Irene Manning, dancer and dance mom, traveled with her daughter Radha and fellow dancer Jazzie to Melbourne, Australia in order for the girls to take part in the Australian Ballet School’s annual Summer Program. Here is an inside view of the experience from a dance parent who not only has two dancing daughters, but has a strong background in the art form herself.
What is your background in dance?
I started dancing in the US at the age of nine, and I studied primarily ballet. When I went to college, I minored in dance, which at that time was a modern dance minor. As an adult I’ve been dancing on and off my whole life. My total amount of time that I’ve danced is more than 25 years.
How did you first hear about the Australian ballet Summer Program? Whose initiative was it to go?
We first heard about the Australian Ballet School Summer Program from a former student of Miss Yana‘s called Nana. Many of you may remember her from several years ago. She had attended the program in Australia, and when she met Miss Yana in London over the summer, she described how much she enjoyed the program. That was when Miss Yana mentioned it to me. Then we started thinking, ‘Oh, maybe that would be a great program for Radha and Jazzie to go and experience together, as their first summer program’. So that’s how we found out.
What was the registration process like?
Registration opened at the end of August and there was no deadline for applying. They kept it open until it was full, but I didn’t have any good sense of what full meant, so we registered pretty early in September, just to make sure that we would get a place. It ended up that the pre-professional class that Radha was in had about 25 students. Jazzie was also in a class of about 25 students. So I would say at least at the pre-professional level, they take about 50 students per week. They have two one-week programs. We opted to do both of them. So we were there for two weeks. But you can either do the first week or the second week, or both weeks.
What was your first impression on arriving at the Australian ballet school?
We arrived the day before the summer program began. Of course, immediately we walked over to check out the studio space. Unfortunately we couldn’t go in the building because they still have pretty strict covid regulations, but from the outside, it looks very nice. They have a huge sign on the side. Their school is sponsored by a woman named Primrose Potter and she and her husband have actually supported the arts across Melbourne. So it’s the Primrose Potter School and it was lovely. When the girls came back after the first day, they said the studios are beautiful and the facilities are really quite nice.
Let me just add to that. Melbourne is a city of art and we were staying in what is called the Arts District. So we went to see a show – the three of us went to see the Phantom of the Opera, which was playing while we were there. You don’t get to see very much musical theater here in India, so that was a real treat. There were a lot of art museums and there were other performance opportunities that we unfortunately didn’t get a chance to take advantage of, but just to see that vibrant art community was great. I saw kids, you know, gathering in the area – they looked like a youth orchestra going to their lessons. I also saw girls walking around with their ballet tights and their buns, and you just see it on the street in that area is very energizing. So that’s another aspect that’s really nice.
How do you feel that a program like this will benefit dancers – in general and specifically dancers from India and TLFCB ?
So I think there’s a couple of big benefits to doing a program like this. One is just to go and see what dance is like in other places. I remember one of the first days that the girls came back and I was asking them about the dance vocabulary, how is it different? And they were saying, ‘Oh, the teacher calls this step something different’. So even knowing that dance can be different in different parts of the world, even though it’s all ballet, I think that’s important. They got to meet a lot of girls and boys, mainly from Australia, but there were also quite a few students who had come from Japan. There were students also that had come from New Zealand, so meeting that international community was great. By the end of the week they were saying, ‘Oh, my friend so and so…’ so it was really quite nice.
The second thing for both for Jazzie and Radha, as well as for any student of dance, is expanding your horizons and seeing what different forms of dance are taught differently by around the world. I mean, even from week one to week two, they had different ballet teachers and they were saying, ‘Oh, this teacher taught differently than my first week teachers’. So I think it’s good to just have that mixture and that diversity. The diversity of teaching, the diversity of students. The diversity of talent. Yeah. So I truly think it was a very special time for them to really see what the dance world is like.
What are your thoughts on seeing what the girls learned/achieved during their two weeks?
By the end of the two weeks, both of them, when I asked them how they felt, having gone through these two weeks, they both said that they were highly motivated. For me, that was something that was great to see – they both love dance but this experience took it to the next level and helped them really understand that it’s a big world out there and there’s lots to learn. You may feel comfortable in your home studio, you may feel you understand how Miss Yana teaches, but then you can go and test your knowledge with teachers that you’ve never met before, styles that you’ve never done before. They did jazz, they did flamenco. I think it just really opens up a whole new world. I think it’s just a great way for them to experience different perspectives and they were both motivated. I think they’re ready to come back and share their experience with the rest of the students at TLFCB.
What would you say to parents who are hesitant to send their children to a summer program like this?
It’s a big commitment, not just in terms of money, but also in terms of time. It can sometimes be scary to go to a foreign country and experience something like this, but I would say if your child is very interested in dance, not just ballet, but maybe dance overall, that it’s a wonderful experience to just see what’s out there. We don’t have a lot of opportunity to experience different teachers or different styles here in India.
To see the girls come back with that gleam in their eye and say,’ Let me show you what I learned in jazz class today’, or ‘Oh my gosh, the choreography class, the approach that the teacher took was so different and interesting’ – it just makes the time and the money worth it. I think it just opens up an entire new world for students. The environment at Australian Ballet was very nurturing from what I could tell, too. That’s so important.
Also, the facilities were really good. We stayed in an apartment which was right next door to the studio, so every morning we could walk one minute and be at the studio. It was a safe environment. And yeah, they just met so many kids that I hope that they’ve made some lifelong friendships out of this experience. So I would say don’t hesitate, but plan carefully. It’s one of these once in a lifetime events that 20 years from now these girls are gonna look back and say, ‘Wasn’t that great? Didn’t I have such an amazing opportunity?’.
Is there any way that your experience, or the experience of Radha and Jazzie, could have been made better?
I think the biggest thing was that we didn’t really know what to expect at the intensive. You would have to ask the girls, but I think the first couple of days they felt a little shy, a little reserved. There were not a lot of students who had come from overseas; I would say probably 75% of the students were from Australia and many of them were from the same studios as well.
So I think what could have made it better was kind of knowing that you have to put yourself out there, that you have to meet people right away. That although ballet is a competitive world, as students, you’re all in the same boat and you’re all trying to learn at the same time and just keep that in mind when you step into the studio. That would’ve been something that could have helped them more, especially in that first week, because by the time the second week came, they were visibly more relaxed. I think it was because after that first week, all the jitters kind of went to the side. They started meeting students, making friends, feeling more comfortable. It’s a new environment, but that’s probably the only thing. Otherwise, I think the experience overall was really fabulous.
What would you like to say to our students who are interested in becoming professionals in the field or dance or ballet?
My main advice for students who are considering a career in dance is that you need to explore more. I think in many ways this was a very eye-opening experience for Radha and for Jazzie. They knew that many of the students were definitely better than they were, and obviously a lot of them are already in a ballet school, so they have advantages over Radha and Jazzie – they’re full-time students of ballet.
Explore as much as you can. If you have the opportunity to take courses in different styles of dance, that can only help broaden your experience. If you have the opportunity to go to any kind of a summer course, whether it’s Australia or somewhere else, if you are really serious about trying to pursue dance, I recommend that you explore the possibilities and just try to dance as much as possible. Most of these ABS students are dancing every day. One of them is training to go to the Prix de Lausanne. He was practicing his Prix de Lausanne variation in the lunch hour, and some of them had participated in Youth American Grand Prix before, so there’s lots of things that are going on that we probably aren’t as aware of as we could be here in India. So I would say explore that as much as possible if you’re serious about considering a career in dance. That can be as a dance teacher, it can be a as costume designer, it can be a as dancer. There are many different aspects of a dance career. It’s not only being a performer. A variety of experiences really, really helps. Even just watching videos of other dancers and seeing how they approach their work – how does Marianela Nunez approach a role versus someone like Natalia Osipova for example? They are two very distinct dancers. Just imbibing all of that and understanding where dance can take you, it’s all part of the process.