Currently studying Year 12 at Duval High School, 18 year old Dustin Cooper has faced more challenges than many of us, but there’s no denying his willingness to work hard and make the most of opportunities – nor his total passion for dance! What makes Dustin’s story even more special is that he only took up dance at the age of 14, so in four years he’s managed to achieve some simply amazing things!
Hi Dustin. What brought you to Armidale, and how long has it been “home”?
I just want to say thank you for this opportunity to get my story out there and possibly motivate the next generation of performers!
I moved to Armidale in February of 2017, as I was looking for a new start. Armidale has provided me with countless opportunities to develop my dance career, but also help me grow as a person.
You’ve had quite a few challenges to overcome in your life. What’s some of your back story you can share with us?
Well, I’ve been in Foster Care for over 12 years now. I’ve not only lived in Armidale, but I’ve also lived in Tamworth, Inverell and Ballina.
Having to move from family to family has made me more adaptable, which has been beneficial for my dance career.
My biggest challenge has been not feeling like I belong to a family, but in dance I found this “family”.
How do you feel the difficulties you’ve faced have helped you grow as a person?
Not having a constant “parental figure” in my life, it has been difficult to not only stay motivated, but to finance my dance career. But through the help provided by local NGO “Pathfinders”, I’ve been able to do amazing things not only in Armidale, but in Sydney, the Gold Coast and Brisbane.
When/how did you become interested in dance?
I’ve always been interested in dance, but I never had the nerve to try it until I was 14. In a sense, I was like a “duck to water”.
Having some of the best training in the region was also helpful. Laura King, principal of Craze Dance Academy in Inverell, nurtured my passion for dance from the very beginning, encouraging me and challenging my dancing ability and deleting the phrase “I can’t” from my vocabulary.
When I made the move to Armidale, I struggled to find my feet at a dance studio, but they were quickly found after I met the amazing Penelope Gurner, the Artistic Director of New England Dance Theatre. She challenged me creatively and technically; she has also given me the chance to help develop and educate the next generation of dancers and also provided me with a full scholarship to support my dance career.
What styles of dance do you most enjoy (and why)?
I love ballet; it’s the foundation to all dance styles. Having good technique has been something that has been drummed into me from the very beginning of my dancing life.
But, contemporary is where I can explore, create and challenge myself and my dancing. Being a part of amazing things like the NSW State Dance Ensemble and School Spectacular has developed my creativity and my understanding of dance.
You’ve had a phenomenal amount of success and recognition over the past couple of years! What are some of the achievements you’re most proud of?
I’ve only been dancing for four years, which in the world of dance is very little in comparison to people my age (18) who have been dancing for 15 – 16 years.
In the last two years I’ve had many successes.
In 2017 I was selected to be a part of the NSW State Dance Ensemble, which I was lucky enough to be selected again for this year (2018). This year (2018) I auditioned for School Spectacular Featured Dancers Ensembles, and I was selected for Featured Boys Ensemble.
In May of 2018, I was selected out of the whole state of NSW to be a part of a creative experience that was provided by the amazing Animateur for the London Symphony Orchestra, Paul Rodman and the NSW ARTSUNIT.
Where do you complete most of your dance training, and who are your biggest mentors?
I started dancing in Inverell under the tutelage of Laura King, principal of Craze Dance Academy, but I was soon exposed to a variety of different teachers, choreographers and industry members. Laura’s passion and dedication to dance and her students was inspiring, and it will stick with me forever.
When I moved to Armidale, I struggled to find a dance environment that was suitable for me and my major emphasis on dance technique and performing. I soon stumbled across the amazing Penelope Gurner, an ex-dancer who has extensive knowledge of the professional world of dance.
Through exposure brought by the NSW ArtsUnit and my very capable and talented teachers, I have met amazing dancers, choreographers and mentors.
But I would have to say my biggest inspiration and mentors would have to be my peers; they not only encourage me and support me, but they also challenge me to be a better dancer.
I’ve learnt so much from the older students, as well as the younger ones.
You’ve not only been accepted into a full-time dance course on the Gold Coast, but you’ve been awarded a $10,000 scholarship to boot! What course will you be studying, and how will both the course and your scholarship help you further your career as a dancer?
In 2019 I will be completing a Certificate IV in Dance with the amazing Dynamite Studios Australia on the Gold Coast, who have been so generous to offer me a $10,000 scholarship. This will help me hone in on my dance technique and abilities, plus give me the chance to immerse myself into the professional dance world that will be on offer up on the Gold Coast.
What are your future dreams and aspirations?
I’m hoping the future will give me countless opportunities to help develop and explore my understanding of “dance”. One day I hope to share my dance experience and training with the next generation of dancers. This could be through performing, educating, choreographing or just being a part of the dance world.
Thank you again for giving me this opportunity!
Interview: Jo Robinson.