AGMAzine Spotlight: Soloist Allegra De Vita Explores the Parallels Between Singing and Martial Arts

Published June 23, 2024   |  By Musical Artists  |  Post in All Areas

In today’s AGMAzine Spotlight, AGMA Soloist Allegra De Vita explores the parallels between singing and martial arts. Recalling her early training where balance and tranquility were emphasized, she describes how these ideals often clashed with the high-stakes, adrenaline-fueled nature of performing. Despite initially embracing practices like yoga, she later discovered that her true strength lay in embracing the chaos and intensity of performing. Through her experiences with martial arts, specifically Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai, Allegra learned to channel her adrenaline and anxiety into a driving force for her singing, akin to the focus required in combat sports. This allowed her to see singing as an athletic endeavor where harnessing, rather than suppressing, her adrenaline became key to her performances.

Allegra's essay is featured on page 11 of the Spring 2024 issue of AGMAzine.

Fighting Balance: A Defense of Combat Sports 

By Allegra De Vita, Soloist

I remember the concept of “balance” came up in my first young artist summer program. We were a room full of bright-eyed fifteen-year-olds, on the cusp of being old enough to matter in the industry, soaking up every dew drop of knowledge.

“Singing is an athletic sport!” the movement teacher exclaimed, herself a retired ballerina. “You must find grounding within your body, you must strengthen it. Yoga is the best teacher!”

Yoga, we nodded like zealots. So we sprawled out in the studio space and contorted our bodies and were told to focus on our breathing. 

An hour later, we were feeling smug and transcendent and floated piously to our next class, a group coaching where we rehearsed our assigned Italian art song. I got up to sing “Lungi da te,” body feeling loose, mind a nice, impressionable space. Perfect for making high art, I thought as I opened my mouth. 

The first “No!” cracked through the air like a lightning strike. “More space in your ‘ah’ vowel. ‘Daaah’ higher, brighter.” 

The zen was eradicated. In its place crawled adrenaline and the rapid heartbeat of anxiety as I fought to meet the perfection demanded of me. Again, and again I repeated the phrase, catching a glimpse of my fellow students’ shell-shocked faces. I thought bitterly, as I circled the offending vowel in my sheet music: si vis pacem, para bellum.

“You must find balance within yourself,” a friend sagely said over a glass of wine, a few blocks from the Met, where we were both covering. “Your body must be a conduit for the music. There can’t be any worry when you sing. That’s how you’ll perform well.”

Except performing has never been like that for me.

Performing, for me at least, has always been chaotic and messy and adrenaline-fueled. Where is peace when the hem of your dress gets stuck in your heel during a gala, and you have to physically rip the $400 dress, all with a smile on your face for the audience who has paid 10 times that to be there? There is no stopping, there is only adapting and reacting in an endless cycle until you race off stage breathless, exhilarated, and so very alive in the moment. Performing is a rush, in some ways more addictive than it is enjoyable. 

It became clear to my mother when I was in high school that I was happiest when I was singing. My grades would go up. I’d run around the house humming. I’d be nicer to my brother. So she would drive me across state lines so I could be in musicals all year round, and I never had to look further into where else to divert that need. 

I started ballet when I was seven, like most Connecticut girls, and quickly found that while I loved it, I wasn’t particularly great at it. There was a stillness required for ballet, though one formed over a molten core. My movements were more like a firework or a cat with a bag stuck over its head. 

Ballet was followed by soccer and more traditional martial arts. Nothing matched the exhilaration of singing, though, and it was beginning to show. I’d do pushups before I sang in an attempt to get rid of that excess energy, and I’d still leave the stage shaking. I felt I hadn’t figured out something key about performing.  

After the pandemic, I started Jiu Jitsu and Muay Thai, and the desire for more pushed me toward the extreme side of martial arts. “Please, I can’t break my nose,” I explained to my instructors, who nodded and said, “Well, this is a combat sport. If you don’t want your nose broken, don’t get punched in the face.”

Huh. Something clicked in my head. 

Like martial arts, singing is similarly “high stakes.” Every time I sing now, there is meaning in it, a hope that this opportunity will lead to more opportunities, and so on. I reframed the words of my Jiu-Jitsu instructor for music: “If you don’t want your performance to fail, don’t let anything unnerve you.”

There it is, I thought to myself as I rolled for the first time and felt my partner’s forearm snake across my neck as he choked me from behind. My heart rate spiked and my palms began to sweat. My flight or fight instinct kicked in hard, and I fought the urge to tap out of the match immediately. “Breathe, Allegra,” one of the other guys said. “Don’t react out of panic, think about your options. How can you make this situation work for you?” 

So I took a breath, dropped my shoulders, focused on the points of contact, and wiggled my hand into the small gap of my opponent's elbow. There, I could breathe. 

I realized I don’t need peace when I’m on stage, I need every ounce of adrenaline I have. I just needed to learn how to harness it. I needed to let it feed my intentions, be the springboard for my high notes, and give life to my coloratura. Singing is an athletic sport, and we singers are athletes. We take notes on a page and breathe life into them, make them human, make them alive. 

I had an audition last week, the first one in a month. I walked in to see the panel of faces, some familiar, some not. 

“Feel free to start when you’re ready.”

Breathe, Allegra,” I told myself, my autonomic nervous system beginning to activate. I shifted my weight, dropped my shoulders, and thought of the small gap in the adjudicators’ elbows. I wiggled my fingers through and allowed my eyes to find the verdant green of Alcina’s Island in my mind. 

Instead of fighting against it, I invited the adrenaline in.