Advice for aspiring young dancers
Originally from country NSW and the Central Coast, Alisha Coon has enjoyed an incredible ten year career as a professional dancer both in Europe, the US and at home in Australia. Having recently hung up her pointe shoes, Alisha has channeled her love and energy for dance into her new venture – Sound of Moves: Creative and Expressive Arts – where she delivers dance movement therapy.
Trained in ballet and contemporary, Alisha has invaluable advice for young dancers considering studying full-time dance and making dance their career.
DanceLife recently spoke to Alisha about her journey with dance, as part of our Online Guide to Full Time Dance and Performing Arts Courses. DOWNLOAD AND READ OUR GUIDE HERE.
Q: How old were you when you began dance? Why and where did you start?
A: My mum sent me along to ballet lessons at the age of 3 in Mudgee. I have two brothers and was a bit of a tomboy, so Mum thought ballet lessons might be fun for me. The hall where I did classes had a huge fence and I used to climb up it in my ballet clothes!
Q: What did you find most rewarding or valuable as a young dancer?
A: Definitely the friends I made and the experience of dancing in a group are the most valuable memories I have. I still have an amazing group of friends I grew up dancing with – we have been friends for over 25 years! I also believe that dancing as a group taught me many valuable life lessons in teamwork, sharing and friendship.
Q: At what point did you decide that dance was your chosen career path and you were going to give it a go?
A: I actually left school after Year 10 to ‘give it a go’, but I just wasn’t ready for it. After a few weeks of training in Newcastle, I decided to ignore the pressure of having to start full-time training as young as possible, and do what felt right for me. So I ended up going back to school to finish my HSC and by the end of Year 12 I felt I was emotionally ready to take on full-time dance training.
Q: Where did you train full-time? What were the benefits and main things you learned there?
A: After completing my HSC I ended up choosing to go to Alegria Dance Studios in Sydney where I trained full time under Hilary Kaplan. I had taken some casual classes there during high school and I really loved the teachers. They worked us hard whilst creating an environment of encouragement and support. I always put a lot of pressure on myself as a dancer, so I didn’t need more pressure from teachers on me to be the best or to be super skinny, fit, flexible etc. I’m really grateful to have found the perfect environment to nurture my potential when I was young.
Then I got injured and could no longer dance en pointe for a year, so I got a job as a performer on a cruise ship in the US for a year. That was great fun and like having a ‘gap year’ from training.
After that, I went back to complete full time training at Alegria before joining the (now defunct) Bondi Ballet for a series of projects.
Q: You moved from full time training to the Queensland Ballet program – describe what that experience was like and what you gained from it as a dancer?
A: My Professional Year at The Queensland Ballet was my first taste of what it is was really like to dance in a real company. It was a huge shock! Learning how much hard work is involved, and how much you are responsible for your own development and self-care was hard.
I was relatively ‘old’ at 21 to be there. But because I was older than the others I got to dance leads in their productions and tour with the Queensland Ballet. This is when I fell in love with the stage!
There was no going back from there, but there was also no work in Australia. Luckily a couple of wonderful friends in the company gave me some advice on auditioning in Europe so I packed my bags and started organising an audition tour.
Q: What was your experience of being a working dancer in Europe?
A: There is SO much work in Europe for dancers! I was fortunate to have worked for 6 years straight in 3 different ballet/contemporary companies in Germany from 2006-2012. I worked with many world-renowned choreographers in Augsburg, Chemnitz and Koblenz, and had the most amazing experience living and travelling overseas!
Q: What brought you back to Australia?
A: I returned to Australia in 2012 to dance with the Sydney Dance Company. It was an incredible privilege to work with some of Australia’s best dancers and tour the world performing award-winning works.
Q: In your opinion: what are the advantages of pursuing full-time dance training in Australia? And what is the main lesson you learned from your training?
A: Australia offers a world-class level of training in the areas of technique and performance. Full-time training here, as opposed to overseas, is financially more viable and will offer dancers a solid foundation to audition for pre-professional companies or traineeships.
If there is one thing I learned from my training is that strong technique is everything! Tricks and high legs won’t get you anywhere if you don’t have a solid foundation. You will get cut after the first round if you don’t have strong technique so they won’t even get to see your tricks! For example, company auditions in Europe will usually cut dancers after barre, and even contemporary companies will always start auditions with a ballet class. So, a solid grounding in ballet technique and performance is vital, and full-time study in Australia that refines these skills for a professional dance is important.
Q: How has the dance industry and training options changed in your opinion over the past few years?
A: There are so many more options these days! Which in some ways is a good thing, for example, if you want to work on a cruise ship then there are some fantastic courses that will prepare you specifically for that. On the other hand, it means you have to choose wisely.
Q: When considering studying dance/performance full time – what should students take into consideration?
A: It helps to know where you want to end up (i.e. on a cruise ship, in a contemporary company, in musicals, etc.) so that you know which courses to apply for. If you don’t know, then do some research and set some goals. Look at YouTube videos, websites, or ask for advice. Talk to everyone you know. Make sure you find a school that suits your style of dance, your attitude and provides the best possible outcomes in your chosen area of work.
It is also important to be aware that there are very limited jobs in Australia so be prepared to go overseas at the end of your training.
Q: What advantages do Australians have when auditioning?
A: Australian dancers are known in Europe for their ‘use of space’ and performance quality. I think our culture of Eisteddfods and competitions help dancers develop these qualities. We are also known for our friendly and fun nature, which Artistic Directors (especially in smaller companies) really value in a company.
Q: If you could offer just one piece of advice to young dancers wanting to pursue a career – what would it be?
A: Keep an open heart and an open mind. Take opportunities that feel right. Even though my dream was to dance in a ballet company, I took an opportunity to dance on a cruise ship when I was 19 and it turned out to be the best year of my life!
Q: What do have planned for your future now that your are no longer performing professionally?
A: I want to pass on all of the wonderful things I’ve learnt about being a dancer to young dancers. I recently studied Dance Movement Therapy and I have taken this knowledge, along with my years of professional experience, to create workshops that are specifically beneficial for the health and wellbeing of dancers. It is SO important as a dancer to know how to look after your body and your mind. I would love to come and do workshops at local dance schools. (Follow this link to learn more about Alisha’s workshops.)
Alisha Coon is currently conducting Dance Therapy Workshops in Melbourne, but is also available for Sydney and Central Coast NSW bookings on request. Keep an eye out for upcoming articles by Alisha on the DanceLife website where she will share more tips for dancers on auditioning, living overseas and self-care.
You can follow Alisha on Facebook and learn more about her workshops at her website: http://www.soundofmoves.com/#!dance-movement-therapy/c1h5o