This Audrey Hepburn look-alike is currently on a short break in Australia before moving back to the United States to further her career. Rhiain shares her story here…
How old were you when you started to dance? I actually started with rhythmic gymnastics when I was 5 then changed to ballet when I was 8.
Do you have a first dance memory? My first memory is of getting the studio trophy for “Dancer of the Month” when I was the new kid in the school & I would wear my mum’s old ballet leotard from when she was a young girl!
Where have you been trained? Carolyn Gibbs Academy of Dance, The Hills Dance Factory, Tanya Pearson Classical Coaching Academy, The Ballet School Australia, Joffrey Ballet School New York. And casual classes with Vicki Attard, Prudence Bowen & Gina Brescianini at Sydney Dance Company.
Was it hard to get into Joffrey Ballet School? I did an open audition at Sydney Dance Company with the director of Joffrey ballet School. It was a full class with about 60 applicants. JBS had open auditions in all major cities around the world including Russia. Only 50 students get picked per year, so I was quite excited when I received my acceptance letter. Was it always your goal to study at Joffrey Ballet School? My goal is just to be the best that I can be, no matter where that takes me or where I end up.
What is the best thing about living in NYC? New York City is definitely the place to be for artists & performers! There is so much creativity & excitement within the whole city. It’s quite normal to see a group of boys doing back-flips on the subway at 7am! I often saw films sets on the streets (Spider Man & The Carrie Diaries), which was cool. Manhattan is also the home of the American Ballet Theatre at Lincoln Center’s Metropolitan Opera House which I loved seeing more than anything! The opportunities are endless & one thing’s for sure, it’s impossible to get bored in the city that never sleeps!What do you miss most about Australia when living in NYC? VEGEMITE!! Haha. Of course I miss my family & friends. I also miss my 2 adorable cats A LOT!! I miss the open spaces, quietness & the wildlife. (NYC is just full of pigeons!) I miss being able to put my groceries into a car & not having to carry them 5 blocks & up to the 6th floor of a walk-up!
Any famous ballerina’s or choreographers whose work you admire? Misty Copeland has come up in the media recently & I’ve always had an admiration for her work. Reading more about her story has given me an extra drive of determination. She is going to be an inspiration to so many dancers in the generations to come, for sure!
I was actually fortunate enough to work with Josie Walsh from San Francisco in my first year at Joffrey. Josie cast me as one of her lead dancers in her contemporary ballet “Urban Angels”. Her choreography is so creative & inspiring. When you know the story behind the movement it’s just surreal. I absolutely loved every minute performing Josie’s choreography.Any memorable stage outfits you have worn in the past? My most prized possession is probably my hand made $600 tutu (above) that I actually got second hand!! A fun costume was with the Sydney City Youth Ballet when we were doing a production of “The Polar Express” we had these giant wings that were bigger than me! They had lots of heavy wire in them & we had to pirouette whilst wearing them, it was so hard to dance whilst getting whipped in the face or pulled in the opposite direction by these giant wings!!
What do you love most about dance? Dance is a form of expression through movement. I’ve always found myself being able to escape into another “world” when I’m dancing… I can forget about the worries of the real world for that moment & just enjoy being able to move to the most beautiful music. I love being able to act different characters & pretend to be something else, it’s great fun. I also love performing on stage in glamorous costumes! What has been your greatest dance achievement so far? There have been quite a few I don’t know if one is better than another! Being asked to perform at the World Youth Day vigil in 2008 for the Pope was an exciting honour! Before I left for New York I was awarded Highly Commended in the City of Sydney’s Senior Ballet Championship, competing against dancers all over Australia. I was very grateful for my teacher Neroli Moore for her amazing choreography & coaching.
Favourite dance TV show? Tv series “Dance Academy”, hands down! Haha. (I was a regular extra in all 3 series). Are there any dance bloopers or embarrassing moments? Haha oh so many! It’s fun to laugh at yourself! My hair has fallen out in a group dance when everyone else had a neat bun…I got in so much trouble! Another time I was chaine-ing (turning) off stage when the lights blinded me, I hit a prop near the wing & my foot tripped on a cord on the floor, you guessed it, I staked it! Hit my face on the light stand on the way down. I don’t know if the audience saw it but they most probably heard it!! Also – a few years ago I was at the studio rehearsing my eisteddfod solo on our day off when I slipped & broke my wrist! (& I have this on video!). I had another production around the same time & managed to find a costume with sleeves to cover up my cast so I quickly learnt the choreography for that dance a week before the show!
What are your future dancing goals? I would love to have a professional contract & to be performing on stage with a company, touring Europe & the US. I also want to have my own dance school one day as I love teaching. How often do you train? Full time training is 8-10 hours a day, 6 days a week. I get a few holidays like 2 weeks over Xmas & the months of June & July for “summer break”. I enjoy coming back to Sydney during this time & I do a few classes a week, pilates twice a week & stretch at home every day.
Who has helped or encouraged you to reach where you are today? I have so many people to thank for helping & encouraging me. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for my mum as my biggest supporter & my early ballet teachers, Miss Jan Megna, Miss Neroli Moore & more. I am so thankful for my sponsor who has asked to remain anonymous & for all the amazing people who donated to my fundraising campaign on Pozible last year so that I could finish my training at Joffrey. Words can’t express how grateful I am for the opportunities that I have been so lucky to experience. What is next in-store for you now that you have finished up studying? I will always be learning more every day. That’s the art of dance, we strive for perfection & once you reach one goal, it only gets bigger! In September I will be starting a traineeship with Christian ballet company “Ballet Magnificat!” which is located in Jackson, the capitol city of Mississippi. As a trainee I am not paid but it is the first step into a paid position. At the end of this 9 month traineeship I hope to receive a professional contract with their touring company. Do you have a weekly health, fitness & dance routine – any tips you can share? Usually during full time training, I get all I need in the program. Afternoon home time is for feet in ice buckets & heat packs on my lower back. I also use a lot of voltaren & deep heat creams on my muscles! If I am struggling with an injury it is nessesary however to do the extra physiotherapy excersises required as well as your daily training & monitoring it carefully. You really have to know your body well. I can’t start my day if I haven’t warmed up properly for about 45 minutes, you need to wake up every muscle & get your body ready for the crazy stuff you’re about to do!! I find doing pilates twice a week helps me become more aware of my body as it is more subtle than the vigorous regime of full time ballet. Swimming is also great on dancers joints as we’re constantly putting stress & pressure through our joints & muscles. I try to swim during my holidays.
Any tips for young, aspiring dancers wanting to improve & make a career in ballet? A big tip for dancers & any athlete is eating well before exercise! If you don’t eat, your body can’t perform. Don’t push your body too far over your limits, if you feel it’s too much you could sustain an injury that could have been avoided. Respect for your body & do what YOU feel is right for you. Don’t judge yourself next to another dancer, only try to be better than yourself, I look to other dancers merely for inspiration, motivation & to learn what to do & what not to do. Having realistic goals that constantly but slowly get bigger is easier on your mental state than expecting yourself to do 68 fouettes by lunch time just because someone else can!! Have there been any obstacles where you thought to give up? Absolutely! Many times I am faced with challenges & struggle to stay positive, professional ballet is a very competitive & harsh world, so you must have a huge self belief system to pull yourself up time & time again when the industry tries so hard to push you down. I’ve learnt that I can’t rely on teachers & other people to tell me I’m a good dancer because when they are not there all you have is yourself. When I was 16 I fell over at school & broke my left knee. The ACL ligament stretched & snapped the top of the tibia bone & the meniscus was torn. I didn’t know then that I would spend 2 years recovering with a course of 3 surgeries & metal wires inserted in my knee. I knew then & there when dance was taken away from me that I could never live without it. It’s the thing that drives me & I know that if I can overcome a broken knee I can overcome anything.
What do you have in store for the next few weeks of ballet workshops with Just Dance? We have already learnt the basic arm & leg positions plus lots of different pirouettes (turns) & jumps. I want to improve these skills even further & widen their knowledge of ballet repertoire & vocabulary. Knowing the anatomy of your body is also an important key to being able to execute specific movements. I encourage everyone & anyone to give ballet class a go, you never know until you’ve tried! More than anything, I want my students to be able to experience the joy I get when dancing!
Join us on Mondays at 7.45pm to learn the basics of ballet with this amazing teacher Rhiain.