Performer Marcy Richardson is a professional and award wining opera singer, acrobatic pole dancer and aerialist. She is currently performing in Company XIV's Nutcracker Rouge and can be seen six nights a week at the Minetta Lane Theater.
MW: I've had the pleasure of seeing you perform twice with Company XIV and I have to say that you are quite the scene-stealer. Your energy is boundless and it seems like the audience really picks up on it and connects with your exuberance and charm. Are you as energetic and infectious offstage?
MR: Thank you! Around groups of people, I tend to pick up on the energy in the air-I really enjoy making people laugh and LOVE to tell stories. I've lived kind of a ridiculous amount of life in 35 years and have many a tale to tell. One on one, I am pretty chill and low key, and I also have days where I just want to loaf around and not be around people at all.
MW: How did you first come to discover your ability to perform demanding physical choreography and serious vocals simultaneously?
MR: I have never been a "park and bark" singer. Even before I started doing pole and aerial, I've always enjoyed staging that involves lots of physicality, and found engaging my body and moving in some way helped my singing and breath support. I don't understand singers who are like, ooooh sorry, I can't move in such and such way, it will disturb "the voice." That's just lazy. Once I started to really excel in pole and aerial, people started asking if I ever tried doing it while singing opera, so I started testing the waters with that about a year ago to see what was possible.
MW: It seems like there must a be a specific headspace or state of mind you'd have to enter in order to make that work, almost like tapping your head and scratching your belly at the same time--once you mastered it, does it just stay in your muscle memory?
MR: I think differently when I am creating a vocal/aerial piece as opposed to just aerial. I have to be very thoughtful about the kinds of moves I do and the transitions. I never choose poses that contort my neck or back in a way that would cause vocal strain, and I make the transitions very controlled and fluid so as to not cause bumps in the air flow when I am singing. You won't see me doing a lot of dynamic movement for that reason, unless it is between vocal phrases.
There IS a very specific headspace I must be in any time I do pole or aerial, whether I am singing or not. I tell myself beforehand that I am cool, I am calm, I am collected, and I know what I am doing. I must have razor sharp focus, complete presence of mind, and be aware of my body in relation to the apparatus at all times. I check in with myself the entire time and mentally talk myself through. Muscle memory is also a big part of it. I don't perform anything on the pole or aerial hoop that I have not done a zillion times. It is very much programmed into my body. Doing an acrobatic pole routine in particular is kind of like being shot out of a canon and then sprinting-it really winds me, so it doesn't always work as well with singing as it does with an aerial apparatus where there are "resting" poses. But it can be done! (obviously)
MW: Which came first in your evolution as an artist? Was it singing and then dancing or did you move from dance to then discover voice?
MR: I am a professional opera singer who became a pole fitness enthusiast, which eventually led me to aerial. I have been studying voice for 20 years and have performed around the world singing classical music and theater professionally for over 10 of those years. I took up pole dancing 5 years ago when I turned 30. I started taking pole as something just to do for me with no intention of bringing it to the stage. I did take dance classes growing up and danced in musicals in school, but it was made very clear to me upon moving to New York that I was a "singer who moved well." The dancers here are no joke!
MW: Did you become an aerialist first and then move onto pole dancing? Do you consider yourself more one type of artist than another or do you embrace all of your talents equally?
MR: Pole was my gateway drug to aerial. In 2010 I saw a now very famous video of pole dancer Felix Cane winning Miss Pole Dance Australia 2006. I was stunned by how beautiful it was-like ballet meets figure skater meets gymnast meets gorgeous stripper. And I just thought, man, I wish that were me!
Of course, because Facebook sees what you are looking at on the internets, an ad popped up in my feed to take pole dancing lessons at Body & Pole in New York. So I went. I dabbled for a couple years and was frustrated that I couldn't do amazing things right away. I learned the long and hard way that you can't just show up every once in a while and expect pole greatness.
When the studio expanded a couple years later, they added aerial classes, so I got back on the horse and started taking both pole and aerial, multiple classes a week, every week. A friend noticed I was getting pretty strong and suggested I enter a pole fitness competition. I thought, no way. I could never! It's sort of like a figure skating competition where you create an original routine and you are judged on level of difficulty, execution, artistic merit, and you can enter at multiple levels so that you are competing with others in a similar point in their training. I loved the experience and got hooked. I entered two more competitions that year at higher levels, and then I did it to win, and also to see some of the fantasy pole routines I had in my mind come to life with costumes and lighting and an audience. Competition gave me a reason to push myself, and in the process, I fell very much in love with the pole community and the culture and camaraderie that went along with it.
Aerial took a backseat during that time, but I took the following year to further my aerial skills. I embrace pole and aerial equally and consider them to go hand in hand. Cross training on multiple apparatuses is healthy for my body because I am using it in different ways and keeping it balanced.
MW: Can you tell me about your breathing technique?
MR: Sure! My voice teacher of 10 years, Trish McCaffrey, has taught me that I don't need as much air as I think. It is how efficiently I use the air. I take normal breaths before I sing and keep my ribs and back expanded, lifted, and buoyant, while my lower core engages. This is why singing upside down works so well for me. My head and neck are free of tension, my ribs are up and out, my core is engaged like hell. She has noticed a huge positive change in how well I support since combining singing with pole dancing and aerial because that sensation is now so familiar to me.
MW: Let's talk about nudity for a second! So obviously, both pole dancing and burlesque are associated with some amount of showing skin, but Company XIV combines the extremely rigorous dancing with very little to no clothing. Was that hard to get used to?
MR: Not really. The only thing I'm sometimes self conscious about is when I'm on that elevated carousel pole in panties with very little crotch coverage. I sometimes wonder when I'm up in the air in the splits, "Is my labia hanging out?" But you know, all ladies have labias. Who cares? I am very comfortable naked and am proud of my body. I used to be self conscious about being so muscular (I have always had an athletic physique, even before pole) but now I embrace it, because my muscles serve me well and allow me to do great things. In pole class we wear very little for practical, not sexual reasons. You can't stick to a metal pole in sweat pants. All in all, I really don't consider this to be nudity. When I was 18, I was in a production of Hair where we did full frontal in a black box theater with people less than 5 feet away. That's nudity.
MW: You are such a versatile and well-rounded performer on stage, what do you like to do in your down time?
MR: I'm not going to lie, I mostly just take pole and aerial class in my free time. It is almost as much a social experience as it is a fitness one. Everyone's there to have fun and better themselves in some way, so it's a very positive environment and pretty much my main form of socializing. On nights and weekends, my favorite thing in the world is hanging out with my beloved husband, Scott, and our pocket beagle puppy. We love excursions to the park or beach and eating outside. My ideal evening is just making cocktails at home and cooking a meal together. And I of course LOVE to travel when time and money allows! Scott has even convinced me to try camping, which I am excited about!
MW: Congratulations on both of your amazing performances in both Cinderella and Nutcracker Rouge! Are you performing in Snow White with Company XIV? What else is on the horizon for you?
MR: Thank you! I will be appearing in Snow White, yes! I feel so lucky to have found Company XIV-I have always marched to the beat of a different drummer artistically and personally, and to finally feel like I am my truest self as a performer in this past year has been a dream come true.
After Snow White, I will be singing regularly at my church gig and going back to some of my regular aerial and singing aerial gigs at Duane Park and with L'Opera Burlesque, where I first started dabbling in singing and aerial. I also want to train to learn Cyr wheel and expand my skill set in general. And then who knows!
Photo by Phillip Van Nostrand
MW: One final thing, in Nutcracker Rouge, you were performing on the aerial hoop while simultaneously singing opera, and suspended ten or so feet in the air above a MIRROR! I held my breath the entire time, I could barely watch without imagining how catastrophic a fall could be. Do you ever fall? If not, do you ever think about falling? (Next year can we have a trampoline instead of a mirror to catch you?)
MR: I NEVER EVER think about falling. That is seriously the most useless and harmful thing I could ever do as an aerial performer-my focus must be entirely on executing and precision. I have to be like a machine. One of my instructors always says "the body wants to survive." If I am executing properly, there is no universe in which you fall. Fear of falling will not protect me. I just have to know that if I'm not set up safely to release a hand or a leg in certain moves, I don't proceed until I am sure.
As far as the mirror goes, the biggest hazard for me up there is not glass. It's the glitter storm. I do my best to focus my mouth towards the ground when I am singing so that I don't get it in my throat. I do aerial over people at tables with glassware and knives on it all the time, as well as aerial from 20-30 feet up in night clubs where a fall would be disastrous-you simply don't incorporate any moves you could fall out of in those situations. There is no falling.
Since you asked, I have never fallen in performance or even class (knock on wood). The one and only time I fell out of the hoop ever was on stage at the theater when I was screwing around figuring out moves I wanted to incorporate into the routine. I went into a pose called "man in the moon" and let go of both hands, leaving only balance and the pressure of my feet holding me in. My balance was shaky and I rolled right out and crashed to the ground. I should not have let go in the first place. I was not hurt but I am very glad it happened-it was healthy for me to experience a real fall. I will never do that move from a great height or when performing over people ever again without keeping a hand on the hoop. There's just no good reason. I'm an entertainer who sings and does aerial. I'm not trying to be the strongest or most flexible or most death defying aerialist on the planet. I'm singing and making beautiful pictures for you to carry in your mind forever. That is enough.