Help the Birds

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This article was prepared for the December 8, 2004

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Stretching Her Career Limits

When she was a freshman at one of the country’s pre-eminent women’s

colleges, known for its enlightened attitudes and political

correctness, Melanie Smith left to choreograph live cabaret shows for

Playboy Corporation.

Say what?

The tale of how a one-time Bryn Mawr student ended up opening a

state-of-the-art yoga studio in New Hope, Pennsylvania, is etched in

happenstance, coincidence, and plenty of pluck and luck, too.

A native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Smith’s parents followed far more

conventional career paths. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom to six

children – she became a tax assessor after the kids left the nest. Her

dad was an executive for a company that made oven cleaners and

deodorizers. While not theatrical – or entrepreneurial – themselves,

the couple obviously provided Smith with the confidence, flexibility –

and daring – needed to grab off-beat career opportunities.

As an example: "A scout for Playboy saw me dance at Bryn Mawr and

recruited me for the choreography job," says Smith. "I’m the sort who

says ‘yes’ to the universe, so I figured why not?"

So at the tender age of 18, with no experience except an extensive

dance background, this college drop-out not only did extensive

choreography for the Hefner empire; she was also a Playboy Bunny, an

experience she thoroughly enjoyed.

About a year later, Smith was asked to model in a petite fashion show,

and soon began modeling regularly for designer Bill Blass in

Manhattan. Despite her success, Smith sensed early-on that smiling for

the camera wasn’t enough for her. Fascinated by the print/graphics

aspect of advertising, she talked a company into hiring her to do

photo styling.

Still drifting, Smith got a job bartending, but suddenly felt

tongue-tied. "It was as if I just didn’t have anything important to

say, so I retreated into silence – not exactly what a bartender should


When a friend suggested that her problems might be solved by taking

some acting classes, Smith figured she had nothing to lose – although

she almost chickened out on her way to New York’s prestigious

Neighborhood Playhouse. "I had the cab turn around at least five


Talk about life-changing events: Smith turned out to be such a natural

that within months she had placed in the top 25 in a national talent

competition sponsored by Dick Clark and involving hundreds of

contestants. Now she was being pursued by agents who wanted to sign

her on.

Her first professional gig was on the legendary soap "Days of Our

Lives." "I was Emily Stewart, a kind of bad girl who I chose to play

as a good girl who did bad things," says Smith, who was admittedly

stunned by the turn of her own life. The role of Emily lasted not just

a few episodes, but four years, netted Smith a Soap Opera Weekly

People’s Choice Award for "Most Valuable Performer," and landed her in

TV Guide as one of the "Ten Most Popular and Sexiest Women on TV."

And that was just the beginning. Smith went on to roles on "90210,"

"Hill Street Blues," "Melrose Place" (as the wisecracking feminist

Morales), and the female lead in a series called "Green Dauphin

Street," which met the fate of so many TV series when it was knocked

out by fierce competition: "The X Files."

But her career high point, surely in terms of fun if not fame, was

playing Rachel, Jerry Seinfeld’s Orthodox Jewish girlfriend, on the

wildly popular "Seinfeld" series. Her most famous appearances were in

the two-part "Schindler’s List" segment, wherein she and Jerry,

playing boyfriend and girlfriend, were caught by the much-despised

Newman making out during a screening of the somber movie about a

heroic man who saved many Jews during the Nazi rein of terror. Newman

promptly told both Jerry’s appalled parents, and Rachel’s father, who

forbade her from ever seeing him again.

"The whole Seinfeld experience was like a dream. Everybody was smart,

everything worked smoothly and it was the most refined and elegant

production team imaginable," says Smith.

It was Jerry Seinfeld who got Smith started in yet another career. The

two shared an interest in yoga, and he got her deeply involved by

encouraging her to switch teachers and to branch out and study with

some of the premier masters in California. She’s never looked back.

When she first met and married her husband, Michael Eidel, an L.A.

entertainment lawyer, Smith continued to work in the grueling world of

prime time TV, and as a sideline, taught yoga classes to friends.

Later, she added singing and songwriting to her bulging resume. But

slowly, Melanie Smith came to a realization that would unalterably

alter her life. The endless grind was not compatible with her wish to

live a more balanced existence, to focus on yoga, and to have a baby.

When Gideon, that baby, now a five-year-old, came along, Smith knew

that it was time to leave the gilded life of L.A. behind. She and her

husband, now in practice with the Philadelphia law firm of

Piper-Rudnick, moved back east. Her memories of Bucks County and its

charms convinced her that it would be the perfect place to raise

Gideon – and to open a "little yoga studio" so that she could continue

the modest yoga teaching career she had just begun.

"Little" is definitely a matter of definition. In November Smith, now

41, officially opened Yogaphoria in New Hope’s Union Square Shopping

Center – with show biz pal and super model Cindy Crawford in


The 4,400 square foot space, which Smith calls a "sanctuary," is a

light-filled area designed according to feng shui guidelines. It has a

large retail space, two expansive classrooms, and the kind of

atmosphere that Smith believes will enhance the yoga experience for

newcomers and veterans alike.

Certified to teach Anusara-inspired yoga in 2002, Smith has continued

her studies with other leading national yoga teachers including

Desiree Rumbaugh, Noah Maze, and Sianna Sherman.

"Yoga is truly a way of life, and my goal is to expose everyone I can

to its wonderful qualities. I’ve assembled 10 distinguished

instructors to teach 14 different yoga practices, and Yogaphoria will

have 50 classes a week," she says. "It’s very ambitious, and it’s not

my ‘little yoga studio.’ But I hope its impact is far-reaching."

Among Yogaphoria’s class offerings are family yoga, yoga for those 55

and older, yoga for athletes, and one of Smith’s favorites, yoga for

overextended mothers.

"I’ve had some wonderful adventures in my life already, but nothing

has excited me as much as this chapter," says Smith. "I see Yogaphoria

as a kind of community gathering place, a place not just for courses,

but also for forums, workshops, and lectures about how we live our

lives. And I can’t think of anything in the world that’s more

important than that."

– Sally Friedman

Yogaphoria is located at in the Union Square Shopping

Center, 540 Union Square Drive, New Hope. 215-862-4041.


Top Of PageOpportunities

Mercer County Performing Arts High School will hold on Open House on

Thursday, December 9, to tour the school and see students in class and

performing. Auditions will take place in February. This half-day

public school program allows Mercer County junior and senior high

school students to do rigorous study in dance, drama, or vocal music.

Call 609-586-3550.

West Windsor Plainsboro Dance Company will hold auditions for "The

Tale of the Little Mermaid" on Saturday, December 11, at Dance Corner

II in Plainsboro Plaza. Call 609-799-9677.

Pierrot Productions holds auditions for "The Musical Comedy Murders of

1950: on Monday and Tuesday, December 13 and 14, at 7 p.m. at Kelsey

Theater. This takeoff on the Hollywood thrillers of the 1940s requires

five women and five men, of which one needs to be able to play a

simple accompaniment on the piano. Bring a one to three-minute comic

monologue, photo, and resume. Call 609-658-1233 for an appointment.

The Ritz Theater Company auditions for August Wilson’s "Fences" on

Monday, December 13, at the theater on 915 White Horse Pike in Oaklyn

at 7 p.m. Director Bruce Robinson seeks five male and two female

African American actors, ages 20 to 50, for a production from March 3

to April 2. Bring a monologue and a head shot.

Stars in the Park at Kelsey Theater holds auditions for "Nunsense" on

Saturday, December 11, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at MCCC. Diane Wargo and

Nancy Snyder need five women comics "with drop dead timing who are,

above all, lovable women." Bring a musical theater selection and come

prepared to dance. Performances will be February 4 to 13. Call

Lorraine Wargo at 609-530-0912.

The Trenton Film Society has extended its competition deadline to

December 10. Submit an under-30 minute film in such categories as

narrative, experimental, animation, documentary, and foreign. Details

at www.TrentonFilmSociety.org or call 609-396-6966.

Teenage female poets are invited to submit entries to the Cool Girls

Program, which meets every other Wednesday. New applicants are to send

10 poems by December 24 to Susan Kubota, YWCA, 59 Paul Robeson Place,

Princeton, NJ 08540. YWCA membership will be required with acceptance,

and scholarships are available.

Top Of PageHelp the Birds

Donations are encouraged to assist rescue efforts to deal with birds

in the area of the Athos oil spill on the Delaware River. The Audubon

Society’s office at the Plainsboro Preserve is collecting monetary

donations plus such supplies as paper towels, Q-Tips, flat sheets,

bath towels, Ensure (vanilla only) and Pediolite (plain only). It is

open seven days from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Cash donations can be made to

Tri State Bird Rescue, 110 Possum Hollow Road, Newark DE 19711.

New Jersey birders are needed to identify and assess the birds’

condition. Call Kathy Clark, NJ Division of Fish and Wildlife, at


Top Of PageParticipate Please

Kids’ Music Round offers preview classes of its music and movement

sessions for families with young children in South Brunswick, at the

Allstar Dance Academy, through December 15. Call 609-333-0100. Classes

start January 3 in Pennington, Montgomery, and South Brunswick.

Welcome House holds on open house designed for families and

individuals interested in international and domestic adoptions on

Saturday, December 18, 10 a.m. to noon, at the Yardley-Makefield

Branch of the Bucks County Public Library, 1080 Edgewood Road.

Sponsored by Pearl S. Buck International, a not-for-profit,

non-sectarian organization headquartered in Bucks County, the program

is intended to build awareness to the importance of international

adoption and to the options in adopting domestically. Make

reservations at 800-220-2825, ext. 100 or E-mail:


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