Dance: Is it like the movies?

We had to share this excellent dance article by Michelle Duff for Fairfax NZ News with you all, which gets Sydney Dance Company's Jesse Scales sharing her thoughts on the reality of a dancer's life and why she hates Centre Stage and the 'dance movie' genre. What do you think, is the dancer lifestyle in the movies factual or total fiction?


REAL LIFE: Contemporary dancer Jesse Scales, 22, says her life is nothing like what's portrayed in Hollywood movies.


The cat-fights. The backstabbing. The pressure of landing a role, the pushy stage mum, the dancer whose heart isn't quite in the right place. The . . .

"Oh, seriously," says 22-year-old Jesse Scales, a dancer with the Sydney Dance Company. "It's nothing like that. And I hate that movie, it's so tacky and superficial," she adds, referring to 2000 dance film Centre Stage, the plot of which I've just been suggesting reflects her everyday life.

So, no bitchiness? "No."

No love triangles? "Nope."

The only similarity being a contemporary dancer bears to Centre Stage, Step Up, Save the Last Dance, You got Served, Honey, or any number of Hollywood flicks, Scales says, is this: it really is a lot of hard work.

Knees and backs are constantly in pain, with physical training from 9am till 6pm five or six days a week. That's not including gym sessions, extra classes, and performances.

Says fellow dancer Thomas Bradley, 24: "I think people still don't understand you can be a dancer fulltime, and even if they do they don't take it seriously - they think you kick your legs up all day."

"We work the same hours, if not more, than an office job, and we've been training for our whole lives. This job is everything, you can't risk anything that would harm your body. It is your entire life."

The Sydney Dance Company will perform a four-show billing of their work 2 One Another at the Aotea Centre this week. Of the 16-strong cast, four trained at the New Zealand School of Dance, including Alana Sargent, 24, who is originally from Gisborne.

SPREADING HER WINGS: Gisborne dancer Alana Sargent will perform with the Sydney Dance Company this week.

SPREADING HER WINGS: Gisborne dancer Alana Sargent will perform with the Sydney Dance Company this week.

Sargent, who was in her first stage show at the age of 6, and as a schoolgirl got used to travelling the winding road from the east coast to Wellington for dance competitions, will be making her New Zealand debut with the company.

The other New Zealand alumni are Scales, Bradley, and Janessa Dufty.

For Sargent, the audition process was formidable. Two days, where more than 100 dancers were made to perform ballet, contemporary, and improvised routines, with cutbacks after each stage. She was one of two women to be offered a position.

Originally a ballet nut, Sargent only started to really love dancing when she discovered contemporary dance. "It felt more natural and intuitive to me, I feel like a better dancer," she says. "It's exhausting at times, but so rewarding."

Paula Steeds-Huston, head of contemporary dance at the New Zealand School of Dance, says the school is known for turning out strong dancers who can cope with the physical demands of a professional career and adapt to different styles and choreographers.

"Dancers usually come to us at quite a high level, and if they're from Australia they might have done a couple of years already so they are used to how hard we push our dancers - which is extremely hard. Contemporary is a lot more about how you can push your body to the extremes."

Dancers also work with nutritionalists, gym instructors and sports psychologists, she says: "We turn out elite athletes, with very high technique and ability."


The work the Sydney Dance Company will perform in Auckland has won awards for both artistic director Rafael Bonachela and the company, including the 2013 Australian Dance Award for the most outstanding performance.

"2 One Another is undoubtedly glitzy . . . the work is a whole lot more than flashy lights and wide open splits," The Herald-Sun wrote. "It's an organic, multi-dimensional creation, gorgeous to look at and ripe with dramatic tension."

Bradley, who was drawn from his home in rural New South Wales to study at the New Zealand School of Dance, says contemporary dance is a strong vehicle for storytelling.

"It's an expression of what is happening now in our society, between people, between leaders and followers, between money-makers and money-seekers. It aims to set up discussion between people, and it aims to explore. It's not a means by which to impress people, or make people go wow, it's about expression."

Another difference from other dance genres is the way it's devised, Bradley says.

Unlike ballet, contemporary does not have a set language of moves. There are no plies or pirouettes, no positions to master.

Instead, movement is designed to suit the philosophy behind the work. 2 One Another is about human relationships, and how people interact with each other. The dancers spent time in the studio and on the street, watching people's body language. Those small character tics, the subconscious movements people make when talking, were then translated into dance.

"Whenever a contemporary dance move is devised, you set out to create a new vocabulary," Bradley says. "It's completely open."

But does that make it harder to understand?

"Even as someone in the industry, I feel some mild anxiety when I see a show, like I should be trying to read something into it.

"But you shouldn't let that stop you, and if you're not sure what it's about afterwards, that's okay. You don't need to explain it in words, because words restrict us. You just need to have an experience."

2 One Another is at the Aotea Centre from November 13 to 15.