From Vancouver Dance Studios to the Largest Theatre in the World: An Interview with Cirque Du Soleil's Melena Rounis
Melena Rounis is a local BC dancer, who is the definition of persistence. When she faced rejection at auditions, she pushed harder. When she encountered success, she continued to strive. This persistence has landed her a role in Cirque Du Soleil's Grammy award winning production of "LOVE" in Las Vegas. Melena's success is manifesting in multiple ways. In addition to performing in the world's largest theatre that was custom-made for "LOVE", she is making cameos on shows, such as "Dancing with the Stars."
Melena also takes time to give back to her community. Over the holidays, she taught dance workshops in Vancouver, Nanaimo and Las Vegas. These workshops raised funds for foodbanks in each location.
I caught up with Melena to discuss persistence, success, and the reality of being a professional dancer in Las Vegas.
VO: Can you describe the reality of being a professional dancer?
Rounis: The reality of being a professional dancer is that it can be a very hard lifestyle. You have to be fully committed to it... just like any other athlete or artist. You have to constantly strive to improve.
Dancers are performers, but performance work is not always consistent. Many dancers will resort to working a 'normal' job on the side. There are many late night rehearsals and/or early mornings. You have to deal with a lots of rejection. You will hear "no" a hundred times before you hear that one "yes".... but when you do hear that "yes", it is the greatest feeling.
When you work a steady performance job, the struggle there is to not get bored with what you are doing and to keep inspired. To the audience you should always appear as though this is the most exciting performance you've ever done, even if it's the 700th time you've done it!
VO: What has been your greatest point of struggle and your greatest source of inspiration?
Rounis: My greatest point of struggle was trying to get a work permit to live and work in America! Not an easy feat!! Up until I booked LOVE, I can't even tell you the amount of time and money I spent traveling back and forth to Los Angeles and New York just to train and network.
Training around talented people from all over the world was definitely the inspiration that kept me going. It kept me hungry (literally at times, ha) but it just made me want it so much more every time I went. Now that I am fortunate enough to have a full time steady job with "Cirque du Soleil", my source of inspiration is the audience and their appreciation for what we do night after night. When I see people in the audience at the end of our show hugging, smiling, crying, and saying "thank you thank you so much", I feel inspired and motivated to continue entertaining people.
VO: Over the holidays, you facilitated dance workshops that raised money for the foodbank in Vancouver and Las Vegas. What was the result of this? When raising money for charity, do you think it is important to engage people with something fun like dance?
Rounis: Over the holidays I decided to create a charity fundraiser called "STEP UP & DANCE!" It was quite successful, and I hope that it will become more successful in the years to come. In Las Vegas I raised the equivalent of about 2000 meals for the homeless in Nevada. I believe it is important when raising money for charity to engage people with something that is beneficial to them, in addition to benefitting the cause. Why not have fun and do something healthy and social for yourself while helping out a good cause?
VO: You dance with Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas. What does an average day with Cirque Du Soliel look like for you?
Rounis: I dance in The Beatles LOVE by Cirque du Soleil and my experience so far has been amazing. I work with some crazy talented people...some of whom are ex-olympians. Everyone is so dedicated and loves what they do, so it is enjoyable to go to work everyday.
An average day for me at LOVE usually consists of a training or staging around 3 or 4pm as we are always improving on the show. We do a half hour of pilates, a strength training session with one of our personal trainers, or a 25 minute run on the treadmill and physical therapy. It takes me about 50 minutes to put on my make up, and then we do 2.5 hour shows. I will usually stay after the shows are done at 11pm to stretch for a bit or do preventative icing. I'm usually out of there by midnight, five days a week just like any other job.
VO: As a resident in Las Vegas, you are exposed to elements of culture that many tourists don't see. Do you notice a massive gap between the glitzy rich and the poor?
Rounis: Living and working in Las Vegas exposes me to more than what a tourist can catch in a few days of vacation. Las Vegas has a notable gap between the rich and the poor. This is one of the reasons I decided to start my fundraiser. The Las Vegas strip is now home to seven Cirque shows, 19 of the world's 25 largest hotels by room count and has numerous restaurants, magicians, show girls, musicals, shopping and more. There is an overwhelming amount of people who make a living off of working on the strip. There is also an overwhelming amount of people in Las Vegas who cannot afford to pay their bills and feed a family. Approximately 250 000 people out of the 2 million here struggle with hunger and 48% of children in the Clark County School District receive free and reduced-price meals. With numbers like this, it seemed more than obvious to me that there needed to be more people doing their part to help this situation.
VO: Do you think that you will continue to engage people with dance for other social causes?
Rounis: I definitely think I will continue to engage people with dance for other social causes. I hope to inspire more entertainers to create their own events for social causes they feel strongly about. It is such a rewarding feeling.
Check out this clip of Melena performing in a 2009 Cabaret with Mike Ward, John Strong, and Emmanuel Kizayilawoko....