I could have danced all night

By Riverine Herald

It's not just rock and roll when there is a long way to the top. If you ever so much as thought about that being a tough act, you ought to try something such as Broadway jazz dance. For one wannabe from little Bamawm it has been a goal for the past 17 years — and she's still just 21

EMMA SPENCELY KNOWS what she wants to be when she grows up.

And even though she is only 21 she has already devoted 17 years of her life just to reach the career highlight of being rejected.

Over and over.

But those 17 years of hard slog have not been wasted on this devotee of Broadway jazz dance.

The special talent with which she has been endowed by all the time and effort is confidence.

“It's not that I didn't have any, even as a four-year-old when I started dance, but the training, your improvement, all the competitions and performances you work towards and then deliver, every bit of it adds to your armour,” Emma said.

Starting out as a little babe from the bush, well Bamawm anyway, Emma very quickly became a very well-travelled tot, child and teenager.

She was never very interested in playing sport and once she started classes at ALTDC (Anton Lee Theatrical Dance Company) in nearby Rochester it would become all consuming, and 'normal' country kid behavior of footy or netball went out the window.

When not dancing (and/or learning tap) or travelling to and from the latest performance, competition or practice session she found time to attend Lockington Primary School and then Rochester Secondary College.

In the end she almost certainly covered more back country roads, made more trips up and down to Melbourne and major regional centres and spent more hours in the studio and at home going through her routines than she ever would have with the local netball team.

On top of which were the physical demands of turning her body into her business.

Today she happily describes it as her tool.

And like any good worker she cares for it as if her life depends on it.

“Once you tackle the elite end of dance there are no short cuts; you either do everything you can to maintain your body or you pay the price,” Emma said.

“That means proper warmups, proper stretching and the complete warm down — you must do it all. Every time,” she said.

So far the good girl routine has paid dividends.

Since graduating with her Diploma in Musical Theatre she has had nothing more than a little niggle here and a little niggle there (touch wood).

During her three years of studies, Emma would be guided by the country's top choreographers and industry professionals, perform in Park Life Productions' Pippin and Chicago, multiple corporate events including a Honda reveal flash mob, Crown Palladium events, both Victorian and Australian Dance Festivals, several Masters of Choreography performances and, excitingly, as a dancer in the film The Very Excellent Mr Dundee, due to hit cinemas later this year.

If you think getting your job was pretty tough, you haven't tried musical theatre.

For a start, being a great dancer is de rigueur.

But did we mention the singing?


Surely her study was a dead giveaway — a qualification in musical theatre.

Talk about multitasking; as well as those hundreds, thousands of hours training and performing there are also the singing classes.

On her tax return Emma is classified a freelance artist.

That's a polite way of saying you would have had to search far and wide to find a much harder career.

Take one audition she attended — for a gig on a cruise liner where the dancing singers would be expected to put on at least six shows a week.

The cruise might only last a few weeks but the contract will be for months so the ensemble can get all the routines down pat before they sail.

It also means months away from home at a time.

But only if you get the job.

“The last time I auditioned for that they wanted 10 dancers and there were 932 trying out for the roles,” Emma explained (adding cruise ships have 'cattle call' auditions where anyone can have a crack, which is why there were more than 900).

“Yes, it's a very tough business but I love it,” she added.

“Now I am based in Melbourne I keep food on the table working as a teacher and that gives me the flexibility to make auditions, keep up my own training and keep trying.”

But although she is only 21 in the background, muffled right now but always there, the clock is ticking.

While Emma knows of one or two dancers in their 60s still appearing on some stages she reckons at the elite level that's way beyond the average use-by date.

“But my goal has never wavered, I really want a lead role in a Melbourne musical and after that see where it goes.”

Emma provided a sneak peek inside the audition scene.

Think of those movie scenes, crowded corridors with everyone looking daggers at each other, 20 or 30 dancers on a stage, drenched in sweat while the choreographer or director shout “again”.

Emma laughed and said they were the more glamourous settings.

Getting seen is an amazing Catch-22. Producers and directors don't really want you until you have some shows on your resume.

You can't get shows until the producers and directors are prepared to look at you.

She said if you have a really good agent that will get you to the top of the audition queue.

But agents are no less fussy than producers and directors — they don't want you unless they know you can be a winner.

“Then you have to get past the look,” Emma said.

“Whether it's a show, a cruise liner, even a TV ad, they all have a look in mind,” she said.

“It might be brunettes over six feet, skinny blondes, short red heads — if you don't fit the look you don't even apply — they state what you have to be on the registration form.

“Then you might wait some time and you are shown into the room being used for singing auditions, you hand your sheet music to the pianist and get to sing 32 bars and out.

“It's all over in less than a minute.”

Dance auditions obviously need to take up much more time (don't forget all that warm up and warm down) as the hopeful mob of dancers have to also learn what sort of dance is required.

Some calls still run a bare 30 minutes, others can run over days.

Emma said they might start you off in groups of five and then they start cutting from there — but there's no stage like you see in the movies.

She said mostly it's just a floor with the people making the call — and the cuts — prowling around.

“While you are waiting it can be a pretty cold atmosphere in the room with all the other dancers, but I just put on my headphones and focus on what I am going to do; kind of in my own space and don't notice the others so much.

“And if you get cut you cannot be disheartened; that's where the confidence has to kick in, that and your determination to achieve, you know you can be good you just need that first break.”

Which might be closer than you think.

Emma has been included in the launch of Kelly Aykers Company A, a professional Broadway dance company the industry veteran has promised will take the stage by storm.

It goes on tour later this month and will be staged in Echuca on June 22.

Produced, directed and choreographed by Aykers, the show will combine the style and class of Broadway dance with a cutting-edge twist that will take company

performance to a whole new level.

Company A includes 11 professional, technical Broadway dancers and singers (that's Emma plus 10) and showcases all elements of a Broadway production number as well as going beyond to incorporate lyrical/contemporary dance components.

That's a show on the resume.

For Emma that's a start.

Even better, for the dancers who made the grade for this tour, well the cold shoulder has gone out the door and they all get along, not the least because they all have to be good to make them all look, well, good.

When it's over Emma will be back in the classroom — learning and teaching — and back on the audition hustings.

And going into the next audition with a show under her belt.

Putting her one step ahead of the girls who didn't make the tour and a great launching pad to the next stage of the rise and rise of Emma Spencely.