Ballet in the bush

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These clever teachers have met the challenges of teaching ballet in the bush, writes Michelle Dursun.

Online Ballet Studio students Elie, Laura and Abbie Hoch of Cunnamulla, Qld.
Online Ballet Studio students Elie, Laura and Abbie Hoch of Cunnamulla, Qld.
WHEN Josephine Woodberry was a young girl growing up in the country, she was fortunate to have a ballet teacher visit her town, otherwise she would never have discovered her passion for dance. Now the principal of Brunswick School of Dance (BSOD) in Melbourne, she is still very aware of the challenges facing country people in gaining access to quality dance classes. While dancers living in capital cities face multiple choices in terms of studios and progression of their studies from part-time to full-time, this is certainly not the case for rural students.

 So three years ago Woodberry set up the Online Ballet Studio, an extension of her established Melbourne ballet school, Brunswick School of Dance. This web-based program provides beginner ballet lessons for dancers aged five to 12 years of age. For as little as $3 per month, students gain access to "dance along" video classes and foundation tutorials on the school's webpage. Every month a new lesson is published to keep students engaged.  The lessons feature children from the BSOD being taught by Josephine in a studio setting.

 In addition to the online classes, students receive a complimentary ballet uniform (including ballet shoes) with Energetiks leotard for boys and girls, as well as feedback and access to tutorials and archived lessons.
 The Online Ballet School’s reach is wide. More than a thousand students are enrolled with “students spread across all corners of Australia as well as overseas”, says Woodberry.

The school sponsors a student in Nigeria and has others enrolled in Gambia. Australian examples include “a school in remote Queensland which is facilitating ballet lessons for students after school, as well as a family doing distance education with a governess on a cattle station in NSW”. 

While programs such as this are really helping to provide access for beginner students, at the other end of the scale there are challenges for families of talented dancers attending regional schools who have progressed through the syllabus at their local studio and are wanting to access full-time ballet studies.

One of the dance schools grappling with these challenges is the Karen Ireland Dance Centre in Lismore, NSW. Established in 2000, the school has 85 enrolled students and has recently established a Part-Time Intensive Program (PTI), which has five enrolled students (including Josh Green, 16 years, who started ballet at the beginning of 2016 and recently achieved a high distinction for his Intermediate ballet exam). The PTI was introduced to bridge the gap between after school classes and full-time dance studies.

The program has evolved gradually, says Kimberley Garlick, one of the teachers at the school. “About four years ago we had a few students preparing for their major exams so Karen started taking them for class instead of them doing sport at school,” she says. Then in 2015 the school had a few students who were competing at the Alana Haines Awards in New Zealand and they received permission from the school to have one day a week off school to prepare for the competition. This is an extract from a full-length feature in the April/May issue of 'Dance Australia'. Read the full article (and enjoy more photos)! Buy Dance Australia from your favourite magazine retailer or subscribe here, or purchase an online copy via the Dance Australia app

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