Co founder of NLS
How long have you worked in the dance industry?
About twenty years. I started getting paid when I was about fifteen or sixteen years old and working as a freestyle dancer in clubs throughout Melbourne. I had a bit of time off when my two sons were born, but I was still doing odd jobs here and there during this time – filling in and helping out when required.
When I got back into the industry, everything fell into place really quickly. I got offered a job teaching hip hop at a dance school in Essendon during a time when film clips and dance styles were changing and no one really knew how to teach this new style of dance. It was a pretty exciting time.
How did you get to where you are today?
I think that the best thing that young artists and dancers can possibly do is to remember that in order to sustain a long term career, you have to not only be creative and talented, but you need to have a strong business sense – you need to know how finances and management works to keep control of your career.
I’ve been really lucky in this as I had a background in business before I had a background in dance. Because of this I always had a fallback as well – I could tile or I could run a café if I needed to. I think this business savvy or background is vital in keeping a career in dance.
Number one advice, though, without a doubt is to not smoke, drink or do drugs. Not even recreationally. It will make you age quicker and you will fall into the trap and your career will end. You can’t physically work as a dancer when you’re under the influence of any kind of substance. It’s just not worth it.
In saying that however, it can be good for business to have a drink with the client or your boss. You need to always have that clear voice in your head that’s telling you what is going to be good for your career long term – and you can’t do that when you’re intoxicated.
What is your relevant training or experience?
The only really traditional training I’ve had is in Latin styles. Hip hop is fundamentally a street style of dance which I learnt from watching tv and video clips as well as hanging out in Melbourne and seeing other dancers get together and practice.
I also really vividly remember watching my cousin who had come down to visit from Sydney and was dancing to Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees in a full John Travolta costume. I saw that and I was just like – that is what I want to do. Not so much the dancing, but all the attention he was getting. That is exactly what I wanted!
Who are your influences and why?
As a young person and as a dancer I was really inspired by video clips that were coming out, mainly from America in that time, like Michael Jackson.
In terms of working with young people, my real inspiration or my passion for this came about when I started the Anti Racism Action Band (A.R.A.B.) project. This work totally changed my view on what’s out there for young people when it came to the arts, and how completely non-existent it was at that time. There was really nothing for those young people who didn’t have the $15 or $20 per hour for a dance class each week.
Because I had personally grown up in that low socio-economic range and there was no way that my family could have afforded that sort of money, the opportunity to run some free dance workshops around anti-racism campaigns developed in me a massive passion to provide something for these young people. Working in this also made me realize just how much funding and support there is floating around for this kind of work, and it just kind of followed on from there.
Another inspiration for me was when I taught at your typical, middle-class suburban dance school. I started teaching a hip hop class there when it wasn’t really considered a dance form and it was really disturbing for me to see the amount of crying and eating disorders within dance schools. This was absolutely shocking to me – how can there possibly be anything negative about putting on music and dancing?
This kind of fed my passion and my love for the hip hop world – it doesn’t encourage those kind of concerns at all. If anything, hip hop culture supports the individual and their character and personality – there isn’t the pressure to be a particular shape or size or style. I think this is also sort of why I was attracted to the Latin world, because it encourages dancers to have a woman’s body and to have vibrant personalities.
In terms of my influence on other people, I think this is really clearly seen in my sons. They started dancing because was always dancing and teaching dance, I think. So they would come to the classes with me, or I was dancing at home, and there was always music and movement on at home. I’d teach them little routines and things, but they would also bring in their own influences from their worlds like the music clips they were watching or the martial arts games they were playing on the Play Station, for example. I remember Jerome got really into one game and I could definitely see how that got him really good at flips and all sorts of acrobatic tricks because he was copying them.
What are your ultimate goals for your work within the dance industry?
I want to see Next Level Studios as a space where up and coming dancers and dance teachers can utilize the space to create enough income so that dance becomes their full time job. So that dance artists – or even musicians – are able to actually sustain their living financially through their art.
In terms of my work with young people through the Indigenous Hip Hop Projects I want to develop more multimedia components, through which we will be able to explicitly connect and support communities through hooking them up directly with the right people and organizations.
What can you offer people who use NLS?
Next Level Studios offers a new space with high quality sound that can provide access to not only studio hire, but also to dance classes and choreographers.
In terms of myself as a dancer, I can offer private classes in basic to advanced hip hop and beginner to advanced Salsa and Samba.