How old were you when you started dancing?
"I officially started taking class at the age of 12, prior to that I was a freestyle dancer and continued my freestyle practice throughout school and beyond. I was not the random dancer in front of the TV (not that there is anything wrong with that). I would put a solid 2 hours per night dancing to whatever was on the radio or my mum’s music collection (which was not much). I officially destroyed the study carpet with my own training and had a six pack and chiselled arms (no joke) as a result.
My secondary school, St Columba’s College, offered dance and my aunty stepped in to pay the term fees in exchange to clean her car inside and out and her entire house (and that included washing the walls) throughout my school years until I got my own casual job to make payment or else I would not have been able to participate. I didn’t have friends that danced, I just knew how much I loved it and I knew that doing dance at my secondary school was my only opportunity to be part of a dance culture that I craved to be part of but really did not know much about.
My secondary school was also the most successful educational school for dance at the time. We won National Rock Eisteddfods, performed on TV yearly and dance was offered as a VCE subject. It wasn’t just a casual dance program, we were trained with military precision both with performance and attitude. I personally thrived off this environment and respected the process to grow and prove to myself to be the best I could be."
Tell us about your training. Where, who with, what styles etc?
"My training for precision, cleanliness and execution comes from my training at school learning from the famous Linda Henderson. You could potentially label this style as Commercial Jazz. I trained myself in popping and general freestyle which was an everyday occurrence from the age of 8 which could define me as partially being a self-made, self-trained dancer. Once I left school I put in the effort to travel out to open classes. I’ve taken most international classes offered in Melbourne learning multiple times from Hip Hop pioneers Suga Pop, Poppin’ Pete, Greg Campbellock Jnr, Buddha Stretch, Mr Wiggles, Shabba Doo, to name a few, learning popping, locking, house and hip hip party foundation. Foundation is key and I have always made time for these classes as these are originators of a dance style who are still alive! Not many dance genres can say this about their originators! Plus when I was growing up and discovering the Hip Hop world, I soon began to discover these pioneers, so I was star-struck meeting them knowing how they have shaped what we call Hip Hop movement today. It is a privilege to learn from them and in order to teach Hip Hop you must know the foundation and history, just like you should for all styles of dance.
In addition to this I take class whenever I can and all my overseas trips have been dance related creating reoccurring opportunities to learn at Broadway Dance Centre (NYC), Millennium Dance Complex (LA), Movement Lifestyle (LA), Debbie Reynolds (LA), EnDance Studio (Tokyo) and The Palace Dance Studio (NZ) to name a few."
What was your first professional job?
"My first professional job was choreographing for artist, Josh Abraham, on Channel 7 for the live Good Friday Appeal Variety show. At the time I taught the routine to dancers that I looked up to, so it was intimating at first to teach older dancers who I perceived as having more experience than me."
What has been a favourite on stage or professional moment?
"My all-time professional moment is auditioning and being chosen to fly to Canada to dance with Madonna for her Hard Candy fitness centre opening in Toronto. Firstly she is my idol. Secondly when does that type of audition ever come up?! Thirdly literally the entire dance community was so supportive and happy for me and I think that’s what made it so meaningful, to not only be recognised as someone to be chosen, but to also have the backing of the entire dance community to feel I was deserving to have this type of experience. I’ll never forget how exhausting the rehearsals were, how much weight I lost during the intense training and how amazing it was to dance literally two metres directly behind Madonna. Working with her team who were well-meaning and supportive was also refreshing to experience."
What do you wish you had known as a young dancer that you know now as a professional, or what advice can you give to young dancers in training?
"I think the most important thing to know is no matter the age you start, the type of training you have, if you love it and want dance part of your life you can shape it how you want it. As I grew up I often heard “well that’s just the way it is” in terms of how cut throat it can be, or needing to be a triple threat performer etc and be proficient in all styles. I’ve never been one to follow what others do and I always believed it didn’t have to be that way if it didn’t suit based on what you were personally seeking as a dancer. Training in all styles is great to maximise all possible avenues for yourself but training in a particular style that speaks to your heart is also just as great, to seek to become a master at one. Train to cater to you and where you want to be pushed. There is nothing wrong in specialising in one style but also being open to other styles to enhance what you have. Additionally being a nice person in this industry, who is firm in their expectations and realistic with their approach but who can still push those around them to be their best without crushing peoples’ spirits and still being successful is still possible!
If you love dance, don’t allow for a second to believe that you are not capable to have dance in your life. Passion will always lead you somewhere but you need to seek knowledge and take responsibility for your training. There are so many opportunities for dancers to be involved or pushed to become so much more for today’s generation! The possibilities are endless, don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise!
I think my main advice today is to get involved with the dance community. We can all learn a lot from each other. Don’t stay stuck in one place that does not offer expansion of the culture that is dance. Get seen, be noticed and grow!"
What advice would you give to dancers who want to become professional?
"Be willing to sacrifice and be willing to believe. Do not give up on yourself! We live in Australia and have a lucky life in this country. We get told to live a safe life, go to uni, get a job etc because in this country you will always have “non-creative” work opportunities to fall back on, other countries are not so lucky! You may be your only back up or may have others who don’t understand why you want to live a life of “uncertainty” which is what we call an adventure. As an artist you can already struggle with own self-belief so don’t let the discouragement or fear from others plummet you down to also not believe. It’s tough out there so you need to have the resilience to push for more and that push needs to come from you.
I just believe you never know what tomorrow will bring so don’t let anything or anyone stop you from achieving the experience you want to experience. You have one life and you need to live it for you.
Also if you feel like there is not much happening in Australia as a dancer, than create something that is. Don’t wait around for someone to provide you the platform, create the platform. The more platforms we have, the more we shape the future of Australian dance."
What does 2019 hold for you?
"To keep building up my dance company, The Legacy & Co, assisting dancers to have the most memorable dance moments of their lives. Create an amazing Legacy dance production at the Gasworks Theatre, 2nd& 3rd October. To push myself to do more on top of what I already do and be open to the possibilities of incredible experiences. I’m beyond excited for this year and thankful that I am surrounded by amazing people to further shape the year that is 2019."
Arna has performed/appeared in or choreographed for Madonna, SYTYCD Season 1 & 2 (Top 100), Director of Melbourne’s first and only urban all age dance company – The Legacy & Co, multiple National TV Commercial Campaigns, AFL Footy Show Player Revue & numerous other live TV shows, produces the long running dance crew event Step Off and will be teaching at VDF 2019. You do not miss her class!