I began my July with a miniscule break before the start of NBS’ summer school program. I was in summer school for a total of one week. During this week I was un-able to stay in residence, because there was not enough space for the limited time that I was going to be there. My time spent at summer school was fantastic; my actual schedule was amazing, and the teachers I was working with were truly incredible. However, although I was enjoying my time at NBS, the piece de resistance was to come… AUSTRALIA.  I flew out on July 11th at 6:10pm from Toronto, flying Air Canada to Los Angeles (LAX) and then Qantas to Melbourne. It was such an adventure. 30 some hours and a 14 hour time difference later I was in Melbourne! I went with two of my closests friends - Emily and Godwin, who I have both known for 4 years now and I was thrilled to be sharing this experience with them. We were in Australia to train at the Australian Ballet School on a professional ballet exchange. The Melbourne airport is much different than Pearson, it is almost like a mall when you first leave the plane. The mobs of people are huge, and there are so many stores and signs in so many different languages.

After retrieving our bags, and standing in endless lines we were out! We stayed with Emily’s family friends for the night, because we were un-able to check into our hotel until early Sunday afternoon. Their house was about a 25 minute drive away. They lived in the region Moony Ponds, which is a very nice area of Melbourne. Melbourne is very similar to Toronto in the sense that the people are alike, and that it isn’t an incredibly over populated city. However, the actual layout of the city is large in contrast. Melbourne is divided into many different regions. For example, my hotel was located in Southbank, but we first went to Moony Ponds, and the beach was in South Melbourne. I found Melbourne incredibly easy to get around. The hotel I stayed in was located close to the Yarra River, which is a large river that divides Melbourne. It was so easy to walk around Melbourne, because everything is very closely located, and even if you want to go to a farther region the transportation system is very accessible.

There are three types of public transportation: mainly trams and trains, but busses as well. The trains take you from region to region much easier and faster, and the trams are found all over the streets, and are very easy to quickly hop onto to save time. For both trains and trams you use your MyKi card, instead of using coin. It’s a new system to Melbourne, and it’s very easy to use. You tap on and off after each use, and re-load it with money regularly. When taking a bus you have to buy a specific ticket. Melbourne also has practically no homeless people! I saw one man throughout my entire stay.

Ok, back on track to the story—When we got to their house we ate breakfast, and then went out exploring with them. This was the first time we really got to see Melbourne. We took a train into Central Melbourne, were we took a free tour tram around the entire city. We got off in Southbank, and explored the Art’s Precinct. Melbourne is very active with the arts. They have this large building, the Arts Centre, which has three theatres, and art exhibitions. This is where the Australian Ballet School (ABS) performs. Attached to the Arts Centre is the ballet school. It is attached by a bridge which leads into administration offices and elevators. We were un-able to go up into the actual school and company at this time, because the building was all locked up. We then returned outside, and went looking for a place to eat dinner. We couldn’t find a place in Southbank, so we returned back to Moony Ponds where we ate at a local restaurant. I had pasta bolognaise, which was delicious. It was so nice of the Coutes, which is the family we temporarily stayed with, to host us for the night. It was definitely comforting to know we already had contacts so far away from home.

                 

The next day we moved into our hotel. We were on floor 11, room #7 of the beautiful Mantra hotel. We looked out past the Arts Centre, with the ballet school in the distance of the city; it was gorgeous. We met ABS students who we had met during NBS’ fabulous AI’13 at the hotel. It was so nice to see them again. They took us up to our room, then out to go buy morning groceries, as we had to prepare our own breakfasts every morning (lunch and dinner we would receive every day from the ballet school). We found out at that point that there were two other exchange students with us from the Atlanta Ballet School. At the beginning I had mixed emotions about them also being on exchange, because I was hoping it would be just us. However very shortly afterwards I was so happy because it meant more connections and people to know in the dance world, plus more people to share this awesome experience with. They were 14 (Thomas) and 17 (Erin). They were accompanied by a chaperone, who is a company member at Atlanta City Ballet, but actually trained at the Australian Ballet School. His name was Ben. Ben was a huge help for our exchange because he showed us around Melbourne, and helped us get comfortable a lot easier and sooner. That night all the exchange students plus Ben went out for dinner. It was so nice. We went to a restaurant in the local Southbank Shopping Centre.

My first day was actually on that Tuesday. On Monday we went to the beach with the people from Atlanta; Ben and Shaun, an ABS student. Shaun actually came to NBS for exchange in January, so we already sort of knew him. We definitely got to know Shaun a lot better throughout our exchange. Our day at the beach was heaps of fun.
My first day at ABS went very well. On that Tuesday I had only one ballet class, a pas de deux class, and a comtemporary class. By the last week at ABS I was doing sometimes two ballet classes, a pointe class, a pas de deux class, and a contemporary class just about every day. On Fridays I would have a half an hour conditioning class. During the first week of my exchange I was taking strictly level 6 classes, and was taking character class as well. Character and contemporary classes are gender divided. However, by the second week we had switched the girls character class for the boys contemporary class, because in character we were doing exam preparations so the class was not as beneficial compared to contemporary. By the second week we started taking some level 7 classes in addition to the level 6. ABS’ professional program runs from level 4-8: the level 4’s would be equivalent to NBS’ grade 9’s, and the level 8’s would be equivalent to NBS’ Post-Secondary Program students. So we were put into level 6, our proper level, however we wanted a bit more of a challenge, so we started mixing up our ballet classes. In the end we only had level 7 classes in ballet, contemporary, and conditioning, however even still that added up strength on top of our level 6 classes.

An example of one of my daily week day schedules would be ballet level 7, then ballet level 6, then level 6 pointe, then lunch, then level 6 pas de deux, then level 6 contemporary. On Fridays I did conditioning class and sometimes during the week as well. I really enjoyed each of my classes. I cannot choose a favourite class, because they were all so new and exciting for me. Each ballet class was much different than another, because the class changed a lot from teacher to teacher. I really enjoyed my pointe class, because we learnt so many new variations. During my exchange I learnt two solos from the Pas De Trois variation from Swan Lake, a Paquita variation, a Giselle first act variation, and Pizzicato. Pas de deux class was taught by a male and a female teacher. The class was different in style compared to NBS. The pas de deux class at ABS were a lot more casual than at NBS. The teachers joked around, and it was a lot less strict. By the end of my exchange I had tried some new lifts, and turns with my partner. Contemporary was completely different. ABS practices Graham technique, whereas NBS practices Cunnigham technique. They’re in their free movement unit, so the entire class was very fun and used up lots of space. Free movement is my favourite part of modern techniques, so I really enjoyed this class. I really liked how they have conditioning classes. I think that it’s good to do exercises to build strength, encourage improvement, and prevent injuries. At ABS they also had a small gym, where there was cross-training equipment, mats, weights, etc. I went up to the gym only once, because we never had a large enough break otherwise. It was very interesting to see what was up there, and to learn some new exercises. There are two gym coaches at ABS.

At night and on weekends we did many different sorts of things. We would typically go out, and visit tourist attractions or eat at restaurants; however, we would also hang out with new friends. We got to see so much of Melbourne, it was fantastic. We went to the Melbourne Zoo, Eureka Sky Tower, De Graves Street, Bounce, South Gate, the Arts Centre, and Art Galleries. I really enjoyed all of our trips to explore the city. De Graves Street was one of my favourite places to go. It is a long Alley Way professionally dedicated to small restaurants and shops. It was so much fun on a nice day to go walk down the street and visit each tiny shop. I wanted to go see the well-known Botanical gardens, and the Melbourne Aquarium, but we ran out of time. Plus it had to have been a decent enough day to go out walking around without getting totally drenched in water. The Melbourne weather was equivalent to Toronto’s October weather; kind of nice sometimes, but mostly cold, windy, and rainy.

Australians aren’t too different from Torontonians: they have the same atmosphere about them. The Australians were very welcoming, and were nice and fun loving. The largest difference would not only be the accents, but their style and manners. Australians talk in slang, and are much more casual when conversing. Some words were funny to us, but normal for them. Everybody I met was fashionable. They all had a good taste for clothing, and everybody dressed very individually. A large difference was how much more polite Torontonians are compared to Australians. I found that we actually said sorry a little too much, and that regardless of whose fault it was, we were apologizing. This was for minor things only, however, like bumping into people on the streets. It wasn’t anything terrible to live with; I’d still go back in a heartbeat.

Melbourne in general seems to be a lot richer than Toronto. The average salary is higher, having a higher minimum wage. In Melbourne you never have to tip anybody. I’m guessing that the tip is already included in the pay. Tax is already added onto the sticker, so you know exactly what you’re going to pay before you check out.

I had the opportunity to watch a female Australian Ballet company class one day. It was much different than what I expected. There were some incredibly talented girls, but their body types were much more muscular that what I had anticipated. The class was taught by one of my daily ballet teachers Ms. Connelly. And I was surprised to see how much she treated them the same way as us! Typically, company classes aren’t so technical; the company members just learn the exercises, to warm up their bodies. The combinations were much harder and she would still go into detail about particular movements, like she would with us. My teachers were Ms. Connelly, Ms. Wils, Mr. Zalomski, Ms. Wilson, and Mr. Phasaris/ Liz. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to work with each of these teachers. I was constantly learning and growing. I can’t pin point one particular moment which was the big eye opener of my training on this exchange, rather each day I was learning more and more. I had the opportunity to have a private coaching class with Ms. Connelly and Emily. It was very beneficial for the both of us because we were able to really sort out some technical problems we’ve been working on for a while. During one pointe class, Stephen Baynes, The Australian Ballet’s resident choreographer, came in to watch the variation we learnt from his version of Swan Lake. It was so exhilarating to know that the choreographer was right there watching.

I had the best time of my life exploring Melbourne, and dancing with the Australian Ballet School. Although at first I was actually un-certain about the ABS program, I am sure now that it was the proper choice for my exchange. It was very tough having to say goodbye to very close friends, who I had only known for two weeks really. Part of me wishes that the program could have extended longer, even another week. But I am also very excited for my August routine/schedule, because I do really enjoy cross-training, and dancing freely. I miss Australia greatly, and especially miss my daily routine. Sharing an apartment with two of your best friends couldn’t really get any better. Although ABS facilities were much smaller than that of NBS’, I felt much at home by the end of my exchange. Finally, I’d like to say thank you to NBS for this amazing opportunity, and thank you Melbourne, and ABS for making my experience beyond anything imaginable. I can't wait to go back to that beautiful country.  

Thanks for reading,
Emily

P.S: Feel free to email me at emily.mittelstaedt@gmail.com if you have any other questions. I can talk for days about my Australian experience, so shoot me an email and I’d be more than happy to answer it!

 

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