By Jo McDonald.
An ex-professional dancer turned dance teacher, a mental health nurse and a young Aboriginal woman are the happy recipients of a year’s worth of free dance classes with Adelaide-based dance company Move Through Life, as part of the inaugural Deborah Searle Scholarship Program. Another three dancers have been awarded half scholarships.
“We chose to award more scholarships than originally planned,” explains Artistic Director Jo McDonald, “because the quality of the shortlisted applicants was so high and because, in addition to seeing what the scholarship could offer the recipients, we felt each of them would make an amazing contribution to Move Through Life.”
Georgia Wright and Rikki Wilson have both been awarded full scholarships in the beginner category. Monica Wensing was awarded a full scholarship in the advanced category, and Tessa Barge, Nicole Griffiths and Sarah Williams were awarded half scholarships in the advanced category.
Georgia and Monica recently spoke to Dance Informa about their background and what it meant to them to be able receive the inaugural Deborah Searle Scholarships. Biographies of the other recipients were provided in the July issue of Dance Informa.
“As a child, I had some dance lessons. I absolutely loved it and spent all of my spare time practising and practising. In early high school, I got a dance group going and we did the Rock Eisteddfod. I surprised myself and thought, ‘Wow, I’m good at something.’ It was a great group of friends and I felt like I really belonged, like I’d found my place in the world.
But then when I was 14 I had to leave home and went to live with another family, which closed down a lot of opportunities financially. I experienced a great deal of loss and grief when I stopped dancing. As time went by, I had the feeling I was left behind because I didn’t have the training other people did. Now 20 years have passed, and I thought that opportunity was lost.
In the past I have dabbled a bit in dance, including a short course in ballet and hip-hop at one stage, but as the main wage earner, supporting a partner and three children, dance lessons have been just a luxury and a dream. My 12 year old daughter also dances. She’s been doing ballet for three years. She started dancing earlier, but had low tone and had to stop for a while. Now she is behind, but she’s really determined. It’s great for both of us. We both have a passion for dance and are determined to overcome our own personal challenges.
Another reason I jumped at the scholarship opportunity is because I’m a mental health nurse, and would like to incorporate movement in work with trauma clients. I believe that dance can play an important role in mental health.
Even though I didn’t think I could commit to it financially, every now and then I would search the internet for adult dance classes. I came across the Move Through Life website, and when I saw the scholarship information, I felt excitement about the possibility, mixed with uncertainty about whether I’d have a chance, but I just had to have a go.
Someone asked me the other day if at 38 years of age I wasn’t a bit too old for a scholarship. Perhaps, but it feels like a last ditch chance. I just want to grab hold of it and get as much of out of it as I can. It feels like things are finally coming together for me. I’m getting a chance to do something I always wanted to do. It’s just brilliant!”
“After I graduated from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) dance program, I went to Europe to dance. I based myself in Holland and travelled a bit, going through the gruelling audition process with various companies. I also did professional company classes and various small projects. But after a year, I thought about the intense demand on the body and how your whole world revolves around being mentally, physically and creatively prepared for what you are doing. I felt it was very ‘self’ focussed. Then I started teaching, and found a lot more satisfaction giving to others.
My decision to shift from professional performance to teaching was a very conscious decision. I realised that teaching was more suited to my personality. I decided to do a Graduate Diploma so I could teach in schools as well. I enjoyed the challenge of having to teach beginners, yet still challenging those who have years of training – to juggle different levels and abilities.
After a while though, I started to miss dancing for myself. As a teacher, it’s vital to keep being inspired yourself, which I did by opening up my style repertoire. I’ve always been interested in different dance styles. I did some break dancing and hip-hop while I was in Holland, and tried salsa in Melbourne, and ended up teaching it. I also lived in Brazil for a while where I learnt Latin styles like salsa and samba, but it was difficult to find contemporary classes. When I was planning the move to Adelaide, I asked my friend Lizzie (Lizzie Valmaris from Expressions Dance Company whose sister Cathy Chittleborough has danced with Move Through Life since 2007) for advice, and was lucky that she recommended MTL.
Professional dance is a bit black and white – you go full on into it or you don’t do it. But there is a good balance at MTL. The dancers are interested in being creative and improving technique, with dance being a reasonable part of life but not overtaking your life. There’s a bit of a stigma with getting older and you think you’re past being able to be a dancer. It is nice being in an environment when you don’t feel old.
Older dancers have a greater level of maturity. Everyone knows how to work their own bodies in a way that works for them and at the same time, they know how to enjoy it as well. When you’re training as a teenager you are so focussed on the career, you don’t look after your body and you push through injuries. As you get older you know how to listen to your body and get the most out of it. You realise the value of what the teachers are giving you because you have a bigger picture.
One of the best things about having a scholarship for a year with MTL is the chance to be creatively involved. The idea of performing excites me, as does making new friendships and meeting like-minded people. To be committed to something is a good thing when you’re in a new city. It helps to give you routine.
Winning the scholarship has given me a renewed sense of confidence in myself and my dancing and inspired me to pursue the joy and love of dancing for myself again, rather than just trying to pass it on to my students.”
Photo (top): Shane Placentino teaching an advanced ballet class at Move Through Life.