The Melodies of Christmas returns for its 38th year this holiday season, and once again playing a major role in the production will be the Orlando School of Dance.
“It’s a great fundraiser and we have loved doing it all these years,” said Debra Ann Pigliavento, who along with her sister Michelle runs the State Street dance studio created by her parents, Orlando and Eleanor Pigliavento, 64 years ago. “They came to our dad quite a while ago and asked him to get involved and we’re happy to still be a part of it. It’s a great event, for a great cause.”
The Melodies of Christmas raises money for the Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders at the Bernard and Millie Duker Children’s Hospital at Albany Medical Center. This year’s event will be held Thursday through next Sunday at Proctors, beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. next Sunday.
While much of the entertainment is provided by the Empire State Youth Orchestra and Youth Chorale, an added element this year will be a performance by the Joey Thomas Big Band. The Northeast Ballet is also a regular contributor to the event, while the Orlando School of Dance has contributed a short program to the schedule since 2006.
“We do about a seven-minute medley that closes Act 1,” said Pigliavento. “One of our dancers is Mrs. Claus, and we have elves, toy soldiers and the Three Little Pigs.”
Pigliavento expects about 35 students ranging in age from 4 to 18 to participate in the performance.
“Our little piggies are either 4 or 5, and then we have another age group of 6 to 8-year-olds, and then the older kids will be toy soldiers and elves,” she said.
“Our students really enjoy it. It’s a lot of fun.”
Pigliavento said there are currently well more than 100 boys and girls taking lessons at the Orlando School of Dance.
“I’ve been teaching for 24 years and my sister’s been at it for 19,” said Pigliavento. “My father has taken a step back, but we still see him at least once a day. It’s still very much a family operation.”
After getting tutored by their parents, both Pigliavento girls went on to have long professional dancing careers in New York City. Michele has six different shows on her Broadway resume, while Debra Ann has two, including a long turn as part of “42nd Street” cast from 1980-89.
“We lived the life of professional dancers for more than 20 years,” said Pigliavento, who also went to Indiana University before heading to New York. Her sister went to SUNY-Geneseo and then got a masters in guidance and counseling at Hunter College. “We also have plenty of students who are doing that right now. We’re proud of that, but we also like to think that we help build a sound foundation for any career.”
Sometimes, Pigliavento says, you can’t be sure just who’s going to be your next Broadway-bound performer.
“At 4 you can tell if they have some natural coordination, if they have an excellent sense of rhythym and if they can follow directions,” she said,. “There are a lot variables, and I only have to look at myself to remember not to form those early judgements. I was a late bloomer, as was my sister. Everybody grows at their own rate.”
Pigliavento said her family hopes to remain an integral part of the Melodies of Christmas, which has raised more than $7.8 million over the years.
Jim Delmonico, the general manager at WRGB back in 1979, came up with the idea for the Melodies of Christmas along with Albany Medical Center spokesman Elmer Streeter.
The entertainment for the first event was provided by the Albany Symphony Orchestra, but the Empire State Youth Orchestra took over the following year and has performed every year since.