Top 10 Step Up To The Barre

Introducing the shortlisted applicants for the Deborah Searle Scholarship.

By Jo McDonald.

There has been a flurry of activity on the Move Through Life website and Facebook Page over the last few weeks as word started spreading about the opportunity to receive free dance training for a year through the Deborah Searle Scholarship Program.

It is an unprecedented opportunity for adult dancers, who normally resign themselves to the idea that they missed the opportunity to flourish as a dancer, or that their time in the spotlight is over.

It seems that all dancers have the same yearning inside to move.  The may go to group fitness classes with a dance element, like Zumba or BodyJam, or they may hide at the back of a beginner adult jazz class trying to blend in and not attract too much attention.  Those experienced dancers who turn up at Move Through Life breathe a sigh of relief when they realise there is somewhere they can spread their wings, continue to grow, have fun, and relax with other trained dancers.

For those that missed the chance to learn to dance, there is a feeling that it’s too late, that they won’t be able to pick it up, and that they are too old to learn.  It’s tough to create a new habit, and dance can seem so unfamiliar.  But for some, the dance class opens up something inside them that they never knew existed.

This yearning, or compulsion, to dance is the cause of the flurry online leading up to June 6 when applications closed.  The scholarship selection committee had a tough time whittling down the many applications to just ten shortlisted applicants.

“The calibre of dancers applying in the advanced category was amazing”, said Kirsty Duncan.  “We would be delighted to welcome any of those people into our company, but unfortunately we can only offer the year of free training to one person.  We hope those who applied still think about coming to classes with us and maybe getting involved in Black Coffee II [the company’s upcoming Production at Fringe 2014] and the company.”

There are six shortlisted applicants in the advanced category – Monica Wensing, Tessa Barge, Sarah Williams, Nikola Sparks, Natasha Archer and Nicole Griffiths.  These six women have very similar histories to others who come to MTL.  They started dance at a young age, quite a few have tertiary dance training and danced professionally.  As they grew older, they shifted their focus to teaching others, but then they began to miss dancing themselves, to yearn for the joy and freedom of movements and the close bonds that grow between others when working in an ensemble.

Move Through Life Dance CompanyMonica trained at the National Capital Ballet School in Canberra before completing a Bachelor of Arts in Dance at the Queensland University of Technology.  After graduating she returned to Canberra for a couple of years becoming involved with Quantum Leap Youth Dance Company (now known as QL2) and then travelled to Europe to expand her dance horizons and danced with choreographer Ayu Ariati in Rotterdam, Holland.  In 2005 she shifted her focus to teaching and completed a Diploma of Education in Dance.  With Move Through Life, Monica hopes to recover dance for herself and perform again with other people of her age and level.

Move Through Life Dance CompanyTessa has also been seeking a way to fill the empty space where dance used to live.  She moved to Adelaide four years ago to live with her husband, who she met when she was dancing professionally on a cruise ship.  She had been dancing her whole life.  As a serious devotee of musical theatre, she trained in ballet, jazz and tap, and got her first professional dancing gig at 19, and as a dancer, she has worked in places like Las Vegas, Guam and Spain.  She assumed she would easily find somewhere to dance in Adelaide, but before stumbling across MTL, the only outlet she had found was teaching dance to young children.  She hopes that with Move Through Life, she’ll not only reignite her passion for dance, but find a place in Adelaide to build a new circle of friends and finally feel as if she belongs here.

Move Through Life Dance CompanyLike Tessa, Sarah is also a big musical theatre fan, and opted to undertake tertiary training in drama, but she had been dancing since she was three, studying ballet, jazz, contemporary, tap and musical theatre.  She kept dance as a big part of her life, including writing an honours thesis on Australian Dance Theatre and Language in Dance.  Like so many dancers, she kept her passion for the art form alive by teaching dance and drama at secondary level after completing an education degree, and started her own ballet school in the Flinders Rangers.

As an adult she has been deeply engaged in dance as an audience member, but always felt that she was on the wrong side of the proscenium arch.  Over the last few years she felt as if she had given up her prime dancing years to teach others, but she’s not ready to hang up her shoes yet, and so this year, she made a conscious decision that she was going to take classes again.

Move Through Life Dance CompanyNicole is another tertiary dance graduate, having completed her degree at the Adelaide Centre for the Arts in 2008.  Since graduating, she has travelled and performed in small works in the UK before returning to Adelaide in 2012 to complete a Certificate IV in Personal Training and teaches Les Mills Fitness programs like BodyJam and Sh’Bam.  Like many tertiary dance graduates, Nicole is now working in an area related to dance and maintains her contact with the art form she loves by attending casual dance classes when her schedule and finances allow it.  With Move Through Life, Nicole hopes to reclaim her dance history and continue to progress in her technique as a dancer within a dance company environment.

Move Through Life Dance CompanyNikola’s zeal for dance began at age six when she started ballet at a local ballet school.  She then added contemporary and jazz to her repertoire, and had the opportunity to work with professional choreographers with Fresh Bred, a youth dance group coordinated by Ausdance SA.  With Fresh Bred, Nikola travelled to Singapore and Gosford for the Australian Youth Dance Festival.  She completed a Certificate IV in Dance last year, but since then, has struggled to find a suitable outlet for the joy and commitment she feels for dance. As a full time university student, Nikola hopes to continue having dance in her life by getting involved with Move through Life.

Natasha started dancing at age five, and has since then learnt a myriad of dance styles, including jazz, tap, modern, hip hop, Irish and highland dancing, fund, belly dance, burlesque, traditional Japanese dance, ballet, Latin and ballroom.  She loves learning new styles and improving on ones she’s already learnt.  She has been dancing now for over 20 years, and teaching more than five years and loves nothing more than pushing her body to the limit and performing.  Natasha was looking for adult dance classes in Adelaide when she came across Move Through Life and the Deborah Searle Scholarship Program and recognised that it would be a unique opportunity to be taught by very talented and professional dancers, and to learn skills that she can pass on to the next generation of dancers in her own teaching.

Shortlisting the beginner’s category was even more challenging, because it wasn’t based on applicants’ ability or experience, but on their passion for dance, even though they hadn’t danced a great deal, if at all.  Rikki Wilson, Ruth Price, Georgia Wright and Steven Lewis all did have some dance experience though, but wanted the chance to train in the more technical forms of ballet and contemporary.

Rikki has been dancing since 2006 with Kurruru Youth Performing Arts Company in the heart of Port Adelaide, having the opportunity to work with choreographers and performing at events, festivals such as WOMAdelaide opening, Dreaming Festival, International Theatre Festival (Port Vila, Vanuatu) dancing hip hop, contemporary and traditional Aboriginal dance.  She is still dancing with Kurruru and has just started teaching her own choreography to younger dancers. She has also started her own dance group called TRILL CREW – a hip hop dance crew encouraging Aboriginal youth to be involved.

As a teenager, Georgia took lessons in ballroom and modern dance. In her thirties, she did a short course in beginner ballet and hip hop and enjoyed them both.  Although she hasn’t had many opportunities to be involved formally in dance, she has always danced in some way, for the sheer enjoyment that it gives her and her children.   While she still can, Georgia would like to develop the skills to dance in the way she has always dreamed.  As a mental health nurse, she is also looking to incorporate movement in future work with trauma clients and believes dance can play an important role in this.

Move Through Life Dance CompanyRuth did Irish dancing lessons several times a week from age 9 to age 14.  She did two ballet classes at age three but stopped because she was so shy when the teacher (a family friend) left.  It is a decision she has always regretted, and finally, at the age of 23 she decided to restart her ballet training last year.  For Ruth, dance is the getaway from the rest of her life. She gets to be fully herself with no restraints, and express her feelings with movement. If she doesn’t dance, work and study get the better of her and she gets stressed. As an (almost graduated) physiotherapist, it is Ruth’s aim to be a positive role model for her clients – to lead a long, healthy, active and independent life. Having not had the opportunity to learn ballet growing up, Ruth believes Move Through Life will be perfect for her because of the MTL focus on adult learning. While she knows that she is unlikely to realise the dream of her five year old self to become a ballerina, she hopes she can at least feel like one.

Steve has not had much technical dance training, but he has explored all sorts of movement styles, including gymnastics, hip hop and musical theatre.  He is a Zumba instructor and has participated in musical theatre and dance workshops with dance icons like Jason Coleman and Kelley Abby.  Steve sees the scholarship as an opportunity to ‘learn the basics’ of technical training, and to one day work toward a performance platform in musical theatre.

Over the next couple of weeks, the 10 shortlisted candidates will be coming to MTL’s regular classes to see if MTL is really the right fit for them, and then the selection panel faces the challenge of selecting one recipient in each category.  The advanced applicants have already attended class.  It was an amazing buzz in the room with six very strong dancers joining the MTL regulars.  At the end of class they were all sitting in a circle together, their faces split by broad smiles, the epitome of the culture MTL strives to create and sustain – one of collegiality, warmth and fun.  Although they were all in competition for the one scholarship, they were in this together.

Photo (top): Monica Wensing. Photo courtesy of Move Through Life.

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