Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Big Dance at Sydney Dance Company … How I Learned To Dance

When you think of the prestigious Sydney Dance Company, you may think it’s only for professional dancers and it’s beyond your reach. I didn’t learn to dance when I was a child. I learnt to dance when I was an adult in my early 30s, an age where people say “that’s too late”. That’s probably true if you want to become a professional ballet or contemporary dancer. But is there truly no hope at all to become a reasonably good dancer? If you want to dance better than some night clubber, pick up choreography reasonably quickly so you can put on a good performance on stage, then you don’t need to start learning when you're straight out of your diapers. I started in my early 30s during a time when I finished most of my studies, and was reasonably established in my professional career. Before then, staying fit wasn’t at the forefront of my mind as I thought I still had time and I’ll make it up later. So it was just focussing on my work, progressing in my career and doing well in my postgraduate studies. It’s probably fair to say my life was fairly unbalanced back then. I had a wake up call one day after long hours and late nights got me pretty sick. I had never felt so sick in my life and I had to take a load of antibiotics until my health started to turn around. When I got my strength back I made a decision to change my lifestyle – exercise and a good diet in my life was a must in living a healthier and happier life. But I didn’t want to go to a gym, as that’s boring and I will never commit to it. I wanted something I could stick with because I was interested and engaged.

I was invited to a wedding one day, an Indian wedding to be precise and I recalled seeing dancers entertain the guests with a form of dance I wasn’t familiar with at the time…bollywood. I was drawn to these bollywood dancers – the energy, their sequined colourful costumes, and the intricacies of their hand movements were so beautiful.  Whilst I did not understand the lyrics of the Hindi songs, there was an immediate senses of happiness and joy in the music. I went home and googled to see whether there were classes in bollywood dance and I was in luck - there were. I joined a class and from thereon my obsession with bollywood dance and all forms of dance begun. I recall my first few classes. I felt like an idiot, so self-conscious that everyone was watching me, but braved it on stage as a beginner performer. In my mind I thought it was just an alternative way to boost self-confidence so I could get over the fear of standing up in front of a lot of people. I did have that fear back then. I didn’t like being in the limelight at all. After a few years of dance training, I don't mind it now. A few months became a few years and I worked my way up to bollywood intermediate classes. I remembered practising and memorising everyday and even on the train, I had my headphones on, marking the steps of the routines in my head. I thought I would never learn to do spot turns. I’m not perfect at it but I can do them now. Once I got the steps, you start watching You Tube clips of other really good dancers (some of whom are good friends now) on technique and style to improve the form of your movement so that it's not just moving, but its adding some character form to it. It’s a bit like taking a photo of an object versus taking a photo of the object that’s stylised. The stylised version is so much better as it's interesting to look at - it tells a story. When I travelled overseas, I also made an effort to try classes in New York, London, Dubai and Paris to learn different styles. Would you believe there is a bollywood dance schools in Paris?

Photography by See.Taste.Do
after the Big Dance rehearsals over the weekend at Sydney Dance Company

My confidence lifted from this training and determination to become an above average dancer and I went from bollywood to jazz classes at Sydney Dance Company for the challenge but also as a way to improve dance technique and precision of my steps. Initially, I found jazz hard, it’s unlike bollywood where you can get away with less precision in some steps, but with jazz it’s all technique. Hard is good as it’s challenging. I stuck with it and attended the jazz beginner class lead by Ramon Doringo, Studio Director of Sydney Dance Company on a regular basis. Eventually I started to get his style. If it’s your first time, you may feel like you want to cry but if you have the determination and stamina to stick with it every week it becomes easier. The second and third classes are much easier. It’s always hard at the beginning but the key is to just have fun, don’t take it too seriously and enjoy the challenge. It became easier for me to learn the steps in Ramon’s jazz class as he does break it down pretty well. And don’t be phased out by the people who are at the front of his class. We all started somewhere, and they just started a bit earlier and moved their way to the front of the class. The other thing I like about Ramon’s class is that he splits the class into 2 groups at the end so you have to perform the routine you learned in his class in front of each other. Daunting at first, but it is fun and inspiring to watch the other group. Everyone is in the same boat.

Chat with Ramon Doringo, Studio Director, Sydney Dance Company

Ramon Doringo’s jazz classes are one of the best classes in Sydney I've been to which is why keep coming back to Sydney Dance Company for the consistency, challenge and professionalism. I caught up with Ramon to find out a little about how dance started for him.

Ramon’s love of dance started in the Philippines when he was a small boy. He was drawn to folk dancing performances. “My parents didn’t have a lot of money” he said and anything that involved getting costumes was expensive and wasn’t affordable back then. Though that did not stop Ramon from pursuing a career in dance. It wasn’t until after school that Ramon started his dance training in the Philippines. It wasn’t the usual ballet or jazz training that we would normally think of for someone who starts out a career in dance, but folk dancing. His training started through a scholarship he had won. From then on he pursued his passion for folk dancing until one day a Sydney choreographer visited the Philippines and performed a contemporary dance style which Ramon was drawn to. Through new contacts in Australia, Ramon auditioned for dance roles in Australia and his professional work landed him roles in ensemble in one of his first musicals in Sydney called Chess. I recall that was the first musical I had ever watched in my teens and ever since then I love musicals. His professional work includes theatre, film, promotion and music videos. He is now one of Sydney’s highest profile commercial choreographers and dance instructors.

There are many benefits in getting yourself involved in dance. “Dance makes you look younger”, says Ramon and “It gives you confidence”. How true, all my dance friends are beauty queens regardless of their ages and without allowing the performance limelight get to their heads too much.

What’s Ramon’s advice to aspiring dancers? To have a successful career in dance, you need the ‘IT factor’ as opposed to the ‘X factor’, according to Ramon. The ‘IT factor’ is something personal you bring to the dance, that makes someone watch you when you perform. Also, if you want a successful career in dance, "don’t be intimidated, don’t think about it too much, and stop comparing yourself to others". You need to be persistent, put in the hardwork, be passionate about it and be able to collaborate and work with others. This is a critical element in the dance industry. If you can’t collaborate and only work silo then forget it - the dance industry is not for you. Importantly, keep fit, eat healthy and look after your body.

So all this dance training has now led me down the path of joining Big Dance, the largest celebration of dance in the world, coinciding with Sydney Dance Company’s 45th birthday. Initiated by the Mayor of London in 2006, this biennial event is the world’s biggest celebration of all types of dance. 2014 sees Australia take a leading role as Sydney Dance Company’s Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela has choreographed a new large-scale dance routine that will be performed by thousands in Sydney, London and Glasgow. I’ve rallied my friends I have met through my journey of dance through the years to join thousands of other dancers of all ages and abilities to rehearse for the free special event at the Sydney Opera House on Sunday, 13 July 2013. In Sydney, Big Dance will be held outside on the Sydney Opera House Northern Broadwalk on 13 July, with live video links to London and Glasgow via satellite.

Anyone can learn to dance; anyone can get up and learn to perform in front of a big crowd. You don't need to have started young, you can start now. Go on, give it a go!

For more information on Big Dance, go to Sydney Dance Company's website. For more information on class timetables, click here.


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