Interview | Phillipe Witana

Dance to Success: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Making it in the Aussie Dance Industry

Phillipe Witana placed fourth in the third series of Australia’s version of So You Think You Can Dance in 2010. A late-comer to the dance world, Phillipe has had a continuing and successful career as a performer ever since and has decided to collate his knowledge and lessons-learned in a book about making it as an Aussie dancer – from auditions and agents to finances and finding work. DanceLife spoke to Phillipe about his book and the reasons he decided to put his knowledge down on paper. Want to win a copy? Find out how below.

Q:  Where did your motivation come from to write your book?

A: I was working on a contract in China where I had quite a relaxed show and work hours there, so I knew I wanted to make my time there productive. After months of research I knew I wanted to create some kind of educational tool for young, upcoming dancers, and also parents of the dancers who are too young to spend hours reading. I had reached a point in my career where I really had a chance to look back at everything I have accomplished and what it took to get there. Unfortunately, not every dancer gets the same opportunities and until you’re a working professional, you realise it actually has little to do with just your ability to dance. So I wanted to level out the playing field for everyone: allow everyone to have to same opportunity to chase their dreams regardless of their story, background, geographical location or financial situation. The role of an artist is that of any other industry, as it’s as much of a business as it is an art. You have to know how it operates and how to make it work for you. So, I guess my motivation came from having a career of much personal success and looking back to see everyone I started with, not in the same position, not fulfilling their dreams, all because they didn’t have the RIGHT tools to get there. I believe every dancer has the right to achieve personal success, and I feel it’s my mission to help them do so.

Dancing with Kylie Minogue's show

Q:  You have been a professional dancer for a while now, how and where did you get started?

A: I didn’t started till quite late. I took my first dance class at 23! No training, nothing. I had only ever watched music videos; which I was obsessed with. The music is what got me at first, but when I discovered I had a knack for it and it quickly became a passion. Brisbane is where I started my training. I was self-taught in a way, and always took class, however, I never attended any type of ‘full-time’ course. I felt I was too old to ‘go back to school’. But the more I took class and met new people I developed a desire to want to learn other styles and experience something new, and I think being older I was naturally able to bring life experience into my training which did play a part in my performance ability. But more importantly, I’d worked in so many different industries before I became a dancer so I knew a lot about working and business; when I became a professional dancer I was quite self-aware with that side of the industry.

Q:  Did your success on SYTYCD affect your career in a positive way?

A: Gaining a position on SYTYCD Australia most certainly helped my career. I believe I could have been a working dancer in Sydney with or without the show, but I had been living in Brisbane for over 8 years before I auditioned, so once I secured representation from the show (Mark Byrne Management), it was more my excuse to move to the bigger city and follow the work. Moving to Sydney aligned with where I wanted to go as a dancer and provided the type of work I wanted to do. Sydney doesn’t work for everyone, but for me it put me on the exact road I need to be on. Having only being a working professional for 6 years, that one opportunity opened the door for me to have the amazing life I still get to live most days.

Amy Campbell and Phillipe Witana

Q:  What have you been doing since your SYTYCD days?

A: Since SYTYCD it has been an absolute whirlwind. I count myself as one of the fortunate ones. The longest I have gone without work since 2010 has probably been a few weeks. I’ve been to over 20 countries around the world for dance work, danced for most of Australia’s iconic music artists, some of the world’s best also, which I won’t name because I hate blowing my own trumpet, but you can read about it in the book. Also I’m about to undergo my fifth overseas contract. To give you an idea – in 2012 I was working for a good friend Tim Omaji, aka ‘Timomatic’, and we counted nearly 210 shows we did that year just before Christmas, so that will give you and idea of how busy it’s been and, coming from a non musical theatre background, that’s a lot of work!

Q:  What other areas of the industry have you worked in?

A: Well in the arts industry I haven’t really had much background experience besides being a performer. No other part of the industry interested me that much and because I’ve always been busy since I became a working professional dancer there was no need for me to do much else. However, I have worked in many other industries outside the arts: travel and tourism, property development, fitness, sales, which have all played a part in my success in this one. I’ve learned so many other things like business, hard work, commitment, promotion, and other attributes that are totally applicable to what we do and go through as dancers that has allowed me what I have now.

Q: Tell us more about your book.  What does it help dancers understand and what areas does it cover?

A: Well this book is my baby. It took me close to 2 years to write from start to finish. The subtitle reads – ‘Your step-by-step to making it in the Aussie dance industry’. And that’s exactly what it is; a guide to help every dancer achieve their own success in the industry by giving them an understanding of what it is, and how it operates. Overall, this book will save them time and money without having to make mistakes along the way, which is what far too many dancers do. I feel not enough educational institutes around the country educate dancers about the ‘working’ industry. They provide them fabulous tools to become an amazing performer but not the right tools to equip them with becoming a working professional and maintaining that through their career.

So my aim is to make this information accessible to everyone regardless of his or her status and training.  The book covers a mix of the basics and elements that even some trained professionals don’t learn. I start with information about the Australian industry itself; the difference between work in different cities etc.; what they each provide; and help you evaluate exactly what you are getting into as a dancer. Then it covers training to make sure you are getting the best education for your needs, and also financial education around that area because not everyone can afford to study full-time for a year, so we have some great advice there.
It covers finding work, self-promotion if you can’t get an agent and how to best do it; and also looks at dealing with agents, how to get representation, and knowing what they are responsible for. Of course we look at auditions as it’s a crucial part of getting employed. And lastly, money matters and working overseas; two very important topics.
Most people think that being a working dancer will allow a happy and stable life, the reality is even most working professionals struggle most of the time. Although most hate to deal with it, keeping the financial part of your life under control is such an important base to allow you to do this for as long as possible. It’s great to be travelling the world and performing to thousands of people, but if in 2 months you’re back to working at Starbucks or waiting tables then it sort of defeats the purpose doesn’t it?
Get educated and put yourself in a position to dance as long as possible. We will give you loads of info on what to expect to earn, other ways to make an income, what your expenses will be and how to handle things like tax. Lastly, work is often dry here in Australia, so there’s a chapter on what’s available overseas, where to find that kind of work and also detailed info about getting an O1 Visa for the U.S.
Information has been gathered with the help of over 40 industry professionals, it’s not a ‘Phillipe’s’ way of the industry. This has been put together by the industry for the industry. You get professional advice the whole way through by some of Australia’s best choreographers, company directors, agents, dancers, and industry affiliates. It’s a really simple read and is loaded with practical information to help you fulfill your dreams in this industry.

'Dance to Success' book launch

‘Dance to Success’ by Phillipe Witana

DanceLife has a copy of Phillipe’s book to give away. To win please email your name and contact details to A winner will be chosen at random. Entries close 15th February.

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