Behind the roller door of this industrial unit, three ballet studios are filled with the sounds of classical repertoire music. In one of the studios, a class of ten dedicated young people work through a series of ballet exercises at the barre. While their peers are in school, these young dancers, aged between 13 and 18 years of age, attend ballet lessons on a full-time basis, over 26 hours of training each week. On top of their dance training, each student completes their mandatory education requirements via distance education in the evenings or their one-day off. These young people, along with their families, have made a bold choice. The choice to pursue what is, for many, an impossible dream - to become a professional ballet dancer on the international stage.
For five of these ballet students, the dream has become reality after a successful audition tour of Europe. All five dancers on tour secured highly sought-after positions in some of the most renowned and competitive pre-professional ballet training schools in the world. These five friends will each begin their own journeys far from family and the studio they have spent hours training in every week, to spend another two to three years training in the fine art of classical and contemporary ballet.
Many ballet teachers can only hope that one of their students will one day reach the international stage. It is no small feat that this little Gold Coast school has a track record for consistently producing dancers who get offers to international schools.
The studio responsible for producing these dancers and providing them with the opportunity to realise their dreams is Amanda Bollinger Dance Academy in Southport. Amanda Bollinger, owner and director, is herself a former principal dancer on international ballet stages and prides herself in providing a demanding and disciplined, yet nurturing training program that meets international standards.
“Aside from strong technique and physical facility, dancers need to be artistic, driven, determined and fearless,” explains Amanda.
Born and raised in Auckland New Zealand, Amanda accepted an offer to study at the Berlin State Ballet School in 1992. At just 16 years of age, she moved to the other side of the world, alone, to study the Vaganova method of classical ballet. After graduating she went on to dance with the Metropol Theatre Berlin, was principal artist with the Space Dream Musical Theatre, the Ballett-Compagnie Deutschland and Disney’s multi-million Euro production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.
Amanda met her future husband, Stephan, in 1997 while working together in the stage production “Space Dream” in Berlin. Amanda was the principal dancer and Stephan was the lead singer/actor in the production. By the end of that year, Stephan proposed to Amanda at the end of the New Year’s Eve performance in front of an audience of 2000, and they were married in 1999. They moved to the Gold Coast in 2002.
Together the duo is a dynamic creative force. Stephan, an international award winning photographer provides not only spectacular photographs of the dancers but also produces the sound and lighting for the ABDA concerts which are more like professional theatre productions than your typically tedious dance recital.
"I spend all my hours teaching the students, and planning the practical side of the business,” explains Amanda. “While Stephan brings his creativity to the table with all things media and graphic to make ABDA look great”.
The dancers graduating from Amanda’s modest premises are catching the eye of some of the world’s top schools for their exceptional demonstration of technique and dedication to the art of ballet. Amanda and her staff place technique at the core of their training program and daily instruction of students.
“Ballet technique takes years even decades to perfect, and even then dancers are still striving for more,” says Amanda. “With a good teacher, students learn from a very young age the principles of body movement and the correct form and placement used in classical ballet. With strong technique, bodies are able to execute fast or intricate movements with ease, safely and aesthetically”.
Dreams this lofty don’t come easily. While many little girls and boys dream of being professional dancers, few realise this dream and Amanda is quick to point out that there are no short cuts to the top.
“A dancer’s body needs to be like a well oiled machine; supple yet strong,” she says. “Once the foundations of clean technique and placement are set in the younger years, they then need to spend countless hours training each movement, each sequence, each transition to achieve an effortless quality.”
According to Amanda, even this may not be enough to secure a highly competitive position in international dance schools. “The international ballet and contemporary schools are looking for dancers who are well-trained with a ‘pure’ technique without mannerisms or bad habits. On top of this, the personality of the dancer is very important. Directors want to make sure that new students fit into their school. Only a happy and healthy dancer will train well, work hard, and succeed”.
Beyond making pretty shapes and movement though, Amanda attributes training in the fine art of ballet to even greater life skills that they will carry with them into the future.
“I think the most valuable lesson I learned as a young dancer was to work your hardest, be determined, be open and ready to learn from every teacher. I learned self-discipline and the determination to succeed. I had to pick myself up after many unsuccessful auditions where I wasn’t the right height, the right look, too young, or not the right build, and be confident enough in my ability to get on the train to the next audition.
“Very few dancers get the first job they audition for, and many don’t have the mental strength to keep trying. I don’t give up easily, and the positive attitude I had to have then, has carried through into my life as a mum, a wife, and a business owner. Ballet teaches you to be humble, but most of all be patient. With yourself and others. If you have put the work in, and take every opportunity which comes your way, your time to shine will come".
Accepted student’s names and schools
Nae Kojima (16 years old) – Kirov Junior Ballet Company, Washington, USA.
Joshua Price (17 years old) – San Fransisco Ballet School, San Fransisco, USA.
Camryn Jefferson (17 years old)– Palucca Hochschule fur Tanz, Dresden, Germany.
Isabella Crain (16 years old) – l’Ecole Rudra Bejart – Lausanne, Switzerland.
Maddison Hutchins (18 years old)– The Royal Ballet School of Antwerp – Antwerp, Belgium.