Applications are now open for the Deborah Searle Scholarship Program with Move Through Life, closing 20 May 2014. More info at www.movethroughlife.org.au/scholarship.htm.
By Ben Marton for Dance Informa.
Now in its second year, Move Through Life’s Deborah Searle Scholarship Program was officially re-launched on April 16, word of mouth having already attracted interested parties. The scholarship will provide at least three dancers with the opportunity to participate at the beginner, intermediate or advanced level in a full range of dance classes at Move Through Life. It allows successful applicants to benefit from the tutelage of some of Australia’s most experienced, committed and passionate exponents of the art.
As a personal trainer and instructor in dance-based fitness programs such as “BodyJam” and “Sh’Bam,” 2013 partial scholarship recipient Nicole Griffiths understands more than a little the importance of regular training to improve one’s style and technique. And since graduating from AC Arts in 2008 with a Bachelor in Dance Performance, she has been an avid exponent of the philosophy of “not holding back.” So for her, winning a place in the 2013 scholarship program was the perfect nexus of technical focus and the development of confidence in her abilities as a performer.
Griffiths had worked overseas for a number of years, and upon returning to Australia found that she had lost a vital connection with like-minded people. So her discovery of Move Through Life via promotion of the scholarship was textbook serendipity.
“When I came back,” she says, “I felt as if I’d lost contact with a lot of people in the dance industry. I wanted to find a community where I could still perform and make new friends.” Although Nicole admits that in the wake of broadening her horizons internationally, “dancing kind of got forgotten as years went by,” she could not have been happier to find a program that offered the opportunity to “improve [her] dance technique.”
“I loved throwing myself back into it,” Griffiths relates enthusiastically. “It’s always a little bit scary at first, so getting that confidence was a big thing. So was improving my performance abilities, my understanding of different styles. And the teachers! Names like Katrina Lazaroff and Larissa McGowan; people who all throughout your dancing career you’ve looked up to… having them as role models and then having them teaching you? That was a big thing. As for the other participants, they were of the same level, there for the same thing. So every lesson, you could feel the energy in the room.”
For Griffiths, however, who is currently studying for her Master of Management (Arts and Cultural Management), the benefits of involvement with Move Through Life were not simply acquired out on the floor. She attributes her improved understanding of small business practices and organisational structure to the valuable direction provided by the program.
“At the time I was a little unsure about what I wanted to do career-wise. So it was great learning about what a ‘not-for-profit’ is all about [and] being able to pick [MTL Artistic Director and General Manager] Jo McDonald’s brain, learning about how it works. And it was ‘hands on,’ not just reading about it. After taking part in fundraising and the AGM, things like that… I felt that I knew what they were talking about. I felt I was really getting back into the industry; not just another person on the computer, studying it all from home.”
Of course, perhaps the sweetest carrot of all dangling before prospective scholarship applicants at the advanced level is a chance to join the company in a live performance. And for Griffiths, this constitutes a highlight of the 2013 program.
“The Fringe performance was definitely an enduring memory. I’ve never cried onstage before! It was during the domestic violence piece [in Soul Night at the Cinnamon Lounge]. There were tears; I was an emotional wreck. That Friday night show, it all came together. It was something special,” recalls Griffiths.
The joy of performance, of forged connections and of greater insight, these are certainly sentiments echoed by fellow 2013 partial scholarship winner Tessa Barge. Hailing from the fabled land of Miami, Florida, Barge began to dance at age three and, by her own admission “never stopped.” (I’ll spare you the standard “and boy, is she tired” here.) By way of stints on the Palm Beach Princess cruise line, a sojourn in Vegas and the role of lead dancer aboard the Norwegian Cruise Line Pearl, Barge eventually washed up on our shore, anchored here by matrimony and seeking further opportunities to consolidate her performance skills.
“I’d been in SA for almost six years,” says Barge, “and still hadn’t found any professional level dance classes.”
Her long search had led Barge to consider MTL as a way of honing talent and connecting with like-minded individuals, but financial pressures represented a considerable barrier. And then she discovered the scholarship.
“We chatted about me doing classes, and I mentioned that as a working dance teacher, I didn’t have the extra funds to do as many classes as I wanted per week, so she [Jo McDonald] recommended trying for the scholarship,” says Barge.
The monetary benefits aside, the scholarship program offers dancers like Barge the opportunity to pursue their dream while maintaining their busy schedules.
“It was perfect,” says Barge. “Classes were in the evenings, after I’d finished teaching, and during the week and not on weekends, so it didn’t mess with my lifestyle.”
The calibre of dancers with whom Barge was given the opportunity to interact with impressed her greatly. “A real benefit was meeting other dancers that are at a high level; the good thing about MTL is that they have beginners and advanced. It’s great that everyone challenges each other.”
On a personal level, Barge was challenged by new stylistic horizons. “It was all about going in and making me try a different style of dance, because I’m not a contemporary dancer; I’m a jazz and musical theatre dancer. It’s really going from being a teacher to being a student. And I teach six days a week, so it was great to get out of ‘teacher mode’ and learn again.”
Like Griffiths, Barge’s voice softens beneath a wave of fond memories as she recalls the performance opportunities the scholarship program provided. “Performing on stage with everyone, you get a real sense… during rehearsals everyone is so focused. Performing on stage together, you ‘vibe’ off each other. Being able to get together during the show and share funny stories that bring you back to remembering that even when you are just doing classes, you are still a performer. And then seeing everyone coming to life onstage… it is absolutely wonderful.”
So then comes the time for the inevitable question: Why would these former recipients recommend the Deborah Searle Scholarship Program?
“My biggest thing,” maintains Barge, “is to connect, with other dancers, people that are still dancing and pushing themselves and not stopping.”
Griffiths concurs: “It’s because it gives you a chance to be involved with like-minded people that want to work together. It was like a little family. When you haven’t seen people for a while, you miss them.”
The Deborah Searle Scholarship Program, in welcoming adult applicants of all ages and levels of ability, espouses and encapsulates the mission statement of Move Through Life. It is an organisation committed to the furtherance of a passion for dance that is truly life-long. Or as Barge puts it: “In other forms of dancing, like ballroom, they dance until they’re 90, and they never have to go to the doctor! They never stop moving. You’ve got to keep trying.”
Applications for the Deborah Searle Scholarship close at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 20, 2014. Further information about the program and how to apply can be found at www.movethroughlife.org.au/scholarship.htm.
Photo (top): Dancers enjoy class at Move Through Life. Photo by Cat Leonard.