By Kayla Dalrymple
The Gisborne Herald
December 15, 2014
[Gisborne, New Zealand] – Austin Rice could not believe his eyes when he opened a letter last week to find he had gained a place in the country’s most prestigious ballet programme — only the third from Gisborne to do so this century.
At 12 years old, Austin had been dancing for only three years this October, when he was selected for the New Zealand School of Dance Junior Associate Programme.
Only 60 dancers are a part of the programme at any one time across junior to senior levels. The number granted entry into the programme from annual nationwide auditions varies, depending on the amount of senior dancers graduating. There are rarely more than 10 spots available each year.
Gisborne dancers Alana Sargent and Lana Phillips went on to attend the NZ School of Dance after graduating from the associate programme. Sargent now dances for the Sydney Dance Company and Phillips for Footnote New Zealand Dance.
Austin says he understands how special the programme is. “It is quite a privilege. This was some people’s third year auditioning and this was only my first. It really is an honour.”
Austin has been dancing ballet for three years with Nadine Proctor at the Nadine Antoinette School of Dance. He was named dancer of the year at the studio’s end-of-year recital yesterday. However, his dancing background has its origins at Dancefit Studios with choreographer Tessa Beattie.
“I love hiphop and ballet. I originally started ballet because I was told it would help improve my hiphop dancing and I really did not expect to love it so much. Nadine and Tessa have both helped me a lot and are both really good role models,” says Austin.
His favourite form of ballet is classical dance, although he admits he needs to work on his flexibility. “I love ballet. It is a way to express yourself and it makes you feel free.”
Austin’s peer group have all been “fine” with his interest in ballet. “All of my friends have been really supportive. There is maybe one or two people at school who do not like it and think ballet is just for girls — but it does not bother me.”
Austin’s mother Heidi Rice says some negativity was to be expected.“It is his dream, not theirs. We are just really excited for him to be a part of the programme.”
Mrs Rice says the artistic gene runs in the family.“Trevor, my husband and Austin’s dad, sings and I have a background in theatre. We have a Nana and a cousin who were national champions for tap and highland dancing.”
Ballet and hiphop classes finished last week for the summer break, which has left Austin’s dance-packed schedule suddenly empty.
But he will not have long to wait until he is busy again. As part of the associate programme, he will be expected to attend classes with the Royal New Zealand Ballet master classes in Auckland and the NZ School of Dance Winter Dance School next year — as well as classes specifically reserved for the associate programme.
The Rices will also journey to Sydney for the new year for Austin to attend a boys’ ballet course.“He is 13 on December 28 and then we leave for Sydney. He is really excited about it, as there are not many male dancers in Gisborne.
“We are so proud of him. It really is amazing what he has achieved in such a short time,” says Mrs Rice.
The associate programme generally extends until participants graduate from high school and provides advantageous preparation for full-time dance training — as well as experience with the New Zealand School of Dance.
Austin will start high school here in Gisborne next year. He “definitely” plans to attend the school of dance in Wellington in the future.
© Copyright 2014 The Gisborne Herald