Bright-eyed Australians are a common sight amongst the UK dance community—armed with two-year Working Holiday Visas and backpacks, staying on floors of small apartments in outer London boroughs, and frantically counting the precious pounds accumulated from all sorts of crappy jobs six months prior to departure.
You may then identify them with bewildered expressions, staring at Australian savings that dwindle on those staples of London life, a coffee and a pint!
They can be found at any London studio, getting their taste of classes and the European dance experience before their money runs completely out and they have to ring home for a ‘donation’.
As an Australian dancer, I was acutely aware that my perspective on training and performance was somewhat different to my UK counterparts. The athleticism of classes I experienced in Australia certainly outweighed the English experience. I began to notice that this was not just a personal impression, but one that is shared by many of my countrymen and women.
Too often I encountered the frustration amongst Antipodean visitors, standing in parallel position and wondering when these ‘side curves’ are going to finish and when will we actually "begin to move".
Why do we appear as monoliths of the space eaters? Perhaps it is our geography, the sunshine, or that other national marker—sport. Some may scoff at this, but it becomes most obvious when, in an effort to remain somehow connected to family, friends and long-lost puppy dogs, you find yourself in the pub, screaming at a television screen and willing the Aussies to win whatever game is being played just to feel "at home"!
I have no idea why I became such a fan of Rugby Union when I moved to London. But let’s face it, if there’s one thing we get more of than the continentals, it’s sunshine and sport. So in whatever way, shape, or form, there does exist a national ethos that survives in the Aussie traveller. And that element perhaps imbues our dancing practice.
Often Australians bemoan our geographical location. There is no denying that we are farthest from the realms of other continents. We are at a disadvantage, despite our healthy festival circuit, to see the first glimpse of ground-breaking art or performances that make dramatic impressions on performance-art as we know it.
This combined with an unsupportive funding situation for dance in Australia, which I am sad to say, has not improved in the last three years (did I expect it to?) prompts many an Australian dance enthusiast to "go OS".
This transmigration and yearning for opportunity and exposure drives Australian dancers to find influence, and indeed employment, on many foreign shores. Fortunately many return, and even those who become established in their new homes, do return in tours or as guest performers or teachers. This depth of variety gives us a very interesting skill, of being pre-eminently adaptable.
As returning artists divulge their experiences to local practitioners, a healthy collection of stylistic influences and theories gets absorbed, debated and imparted to our own community with student and professional interaction. As a result, Australian dancers are exposed to various ideologies and theories, and with our willingness to absorb anything outside the known, we become proficient at absorbing a physicality of various styles whilst being informed from various perspectives.
For those who are able to secure it, company contracts and part-time projects yield the opportunity to work across many genres and styles. This diversity of influence requires that the Australian dancer find a way of working across various styles, if for nothing else other than to remain employable!
Arguably, we have one of the most competitive workplaces in the world. Again, I suggest our sporting influence is responsible for us being adept at rising to the competitive challenge. Would that not suggest why so many Australians are successful in overseas companies?
Australia does possess a variety that requires a most adaptable performer. Somehow we have turned this to our advantage and produced artists who have experience beyond a singular influence and possess a talent to turn unfamiliar movement vocabularies into proficient and interesting physicalities.
Fortunately we are not as devoid of variety as we may sometimes feel. I don’t think the attraction of going overseas will ever be lost on established and aspiring professionals! Nor should it be. It creates an eager and hungry culture willing to absorb and devote energy to gaining as much as possible.
However, as a "returning" professional, it is a wonderful feeling to reflect on the ability and talent that resides in the Australian dance community. If we can ensure the value of this in arenas where support will contribute in unimagined ways, then Australian dance will continue to be that unique force in the global dance community.