Dance Spotlight: Holly Lacey

Holly Lacey wearing a red long sleeve dress posing with a violin in one hand, standing in front of a silver metal wall

Holly Lacey, 14, is in Modern Dance V in the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute and studies violin with Joanna Lee and Margaret Batjer in the Community School. She is a Colburn student of three years and is from South Pasadena, CA.

This interview has been lightly edited for style, content, and clarity.

When did you start dancing and playing the violin?
I started with pre-ballet when I was in preschool, so three or four years old. And I started playing the violin when I had just turned five.

How did you decide to start playing the violin?
When I was four, I wanted to learn the flute, because that’s what I thought Hello Kitty played, but [when I tried it out], I couldn’t make a sound out of the flute. And then I tried the violin, and I was able to make a sound. My mom had my great-grandfather’s violin from Indonesia, and I discovered that it was something I could actually do.

What’s it been like doing both dance and music at the same time?
It’s been a little complicated, just because they’re two big commitments, but I really love them both. Having both of them now at Colburn has been a lot more efficient than having them at two different locations and commuting through LA traffic.

You study with a few teachers at Colburn. How is that?
For Modern Dance, I have three teachers: Tamsin Carlson, Yuka Fukuda, and Chard Gonzalez. They are all amazing and they each focus on different modern dance techniques like Cunningham and Horton. Each of them also has different approaches to teaching and notices different things about the way each dancer dances and how we can improve. So all of that together [makes us better dancers overall].

As part of the Modern Dance program, we also continue to take ballet with Ms. Gillespie who has also been wonderful. I am really grateful for Tamsin as our Modern Dance chair; not only is she an amazing dancer and teacher, but she leads the program with such positivity.

I’ve been studying with Joanna Lee, one of my violin teachers, for a long time. She’s seen me grow from eight or nine years old to now, 14. So she’s put up with me for five years and has been there for every step of my musical development. She’s one of the most energetic and dedicated people I know. I’m really, really grateful that she has stuck by me.

Studying with Ms. Batjer has been amazing. I feel so fortunate to be part of her studio because I have been able to see the huge development her students have all made and all their amazing successes, which she genuinely cherishes; it really inspires me. I really look up to her and try to remember everything she teaches me. Every time I come out of a lesson, I feel like I have learned and gained so much more knowledge to make me a better violinist and artist.

I also study music theory with Kathy Sawada which has really enhanced my interpretation of music for both violin and dance. Ms. Sawada has been wonderful and I’ve learned so much, despite the fact that all of my time with her has been during the pandemic.

What has it been like at Colburn in general? Has it been different from other places you’ve studied?
Colburn has so many opportunities, especially the concerts that they hold and the artists they are able to bring in. For dance, we had somebody from the Cunningham Trust come and teach us official Cunningham repertory.

Actually, the Modern Dance program at Colburn is really unique because of the partnership Colburn has with the Cunningham Trust. Being able to dance official Merce Cunningham repertory is very rare for dancers my age and is only made possible because of this partnership.

What did you learn from the Cunningham Trust?
In the fall semester, Cunningham Trust stager Marcie Munnerlyn came in and staged a piece for our Modern V class from Merce Cunningham’s repertory, Changing Steps. Filmmaker Heather Seybolt then created a film based on all of our dances that we did; we were all really proud of it.

What have been some other notable experiences at Colburn?
Right before the pandemic, I performed Corelli’s Concerto Grosso as one of the three soloists for the Colburn String Orchestra in Zipper Hall, which was a highlight.

Seeing and meeting Ray Chen last year right before the pandemic was also memorable.

Even during the pandemic, I was able to play in a master class with Almita Vamos, which I was very grateful for and which I found very helpful to hear her perspective on my playing.

What have you learned from those experiences with guest artists?
The modern dance techniques, like Cunningham and Horton, are so unique. It’s not really something that I’ve learned anywhere else besides Colburn. It’s freer than ballet, which I previously studied, and doesn’t have as many rules, which is so interesting. I also find it fascinating to watch, and having guest artists come really expanded my exposure to this art form.

For music, with the master classes, you’re constantly working and improving your techniques. Having somebody else objectively evaluate your performance and give you feedback is really beneficial.

When did you make the switch from ballet to modern?
I did ballet all the way through pointe, and then I learned about the Modern Dance program from [Associate Dean] James Fayette. I actually did modern dance at Colburn and ballet at another studio simultaneously for a year, before deciding to focus on modern completely.

I found myself drawn to modern dance because it was like a whole new dance world that was different from ballet, even though my ballet training continues to be essential for modern dance, like the basics.

How has your ballet training been essential to modern dance?
I started modern at level three, so I didn’t start from the very beginning. When I started, I found that a lot of the steps and balances, and the phrases—the way you put them together—are kind of based on ballet, but different. While the basics may be similar, modern dance challenges the structured nature of ballet in a way.

How about music and dance? Do either of those influence the way you approach the other?
I think learning music influences the way that I’ve approached dance because they’re different art forms and they each tell a story. And while the technical aspect is very different, they really complement each other and they’ve both helped me develop artistically.

I think when you’re dancing, you’re telling a story and your movements have to show that story. When you’re playing violin, you also have to show them a story, but in a different way, because you’re helping the audience visualize it with the music and trying to draw out specific emotions.

What are you looking forward to when we go back to campus in the fall?
In terms of dance, I’m definitely looking forward to the studio space, because there’s just not a lot of space for dancing in my bedroom at home. I am also looking forward to being able to learn again from the other dancers in the studio and pick up on what they’re doing and draw inspiration from them.

For violin, there were so many things we could not do in person. We weren’t able to do orchestra or chamber music this year. I really enjoy both of those, so I’m really looking forward to that.

For both dance and music, I also think just being able to perform again in front of a live audience and in an actual performance hall will feel amazing.

Despite the pandemic, I feel that I’ve still grown a lot, technically and artistically, and my teachers deserve a lot of credit for that. I also am very grateful to our Dean, Jenifer Ringer, because she really pivoted [Trudl Zipper Dance Institute] (TZDI) to online classes immediately and kept all of us engaged throughout the pandemic, and even coordinated a TZDI-wide Nutcracker!

Do you have any idea what you might want to do with music and dance in the future?
I think the next four years of high school would be important for me to decide on how I can build a career in both music and dance or the arts in general. There are so many great role models at Colburn to look up to. All of my teachers have had really successful careers in the arts, so it’d be incredible to do the same.