How Three Australian Dancers Are Finding Ways to Move Around the Current Climate


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Every industry has seen the effects of COVID-19, though perhaps none more swiftly and intensely than the arts. With much of the industry relying on live performance and audience attendance, the restrictions that have prevented any such events from taking place have left thousands without jobs, and without any source of income for the foreseeable future.

In addition, the government has failed to consider much the arts industry in its JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments with the ABC reporting that most of the sector’s some 200,000 arts workers are ineligible for assistance, despite being defined as sole traders. 

I myself feel immense empathy for the dance industry. As a former member of this vibrant community, I understand the very real and immediate need for support, particularly when considering the already-fickle nature of paid work in the dance arena. 

With live shows cancelled and social distancing restrictions in place, dancers are having to find new ways to channel creativity and adjust to the current climate; attending Zoom classes online and selling choreography for others to learn in their living rooms. Three such dancers include my personal friends Samantha Quealy, Mitchell Christie, and Brittany Page. 

While they each grew up in Sydney, training at various schools and studios, these three artists now live in different global cities and work across their own individual dance disciplines and styles.

They’ve each been affected in different ways, but have been united in this time by their drive to move through it — both metaphorically and physically.

Now, we’re giving these talented artists the floor. In the candid chats below, Quealy (Paris), Christie (New York) and Page (Melbourne), share their stories and reveal the ways we can help them return to a brighter industry post-COVID-19.

Samantha Quealy

Katie Skelly: How would you define yourself as a dancer — what style of dance do you do and where do you practice and perform?

Samantha Quealy: I find it hard to define myself as a dancer, artist and person. I was trained as a classical/contemporary dancer, but over the years I have learned to embraced other styles of dance.

A few years ago, I moved to Paris to become a showgirl in the Paradis Latin Cabaret. I enjoyed my time doing the French “can-can”, but I found myself more inspired by other styles. I started going to Vogue Balls, and after a while, was asked to join a Kiki House Of Campbell. I was later was asked to join my major house, the legendary House of Comme Des Garcon.

I train a few times a week with my vogue house. I also train my own style of dance because I felt I didn’t really belong to any particular category. I would describe my style as sensual and feminine.

I am currently working as a freelance artist and dancer. I work a lot in the nightlife industry and the LGBTQIA scene. I do commercial jobs, stage shows, art performances, whatever comes my way and aligns with my styles.

KS: Can you give me a summary of your upbringing with dance and where it’s taken you?

SQ: I began dancing at the age of three at a small studio in Cronulla. I trained many styles but focused on jazz, musical theatre, classical and contemporary. I was accepted into Newtown High School of the Performing Arts where I furthered my classical and contemporary training. After graduating, I did a year of full-time intensive training at Ev & Bow, and almost as soon as I finished my year of full-time training I began receiving contracts overseas for various shows.

I moved to Hong Kong for a year at the age of 19, went on to perform on cruise ships, worked in LA on a stage show, then hopped over to the Philippines for another year. After this, I was offered a contract in Paris.

I’ve been in Paris for almost three years now and this is the longest I have stayed put in a country. I find it extremely inspiring here, and being in Paris has lead me to other artistic endeavours, connected me with interesting people and an amazing culture. I love Paris for the nightlife, drag culture and strong LGBTQIA community.

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Me handling ?

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KS: What were your plans for the year ahead before COVID-19 happened?

SQ: I was working on a few projects for 2020, personal and more professionally also. I was supposed to be performing live for a film I shot for the Venice Biennale representing the French Pavillion.

Fashion week has been cancelled, Cannes film festival also cancelled, and the nightclubs and theatres are closed indefinitely. A lot of commercial campaigns have also been cancelled or postponed. All of these events usually bring me work.

KS: How did your life immediately change with the effects of COVID-19? 

SQ: My life has changed dramatically. I had to leave my old Paris apartment in a panic and move out the suburbs into my boyfriend’s home. France has been in lockdown for months, and of course, all the jobs in fashion, art, nightlife and theatres have all obviously been cancelled.

All my freelance work has been cancelled. Instead, I’m focussing on my personal projects, reading, writing a lot, trying to use this time to reflect inward and grow as an artist and person.

“I’m using this time to reflect inward and grow as an artist and person.”

KS: Have you been able to take part in, or lead, any online workshops to keep dancing?

SQ: I haven’t held any online workshops or taken any, to be honest. I didn’t have internet for a few weeks in quarantine (which was actually a bit of a blessing). Instead, I have been training myself out in the garden… exploring new styles. I started training waacking and house dance.

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Paris tu me manques

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KS: How have you been finding support from your peers and industry?

SQ: Social media connects a lot of artists and dancers together, and keep us connected and informed about online classes and workshops. I think for artists and creatives, it’s an interesting time where you can be productive and super inspired some days, and other days not at all. And that is okay too.

Honestly, I think we need to take a bit of the pressure off to be creating something “revolutionary” during this period.

KS: What can we do to show our support for the arts, and ensure you can return to a strong industry? How can we help! 

SQ: I think the best way to support the arts is to book members of the industry for jobs! Support the companies and theatres who aren’t able to put on their shows. Donate, if you can, to organisations, companies and theatres. The Australian Council for the Arts has multiple funds you can donate to.

Mitchell Christie

Katie Skelly: Can you tell me more about your upbringing with dance and where it’s taken you?

Mitchell Christie: I’ve been dancing for as long as I can remember; somehow I was thrown into a ballet class at age three and never stopped. I was really fortunate to have access to high-quality classical training here in Australia.

I grew up on the South Coast of NSW and would constantly be travelling for training or competitions. Although my relationship with dance has changed a lot over the years, something that has stayed consistent is that I am always travelling for it.

I did a lot of ballet when I was young, honestly maybe too much. Then as a teenager, I became interested in more contemporary movement forms. I was always eager to explore the possibilities of dance outside of the rigidity of ballet. This curiosity led me to move to New York straight out of high school and continue my studies at a college conservatory.

Here, I was exposed to more dance and adjacent artforms than I ever knew existed. I began experimenting with collaboration and became obsessed with improvisation. During college I would spend my summers up in Montreal working with choreographers and performing. After graduating I moved to Brooklyn and have been navigating the New York freelance scene since. Most of the work I do now involves creating and performing movement in non-traditional spaces.

KS: What were your plans for the year ahead before the COVID-19 pandemic?

MC: I don’t like to make big plans. Things can be so unpredictable as a freelancer that putting all my eggs in one basket tends to lead to disappointment. I guess I’ve developed a pretty strong capacity for uncertainty. I mean I definitely have goals or intentions but I’m open to anything happening, which keeps things exciting.

For the past few years I’ve been between New York and bouncing around Europe. I’m rarely in the same place for more than a few months. I enjoy not being tied down to one location as it allows me to go wherever good art is happening.

I found myself working on a few projects in Germany last year and felt really connected there. Anyway, I was in Brooklyn for the first part of 2020 and had a flight back to Germany booked for early April.

KS: What had to change for you when the pandemic escalated in the US?

MC: I definitely didn’t intend on being back in Australia right now. In mid-March, Germany closed its borders to combat the spread of the virus so I cancelled my flight and isolated myself in New York as it quickly became the epicentre of the pandemic.

Scary stuff. And in addition to the obvious anxieties, I found myself in a tricky position as my US visa was about to expire and new international travel bans were being introduced each day. I was concerned that I’d get stuck in the United States, overstay my visa and hinder my ability to return and work in the future. I was ultimately forced into buying a last-minute flight to Australia. This all happened over the space of a few days.

I’m not too stressed now, though, I must recognise that it’s a huge privilege to be living here comfortably. I’ve moved in with a childhood friend who is also a filmmaker (I safely quarantined myself for 14 days first) and we are researching ways to continue making accessible art in the current conditions. We’re collaborating on weekly projects to keep some consistency in our lives. We have a dog and a cat too, it’s a cute household.

“I must recognise that it’s a huge privilege to be living here comfortably.”

KS: Have you been able to take part in, or lead, any online workshops to keep dancing?

MC: Yes! There has been an overwhelming amount of classes and workshops popping up online. For my first two weeks here in strict quarantine I did not have the space to participate in any movement classes. Now that I have some space I’ve been joining some classes which I find helps build consistency in my days.

It’s a very different energy dancing alone at home on your webcam as opposed to in a studio full of bodies, but I’m really grateful for these free classes as I am able to reconnect with my community overseas, and reconnect with my own body.

I feel connected to the dance community by logging on to an online class and seeing familiar faces amongst the hundreds of international participants. It’s been interesting to witness this flattening happening where we are all somewhat forced to connect through the same pieces of technology.

In no way am I saying the pandemic is an equaliser; in many ways, it’s highlighting the systemic inequalities that are already in place. But for those privileged enough to have an iPhone, laptop, and wifi, there is some sort of levelling going on — a context collapse where everyone is just an equal little square on a zoom call.

KS: How have you been finding support from your peers and industry?

MC: I feel emotionally supported by my peers in the dance community. We all check in on each other. I think it’s increasingly important to check on your friends’ mental health right now.

KS: What can we do to show our support for the arts, and ensure you can return to a strong industry?

MC: Depending on where you are in the world, many artists working in the gig economy are unable to benefit from government relief packages due to the nature of our work. If you have the means to donate, do your research to find emergency relief funds in your country that focus on assisting undocumented workers, LGBTQIA and BIPOC people.

This virus is hitting marginalised communities way harder than any other. If you are unable to donate money, send resources to those that can! Check-in with your artist friends. Show them emotional support. Share their work online. Remind them of their importance in society. We all need to care for each other a little more right now.

“We all need to care for each other a little more right now.”

Brittany Page

Katie Skelly: Can you tell me more growing up with dance and where your career has taken you?

Brittany Page: I started dancing when I was three. My older sister would attend classes, and I would stand at the back of the studio in my nappy and dance along until they would let me start dancing myself.

I was passionate about it from the get-go. Due to moving around a lot when I was younger and living overseas, where the standard of dance wasn’t always as high, I never got super serious about it until my family moved back to Australia when I was nine. I realised how much I had to catch up on.

The hustle started there. I trained in Sydney before moving to Melbourne at 14 to join the Australian Ballet School, where I studied for three years. Afterwards, I went to Jason Colemans Ministry of Dance and then started training in open classes around Melbourne.

My first gig in 2015 was West Side Story with The Production Company. That show ingrained in me such a passion for what I do, it really helped me to see how important the arts is in telling important stories and spreading a message of love and tolerance. In between gigs I teach at full-time studios in Melbourne.

KS: What were your plans for the year ahead before COVID-19 happened?

BP: I was actually mid-way through rehearsals for La Traviata with Opera Australia when the rules for mass gatherings were enforced. It was supposed to be our first day of tech rehearsals at the theatre, but only the day prior the rules were changed. Subsequently our season was cancelled. It was pretty devastating, to say the least. We had put our hearts and souls into the production, and losing the opportunity to bring it to the stage was heartbreaking.

KS: What had to change for you as a result of this? 

BP: I had relocated to Sydney for the La Traviata season, so when it all got cancelled I had to move back to Melbourne again. It was difficult going from being in a show and having something I was passionately working towards, to coming home and feeling a little like I had nothing.

All of my teaching opportunities were also cancelled, which made for a lack in any work at all. As for everyone in the arts, this was (and still is) a very testing time for me. We love working with other people to create magic, and unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions prevent this hugely.

KS: Have you been able to take part in, or lead, any online workshops to keep dancing?

BP: At first, all teaching stopped while studios worked out how to make the transition to an online platform. However, in the last few weeks, I have been so lucky in having the opportunity to teach once again in studios across Melbourne via Zoom.

It is a massive adjustment, but we are all really working as a team to keep kids and full-time students dancing; keep them making movement and making art.

One beautiful thing to come out of this is the ability for me to now to take online class with teachers from around the world who I usually wouldn’t have access to. It does mean a 6.00am wake up due to the time difference, but it is so worth it!

It’s amazing getting to see people on the screen from all around the world finding connection through art in a time that can make you feel very isolated.

KS: How have you been finding support from your peers and industry?

BP: Now more than ever I make sure to give my family and friends a phone call or a text to check in on them. A lot of people who I respect and love lost dream jobs over this, which is so devastating for them.

It’s the little things; sending a care package, making a phone call or having a Zoom dinner together that helps us all get through the day. A friend of mine and I use our kitchen benches to do a Zoom ballet barre together — it’s so fun and makes us both feel a little less alone, and a little more motivated through this time.

A lot of industry leaders have also created weekly classes on a donation basis to help people stay connected and feed off each others’ energy. The support is massively heartwarming. The arts community has, and always will be, a family.

“The arts community is, and always will be, a family.”

KS: What can we do to show our support for the arts, and ensure you can return to a strong industry?

BP: Donations to companies and independent theatres is so essential. A lot of these companies rely on ticket sales, which means at times like this they feel the burn the most.

Stay connected to the arts in any way you can, whether that’s watching a live stream, sharing your friends’ iso artistic endeavours or booking tickets to future shows. Because we will be back, and we will come out of the gate swinging.

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