Gen-Z Talent Watch | Eloise Harpas
From the Shire to Shining in NYC
Interview and article by Heather Clements
Like many young kids, Eloise Harpas, 21, started dancing from a young age; but after getting her first paid job at 15 she decided to make dance her career. Eloise ramped up her training and skills and took up a 3 month scholarship at Broadway Dance Center in New York where she became the first Australian to ever receive their Outstanding Student Award. She has worked with prestigious choreographers like Candace Brown, Ashlé Dawson, Neil Swartz, As1 Creative and Squared Division and was quickly signed by MSA Agency, who represent dancers and choreographers worldwide.
Now, since her return from the US, Eloise has been enjoying passing on her skills and knowledge to students back in Australia, but plans to head back to the US soon to see how far her talent and dreams can take her!
Please enjoy my recent chat with Eloise Harpas.
Q: Tell me about your time in New York at Broadway Dance Center and how that opportunity came about.
After high school I completed the Cert IV programme in full time dance at Ettingshausens, and at the end of that year at graduation in 2015 I was given the ‘Star Award’ by Kelley Abbey and Natalie Ettingshausens, which included the 3-month scholarship for the International Student Visa Program (ISVP) at Broadway Dance Center (BDC).
I was like, “Oh my gosh!” Winning the award was amazing! I had won a free photo and video package and some singing lessons. But then, the major reward was the Broadway Dance Centre scholarship. And I was just over the moon… So excited about the whole thing that I wanted to get on the plane straight away!
I left Sydney in August last year, and spent three months in New York training at Broadway Dance Center. After that, I extended my three-month trip to then go to LA. I came in Sydney on Christmas Eve.
Q: So it took you a while to actually get to New York?
Yeah, it took a while to actually try and organise and get it all together and I wanted to work and save up. At the time I was actually getting a lot of work with Squared Division on The X Factor (Channel Seven) plus I had a club contract as well. Things were going good commercially here in Sydney, so I didn’t want to just drop it all and leave straight away. So, I made sure I finished off the year strong… And then I went over prepared and ready.
Q: Tell me about the special recognition you earned while at BDC?
I was awarded The Outstanding Student Award! So, each month of the course, the programme’s coordinator gives out this award. It means we get featured on their website permanently, which is really great for me! So, anyone that visits that website can see us and be inspired, and people from around the world look because BDC is so prestigious. If someone’s going to come to New York to dance, they generally go straight to BDC.
I was actually the only Australian on a three-month scholarship to ever win the award. Generally, three-month scholars don’t even get close to winning the award… because it takes a while. It was very unexpected but I thought it was a bit icing on the cake towards the end of my trip. But yeah, I’m actually very proud of it.
Q: How did you start dancing?
I think I was three (laughter). My mum was a friend of the dance teacher, plus my sister danced there. But I always the one who was like, “I just want to dance! I just want to dance!” So, mum put me in. At first it was recreational jazz and tap, and from there I got a taste of it, and got really excited! … I went straight into competition classes and competed my whole life as a dance student.
Then, when Ettingshausens introduced their full time course I thought “Why not? Let’s just continue the journey and go straight into it. All in or all out!”
Q: So, when did you first realise that dance was actually what you wanted to pursue?
I think at the age of 15. That was a big deal for me because I was starting to get really into it all… I was getting invited into older age groups to perform. It was at the age of 15 that I actually did my first professional contract when I was asked to go on tour with the Young Talent Time Team (Channel 10 – The show didn’t last more than one season).
So, I was on that show twice. But I also did the regional tour straight after. And at the age of 15, to travel all around all of Australia, with choreographers like Squared Division and great dancers, I was like “Yeah … Ooh, this is a thing? I can do this? I can have this as a career?” And I think just getting a taste of it then made me realise that this is what I want to do.
I want to be on stage, I want the lights to hit me. I want to entertain people. I want to be fit doing it. It was just everything that I wanted in one job. I was like, “This doesn’t feel like work.” It felt fun.
Q: And how did that opportunity come about at 15, to work your first contract as a professional dancer?
Well, we were lucky enough that a few dance schools around the area got together and formed a not for profit organisation called Project Dance.
If it weren’t for Project Dance, I probably wouldn’t have done half the stuff I did! They actually created opportunities for young dancers to start pursuing. They put Project Dance into Young Talent Time and things like Australia’s Got Talent. And for a lot of those talent shows they created routines. And from that, they said, “Hold on, well Young Talent Time is going on tour. We need dancers. It’s a young show, we want young dancers.”
They held an audition, and straight away, I was like, “Well, I’m going to the audition.” So, I went to the audition, worked my butt off, and got the job!
From there at the age of about 17-19, is when I did my three years of dancing on X Factor.
Q: Tell me about working on X Factor?
I worked with Squared Division on the first two seasons. They did everything… directed, choreographed, everything! Then in the third year they handed over creative vision to Jessie and John Rasmussen.
So, it was really great to work with a few different choreographers on that particular show.
Q: How do you describe your personal style? Ultimately, where and what sort of industries do you want to end up working in?
I’ve been fortunate enough to grow up with amazing teachers and choreographers. So, I’m pretty much a very versatile dancer. I could do any style. I predominantly love the street commercial styles. So, street hip hop, and jazz. But then, on the other hand, I’m obsessed with theatre. So, I love theatre too! I’m not too much of a hot singer. But, I (laughter) made sure that coming into the professional industry I would know how to sing!
So, I’m taking singing lessons, and I make sure my training’s up, so that I am open to any work that comes my way.
I know eventually my end goal is to move over to the United States, sign a contract with an artist and tour the world, for three to four years. Yeah, that’s my end goal!
But, then again, someone I really look up to is Kelly Abbey, and she’s predominantly theatre and old school jazz. I always learnt so much from her. And I’ve worked for her too.
I have such a passion for the whole dance world. So, I don’t think I’ll ever steer towards one opportunity. But, in my head, my dream right now is to be a commercial dancer and travel with an artist as a backup dancer.
Q: Right now heading to the US is your main goal?
Yes, Thanks to the BDC scholarship I absolutely fell in love with New York. And yes, one day I’d love to live in New York. But, career-wise and commercially, LA just offers a whole lot more for me right now. And I was fortunate enough, as well, to get signed with an agent – MSA Agency – while I was over in LA.
I knew Jo Bolden (As1 Creative) who is in LA and I made contact with The Edge and made sure I was doing my own thing, going to classes, and getting into choreographer’s faces. I met Brian Friedman and I ended up getting on a video with him! I was just making sure that I was pushing myself 100%, so when I came home I didn’t regret anything. And I created that platform for when I go back.
Q: How much does social media have to do with your career these days?
Too much! (Laughter). Yeah, it’s very much a touchy subject for me because when I was growing up I was taught by my dance teachers that I should dance with my heart and my soul, and always remember why I’m dancing… Why I started in the first place. But I think a lot of social media now has influenced younger dancers, and I think even older professional dancers to kind of go with the trends, unfortunately.
But I get it. As a dancer, we’re our own business. We have to brand ourselves in our own way. Things like Instagram and Facebook… they’re our portfolios, we have to make sure they’re looking up to date all the time… 100%. We have to look our best. I get that.
I’m also one to sometimes post my life stuff, like if I’m having a happy day, I want to post something. But, sometimes I do find myself overthinking it, and going, “Ooh, should I post that? Are people going to judge me?” Which isn’t what it should be about. And when you follow other dancers on social media, or you see other routines, or videos, and such … I feel people need to remember to watch them and be inspired by them, rather than be influenced by them.
You can be influenced to a certain extent, but don’t change who you are. I find a lot of dancers try and dance to the current trend. And I don’t actually think there is a trend, it’s always constantly changing. It’s just now more visual and public, so perhaps it changes faster?
Q: When do you plan to go back to the United States?
Hopefully I will go back early/mid 2019. My representatives – MSA Agency – are happy to wait for me. I was fortunate enough to not even have to audition for them. They added me in New York, and then when they realised whom I had worked with and whom I knew they were happy to add me.
They’re like, “Oh, we know all those people.” So, I told them I was going to LA and they said, “Give us a ring, and we’ll organise an interview.” I went in, and they signed me straight away!