Once a Dancer, Always a Dancer
After sharing a little snippet of me dancing on a couple of my social media platforms last week I think it’s a good time to talk about dance- how it influenced my life when I was younger and continues to do so to this day (get ready for a big read).
From a young age, you could always tell I was a “performer” (show off tbh). We have a video of my brother and I and he was singing Black Betty and I’m dancing around him with a ribbon like a little psycho trying to steal all the attention from him. When I was 2 my mum put me into a dance class and she said I cried the whole time so she pulled me out (embarrassing) and that’s how it all started. At 5 I expressed that I wanted to start again as there was a little dance studio that used the hall at my Primary school in the afternoons. I began with Ballet and it became my first love. We could never go to the shops without me leaping down the isles or using the racks to hold me up and do a leg mount. It got to the point where people would come up to my Mum at the shops and just ask if I was a Ballerina due to how I held myself (always walked straight at the shops or at school. It’s crazy that even at 5 years old we can become so consumed in something and be so passionate.
My 1st ballet concert was in a tiny hall right next to my local shopping centre. I did one dance with the same forced smile glued to my face the entire time, to find out 10 years later that my (now) best friend was dancing next to me! A year later I decided to pick up Jazz and Tap but Ballet was still my favourite. Due to the technique and training, I initially had this really helped me as I got older. In my 2nd concert, I did 3 dances that we had worked really hard on. To myself and my parent’s utter surprise at only 7 years old I received Dancer of the year and a trophy with my name on it. At such a young age, I was really humble and hadn’t realised the natural ability I had for the sport (don’t dare tell me dancing isn’t a sport). Tears were shed as that would have been my last concert at the little local studio, to keep up my dancing I attended another studio for the remainder of the year before making our big move to Texas.
Without already stressing about schools, I then had to stress about choosing a new dance studio. Anyone that is or was a dancer knows that this can be even harder than starting at a new school due to how family orientated everyone is, some people are really loyal to one studio and work their way to the frontline (which is actually a bigger deal to people than you think) so coming in new it’s a struggle not to accidentally step on any toes. Mum and I rocked up at a studio not too far from our house without knowing that I was even talented lmao (not being bias but for real I was pretty ok), I was sent into a room to show them what I was capable of so I could be put into a class that was suited to my skill set. No more than 20 minutes later we were signing papers and I was asked to join the Elite Team (anyone unfamiliar with dancing, it’s similar to dance mums. You go and compete at 3-5 dance competitions a year with a group of other competitive dancers). We were a bit taken back and overwhelmed by it all but I lived and breathed dance so it was more than I could have ever asked for.
My whole life (and my families) quickly came to revolve around dancing. Within 2 years I had moved to a Charter school for dancing, singing, and acting and the studio became my 2nd home. I soon danced over 20 hours a week at the studio alone (not even including my 2-hour dance classes daily at school). This amount of training is huge for a 9-year-old and seems ridiculous but I would have even taken more classes if I could have. I was lucky enough that my Mum was so supportive of me, securing a job at the dance studio to help pay for my passion. I became familiar with new dance styles. With less of an emphasis on Ballet, Jazz was my new found love. I competed in Jazz, Tap, Contemporary, Lyrical, Musical Theatre and even Clogging (which is literally so hard to explain but it was really Texan, the dictionary definition is “a dance performed in clogs with rhythmic beating of the feet, especially as a traditional dance in Ireland, Scotland, and the North of England”). I was immersed into this world where dancing became my everything. Somewhere to cry, laugh, express my emotions- it’s still one of the most amazing times of my life to date.
I began competing solos at 9 years old winning 1st place in the majority of my competitions and coming home with overall trophies where my little collection began. My first solo was the best experience and a huge learning curve as being up on stage alone you can’t rely on everyone around you to remember the dance for you (oops). There were times when I’d just make up a bit which is totally normal for a dancer to do. At 11, I won my first 1st overall for my Jazz solo (as well as 2nd for my contemporary). I was sitting there literally thinking I won nothing because my name hadn’t been called at all (this is how much confidence I lacked).
Oh, and I did mention the studio was my whole life right? I got to the point where at age 9 I would come in every Saturday morning and teach a babies class (teaching the 2-year-olds Ballet and Tap) as well as having the most amazing opportunity to teach a class of down syndrome kids, some being even older than I am now. I will forever be grateful for that amazing and humbling experience.
I was lucky enough to walk into a studio that became not only mine but my family’s entire world. Like any sporting team, you see each other at training every week (every day for us) and become so close to one another. One of my first friends at dancing being Maddison Pettis (Disney Actress from “Cory in the House” and “The Game Plan” with the Rock). We had no family in the states and we made friends for life who became our family, never allowing us to feel alone at Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and even Easter. I would have not been able to push on without them. I regularly would celebrate my birthday at competitions and even though my immediate family couldn’t be there our little American family would always make me feel special. I’m literally getting so emotional typing about this lmao (help) but I will forever hold the most special place in my heart for my beautiful little fam.
Moving back to Australia was a big game changer for me. The dance styles although similar were actually very different and more Hip-hop orientated. As I said before, I struggled when it came to hip-hop so I had to learn quickly in order to not look like a fuckwit. The dance world in Australia is actually so much smaller than in the US. One huge difference I found was the costumes and Competitions or in Australia, we refer to them as Eisteddfods. In the States, competitions are held in massive University/College auditoriums with professional lighting and sound. All of my Aussie dancer friends know that eisteddfods are squished into little high school halls. I never got the chance to get as pumped as I did for competition in America.
Costumes in Texas were filled with rhinestones (our mums would spend hours gluing them back on if any ever fell off), we’d all have the same hair and make-up, with hours spent in the dressing room stretching and getting ready to go on (literally the most exciting part). Here in Sydney, the costumes we wore were a lot more generic and there was less emphasis on rhinestones and make-up. Due to how small the halls where there was never an actual dressing room so there wasn’t that bonding experience like American dancing- it was just too different.
Although I loved it so much, I had my own demons that I constantly battled from a young age. I was always caring about how I looked and what people thought of me. Having this unhealthy mindset ultimately held me back from being the best dancer I could possibly have been. Growing up Ballet trained from the start when Hip-hop was introduced I struggled MASSIVELY. From always having to point your toes and hold your body upright I felt so out of place and would literally sook (which is totally embarrassing now I think of it). I never ever thought I was good enough and would regularly come off stage crying about how I had fucked something up. When I moved back to Australia I went from being the “star” of most performances (which is kinda a big deal) to a middle line dancer trying to fight my way to the front. At the end of the day, my lack of confidence and will to be a perfectionist got the best of me. I would cry, throw fits and just would be under-confident in my ability. My mum had enough and pulled me out of dancing at age 13. I never realised how great I could have become if I had a different mindset. From wanting to be a performer and owning my own dance studio to studying nursing seems insane but without dance having such a huge impact on my life it turned me into the person I have become.
Dance has never been just a sport for me (yes, it is a sport). It always has and always will be a part of my heart and soul. I am dedicated, I learned perseverance, discipline, a sense of teamwork and passion. Through all of the recitals, costumes, hairspray, injuries, and friends I’ve made at the end of the day I will always be a dancer.