Phoebe Walker | 20 | Classical Ballet and Contemporary Dance Teacher

Black and white portrait of classical ballet and contemporary dance teacher Pheobe Walker, captured mid-air

Speciality time: Dancing for 16 years and teaching for the past 4 years

Inspiration for starting: I think every little girl wants to dance. My mum pushed me into it because she never had that opportunity as a kid. My parents got me into all different sports, but I couldn't stop dancing. I kept for as long as I could whilst I did other sports, on top of it, but then it gets to the point when you get older and more serious, things were clashing and I just had to choose dance because it was my passion.

Full time, part time or hobby: Part time

I’m studying at University of Technology Sydney (UTS), doing Sports Exercise Science and I'm hoping eventually to collide my dance world and exercise world.

Currently I'm teaching at Pymble Ladies College and UTS Dance Society. A big range of girls, from kindergarten all the way up to year nine. I have a separate team going as well for comps. I'm teaching about five classes a week for five to six years depending on UTS. With study it's kind of full on. But I’ll definitely keep dancing no matter what.

What's your biggest highlight of your career?
In early 2019 I did full time dance at the Conlan College and we had a really good contemporary group for eisteddfod. I got to partner with an amazing male dancer who is incredibly athletic and is three or four years younger than me. Our piece about child abuse was very dark, and as it is contemporary it’s very versatile. You have to be really mature to do it. It’s very abstract. We were lifting each other, pulling and pushing each other. I was blown away by him, and it’s nice to have that respect for him.

Share a little bit about your training?
I did RAD syllabus from pre-primary up until advance 2 to the highest grade. Then I did advance 2 during my HSC year. And then did full time last year. That was really intense full time. But I did it to get my teachings.

All of 2019 I was teaching at PLC as well as my full-time work. And since I got this teaching certificate from 2019, Pymble gave me the eisteddfod group. One of those situations ‘you are qualified now and can we have you’. ‘Please write your name here, this is your class’ and I was like, ‘Yes!’. I’m the youngest eisteddfod teacher at Pymble at the moment.

Did you ever want to be in any shows?
I never really wanted to be a performer. I just wanted to do classical ballet because it's such a hard sport. You need to do it young if you are going to do it professionally, and you need to get into a company and do it when you’re 16 years old. I was offered a full time position when I was in year 7 and 8. I turned it down because I thought I might as well finish school and do the HSC, and go to Uni and do something else, I can always do that on the side. It’s nice to then have a gap year and just dance for a full year to get my teaching qualifications. I think I like teaching more as well.

Is there like a thing you're most proud of?
I'm really proud of my 2020 students. Because of COVID-19, the eisteddfod team haven't had any assessments. They are year four to six. It's really hard.

It's hard on me too as well because this was my first-year teaching. I have to show everyone all the work and choreography I can do, and how good it can be and win everything. We're very competitive. Obviously at the moment we're getting a bit of a lack of motivation, for the students and for me, I'm not really that motivated anymore. There's nothing to look forward to. We have a bit of a concert at the end of 2020. We don't even have an audience.

Can you elaborate a bit on how COVID-19 has affected your craft?
We're trying to incorporate studio dance into the school culture. We had all this stuff planned and it was so exciting and then COVID-19 happened. But I was very lucky, I was put on as an online teacher for my own eisteddfod class.

The pay was about half of what I normally would get for an hourly rate because it was online, as we didn't have duty of care. We did online pre-recorded videos, which was good. At least we were bringing something to them. However as they’re junior groups, I found when we returned to school, a few had watched the videos, less had practiced.

When lockdown was announced, was that a shock?
A lot of the eisteddfods were supposed to have been scheduled because they are generally later in the year. It was all “to be confirmed” and then one by one they cancelled. The biggest one of them pulled the plug on everything because they not only have dance, but opera singing, and music, and it goes from January to December. So that was a bit of a shame because that's the eisteddfod everyone wants to win, it’s the be all and end all of life.

I was also working at Bloch. I couldn’t get JobKeeper because I was working there for less than 12 months. They only bring back people who are on JobKeeper, because they don't have to pay them, and there's no incentive for them to bring me back on pay.

What do you think will happen to society as a whole, if the general public can’t access the arts - either to practice or to enjoy watching?
I think If we can utilise the online resources it's possible. Musicians are already doing it. It’s important to keep supporting performing Arts.

What are some positives that you’ve experienced during lockdown?
I'm really good with technology now, ha ha. Running classes online made me better prepared for returning to in-person classes. I’m much quicker as we get straight into fine turning. I’m more organised and better at making a time plan.

If you could ask a politician to consider one thing about the future of Performing Arts, what would it be?
Put more money in because the funding is not there. When you don't have full spending, you can't put on any shows and you can’t give people opportunities. Nobody thinks about how expensive shows are to run.

We used to hold a fundraiser for our concerts for Colin, we would hire out the theatre. We are trying to pay staff, and tickets for the audience is $80 to see a production of toddlers.

We have full time students so it’s sort of compensated, but if you're a parent of a little kid it's expensive. I was very lucky in 2019 because the full-time students get the main roles. We did Beauty and the Beast, and I was playing the role of Belle's father. We need funding so it's affordable and we can encourage young talent. Schools like PLC have full time staff and the facilities, so tickets are $30 or $40. We can have a full house every night, and we were supposed to add an extra night as well because tickets were getting sold. And the quality was so high and the dances were amazing. We get new costumes every year. We have lighting designers who light the stage, based on the costume and the dance and the music. We have tech runs where they work out the lighting, strobing, spotlighting lights, and the colours in the back of this are next level. And then you go in and see the show and you are like that is a professional show.

If you could wave a magic wand what would you do next with your career?
I would continue teaching as long as possible. I would try to combine my academics with dance teaching and hopefully teach at PLC and be their onsite physio as well. Hopefully in a school like PLC.

Can you share any challenges facing the Performing Arts industry?
I think there is a huge issue with funding and support, and we need to redirect interest in classical ballet etc. Even at school level it is dropping off. From what I have heard of ballet in Australia you need to go overseas in order to make it. To get the proper techniques. The ballet schools here are not on par in their teaching and it’s not as structured as it used to be. In Europe it's old school and vigilant. You go there to dance and have a dance career. Its 100% success rates when you graduate.

Funny recollection
When I was younger I was asked to be an extra on a show called Dance Academy, which I never watched. I don't know any of the main characters but my best friend at the time was obsessed with the show and also danced. She was really jealous that I got this offer.
They came to our dance school for an audition scene. We had to dance in the background of all the main characters, that was really exciting. I didn't know any of them, and they would ask ‘want me sign anything?’ and I said ‘I don’t know’, ha ha ha.

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