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Sarasota dancer is coming home with 'Anastasia'

Lauren Teyke grew up in Sarasota and learned the craft of singing and dancing right here at her mom's theater school. Now she returns as a professional.

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  • | 5:20 a.m. March 7, 2022
Matt and Michelle McCord smile in front of a picture of Lauren Teyke in the Ovation lobby. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)
Matt and Michelle McCord smile in front of a picture of Lauren Teyke in the Ovation lobby. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)
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There’s a standing ovation waiting for Lauren Teyke. 

And it comes with a warm embrace.

Teyke, a graduate of Pine View School, will be back in Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall for the very first time since her high school graduation when she performs with the touring company of "Anastasia" on March 18-20.

A sizable percentage of the audience — perhaps as many as 50 people — will be from the Ovation School of Musical Theatre, a place where Teyke taught and learned her craft before she became professional. Ovation was founded by her mom, Michelle McCord, who had her own professional dancing career and served as a template for Teyke's early professional ambitions.

“It’s full circle. I'm coming back for a job," said Teyke. "I’ve seen so many shows at the Van Wezel that were inspirational to me. Maybe it was the 'So You Think You Can Dance' tour. I think I saw 'The Wizard of Oz' touring there. I’ve seen tours there, and you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, what are these people doing?’ And now it’s me that’s coming. It’s very crazy."

It's crazy, but it's also a natural development for a performer who has spent years perfecting her craft.

Teyke said her mom began her theater school when she was still in middle school, and it quickly became her refuge. Every day, she went from Pine View to Ovation, where she studied dance and singing with professional level diligence and tenacity. 

And then, after she had graduated from Pine View, she decided that she was ready to turn professional. There was only one problem, and it was a problem for the whole planet: The COVID-19 pandemic shut down the performance market, and Teyke had to take a gap year at Ovation where she continued rounding out her strengths and also taught a conditioning class. 

"She felt — and we felt — that the education she got here was enough to get her there," says McCord. "It's not for everyone. But because Lauren is exceptional, we said, ‘OK, give it a try.’ She got two jobs, and then it closed down. And she’s home with us. It was like telling horses they can’t run. But she never complained. She went to the gym when the gyms were open. And if not, she was in the backyard. She came to classes, even classes that were beneath her level, just to stay in shape.

"She never lost focus, and then she auditioned for 'Anastasia' and immediately they saw her potential."

Lauren Teyke's image is emblazoned on the front door of Matt and Michelle McCord's Ovation studio. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)
Lauren Teyke's image is emblazoned on the front door of Matt and Michelle McCord's Ovation studio. (Photo: Spencer Fordin)

They saw her potential, but it was still an arduous process to land the role. Teyke said she engaged in multiple rounds of video auditions before ultimately getting a shot at an in-person final callback in New York. She aced that, and she's spent the past several months touring the country and perfecting her performance on a nightly basis with other professional actors and dancers.

"It’s been great. It hasn’t lost its spark," says Teyke of performing the role on a nightly basis. "It’s been incredible being part of a professional production and being surrounded by my castmates, who are all professional actors. It just baffles me sometimes, watching them perform. I’m learning so much from all my elders in the show every single day. It’s lived up to my dreams and more."

McCord, who owns and operates Ovation with her husband, Matt, began the school about a decade ago following a performing career in Germany. The school had grown and grown via word of mouth prior to the pandemic, beginning with just 30 students and leveling off at more than 200 before COVID made things complicated. Now, they say, the numbers are picking up again.

Ovation has students ranging in age from three all the way up to a 74-year-old tap dancer, and the goal is to offer professional level instruction in singing and dancing. But Ovation is also very centered on providing an individual experience for its young charges.

“The first thing Michelle says is, ‘You don’t have to know anything at this point. But trust you will pick it up,’" says Matt McCord. "Everybody has to determine their path. You have stage moms that propel their kids in that direction and there are kids who are self-motivated to do it. It has to come from them. We just provide the vehicle for them to do it if that’s what they want to do.”

And that's what Teyke learned from an early age; she learned that if she wanted to reap the rewards of a professional career, she had to exhibit professional-level dedication all the way to her goal. Michelle McCord said she never wanted to force a performing career on either of her kids, and she says she never loses sight of the need to tailor an education to a dancer's specific needs.

"We’re not like other schools where kids are sardines and everybody’s the same," she says. "There might be one student with an incredible voice that says, ‘But I need to dance.’ OK, this is what you need. This is your program.

"And then there’s another with, ‘I just want to be a dancer.’ Well, then we’ll focus on that. But the main thing is if somebody wants to go into musical theater, we have all the classes to help them get there. You need a lot of skills in musical theater. You have to be able to sing. You have to be able to dance. You have to be able to act. And you’re an athlete so you have to have that strength.”

Lauren Teyke is poised to dance on the same stage where she graduated from high school. (Courtesy photo)
Lauren Teyke is poised to dance on the same stage where she graduated from high school. (Courtesy photo)

And that's where Teyke comes back into the picture. She taught a strength and conditioning class while she was waiting for her audition process to bear fruit, and many of the students at Ovation know her for the entirety of their fledgling dance careers. She's not just a peer or an instructor to them; she's also an object lesson that they can be successful if they put their heart and soul into it.

"She made a whole year goal for them," says Michelle McCord. "We’re going to strengthen the arms. We’re going to strengthen the legs. We’re going to strengthen the core. She would tell them why. ‘Our cardio isn’t just for dancing; it’s for if you need to sing in a scene.’ She really went at it like she goes at everything else. And they are better because of it. She really invested in them."

Carly Fults, an aspiring dancer and instructor at Ovation, trained next to Teyke for a long time, and she said she would peek at Tekye's dancing form and make mental notes about she could improve on her own. Fults said she has been accepted to two schools and is still waiting to hear back on a few programs, but she hopes to major in dance and minor in business or English.

"It's inspiring to go and audition for myself," Fults says of what she's learned from watching Teyke pursue her ambitions. "That career path is possible. It's not just some thing in your imagination. It's real. You can go audition and it's possible."

For Teyke, a role model even at this young juncture of her career, that's an extra shot of adrenaline. She's excited to perform in front of so many familiar faces, and she knows what it means to have somebody set an example. Tekye knew she could be a performer because her mom had been one already, and she doubled down on her training because she wanted it more than anyone else.

"The training I had already put me in the mindset," she says. "When I wasn’t being paid to do it — when you’re paying to do it — you still show up because you know what you need. It becomes a kind of meditation. You get to class and every other problem you had disappears. I do think it carries into the professional world. You show up and think, “I focus on this now. That’s all that there is.’"

That's all there is on a nightly basis when she's performing in front of strangers. 

But what will it be like when she's performing in front of people she knows and loves?

"I think there will be a little bit of adrenaline because I know the people in the audience as opposed to it being a mystery who’s out there," she says. "Wink wink to those people. But I’ll try to stay calm and just do the show normally."



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