Eighty-eight travellers, 33 dancers, eight days in the USA. Andrea Rowsell, from Andrea Rowsell Academy of Dance, tells us more about the dance school’s adventure of a lifetime …
Hi Andrea. What’s news at your dance studio lately – what’s been keeping you busy?
It has indeed been a busy and exciting year so far.
In March some of my students entered the NSW Regional RAD Isobel Anderson awards. Sarah Saad made it through to the Semi Finals in the Intermediate level, and Charlotte Reece and Zoe O’Bryan both got to the Finals in Grade 4. The finals were held at the Shore School in Sydney, where both girls danced extremely well and obviously excelled, as Charlotte was announced as the winner and Zoe runner up. What a proud moment for two country kids and an even prouder moment for me – to think that these two students were placed 1st and 2nd in the state is such an achievement.
Then, just over a week later I travelled with a group of my students to America to perform in Disneyland USA . We have now just completed competing in our local Taree and District Eisteddfod.
How many people from your studio were involved with the trip to the USA, and what was the age range of the dancers?
We had a total of 88 passengers travelling with us to America – 33 were dancers, the rest were parents, siblings and even grandparents. Our youngest performers were 11 and our oldest was 22 years of age.
Why did you actually travel to The States – how did the plan come about initially?
I had heard a lot about the USA trips, but never dreamed I would offer it to my students, as I felt I never wanted to put that kind of financial pressure on families.
At a function, a dancer/teacher was talking about the tour and asked why I had never been (she had travelled numerous times with her school). She spoke of the tour with such excitement, that my husband was sold; he was making calls the following day gathering information, and I approached a few families to get their views on the possibility of a trip. Obviously they all said yes, you must do it – so I began the planning 18 months prior to departure.
We had to go through an audition process with Disney, as they have very strict ideals about what is suitable – all music and costuming had to be approved, and they had the power to pull anything at any time if it was not up to Disney’s standards.
What were the dates of the trip?
We departed Sydney on Saturday 4th April, with our tour being eight days in total. Most families made the most of the trip and extended their journey – some travelling for up to four weeks extra. They covered a lot of the country and definitely made the most of the opportunity to see as much as possible.
What were the highlights of your American adventure … Where did you get to perform, and what was the experience like?
The trip was amazing – much better than I had ever anticipated. A big highlight would have to be the Main Street Parade in Disneyland, where we came together with 540 other dancers from Australia and America. We rehearsed this on our riverbank each Sunday, trying to get the students’ fitness levels up, as the parade goes for 20 minutes.
Another massive highlight was a workshop the students had at Disney. Their instructor loved the students so much, that he invited them to attend a performance of Aladdin, where he organised priority seating and a meet and greet with the cast afterwards. The tour company said they have never seen anything like that happen before, so we felt very privileged indeed.
We performed in Disneyland, California Adventure Park, Universal Studios and on Hollywood Boulevard on the sidewalk, with all the characters of Hollywood cheering the students on – and may I add our school name up in lights on Hollywood wasn’t bad either.
How much sight-seeing were you able to do where are some of the places you visited?
Disneyland itself was a big drawcard for the students, as we had a five day pass – and boy, did we all get the most out of that! We tried after each performance to go on one ride together, and as a group of 88 that’s pretty hard, but we did manage to fill a few rides with just us.
The Hollywood tour was a great day, seeing Rodeo Drive and travelling out to Santa Monica. We had two free days, and families did optional tours of shopping (very popular with teenage girls), Sea World in San Diego, a baseball game to see LA Dodgers, or took more time in the parks to enjoy the rides.
Who are some people you’d like to thank for making the whole trip possible?
The tour group was Dance Around the World, and they did an amazing job – they looked after us and made the trip stress free. Cassie Fenton, one of the teachers and choreographers, gave up many hours on Sundays to assist in getting the students ready for the trip. Mostly, the thanks for the perfect trip goes to the great group of students, who were so professional in their commitments to the dance group, and their families – who supported them in this adventure of a lifetime.
What interesting comparisons were you able to make between dancing in Australia and dancing in the USA?
The comment I received most was what beautiful technique the students had and how well trained they were. That was lovely to hear, but the thing that stood out most to me was their manner – everyone was drawn to them, and we were complimented endlessly on what a great attitude they had.
The Americans amp everything up; the students had to learn to perform bigger and to make everything larger than life.
How likely is it that a similar trip will be planned in the future?
Yes, yes, yes, I would go back in a heartbeat, but being realistic it may take me a few years to replan and build the right group with equal commitment values and quietly break the news to my family that I am off on another Disney trip. This trip was me testing the water, and I now know what I could do to make it even better next time.
Final words …
I feel so privileged to have been a part of my students’ development and what this process taught them. Memories forever were created, and I am so proud to have been a part of it. I do believe we visited “The Happiest place on Earth”.