Enjoying Dance for Dance’s Sake

World renown Australian dancer Paul White was recently featured Dance Australia magazine, in an article which discusses his history as a dancer, as well as how taking part in Landmark Education’s programs has made a difference for him professionally and personally. Here are some excerpts from that article:

By the age of 20, Paul had already hit great heights in his career, He was living in London and touring internationally, performing in the world’s great contemporary dance venues, the youngest person ever to dance with DV8. Yet he feld strangely unfulfilled. “I remember being onstage at Theatre de la Ville (Paris) and just not actually hearing the applause – in my head I was making excuses like oh, I did that thing crap, and they don’t really feel like that, it’s just politeness.”

A little soul-searching showed him he had never stuck with anything for more than two years – the commercial scene, classical ballet, contemporary companies in Adelaide and then London – no matter what he did, the restlessness returned. Seeking answers, he enrolled in the Landmark Forum, a well-known (and occasionally controversial) personal development program. There he realised that he he’d become addicted to the flattering attentions his dancing had brought him as a precocious child: he’d made a mistake in his reason for dancing for the last 10 years. He rethought his priorities. “And the thirst for acknowledgement disappeared, and I got back to that little kid again, enjoying dance for dance’s sake and being able to reach people, being able to express myself.” Paul still works with Landmark, finding their ongoing program a significant personal and professional support.

Here are some earlier excerpts from Jacqueline Pascoe’s story on Paul White, White Heat:

Despite – or perhaps because of – his extraordinary physicality, you could almost suspect Paul White of not being human. Born in Mackay, Queensland, to a family of dancers and raised on the Gold Coast, running gleefully into his first dance class aged three and getting his first paid gig at 13, White’s charmed life has brought his onstage skills to a pitch almost superhuman. But there’s also something faunlike about him: he has a lithe, not quite fey, rather feline masculinity. It doesn’t surprise me that he reminded Meryl Tankard so strongly of Nijinsky that she took him into the studio and created The Oracle, a groundbreaking, virtuosic solo to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

Paul is sitting with me in a chic Sydney café, in ripped jeans and the kind of smile only seen on cheeky little brothers, telling me how he just passed his fourth kung fu exam in four months.

“That’s about four times faster than the average Joe,” says he with modest pride, and grins. “Some of the other students get really aggro at us.” His partner in this exercise is his friend Narelle Benjamin, choreographer and yoga practitioner, much admired for her exceptional strength and flexibility. “They just think we’re absolute freaks,” Paul laughs. Narelle’s eight-year-old son was the inspiration for this new field of study.

Paul is constantly in pursuit of a deeper understanding of the ways the body works. “Normally when I’m working with someone, I’ve got to learn their kind of movement, so I then discover a whole new way of moving.” But there came a time when he wasn’t learning anything new. “I was working with a director where not much physical information was given. It was more about piecing the show together, and I didn’t know what it was but I was really unsatisfied. I was starved of physical information. And then young Eddy gave us a kung fu demonstration and I went wow! I want to learn some! It satisfied the craving to learn a new physicality in my body.”

This bodily energetic focus is evidently built into Paul’s genes. “My grandma danced when she was young, and then they couldn’t afford for my mom to dance.” His mother instead became a calisthenics champion. “And I have two older sisters, Rachael and Jessica, who no longer dance but danced from before I was born. The story according to my grandma – I don’t know how credible it is – goes that Rachael was doing a ballet class, and my grandma let go of me and I ran into the studio and started copying Rachael.”

His grandmother ran in to fetch him but the teacher, Lynette Denny, said, “No, no, leave him! We need boys!” And so, with (as he tells it) little enough else to do in Mackay, he and his sisters would catch the bus from school to ballet, be picked up by their mother in the evenings, and dance all day Saturday. By his teens the family had moved to the Gold Coast and Paul was getting work in funparks, musicals and casino shows.

Since then he’s done stints with Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) under Garry Stewart and with Lloyd Newson’s DVS Physical Theatre in London. He returned to Australia to be part of ADT’s inspirational Honour Bound project in August, 2006, and to collaborate with his close friend Tanja Liedrice on her two major works, Twelfth Floor and Construct. Somewhere in between he found time to dance an Argentinian tango work, Exodo, at the famed Joyce Theatre in New York. In Australia, Paul has won many awards. In short, he has become one of our most highly-sought-after independent dancers. He says his income has tripled since he did a four-day workshop with Freelance Success (www.freelancesuccess.com.au) which taught him how to run the business side of his career. “What it’s allowed me to do is get really good at scheduling ahead in time – I think last year I worked 48 weeks of the year.” That, of course, is about as much of a year as any dancer can safely work – whether they get paid holidays or not.

We talk about boys and the victimisation they still often suffer for learning dance, and agree that the recent mainstreaming of the art form through the success of So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) can only help. Paul’s partner, Anthony Ikin, was among the top 10 in the first Australian series of SYTYCD. Anthony runs two dance schools and Paul has lately dipped back into the commercial scene, working with Anthony on routines for the show. Busy but clearly happy, the two juggle their work and personal lives between Sydney, the Gold Coast (where Paul’s family and Anthony’s other school are) and wherever else life takes them, sometimes only catching up in passing.

The need to find ways to say in touch with friends he has mad through this fly-in-fly-out lifestyle has geven rise to an unexpected phenomenon: The Short Shorts Film Festival. Besides wanting to create a way for the arts communtiy to celbrate itself, says Paul, “I also wanted to do something that I had no idea how to do, and I don’t really now anything about film.

“So I said to Nelly Benjamin, I want to run a film festival. She’s done a lot with ReelDance, so she was keen. So we got a team of people together, all not-for-profit, and we showed 19 films. And there was food and fun and a little entertainment, and we managed to make enough money to give out cash prizes to the filmmakers.” The festival was a runaway success; they now plan to revive and reinvent it roughly twice a year.

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