Where were you born?

I was born in Brisbane, and moved to Melbourne when I was two. I spent my formative years there.

What do your parents do?

My Dad is a painter by trade and my mum is a school librarian.

Do you have any siblings?

I have a younger sister and brother, and both are very talented in the arts. Both are dancers also, and actors and visual artists.

What is your first memory of dancing?

My very first memory of dancing is when I was quite small, in our lounge room. I used to wait till nobody was around and dance in front of my reflection in the television... little did I know that my mum used to hide around the doorway and spy on me!

What was your first public performance?

My first public performance was also at home, my sister and I used to put together shows for our mum and Nanna using leaves from her garden that we made into skirts.

Where did you train?

I started dance quite late, first casually at a local dance school called ‘Inspirations’ in Somerville, Vic, when I was about 15, and auditioned for the Dance Factory in Richmond when I was in year 12 as a favour to accompany my nervous friend. I was accepted into the course so I decided to give it a go.

Had you had any experience of Indigenous dance before joining NAISDA?

I didn’t take part in a great deal of traditional Aboriginal dance when I was growing up, although we were raised very proud of our Aboriginality, when I first trained at NAISDA the most wonderful thing occurred – we had traditional lessons from the Lardil community from Mornington Island, a community with close family connections to my own grandmother’s family in the Gulf.

What was your first big break?

I guess meeting all the wonderful people in the black dance community gave me my first connections into what would be my first big breaks. Meeting people like Kirk Page and Wesley Enoch gave me my first major gig; performing in the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony, and of course, being a part of Bangarra has been the best ride ever.

What is the best venue you have performed in?

Definitely dancing beneath the stars in front of the entire community in Yirrkala, North East Arnhem Land.

Any disasters or funny incidents on stage you would like to reveal?

Stephen Page teases me for being a bit of a clumsy dancer. There have been numerous disasters involving tipping over chairs, dropping props and bumping sets!

Do you have a pre-performance ritual?

Whatever show I’m doing, there’s always an emotional intent behind it for me. Before I go onstage I spend a bit of time entering that emotional state.

What do you always take with you to a performance?

Each show with Bangarra requires different things, but I’d say that the essential thing I need to bring to every one of them is a cultural integrity. All Bangarra repertoire is drawn from our rich heritage of over 40,000 years so if those spirits and stories are with us in every show we’ll always be able to give to audiences in the right way.

Do you have a memory of a fantastic audience?

One of the most memorable audiences has been in Budapest, Hungary, they have such an interesting tradition in which they applaud all in time, like an army, beginning slowly and progressively getting faster. They repeat the process 3 times every show, 4 times if they absolutely love the show.

Your most challenging role to date?

The role of Patyegarang this year has been the most fulfilling and challenging role yet. Her journey is so diverse, and she experiences so many different emotions and situations in the show. I’m finding more and more each performance.

What do you admire in people?

I admire people who are genuine, who are kind to the environment and other people and animals, and people who are passionate for life!

What word(s) would you use to describe your feet?

My feet are small and accident-prone! But they keep me moving so I’m pretty happy with my little fins!

Jasmin Sheppard:

DESCENDED: from Irish, Chinese,  Russian Jewish and Aboriginal ancestry.

TRAINED: Dance Factory, Melbourne; NAISDA, Sydney

JOINED: Bangarra in 2007


This article was first published in the August-September 2014 issue of Dance Australia magazine.


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