Imagine a world where everyone can dance their entire life

It’s around 6.30 on a Thursday evening and Shane Placentino is preparing to teach. He’s chosen some background music, maybe John Coltrane or Temple of the Dog, and is beginning to stretch.  The space is still empty, but before long it starts to fill as his students arrive.

It is literally a long way from the Australian Ballet Company and Sydney Dance Company, where Shane spent a good 16 years of his life. He is now in Adelaide, about 20 minutes south of the city.  His students are not elite ballet dancers.  Neither are they children or teenagers.  They are adults from all walks of life – a graphic designer, an epidemiologist, a book keeper, a primary school teacher.  Most of them are, or have been, dance teachers themselves, and have danced their entire lives.  They are busy professionals, parents, partners whose lives are enriched by their shared love of dance and commitment to ongoing artistic growth. It’s in their bones.

This is the scene every Thursday evening at Move Through Life (MTL), a dance company based in Adelaide that works exclusively with adults.  But it’s not just these dance die-hards that come to MTL.  A similar scene plays out on Saturday afternoons when another ex Australian Ballet Company dancer, Simon Vaughan, opens the studio to prepare his class.  Simon’s students are also busy adults who find that dance is an integral part of their wellbeing, fitness and happiness.  Simon’s students are beginners who delight in the physical and cognitive challenges of ballet, who crave the hour each week they dedicate to themselves.  They embrace the warm atmosphere where they meet new friends and get entertained by Simon’s anecdotes, designed to entertain, inspire and teach.

Move Through Life dance company

Louise Durrans in ‘Ripple’, by Kirsty Duncan, as part of MTL’s Illuminate program (2012). Photo by Holoscene.

The philosophy at Move Through Life is that everyone should be able to dance throughout his or her life.  It is with this in mind that MTL has established its weekly class program that includes ballet, contemporary, jazz and most recently, hip hop and body conditioning/yoga.  MTL also offers a choreographic program and performance initiative where dancers and choreographers have the chance to develop and present new work, and be supported in their journey through MTL’s peer support network, artistic advisory panel and mentors.

But MTL is not satisfied yet.  They want to open the doors even wider.  And so they have launched a new scholarship program to accelerate the vision of lifelong dance for all.  The scholarship program is intended to remove some of the barriers to participation in dance, such as financial hardship and social exclusion, and to enrich MTL’s community of dancers through greater cultural and social diversity.  With this in mind, MTL encourages any adult to apply, especially those who are experiencing social exclusion or financial hardship and people from culturally diverse and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds.

Move Through Life dancers Catie Cullen, Lousie Durrans and Karen Humphreys

Catie Cullen, Lousie Durrans and Karen Humphreys perform in MTL’s ‘Black Coffee’ (2009). Photo by Robert Mikulandura.

When MTL began, one of the founding dancers was a young woman called Deborah Foster, together with MTL’s current Artistic Director Jo McDonald and Associate Artistic Director Kirsty Duncan.  You would probably know Deborah by her married name – Searle.  She is the founder and Managing Editor of Dance Informa.  The new scholarship program has been named after Deb in recognition of the role she played in establishing MTL and the support she’s continued to provide over the years as a choreographer and media partner.

The Deborah Searle Scholarship Program will offer two adults – a beginner and an experienced dancer – the chance to train with MTL for 12 months.   The experienced dancer, who will have advanced skills in at least one dance genre, will also become part of the MTL Performing Company and perform in their next major production, Black Coffee II, which will premiere at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in March 2014.

Move Through Life dance scholarship for adultsMTL’s contemporary and jazz teachers are no less experienced than Shane and Simon.  Contemporary classes for beginners and advanced dancers are taught by Katrina Lazaroff, Tammy Arjona Wheeler and Billie Cook.  You may know of Katrina’s choreographic work from her two full length works Pomona Road and Involuntary.  She has had an extensive career as a performer, choreographer, rehearsal director and educator, with companies like Buzz Dance Theatre, Leigh Warren & Dancers, Australian Dance Theatre and Strut Dance.

Tammy Arjona Wheeler spent much of her performing career overseas, training with Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, before working with companies like the Michael Clark Company and Siobhan Davies Dance.  Billie Cook has also travelled internationally with dance across Europe and Africa and has shared dance with Ngarrindjeri, Zulu, Tibetan and classical Indian dancers. She has also worked extensively in Australia and was the Artistic Director of Restless Dance Company.

Martine Quigley, who has worked as a commercial dancer and choreographer in New York and across the US, teaches jazz for MTL.  Martine’s credits include working with Madonna and Janet Jackson, and she is one of the most sought after jazz teachers in Adelaide.

The two scholarships being offered in 2013 are just the beginning.  Over time, MTL hopes to grow the scholarship program, offering the opportunity to more adults who might otherwise not be able to have dance in their lives.  Providing access to free classes is one solution.  Others may include providing funding for child care, transport or accommodation, or increasing MTL’s capacity to provide dance opportunities for groups with particular needs, such as people with a disability.  Along with the launch of the 2013 scholarships, MTL has also launched a giving campaign for the 2014 scholarships and beyond so that anyone can make a donation to support the vision for inclusive and accessible lifelong dance for all.

Applications for the scholarship program close on 6 June 2013.  More information about the program and how to apply is available at www.movethroughlife.org.au/scholarship.htm, and donations for the 2014 program can be made at www.movethroughlife.org.au/donations.htm.

Photo (top): Simon Vaughan teaching the beginner ballet class at Move Through Life. Photo by Cat Leonard.

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