By Jacki 12.15.2016
This month, I was excited to have the opportunity to talk with professional dancer, instructor, performer, and all around amazing woman, Laura Ashburn Breece! Laura and I talked about everything from her dance career, to her inspirations, to even how she stays balanced during the holiday season. Learn more about this top Studio K instructor below and I guarantee that you will be motivated to get out on the dance floor right by her side!
JA: How long have you been dancing?
LAB: I have always loved to dance, but didn’t get the opportunity to start formal classes until 1984, when I was in college. I began with modern, then also went on to take all of the jazz and ballet classes that were offered. Despite its worldwide reputation for engineering, Purdue University also has a very strong commitment to the arts. My dance professors were fantastic women, who taught me so very much in just three years. The training and foundation I received at Purdue has served me well over the past 30 years! After I got married and started my family, I continued to take classes and teach at local studios. That led to assisting with music programs at my children’s schools, and then on to choreographing for theaters.
JA: What styles of dance you do teach at Studio K?
LAB: Currently, I teach Music Theater and Stretch & Flex, a barre class. I also teach Tap Burn, Rock the Barre, and anything else that Kristin or I dream up!
JA: What drew you to Musical Theater and to your Cabaret Performance Group?
LAB: I have always enjoyed musical theatre, and the record albums for all of the Broadway musicals were often playing in my house growing up. We would watch the occasional one that would show up on TV, like Cinderella or the Sound of Music, but mostly we listened to the records, memorized the entire score, and acted out the parts in the backyard. The first musical production I directed was The Music Man, Jr. at Westlake Elementary. We had 68 kids, average age 11, bringing River City, Iowa to life. It was a mountain of work, staging all those children and teaching them the art form, but the show was a smashing success. Many of those children are now full time in the performing arts business, or have made music a significant part of their lives.
The cabaret performance group I am in, PUR the Company, came out of a dance class I was taking. It was a master class, just teachers and advanced adults, and a lovely woman was teaching. Her style was fun, sassy, sexy, and jazzy, and I fell in love with her choreography. She was considering building a company, and invited me to perform with them. Considering I was 45 at the time, to be invited to do anything sexy was a VICTORY! I had a fantastic time dancing with PUR for the next six years, and still join them from time to time for special performances. I learned a lot about showmanship, staging, improvisation, and audience interaction while performing with PUR. We did shows in the Indianapolis and Chicago markets, and were known for our sophisticated twist on burlesque. Our style was not about pasties and gimmicks; it was theatrical and dance-based, and I loved it.
JA: What is your absolute favorite musical?
LAB: That’s a tough question! There are some I love for the musical score, and others for the theme and style. My all time favorites are Sweet Charity, The Sound of Music, Godspell,, The Pajama Game, Jesus Christ Superstar, All Shook Up, Schoolhouse Rock Live, and Hello, Dolly! Other titles that I really like are Catch Me If You Can, In the Heights, Aida, and Once Upon a Mattress. I have found something to enjoy and appreciate about all of the musicals that I’ve attended! Seeing the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway from row 5 was a highlight, along with seeing a former student slaying the stage in On the Town last May.
JA: If you could pick any profession outside of dance, what would it be?
LAB: When I’m not dancing, I’m a photographer, so probably that. I enjoy shooting action, head shots, weddings and portraits. I’m a people person, and I love helping someone get comfortable enough to be themselves in front of my camera. I’ll shoot birds, bugs and buildings if a client needs it, but I prefer humans. If I were not in a creative field, I would be a physician. I come from a medical family, and we love to talk shop! I am fascinated by the human body and its ability to heal itself. I am also inspired by my sisters, who are physicians and O.R. Nurses.
JA: How do you balance during the crazy holiday season?
LAB: This is an ongoing struggle for just about everyone I know, especially if there are kids involved. So many extra things are going on, things to prepare, shopping to do, and don’t forget the Christmas cards! To balance my holiday stress, I make conscious decisions. I shop carefully and in cash, prioritizing memories and experiences over STUFF. (This protects me from January being a credit card trauma.) I make an effort to see holiday musical productions. They help me get my heart in the right place, remember the Reason for the Season, and support my fellow artists. Above all, practice moderation. You are not required to have everything purchased and wrapped by Thanksgiving; your house does not have to look like HGTV; your kitchen does not have to turn out special dishes night and day. Your family remembers your PRESENCE more than your PRESENTS. We are not a wealthy family; our holidays are modest but warm and loving. We gather, laugh, drink hot chocolate, watch ELF, and remember how fortunate we are to live in America. Sometimes we would basically chuck the “presents under the tree” plan, and just take a family trip.
JA: Do you have words of encouragement to someone who is afraid to dance?
LAB: Just Start. I know how intimidating it can be! When I started dancing in college, I had zero formal dance training, no appropriate dance wear and no shoes. Didn’t matter. When I wanted to start taking tap, I was 29 with three kids. Didn’t matter. When I was 50 pounds overweight and depressed, I went to class. Didn’t matter. When I have been at my lowest points in life, dance was always the thing that brought me back to life. Find your own path to being a dancer, whatever that means to you! When I teach, I try to use common movement terms, and apply them to the actions we all do in our daily life. YOU ARE ALREADY DANCING, YOU JUST DIDN’T KNOW IT. My classes are warm, non-threatening, and supportive. I WANT the non-dancer in my class…the one who always wanted to and never got to, the one who did in third grade and not since, the one who learned one style but no others, the one who feels they are hopelessly uncoordinated. Trust me, I can help you. I have choreographed 46 different musicals, most of which were in community theatre. My performers were regular people, many of whom had never danced. I show them how to dance, then teach semi-complicated choreography, and put on a show in just a couple weeks. They ALWAYS came through, which proved to me that we are all much more capable than we think. Letting go of your fears, your insecurities, and your beliefs about how a dancer is supposed to look is key. I’m not a tall and lean ballerina type – I’m 5’2” and thick in places. Again, DOESN’T MATTER.
JA: What is your favorite thing about Studio K?
LAB: I fell in love with Studio K the first time I entered for a workshop. The vibe was so warm and approachable, and Kristin smiles so much you’d think her face would fall off. Many dance studios can be intimidating places; people don’t talk to you, or push you around, or leave you feeling insignificant and broken. We do EVERYTHING in our power to leave our clients feeling empowered, encouraged, and PROUD OF THEMSELVES at the end of our classes. Not everyone had the opportunity to study dance as a child; I didn’t, but I still wanted to learn how. I just needed someone knowledgeable to guide me and teach me the specifics. Who says only the kiddies get that chance? You have a brain, you have muscles, USE THEM.
JA: Who inspires you?
LAB: I am inspired by my now-grown children; they are strong, smart, and capable people I was blessed to raise, and staying ahead of them keeps me on my toes. My supportive husband Tom keeps me grounded while allowing me the freedom to fly. Kristin inspires me, because she is fierce, determined, and smart, smart, smart. I am encouraged by the older dancers in my classes, because they help me see that dance can be a part of my life always. I am blessed and inspired every day by my friends who work hard, believe in their possibilities, and never stop learning.
JA: If today were the last day on earth, what would you do? Most importantly, what would you EAT??
LAB: If this were the last day on earth, I would go to the beach with my family, sing at the top of my lungs, call my parents, and eat all the chocolate I can manage! Chocolate, cheese, and Coca-Cola classic are my NEMESIS. I would be 110 pounds if I didn’t like those three items so much. However, I have made peace with my cravings, and indulge as I wish (in moderation).
JA: What is one place you’d like to travel to?
LAB: Just ONE??? I would have to put France at the top of this list, because I studied French in school. Other hot spots for me would be Fiji, Japan, England, and Australia. Because my husband Tom works in the airline industry, we have had the opportunity to travel a lot. I have visited and spent solid time in 46 states, so Washington state, Oregon, North Dakota and Alaska, I’m coming for you!
JA: What is a quote that you live by?
LAB: I have a few quotes that ring in my head frequently. I’m a big fan of quotes and positive thinking. Some of my favorites:
“What goes around, comes around.”
“People do not remember what you did, they remember how you made them feel.”
“Show up on time, be good at what you do, and be a good hang.”
(Thank you, Terry Lingner.)
JA: What is your favorite thing about being a dance instructor?
LAB: I LOVE LOVE LOVE when the light goes on in the client’s eyes; when they master the combination and add their own swag, and when they leave wobbly and laughing. Dance and the performing arts CHANGES PEOPLE. I have seen proof of it SO MANY TIMES. Dance is not the “cure” for what ails you…it is the method by which you tap into your personal resources. It is the tool you use to get your body moving, your mind cleared, and your health restored. The problems in your life do not disappear while you are in class. However, those problems are somehow smaller, more manageable, and not nearly so intimidating after a workout. I don’t know why that it is, but IT IS.
JA: What makes Studio K different from other fitness facilities?
LAB: Studio K is different because of the huge variety of classes we offer. Who else offers tap, hula, and combat? Seriously. This community of people will lift you up, give you a little kick in your step, and send you on your way feeling a little more put back together.
JA: Moms always have the best advice. What is one piece of advice you always give your kids?
LAB: That is another tough question! I guess my most common advice to them is to be considerate of other people’s feelings. It’s a small thing, but shocking how many people do not make an effort to understand someone else’s perspective. That’s where understanding happens…that’s where compromise begins…that is where relationships live or die.
The other advice I like to give them is to keep material things in their proper place in life. You can’t take your stuff with you when you go, so prioritize people over things.
JA: Anything else you’d like to add?
LAB: When I moved to Florida four years ago, I had to start over (my husband had been transferred to the airport here in Orlando). With nothing but my camera bag and my dance shoes, I had to rebuild a life for myself in a new place at almost 50 years old. What was I going to do? How do I find a place, a community, a way in this new state? No one knew me, or cared what I had done before. I decided dancing was as good a place as any, so I started doing flash mobs. Friendships that I made in that first flash mob led me to Studio K, and here I am. God knew I needed Kristin and Studio K in my life!
JA: Now how can you not want to be Laura’s friend?! She’s amazing! You just have to join her for classes at Studio K each week! Currently this December, Laura teaches on Mondays with Musical Theater at 7:30 PM and Stretch & Flex at 8:30 PM. Thank you so much to Laura for this great interview and Happy Holidays to all!