Peters dancer lands role in movie filmed in Pittsburgh

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Meghan Manning is finishing her junior year as a dance major at Point Park University, but she already knows the rigor of a professional dancer's life.

The Peters native will appear as a member of the dance company in ABC Family's "Lovestruck: The Musical" at 8 p.m. Sunday.

"I was shocked when I got the part. I auditioned just for the experience [of auditioning] because I knew I had school the next semester," said Ms. Manning.

It also was the first time she had answered a national casting call.

Advertised online, open auditions for the movie's 14-member dance company were held at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts in August 2011, just before Ms. Manning's sophomore year.

The audition tapes were then sent to a choreographer in Los Angeles. There were subsequent tryouts in Pittsburgh, where parts of the film were shot, and in New York and Los Angeles.

"Once they called me, I had to make a decision to decline or take the semester off to do the movie," she said.

Remaining at Point Park as a part-time student, Ms. Manning reported to the sets each day, either at the Benedum or near Etna. Rehearsals and filming took place in September and October 2011.

"Lovestruck: The Musical" is about a Broadway dancer named Harper, played by Jane Seymour, who is forced into retirement because of a dance injury. Now a choreographer, she fears that her daughter may have to give up her own dance career for marriage. Drinking what she thinks is medicine, Harper mysteriously turns into her 30-years-younger self, adding an unexpected twist to her daughter's wedding.

The movie features original pieces and popular songs by Lady Gaga, Madonna, Whitney Houston and others.

Ms. Manning appears in three dance numbers, featuring the songs "Like a Virgin," "Just Dance" and the wedding number, "Everlasting Love." In the wedding scene, she is one of six bridesmaids.

"We needed to be able to know proper techniques to be lifted by the groomsmen," she said.

Each dance scene was shot individually, beginning with rehearsal, minus the lead actors. Next, the dancers and lead characters would rehearse together. With network approval, they would practice the number again, during "tech day" on site to perfect camera angles before filming.

"[We were working] under the SAG-AFTRA union so they took really good care of us," said Ms. Manning, adding that most of the dancers are from New York and Los Angeles.

The show's stars -- Ms. Seymour, Sara Paxton, Alexander DiPersia, Chelsea Kane, Tom Wopat and Drew Seeley -- were down to earth, she said.

"I knew of Sara Paxton from previous TV movies, but at the time it was like any other rehearsal because it was so close to home. Now I realize how exciting it was," said Ms. Manning.

The daughter of Gayle and Patrick Manning, she began dancing at age 3, studying at Janet Hays & Company in the South Hills and taking occasional classes at Point Park.

"She always said she wanted to dance, even when she was in her car seat. She never wanted to quit. That's how we knew this was her path," her mother said.

The experience has solidified Ms. Manning's desire to be on the stage and in film, with her sights set on New York or Los Angeles. She is also considering trying out for one of the NBA dance teams while looking for other work.

"My dream job is to be a Rockette," she said.

By coincidence, Ms. Manning also will appear on a children's program this weekend on Nickelodeon's "Supah Ninjas." She filmed the final dance scene in which she leads a flash mob in one day in the Strip District. She got the role by submitting a head shot and resume. "Supah Ninjas" airs Saturday at 8 p.m.

"I really, truly believe this kid is special. Her dedication, her work ethic is all there, and she has the talent to back it up," said Point Park dance instructor Kiesha Lalana.

Ms. Manning said she looks forward to watching "Lovestruck: The Musical" with her friends at school on Sunday. But she has much to accomplish before then. Finals start next week.

"Lovestruck: The Musical" airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on ABC Family.

neigh_south - neigh_washington

Laurie Bailey, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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