By Rain Francis.
Starting to think about full-time dance training? Now more than ever there are some fantastic options out there – and they may be closer than you think. Gone are the days when you have to move to Melbourne or Sydney to get the best training. While there are some amazing courses offered in these two cities and a wealth of dance opportunities, don’t dismiss the high quality training options offered elsewhere – staying closer to home could be a good option for you.
One of the most important factors in staying closer to home is of course having your loved ones near. “The family can directly manage all aspects of their child’s development and training, providing hands on love and support,” says Canberra Dance Development Centre Director Jackie Hallahan. This means having a helping hand with everything from your day-to-day living tasks, to just having a shoulder to cry on when you are exhausted or frustrated.
“Dancing full time can be very demanding physically, mentally and emotionally,” says Beth James, director of Western Australia Conservatoire of Classical Ballet. “For a young student, having these demands – as well as living on their own without family – and having to go home to cook, clean, and prepare after an exhausting day can be tough. And of course, having your friends close by on your day off can be just what you need to keep a healthy balance away from dance.” Although you will make lots of new friends wherever you study, it’s wonderful to be able to keep in touch with your established friends – and not just on Facebook!
“In our experience, most students find the transition from high school to 30 hours a week of intensive training somewhat overwhelming, especially throughout the first term,” agrees Phil Talbot, CEO/Director of Principal Academy of Dance and Theatre Arts in Perth. “By being close to home they have the support of family members to help them maintain a healthy lifestyle and cope with stress, especially at assessment time.”
It is perfectly normal to find the transition to full-time training difficult. Besides dealing with a new environment, new people and the physical and mental stresses of such a full-on workload, if you’re living away from home there are additional pressures. It might be the first time you’ve had to do your own food shopping, transport yourself to the studio, pay bills and deal with other everyday realities. After a long day of training, it’s likely that all you’ll want to do is have a bath and then vegetate on the lounge room floor. This is where unhealthy habits can start to creep in, such as living on ‘convenience’ food. Living at home can give you more stability, so you are freer to put all your energies into your training.
Another thing to consider is money. Full-time training can place a large financial burden on you and your family, and training closer to home can help ease that considerably. Though it may be tempting to leave home and head for the big smoke, try to be realistic about the pros and cons.
Living at home can save thousands per year on rent and other living costs. And if you are living away from home, you’ll be paying much more to live in one of the bigger cities. Unfortunately, getting yourself into debt early on can really affect your future. “It’s not just the family – the student takes on the financial burden as well and this can interfere with decisions made down the track,” James explains. The reality is that you may not be able to travel to auditions or afford to do all the classes you need to after graduating.
Hallahan agrees, adding, “[Staying at home means that] the students’ parents may be able to invest more money in their child’s training rather than on additional living costs.” So if there’s any way to avoid getting into debt – or placing strain on your family’s finances – it’s advisable to investigate and consider these options.
Australia’s most successful dancers didn’t all come from the schools in the big cities. Terry Simpson Studios in Adelaide turned out Remi Wortmeyer (The Australian Ballet and Dutch National Ballet), Nicola Leahey (Compagnie Thor, Belgium), Jesse Scales (Sydney Dance Company) and Nicola Wills-Jones (Royal Ballet, Flanders). Graduates of Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) in Perth have worked in Western Australian Ballet, Queensland Ballet, Australian Dance Theatre, Expressions Dance Company and many international companies.
There are also some world-class dance companies outside of Sydney and Melbourne. Adelaide has Australian Dance Theatre and Leigh Warren and Dancers, Townsville has Dancenorth and Launceston has Tasdance, just to name a few. Making yourself known to these companies while you’re training – either through secondments or taking company class – can be a great way to build relationships which may lead to employment after graduation. Also, if you are considering a career as a choreographer, do some research into the local grants available from your state’s branch of Ausdance, or from your regional council. Sometimes, being in a smaller centre can actually be an advantage; there are less people vying for the same funding dollars. So, make the most of all your area has to offer.
Of course, I’m playing devil’s advocate here; there are also advantages to flying the coop. The truth is that no matter where you choose to study, you will find a way to make it work, and to get absolutely the most out of every opportunity that comes your way. Your full-time training will be one of the most challenging things you will ever do, but it is also an exciting time which will pass you by far quicker than you can imagine!
Be sure to check out Dance Informa’s 2014 Full Time Dance and Auditions Guide, out this July. The Guide lists the best full-time schools and courses across Australia.
To check out the 2013 Full Time Guide, click here.