong passion not simply into a source of income but a source of continued inspiration. “I guess I was destined to be either an actor or a spy,” she starts off joking. “Dance for me was an umbrella and an anchor. What I mean is that dance gave me a safe haven to develop, be a little different and have my creative safe place, even in grade school. It made me special and kept me happy. Dance was my anchor; in that I felt planted, disciplined and structured.”
Thus beginneth the lesson.
In Melbourne Michelle will be teaching at The Space Dance & Arts Centre. She will be working with the studio’s full time students but will also offer select open classes. Visit www.thespace.com.au for more information.
Photos: Michael Higgins