Behind the Spark

By Alex Dellaportas – Artistic Director of SYDC
DECEMBER 31 2016

I’m not gonna lie. The creation of Spark Youth Dance Company was no easy feat.

It started with a longing to be part of a dance company. To be in a place where I could just do what I loved.

During year 12, I was equally as focused on dance and my personal growth as an artist as I was my schoolwork and throughout the year I often found myself wishing that there was a dance company that would work for me.

And when I say ‘work for me’ I mean I needed a place I could go to dance that wouldn’t just be all about classes and that would fit in with my schedule and would allow me to develop many skills at once. And I needed it to be local because the city is over an hour away.

I’ve always been told that focusing on too many things at once would always lead me to failure; and to an extent, these people were right. It’s hard to create something if you are paying an equal amount of attention to many other endeavours at once.

But I realised that if I wanted to become an artist who danced and choreographed whilst still being able to do all the little things I love so much (like social media, website-creation, music and history) – I would have to make my own company.

There was just nothing I could join that would allow me to truly be myself. So, the only real option was to start something of my own.

Now, it’s been my dream for a few years to one day become an Artistic Director of a huge company. And that dream still exists. While I may sign off on emails as the “Artistic Director” of Spark Youth Dance Company, I still have dreams of one day being paid to do what I love while working for bigger and more professional companies around the world. And I would love to be choreographing around the world too – my ambitions are still crazy high.

But there was something last year that gave me just enough fire to want to create a company I could dance in now. I mean, I’ve auditioned for things over the last few years and some I have been successful in and others not. But there’s just something I didn’t like about being just a dancer. About choosing just one thing to do for the rest of my life. I’ll admit I’m totally not the most technically gifted dancer in the world but I understand that my strengths lie in being a dancer who doesn’t just want to dance. And I needed an outlet for this.

Looking back on the year 2016, I now know that I couldn’t have made a better decision to create something like Spark – the lessons it has taught me could never be taught in any dance course.

But in January of 2016, it was a totally different story in my head.

After I had gotten over the fantasy of being the leader of an all-youth dance company, reality set in.

And boy did it hit hard.

I quickly realised how difficult it was going to be to get people to believe in my vision and see it through to the end. And let me tell you that there were multiple occasions where I just sat in my room and considered completely giving up.

Some of you loyal followers may remember my very first Facebook post where I announced the company and began with explaining how scared I was. But I didn’t even really understand just how scared I was. There was so much to do in order to get the company running and there were so many things that I just didn’t understand. I had to teach myself the basics of business and had to teach myself to rely on only myself. I had to believe in myself and my vision before other people could believe in me. And to be honest, that was one of the most valuable lessons I could have learnt.

There were some Sunday rehearsals where I was running on next to no sleep and was completely running on auto-pilot to try and get as much choreography done as I could. Sometimes, I even questioned my passion for dance because I was so overwhelmed. And without experience, it was also hard to map out rehearsals in advance and make sure we were planning our time effectively. Most of our cast members from this year knew exactly how I was feeling for most of the year because sometimes I really just couldn’t hide it.

Thankfully though, despite my feelings, these kids were always so encouraging and knew how to step in when I was feeling overwhelmed.

And that is actually one of the things that I am most proud of about this company.

The day after our shows finished, I saw an Instagram post by one of our dancers that completely changed my outlook on everything. She wrote in a caption: “We did it. I can’t believe it.”

This doesn’t sound like much, but with those few words, this young dancer was expressing that she had felt a part of the company’s growth. When we succeeded, she felt equally as relieved and proud as I did. While I had felt terrible about appearing stressed in front of my dancers, it had actually created a closeness that could only be achieved by a company run by youth. In those moments, we were connected by our close ages and actually came to really understand one another.

This dancer felt that she had shared and understood the hard times, the stressful rehearsals and times where I had thought there wouldn’t be a show. And when we did achieve it, these kids felt a sense of collective ownership over not just the production, but the company itself.

And that is exactly the vision on which the company was built.

A dance company that is driven solely by the young dancers and creatives involved – a company that will create totally different dance works just because of the difference in company dynamic. Our dancers will always have a unique voice.

I am so proud of the company we have created. I loved our little production of the Nutcracker, but I loved more that we pulled together dancers from all different dance schools and were able to work things out together. We grew together. And there are just so many stories that I have heard from our young dancers of this experience changing their lives and each time I hear these, I just can’t stop smiling. Because this experience has changed my life, too. I now know that this is exactly the place I am meant to be. That I was never meant to do what everyone else was doing – that all my life experiences thus far have led me to this place and have led me to accept that it’s okay to be different. That it’s okay to create and make your own pathway in life. There’s no doubting that the path I’ve taken is so different to so many young dancers.

I’ll never forget those final days we all spent together in production week where dancers could be seen helping each other with choreography, offering to help with sets and props and where kids were running around with each other like they’d been friends for years. And I will never forget those days in the theatre either. Seeing our dancers decorate their mirrors, even though we were only there for three days, with pictures from their year and selfies with their new friends was just so special. The wishes of ‘chookas’ in the hallways, the random hugs as I walked past dressing rooms, the quiet words of reassurance with dancers before they went onstage – I will treasure these memories forever.

And so we have come to the end of this rollercoaster of a year and I am just so grateful. I am grateful to all those who believed in me, even when part of them said that this could never work. I am thankful for all the people that this journey allowed me to meet. There are just so many people who have changed my life this year who wouldn’t have been in my life without the creation of Spark. And a huge, HUGE thank you must go to my family for being there ‘til the very end, no matter how ridiculous my dreams got.

I’m just so glad I did this. I honestly had no idea whether this would bring value to anyone but now I can see that it was just such a perfect decision. I’ve created a platform where I can continue to develop as a choreographer and test and experiment and grow AND give other young people the opportunity to spark the same level of passion for the arts at the same time. I’ve found a way to teach myself about the world and incorporate all the things I love in life – and I’ve found a new love of leadership and business in the process.

If you take anything from this obnoxiously long first blog post, I hope that you will go after the things that scare you in the new year. That you will be able to see past self-doubt and try things even with the risk of failure. You just never know the magic that can come from going out and doing. I can’t wait to do even more of this next year and discover more about the world and myself – and I hope you will join me in this journey through this blog and through my work with SYDC. We hope that in the new year, this blog gives you a window into the adventures of Spark Youth Dance Company and that you, too can be inspired to be excited by the prospect of a challenge.

Despite how hard it was to climb that mountain of a first year – we survived, and not only did we survive but we managed to create a company that is totally different to anything that has ever come before it.

The thing that scared me the most about the company in the beginning has actually become its greatest asset. It has become the thing I am most passionate about.

We are different. Our company is different. We are creating our own way through this crazy dance world – and I think that’s incredible.

Want to know something exciting though?

2016 was just the beginning…

If you want to read more about our year, check out our article in Peninsula Essence: