- First Class Wealth Spotlights - Highlands Youth Dance Project

Dance and theatre is booming throughout the Southern Highlands. From theatre companies to dance studios, the community from all walks of life come together throughout the year to share the joy and spirit of performing arts. 

Monique Barrios, a local community member and director of Pointe Dynamic Arts, wants to change the norm of local performing arts in the Southern Highlands. Her extensive career in dance, drama and music has gained her a reputation within the Highlands community as a down to earth dance teacher, inspired by nurturing youth dance. After seeing a difference between dancers' perception of what the industry is like and what the industry really is, she noticed a large gap in the education of dance. Dancers were often trained to be company dancers rather than independent dancers where skills in choreography, grant writing and budget proposals are necessary to sustain the independent dance lifestyle. It is with this vision that she established Highlands Youth Dance Project - their first project...Operation Sand.

1. What gave you the inspiration to establish the youth dance company, Highlands Youth Dance Project? 

The idea of the Highlands Youth Dance Project is something I have been working on for the past 5 years now. It came about one day in class with some of my students where we jokingly had said, “I will have to just start up a company one day so they can all come back and keep dancing once they are all finished school and off at university”.

After years of developing the idea and having worked with several other community theatre projects we found there were a lot out there for young actors and singers to be a part of theatrical groups but not a lot on offer for young dancers. We wanted to create something for the young dancers of the area to be able to come together and have a space to work and create new works together while being mentored by experienced professionals and teachers in dance.

2. Is the youth dance company exclusive to students of Pointe Dynamic Arts or is it available to any dancer living in the Southern Highlands?              

The Highlands Youth Dance Project is open to all dancers across the Southern Highlands, whether you train fulltime, part time, train at school or are self-taught. The project welcomes and celebrates all dancers and lovers of dance aged 13 to 18.

3. Talk us through Operation Sand – what does the name stand for and was it inspired by something or someone?              

Operation Sand is our very first project. It is choreographed by one of our young dancers Tahlia McGee and will be made into a short film by another of our dancers Bajae Ingate. Late last year Tahlia came to us with the idea to create a dance film after being inspired by a piece of music she has found. The name Operation Sand was a nickname we gave to the project as the opening sequence will be filmed on the beach, so the name has stuck since then.

4. One skill that has been overlooked is the skills to run a dance company. How do you intend on bridging this educational gap for young dancers?         

In Australia, we have a limited amount of work for dancers in comparison to overseas, one of the things we would like to teach young dancers is how to create their own work. We all spend years training as dancers but there are not many opportunities for young people to choreograph and create. It is a very different skill to be able to choreograph for a group of dancers that are not yourself - learning what suits them best, their strengths and how to work on their weaknesses. Dancing is only one side of it all, the production teams for each project will also have to create a budget proposal to be presented to the committee to learn how to apply for funding or grants in the real world when putting on a show.

5. Through your mentorship, what do you hope to teach the young dancers of Highland Youth Dance Project?    

I hope that through working with Highlands Youth Dance Project, young dancers will learn not only new skills in dance but also how to create and bring to life a project from start to finish. More importantly, I hope that they will create lifelong friendships that will help them as they venture out into their careers in dance, I know for me moving out of home at 18 and not knowing anyone when I moved to Sydney was very daunting and scary at times. I hope that the dancers of the Highlands will have a space that they can come together and make new friendships so that when they do head off to fulltime, uni or college they will have other like-minded dancers close by or even to share accommodation with. Having a friendly face from home can make all the difference when you are living away from home and studying so I hope that they can form a community to support one another no matter how far from the Highlands they fly.

6. Do you believe there needs to be more support for the arts in the Southern Highlands? How will you create awareness for the arts through the youth dance company and Pointe Dynamic Arts?

Absolutely! The Highlands dance and theatre culture is booming. There are dozens of studios, schools and theatre companies, and we all have fantastic support of the local community. Every studio I know has close to or over 100 students and the theatre companies are all putting on several shows and events each year. What we are lacking here in the Highlands is that there is a serious shortage of performance venues. There is one public theatre venue in the Highlands and unfortunately due to the large number of companies trying to book the venue, it is near impossible to secure the theatre. We need the local council to seriously consider building a new performance venue or Entertainment Center for the Highlands. The Sholhaven have a beautiful venue, even Dubbo have an Entertainment Centre all capable of seating over 1000 people, with a professional fly tower, lighting and sound, dressing rooms and large stage. In comparison we have a 175 seat theatre, with a small stage, limited dressing room space and you have to hire your own sound and lighting or the option of hiring the halls or theatres in some of our local schools who have always been very supportive of the arts but unfortunately their school events must take priority leaving us all back at square one with nowhere to perform.

We would like to use the Highlands Youth Project to find new and different ways to perform our works as we are so limited with live venues here in the Highlands. So you will very likely see us flash mobbing a local park, dancing in our own marquee and especially online with our short films.

7. What is your advice for young motivated and passionate dancers who are looking to pursue a career in performing arts?        

Dance to express not impress! Follow your dreams and don’t let anything stop you, I truly believe if you dream it you can do it.

And versatility is the key, don’t limit your talent by just being a ballet dancer or a hip-hop dancer. Studying a range of styles give you a bit of variety to your training, keeping it exciting and interesting. You will find that something you learn in one style can help you in others. So don’t put yourself in a box, if you are a self-taught dancer, be proud of all you have learnt but go and take some classes to learn new skill and perspective on dance. Ballet dancers take a Jazz class or a tap class to challenge your skills in a more fast paced class, hip-hop dancers take on a technical class like jazz or ballet to give yourself an understanding of the basics of dance and strong technique to compliment your style. You can learn a lot from studying a range of dance classes, and it will also give you a competitive edge in auditions when they ask “who can tap dance” or “who is comfortable with partner work”? You never know what they might ask of you in an audition, so make sure you are prepared with a little of everything under your belt.

9. What are your plans and goals for the youth dance company over the next three years?

In the next three years, I would like to see the company grow to the point where we can be producing several works a year and with a junior division to the company for young dancers aged 8 to 12years mentored by or senior company members. We would love to embark on our own big dance musical, something like Fame, Cats or West Side Story and consider even touring our shows to other small towns.

For more information about Highlands Youth Dance Project and Operation Sand, visit their Instagram page @youthdanceproject. Otherwise visit http://www.pointedynamicarts.com.au/ for further updates.