By Marissa Provenzale, Staff Writer
It was the last night of a sold-out show. Melanie Monnich’s family sat lost in the sea of people, while she gracefully whirled about the stage as her black unitard swayed and stretched with her fluid movements. She unzipped part of her costume to reveal a colorful layer of fabric underneath, and gradually the seam started to unravel. Higher, higher, and higher the rip traveled up the leg stitching.
“Don’t stop dancing,” she recalls telling herself, as part of her pants was hanging off of her body. At least Monnich can say her last college performance was a memorable one.
Not only is Monnich an Illinois State alumni with an interesting college story to tell, but she is also now the newest teacher to Prospect’s dance program.
Monnich has been dancing for seemingly forever. Like most, her mom had signed her up as a toddler and as she grew she fell in love with the art form.
However, unlike most, she did not find her passion for dance in the studio, as her ballet teachers were consistently looking for potential professional dancers, which she did not have the body type for. It was only when her parents signed her up for a musical theater class that her teacher Pat Doyal commented on her passion and ability for dancing.
“My musical theater teacher was like you have potential to be something, where my other ballet teachers as I got older were not as supportive,” Monnich said. “Once I got that one comment it made me work that much harder, so then I was able to improve in all the areas of dance.”
When Monnich got to high school, she joined the Rolling Meadows orchesis team her sophomore year. Once again, an instructor recognized her special abilities; this instructor was Regina Good. Knowing Monnich had a passion and a talent for dance, Good suggested that Monnich would enjoy majoring in dance education. This push was all Monnich needed to realize that she was destined to take her love for the art and turn it into a career.
“I was so drawn in, and totally bought into it,” Monnich said. “I was like oh my gosh I have to do this.”
However, majoring in dance education was not the only thing Monnich discovered about herself while in high school. During her senior year after getting her gallbladder removed, she found out that she also has Celiac disease, which caused her to go gluten free permanently.
Monnich recounts senior year as being “a rough year” overall because of the health issues she was going through. However, Monnich describes making the transition to a wheatless lifestyle as very easy with the support of her family. Every day, she would simply drive home for lunch instead of going out with her friends.
Soon after her senior year, Monnich headed off to college at Illinois State University. It was there where Monnich self-diagnosed a dairy allergy, further limiting her dietary restrictions. She recounts eating gluten and dairy free to be harder in college, especially since the campus had no specialized options limiting her to chicken and veggies almost every day.
While this lifestyle does not sound appealing to the average college student, it made sense for Monnich not only because of her allergy, but as a dancer too. She began to notice her dancing improve as she became stronger with more muscle and less fat. Her unique diet ultimately gave her a leg up when it came to auditioning for Illinois State’s dance company each year.
Monnich graduated from Illinois State University in May of 2017 with a major in dance education and a minor in physical education. After graduation, before making her way to Prospect, she worked as an orchesis assistant and a teacher for Rolling Meadows High School and as an instructor at North Shore School of Dance in Highland Park.
At the end of last February, she heard that there would be a dance teacher position opening up at Rolling Meadows and Prospect. Monnich’s dance teaching degree is very specialized, meaning jobs like these were hard to come by, and she knew that she wanted to teach in District 214, so she applied for both jobs hoping her dream would come true. Monnich got the job at Prospect, and soon followed in the famed Kristin Burton’s– the previous face of Prospect’s dance program– footsteps.
Early on Monnich had to decide if the culture of her class would be more disciplined like Burton’s class, or more like of her past instructor’s curriculum.
“I think she left such a fantastic legacy here,” Monnich said referring to Burton. “I’m just trying to make sure that I make her proud and keep her legacy going, and make my own.”
Good was ultimately her biggest influence when it came down to designing the culture of her dance class. Monnich makes it her priority to create a “super positive excited energy” that suits all skill levels and gets everyone involved.
“I definitely feel like it is a little bit more universal,” Caroline Sandberg, a Dance 2 student, said.
Monnich is “a big fan of working out,” which definitely shines through in her classes. Every day, she starts her dance classes with an upbeat workout. Her goal is to share her passion for fitness and prepare kids for when they go to the gym on their own. Then, the workout is followed by a “confidence walk,” where teens strut across the dance floor to pop music. Her goal is to get kids out of their shell, while also creating an environment they feel comfortable in.
“It is not like she is the adult and I am the student,” Julia Fergus, a Dance 2 student, said. “It is like we are the same age; she is just in charge.”
Monnich left high school for college just to find herself back amongst teens in high school halls, but this time she is in control of what the class she attends looks like.
“Future plans are teaching for a long time in high school,” Monnich said. “I don’t think I would ever go off and teach at the studio again.”
To see more pictures and a Q and A, go to page 2