by Zoe Thomas '14
Last semester I attended Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia. The program was more like a conservatory, so my classes were all dance-focused. I took dance analysis, Australian dance, technique studies, and performance. The technique studies class actually consisted of multiple dance classes, including ballet and contemporary every morning, followed by pointe class, partnering, tumbling, contact improve, and/or yoga in the afternoon. After these classes, we would have rehearsal about three times a week.
The rules in the dance department were shockingly stringent. We were only allowed to wear pink tights and "light-colored" leotards. We were not allowed to wear any jewelry at all, not even stud earrings. If you had piercings that you couldn't take out, you had to put tape over them. If you didn't follow the dress code, you were not allowed to take class. If you were more than three to five minutes late to class, you were not allowed to take class, and if you missed your technique classes, you were not allowed to participate in rehearsals. It was difficult to get used to at first, but it became normal after a few weeks.
Another challenge was trying to understand my teachers and classmates! I was the only American student in the class, so they were speaking true "Australian." They abbreviate everything. For example, university is called uni, sunnies refer to sunglasses, awks means awkward, prezzies refer to gifts. It sounds like when people speak in text language, but to an extreme, and with additional rules like adding o's to the ends of words or z's in the middle.
There are also different words for a lot of things: A tank top is called a singlet; flip-flops are called thongs, which can be confusing in certain contexts; bell peppers are called capsicum; ketchup is called tomato sauce; and French fries are called chips. Eventually I caught on, but it can be daunting at first.
I was in a class of 15 students. They were all very close because they all had the same classes together and they spent so much time together. It was entertaining being in a group like this where they all supported each other. They all had fun nicknames for each other, too—which made learning everyone's name more complicated. For example, Skye was called "Skid," for some reason of which I wasn't aware. Amelia was called "Kill Bill," because of her ninja-like dance style, and Chloe was called "Rubes" because of her red hair. I eventually adopted my own nickname—Midge. (I'll let you guess where that came from.) It was nice being in an environment where everyone had similar aspirations and helped each other achieve them while also having a healthy level of competition.
Although I missed the intellectual aspects of non-dance classes at Goucher, I enjoyed being able to focus on dance and not worrying about managing my time. We had much more time to rehearse and spent two entire weeks in the theater taking class and rehearsing before we had our performances. This allowed us time to work on specific performance qualities, such as our focus and intention. Focus was emphasized a lot in our contemporary class and rehearsals in order to make our steps more precise and to help the group move as one.
For me, as a dancer, intention was the most important aspect we worked on. The emphasis everyone placed on intention was much greater and more useful than what I have previously experienced or seen. I think it should be emphasized more in rehearsals. It made me think a lot about my personal approach to performing and choreographing. In rehearsals we were immediately corrected if our intention wasn't clear, and we drilled it until it was. We weren't told what to express specifically, but we were asked exactly what we intended to express and told to emphasize it through certain movements.
I was pushed to break down the wall that was restricting what I was willing to share. By the time we were on stage, I could really feel my passion and emotion projecting out to the point of vulnerability. This was a huge step for me and has influenced my dancing in a way that I will never forget. My semester in Australia was a wonderful experience and will stay with me both as a person and as a dancer.