When we think art and creativity, we think of photography, painting, drawing, writing and poetry. With think of fine arts, galleries, museums and paint studios. What is often forgotten is dance. There is nothing like dance that combines both athleticism and beauty.
History has repeatedly depicted figures dancing since as early as 3300 BC. Dance was and still is an important part of oral and performance methods of passing stories down from generation to generation. It has been said that dance even pre-dates language.
Lucy Mary-Claire is a Sydney-based creative who has been dancing for about 20 years. After completing university, she experienced the difficulty of finding a job, so she created her own and started Dance Dr, a Sydney-based dance, training and performance company for young, elite dancers beginning their professional careers.
‘Dance Dr came about for two reasons, I thought the dance world needed it and because I needed somewhere to start my own career. Choreography is impossible to get into unless you have experience but how do you get the experience without being offered the opportunity,’ Lucy said.
At the start of every year, Dance Dr auditions dancers and only takes a maximum of 10 dancers a year. It is an intimate group, ranging from 15-19 years of age, with an understudy and an intern. They sign a contract where a one-year commitment is required by each dancer.
The dancers meet up a few times a week where Dance Dr prepares them for a professional career in the dance industry. The dancers learn about what they will face when they go to auditions and when they join a dance company.
‘They learn a repertoire of work and we work towards group cohesion and some stylistic goals so that when they perform at the end of the year, it’s like a company,’ Lucy said.
‘They get a balance of gig work and the company experience as well. Gigs and commission work that they can be thrown into and have to work out, because that’s the dance world in essence. It’s quite a commitment.’The facility that Australia has to develop professional dancers might be lacking. There seems to be a huge gap between training and becoming a professional dancer and that is partly because dance teachers don’t know where to take elite dancers.
Dance Dr focuses on elite dancers because they can be forgotten by dance teachers. The studio world focuses on making people really good dancers, but when dance teachers think you are good enough, you no longer improve and you can be neglected and forgotten. Dance Dr is changing that.
‘People who are not fabulous dancers are getting the attention, they’re getting the development and they’re getting the opportunities. The people who are really good dancers, they get really good and then they are forgotten, there’s nothing that follows that,’ Lucy said.
‘When I finished and my teacher thought I was good, I was done, I was no longer being nourished. I felt I needed to be pushed. That is partly what I like about our group, when you are put with other people who are just as good as you or better, you improve, even though you didn’t think you can improve.’
Lucy aims to reinvent dance as an art-form and Dance Dr has become a catalyst for changing the dance industry in Australia. She realised upon entering the dance world, after training, that there is a huge discrepancy between how dancers are trained and what the professional world requires of them.
People are trained to do tricks, cartwheels, backflips and to get the body into weird pretzel shapes that are not a representation of the professional world. The Eisteddfod world really pressures dancers to do things that is not good for them, making them more prone to injury.
‘I wanted to train dancers in a way that is relevant to them but also in a way that was good for them. It is a yucky overlay of the dance industry that we abuse our artists until they can’t do it anymore, it doesn’t sit well with me,’ Lucy said.
‘I want my dancers to be trained in a way that they get stronger and stronger every year. I don’t want their bodies to give out, that’s an ongoing challenge.’
Lucy has noticed dancers in her group, from their previous training, showing signs of terrible injuries that are unnecessary. Two dancers in her group had spinal fractures at the age of 17, that should not be the case. Dancers are not being treated like living bodies. Instead, they are being treated as things that could win prizes.
‘There’s a whole huge issue where dance teachers don’t need to be trained or qualified in any way. It’s good to have a working with children check but that doesn’t mean they know how to safely mould a body, and I think that is why these injuries occur’ Lucy said.
Dance Dr has had three very successful seasons behind it, with a fourth that is shaping up to be just as successful. Lucy takes a moment or emotion, puts it under a microscope and explores the idea on a deeper level. The dancers provide a parameter through Lucy’s choreography where a story is interpreted by the audience.
Last year, Dance Dr put on a show called, Dollhouse. Lucy had a moment where she realised we are all the same, and she decided to explore that through dance. Of course, some audience members took it literally, but it was deeper than just a dollhouse.
‘We all end up thrown in the same box together, whatever life path you take, whoever you are, wherever you’re born, whatever you do, we are all the same and we are all here for the same reason and we all end up in the same place at the end,’ Lucy said.
In 2014, Dance Dr explored the idea of the ‘Other’ through a show titled, Metamorphosis. Going deeper, it explored how humans have a tendency to make the ‘Other’ the enemy, the animal. Anything and anyone who is different and doesn’t fit into this collective ideology is ‘Othered’ a current concept in today’s political climate.
‘Anything that is different is the animal. Metamorphosis followed a dancer realising that they are everything that they’re scared of. At the end, they realise the only reason that they fear something is because they know it is within them somewhere,’ Lucy said.
For their first show in 2013, Dance Dr explored the feeling of being a patient in a show aptly called, Patience. This was a personal exploration for Lucy. Growing up, she had health issues and was always sick and knows what it was like being a patient and having no control.
‘I feel like all of these years of being a patient, they were bound by one feeling, waiting. You’re waiting to find out what is wrong, you’re waiting for the doctor to come and speak with you, you’re waiting to find out when you are better, it was a lack of control,’ Lucy said.
For this year’s show, Lucy has chosen Bardo, she believes it is a natural progression after Dollhouse, where the story resulted in all of us ending in the same place. Bardo will explore what happens beyond that. Bardo is what the Tibetan Buddhist refer to as occurring just before you die, when your body is dead but your mind is still alive.
‘There are different moments of Bardo throughout your life. Just when you’re about to die, all of your life experiences and memories determine whether or not you’re going to be reincarnated or whether you die. It depends on whether you have reached enlightenment in your life,’ Lucy said.
‘I wanted to explore what it would be like for one person to experience that. You have reached this moment of death, you are watching your life play out before you and you realise that all of these things that you thought were nothing at the time, were actually huge profound moments that are going to decide your fate.’
For Lucy, this progression into choreography happened sooner than she expected. Her plan was to dance for a few years and then move on. She went straight into choreography. Many creatives understand that life doesn’t always go according to how we want it to, we just have to be ready to adapt to these changes.
‘I think I enjoy choreography more than I ever enjoyed dancing. Dancing is like modelling, you turn up as a blank canvas and become whatever the choreographer wants you to become. With choreography, I feel like I am making more, my role is a bit more substantial.’
Lucy has choreographed performances for Ms Joelle, The Veronicas and Jane Tyrell. It was through these opportunities that woke her up to the fact that she was doing something right, her dancers are good enough to dance for these people, Dance Dr was chosen.
Lucy felt a lot of responsibility when Ms Joelle asked Dance Dr to get involved with her for ‘Balance’ as she had seen how hard Joelle worked to get to where she is as a singer. Like most collaborations, you put your trust in each other to create something that reflects the vision that started the whole project.
‘We were very excited about The Veronicas, they were doing an interview at Today FM studios, they had just released their song, ‘You Ruin Me’ and we surprised them at the studio with some choreography. There were so excited they asked us to create the choreography for their video,’ Lucy said.
‘Jane is fabulous. The challenge was that she is so smart and she knew exactly what she wanted. I didn’t want to let her down. We spent more time talking to her then dancing. The album was very personal to her, we felt like we needed to understand how she saw the video looking before we attempted it,’ Lucy said.
Lucy is inspired by music and says it is rare that she would choreograph without it. She is also inspired by lots of colour and shape and through dance she is able to explore her other interests like fashion and lighting.
‘It all starts with one feeling that I think could be expanded into something. Then you find music that reflects that feeling. If the music, the costume, the basis of the story is relevant to you, then it’s going to be believable,’ Lucy said.
Lucy was trained in ballet and most of the dancers that pass through the doors of Dance Dr are also ballet trained. Lucy believes that ballet alone is limiting, it is beautiful to look at but it doesn’t communicate on a deeper level.
Contemporary dance is a human language that is heavily based on classical techniques. It allows for a lot more originality than anything else. It translates so well and people are able to understand what is being expressed through contemporary dance.
‘Contemporary dance is based a lot on the way that humans naturally move. Even people who aren’t dancers know a lot about weight placement and gravity and all of these concepts that non-dancers can relate to.’
Dance Dr has a huge year ahead of them. The end of year show is going to be held on the 10th of December, on a Saturday. The show will take place at the Eternity Playhouse in Darlinghurst and tickets can be purchased at www.dancedr.bigcartel.com
Lucy wants to develop Dance Dr and provide her dancers with a full time course that would make the dancers more employable, intelligent and durable. Teaching dancer’s things that they don’t learn in any dance education, like audition etiquette and anatomy.
‘I want to positively influence the dancers in my group. Dance is very personal, there is no other relationship like teacher and dancer. I want to influence them so that they can use their skills, be proud of what they are doing and to live to tell the tale,’ Lucy said.
If you want to find out more about Lucy and Dance Dr you can visit the website soon (which is in the process of getting a face lift.) They are also active on Facebook and Instagram and if you have any questions feel free to email them, and they will happily answer any of your questions.
‘I think you can find many things through dance, it definitely does connect you a lot more to yourself. It opens you up to who you are, it’s a good way to explore how we relate to the world,’ Lucy said.