Melanie Michalak started dancing and riding horses when she was young. This led the Tinley Park resident to a career as a dressage musical freestyle designer.
“I received training on the elements of discipline as well as the elements of music,” he said. “A happy marriage of music to horses. Basically, I choreograph dances for horses. That’s why I make music.”
Originally living in Chicago’s Rosemoor neighborhood, Michalak grew up in South Holland and also lived in Country Club Hills.
A lifelong music student, he started playing instruments as a child.
“I started in Chicago at a place called The Music Center on 103rd and Western. I started with the accordion. Michalak, who also plays guitar, harpsichord, viola, double bass and mandolin, continued to learn many other instruments due to the music theory involved in this instrument.
He participated in the choir and madrigal program as a high school student at the former Seton Academy in South Holland.
“Madrigals became my passion. When I went to college, I learned that I also love theory and competition. “I’ve been choirmaster at Evergreen Park High for 30 years and specialize in Renaissance.”
“We did well there. We won the state pageant for 30 years, so I was honored to teach those wonderful kids and work with their families. I soon decided that after losing my mom and aunt, you never knew what would happen.
“I decided to move on to this parallel career that I’ve been doing since 1989. I had no idea it would explode like this. I travel all the time.”
Winner of more than 200 US Dressage Federation Horse of the Year and All Race awards since 2014, Michalak has worked with riders from six countries and has been a featured dressage clinician at events such as the Midwest Horse Fair.
He has also designed freestyle routines for competitions such as the Extreme Mustang Makeover, the Grand National & World Championship Morgan Horse Show, the Icelandic Horse World Championship in Helsinki, and the American Western Dressage Association World Championship Show.
“The real joy is from the moment we start designing something, to see it transform into something that blends the beauty of athleticism and decency with the magic of music. It elevates it,” said Michalak, who is a frequent collaborator with recording engineer Donn DeSanto of Bass Place Productions in Evergreen Park. .
“This creative power is something you cannot deny. I feel very privileged to be able to continue working in a field I love and always discover new things. I enjoy helping people achieve their dreams.”
One of her clients is Tempel Lipizzans in Lake County, where she initially performed the music and choreography for a solo at a show in 2009 at the request of then-head coach Jochen Hippenstiel.
“I had a great time doing this,” Michalak said. “It was my first time going there. I remember being fascinated by this opportunity.”
He’s been invited back to work, including a pas de deux, a performance for two drivers, and the Tempel Lipizzans’ Christmas show in 2022.
The latter was at the request of program director Esther Buonanno, Tempel’s granddaughter and granddaughter of Esther Smith, who founded Tempel Farms in 1958.
“I’ve never done a show with so many elements before. “I’ve done freestyle stunts where each rider has their own freestyle and they come and do their own thing,” said Michalak, whose own horse Doncan is a Danish Warmblood.
“I did competitions. I’ve done the Pan American Games, the U.S. Olympic Trials, and the North American Junior Dressage Championships for juniors and junior riders, but nothing that required a lot of connective tissue stuff from start to finish.
“When I did the Christmas show, it was well received. I remember Esther asking me at the show if I would be interested in doing a 65th anniversary show for them.
Dancing Through the Decades features music ranging from jazz and doo-wop to patriotic arrangements.
“I went from doing something for their show periodically to making their own Christmas show and then helping them develop the concept for this 65th show. It was a huge project that took four and a half months. It was a blast and I am honored to do so,” Michalak said.
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The show at Tempel Farms offers the opportunity to see all the different aspects of a horse’s life, from birth to its highest education. Wonderful.”
Tempel Lipizzans, “Celebrating 65 Years: Dancing Through Decades!” Tempel Farms at 17000 Wadsworth Road, Old Mill Creek at 13:00 on 20, 23 and 30 August and at 6:00 on 3 September and 26 August.
Each performance is followed by a self-guided tour of the stallion stables. Tickets are between $25-$95 and can be ordered at: tempelfarms.com. Call 847-244-5330 for information.
“I am incredibly humbled to have this opportunity. “When I was a little girl I read Marguerite Henry’s ‘Lipizza the White Stallion’ and saw all these illustrations,” Michalak said of illustrator Wesley Dennis’ work.
“When I was young, I had the privilege of meeting Alois Podjajsky, a legendary man in the Tempel Lipizzans’ training. I admired him. He was wearing a Spanish riding school uniform. He said, ‘Little girl, I can tell you will be a great rider one day’. I took this seriously.
“This whole environment, the whole task, the whole program is like touching history. It’s incredibly touching and emotional to have a small part to play in that.”
Jessi Virtusio is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.