By Craig Stocks / Photography by Craig Stocks
Singing and dancing has been an important part of Michelle Rouland’s life since she was a little girl in Chicago. Her mother enrolled her in dance classes when she was only six years old. From there, she expanded into singing, modeling and acting. She remembers her mother getting her out of class in junior high school, occasionally pretending to be sick, in order to go to photo shoots. She sang and danced in Vaudeville-style shows, performed with a dance company and even appeared in training videos for McDonalds.
She thought she would have to choose between being a performer and raising a family. At a time when she was contemplating heading to New York, a former boyfriend made the point that if they ever had a family, he would be the one at home raising the kids while she was on the road. While she loved singing and dancing, she loved the idea of having a family even more. That conversation stuck with her, so when she came to study at Bradley University, she decided to make her home in Peoria.
Her professional life has focused on early childhood education, graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and a master’s degree in curriculum instruction. After educating countless children and teachers, today she is the owner of the A+ Children’s Academy. It is the only school between Chicago and St. Louis to use the Reggio Emilia method of teaching, where the students’ interests help to drive the curriculum.
Other than a brief period between the births of two of her three children, she has continued to perform. She’s found numerous opportunities to sing, dance and act in local productions. Recently, she was thrilled to reprise one of her favorite roles, that of Velma Kelly in the musical “Chicago.” “I love that musical,” she said. “The script is brilliant.”
She learned blues and jazz performance from her father, who is a jazz musician. It’s only natural that jazz has remained one of her favorite styles of music. She frequently sings jazz and blues standards along with Jerry Alshie on keyboard as the duo Jazzslayer.
Michelle loves the art forms of dance and music, even if there isn’t an audience. “The real motivation comes from the inside,” she said. “I would study and sing just for the pure love of it, even if I’m not performing.” Some of the best times are when they simply gather around the piano to sing and jam. She’ll find a piece of music that really grabs her and think, “I love singing this song.”
It turned out that Michelle was able to have a family and a career without having to give up music. “I feel very fortunate because I thought I’d have to choose,” she said. “I thought I had chosen to raise a family, but find I’m still able to perform. I am having a blast!“
You can hear Michelle perform with Jazzslayer this Friday at Studios on Sheridan during the CIAO “First Friday” event. To learn more about the A+ Children’s Academy, visit their website at www.apluschildrensacademy.com.