Go to uni or dance full time? Uncovering alternative learning paths

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Smoke and flashy lighting amplifying the Transit stage Photo: Monique Nicholls
Paul Malek’s Doth is Transit’s first showcase for 2019. Photo: Monique Nicholls

There’s a grey haze flooding the floor of the Brunswick studio, leading to a welcome sign that reads warns of smoke and flashy lighting – it is a Transit showcase, of course, and it wouldn’t be complete without an immediate air of mystery.

The energy is palpable in the space, with a number of unassuming dancers scattered throughout the studio with their beaming smiles and audacious poise. Glasses filled with champagne are bubbling glamorously in the hands of most in the room.

Transit is nothing like the ruthless auditioning and conditioning seen in teen ballet film Centre Stage, or the corrosive stage performance encapsulated in Black Swan.

Paul Malek’s Transit Dance offers an alternative for pre-professional dancers. Founded in 2015 by Paul and Karen Malek, their holistic contemporary offering gives high-school graduates an opportunity to follow their passion. The April series by Malek is titled Doth,  an exploration of an overpopulated world, a dystopian land and self-sabotage – onerous topics for a group of young men and women to embody.

You might mistake Transit performers as athletes by the way their contemporary bodies move with more power than elegance. The brave students of Transit chose a path off the beaten track in pursuit of passion and their joy.

Transit’s head of contemporary development, Daniel Jaber, relays how important it is that studies prepare students for full-time employment. The full-time program covers subjects that “aid in a dancer’s ability to survive; nutrition, grant writing, CV writing, audition preparation, anatomy and biomechanics, et cetera”.

Despite the hefty upfront fees and, in the case of many students at Transit, having to leave their families and move interstate or overseas, many of the students don’t believe a university degree would bring them to the same stage of life.

Third year student Holly Pearce, 20, says dancing full time was her dream since a young age, despite doing well academically in high school.

“I knew that I had to give full time dance my best shot before I made a decision on whether to study at university or not,” she said.

“I’ve grown incredibly as a dancer thanks to all the incredible teachers we get to learn from every week, but also has a human being. I am extremely lucky to train in a space where I feel so comfortable, unafraid to fail and free to be myself. I’ve learnt life lessons that I don’t believe I would have learnt anywhere else.”

Christie King, 20, agrees that Transit nurtures trust and teamwork in a way that’s different to what she believes she would have experienced at university. “I feel like it (full-time dance) has helped me establish the discipline and awareness to really thrive for whatever unfolds in the future,” she said.

Twenty-three-year-old Hannah Billingham says that dancing full-time forced her to develop confidence and artistry, as well as form life-long friendships.

Many students at Transit have part-time teaching jobs and share a desire to travel overseas to dance.

Evidently, students say they are able to learn discipline and resilience through full time dance just, as they would by completing a university degree – demonstrating that there are different ways to learn life lessons beyond traditional pathways.

Leah Lambart, who is the founder of ReLaunch Me – a careers and interviewing coaching company – says that her first piece of advice to young people when they are choosing a career is to be true to themselves. Look beyond the course and work out what the career outcomes are at the end of it, she says.

“It comes back to the lifestyle that you want and your values,” she said. “If you want to have all the big fancy things that your friends have that are working in corporate jobs that’s when it gets difficult. What’s more important? Doing what you love or money and status?”

Conventional paths such as pursuing a degree are on the rise, with 2016 Census reports stating 24% of Australians attain at least a bachelor’s degree – up 18% from a decade prior. There was also a 46% increase in the number of students pursuing post-graduate qualifications.

Lambart says that the pressure to know what to do after school is high, commenting that she reminds clients there may be many careers they’re well-suited to. While Lambart warns against following passion, she says to choose something that you’ll find joy in for at least the next five to 10 years. 

For young people unsure of what they’ll do in the years following high school, Lambart suggests experimenting in their gap year. Do volunteer work, travel and experience new cultures, take short courses and speak to industry professionals.

But private institutions such as Transit, says it’s head of contemporary development Jaber, are a natural pathway for young dancers and creatives. “I always say that the world needs more love and, as artists – we demonstrate that by doing what we love,” he says. “We are contributing to the world by demonstrating how to live with passion, love and discipline … it’s important that where ever you train, you leave equipped with life skills and sound business development skills, not just as a great dancer.”

The passion, love and discipline Jaber describes is surely evident as a delighted crowd applauds Doth alongside a triumphant Paul Malek standing in the centre back row.

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