Dancers light the way: sharing inspiring stories

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An interview with Kelley Abbey

Kelley Abbey is one of Australia’s most accomplished and respected creative directors, choreographers and performers in film, TV and musical theatre. During COVID-19, Kelley was approached by Louise Telford about the idea of doing a small book documenting the stories of dancers.

Excited about the idea, she jumped on board as a co-producer and the book expanded into a much bigger project. In addition, Kelley and Louise generously chose to donate a portion of the sales from LIGHT THE WAY to the Arts Wellbeing Collective, to help support the mental health and wellbeing of our dancers.

LIGHT THE WAY documents the artistic journeys of 55 Australian dancers and choreographers, such as dance icons like David Atkins OAM, Nancye Hayes AM, Timomatic, and Caroline O’Connor to name a few, alongside a range of new up and coming talent.

The first edition of what will be a series of three books celebrating Australian dance talent, features stories from dancers representing an array of ages, genders, dance genres and diversities.

The Arts Wellbeing Collective team had a chat with this living legend to ask her about the book and why mental health and wellbeing is so important to her.

Why was it important to you to have a place where dancers stories are heard?

Dancers train from a very early age and their dance careers are generally short lived. They are usually not at the forefront of the broader entertainment industry, and they often get paid the least! Dancers go through a lot of blood, sweat and tears for their art including sometimes painful injuries.

Louise and I thought that it was timely to document Australian dancers’ lives. To celebrate their commitment and artistry in the industry. We were very surprised to realise it had never been done!

We also wanted to educate young dancers about who came before them as well as reading the stories about the young rising dance talent they currently look up to.

The stories are inspiring as you realise that the journey of every individual artist is magnificently unique and didn’t happen overnight. Readers not only get to hear about their amazing career highlights but also their setbacks.

Kelley Abbey. Image supplied.
You have such a vast representation of age, experience, and styles featured in the book. Was there anyone you felt especially excited to feature?

I was like a young teenager sitting in on the interviews with David Atkins OAM and Nancye Hayes AM! I have such high respect for both of them not only for their body of work but for who they are as human beings. David in particular has been a great mentor for me. I was also very excited about Stephen Page being featured. His story is so inspiring.

You and Louise are very kindly donating a portion of profits to the Arts Wellbeing Collective. Have you always been passionate about supporting the mental health and wellbeing of performing artists?

We’re super passionate about supporting mental health in the performing arts. It’s something we haven’t had a lot of in the past and I feel this is something that performers need more than most.
It’s not uncommon for people working in the performing arts to experience mental health problems. It’s an industry where we endure rejection, media critique, and enormous highs followed by enormous lows and bouts of unemployment.

In addition, we can develop an identity that is usually attached to what it is we ‘do’. I find this even more so with dancers who usually start training when they’re aged three or four years old! Dancers can tend to not know ‘who they are’ when they are unemployed, injured, or aged out of the industry.

COVID-19 has been a really tough time for everyone in the arts, and it’s organisations like the Arts Wellbeing Collective that provide invaluable support.

LIGHT THE WAY is available for purchase at lightthewaydancecollective.com.

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