Hailing from Detroit, dance student Amanda Zawisza flew down to Sydney for our week-long Professional Intensive training program. Designed for tertiary performing arts students, graduates, and professional dancers, the program teaches participants Company repertoire, choreographic process, and challenging creative tasks such as structured improvisation.
We sat down with Amanda to chat about the power of dance to bring people together, her experience learning Sydney Dance Company repertoire, and placing trust in her own movement language.
When did you start dancing?
I started dancing when I was three years old at a really small local studio. It was Cecchetti based so I grew up very ballet trained and I stayed there all throughout my senior year of high school. In my freshman year of high school I got accepted into a performing arts high school program, majoring in dance for four years there. I went to Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan, and I’ve been there for three years. It’s a really diverse program – we do modern and ballet technique classes – ballet three times a week and modern three times a week.
What made you decide to come to Sydney for the Professional Intensive?
I’ve always wanted to visit Australia and I got a scholarship back in the winter for summer study. I’ve been following Sydney Dance Company for the past four years, just watching them on social media, and obsessing a little bit. When I saw that there was an Intensive and I had this scholarship I was going to use, I thought, I have no excuse not to come.
What do you love about dance and why do you do it?
Everything! I love how it has the ability to bring people together and how you can do literally anything with it. You can tell a story, you can talk about an issue, you can dance just for dance’s sake, you can make people laugh, you can incorporate other aspects of life into it as well. I just like how versatile it is, and also, apart from that, the physical and mental benefits of dancing and moving your body and creatively thinking. Honestly, it’s shaped me into the person I am today. I don’t know who I would be if I wasn’t a dancer.
Do you have a particular favourite style of dance?
I would say contemporary. I grew up very ballet trained so that’s where my comfort is. But contemporary is really where I feel at home because it’s very technical but also it allows for a lot more freedom, expression and movement.
Tell us about your experience so far at Professional Intensive.
It’s been amazing – learning the repertoire has been unreal. It’s honestly been very eye opening. I came into this with a very different mindset – I didn’t know what it was going to be like, how big it was going to be, how many people were going to be here. I have learned a lot about really starting to let go and trust myself, physically and mentally. That’s always something I’ve struggled with dancing and growing up – is that trusting that I’m knowing what I’m dancing and doing. It’s something that I thought had clicked but this Intensive has really pushed me to that next level of it actually sinking in and thinking, yes I can actually do this. I have the physical capacity, I have the mental capacity, I have this in my body.
What’s been your favourite part of Professional Intensive?
The feedback from our instructors. Feedback about finding the ease of the movement, and finding moments where you can take a breath.
What repertoire have you been learning?
We’ve been learning choreographic phrases from Rafael Bonachela’s ab [intra], Frame of Mind, and Anima. I would say the choreography from Frame of Mind is probably the most difficult because we learned it only yesterday in a two hour period. It’s been great, that’s probably my favourite if I had a little bit more time to let it sink in. I love it all honestly.
You’ve also been working with ex-Sydney Dance Company dancer Cass Mortimer Eipper on choreographic process and structured improvisation. Tell me about that process.
Working with Cass was really fun and interesting because it asked us to find our own movement and our own way of interpreting what he was saying. Then he pulled it all together into a piece within two hours, made of the improvisational instructions we’ve been working on the entire time. It was really beautiful to watch everyone’s movement styles because for the past three years I’ve been pretty much watching the same class of people I’ve been working with in my university, so it’s been really amazing to be able to watch other people.
What’s been the most challenging part of this week?
Probably the thing that I’ve learned about most, which is trusting the ease in the movement. Because it’s all so athletic and so fast and so intense and it’s asking so much of you, it can be really easy to get tense and have it all in your throat. Just finding the ease and letting it fall onto your body and moving through it, and in a way, switching your brain off. Just letting it happen – that’s something I’ve always found really challenging. It’s been something that’s been told to me by other instructors but it’s not something that’s really said or clicked in my own practice. With this repertoire and the classes that we’ve been taking it’s really forced me to find it within my own body. It made me think about it in a completely different way.
Has Professional Intensive changed the way you’ve thought about any other aspects of dance?
The possibilities of what dance can be, I’m forever amazed by that. Being in a program, you kind of get stuck on what you see constantly. It’s been really enlightening for me to create stuff during the Intensive which is really athletic, really fast, and still contemporary dance.
What are your future plans regarding dance?
My plan is to keep on dancing, dancing professionally. I really would like to be in a contemporary based company. Honestly as long as I keep on dancing I’ll be happy wherever I’m at. I’m also pursuing a Kinesiology degree. When my body’s kind of done, I really want to be an athletic trainer for dancers and help them work through injuries.
Would you recommend this week to your dancing friends?
Absolutely, yes I would! It’s been great.
Find out more about our Professional Intensive week-long program.