Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of catching up with a past Sketa Oz Award recipient - Chloe Keneally - who popped back to Australia for a fleeting visit to see family and friends. Chloe is now 16 years old and although time has well and truly passed since receiving the award, it has been kind to her. She has barely aged a day. Well - maybe a centimetre or two on her streamline, long legs.
Fortunately, the weather on this day was perfect. We were able to engage in a lovely, long chat - over a period of four hours when we also found time to slip on a tutu, swing a leg and jete’ across the luscious greens of South Bank, Brisbane.
At the ripe old age of 9 years, Chloe was fortunate to be presented with the ‘Most Promising Junior Classical Dancer Award (12 years & under) at the Brisbane Eisteddfods. This is no mean task and at such a young age, she and the family were “excited about the selection”.
“I felt honoured that my talent and potential as a classical dancer had been recognised. I was desperate to make this dream come true and knowing that someone saw something in me, only made me all the more determined.”
So what has Chloe been up to, in eight years? My first guess was - quite a lot. And that’s not far from the truth.
“I moved to London in September 2016, to study with the English National Ballet School - as a first year student. Earlier in the year, I was selected to compete in the finals of the Youth American Grand Prix in New York and that was absolutely amazing!” exclaimed a very proud, but humble young lady. And that is just the tip of the iceberg, for this lass - 96% for RAD Advanced 2 exam in May and 100% for Grade 8 RAD exam in the same year. Quite a busy schedule for a young dancer, not yet 17 years old.
Although Chloe now enjoys forty hours of dance studies each week that focusses on classical dance, contemporary, repetitoire, pas de deux, point work, fitness and body conditioning; she states she was “extremely tired in the first few weeks” and there were days, where she “just wanted to sleep twelve hours straight”, but knew she couldn’t.
In every dancer’s life, there comes a time when one must consider health and nutrition as a very important factor of success. What is it that keeps Chloe going? Does she have any tips for dancers competing in this physically-draining industry?
“I always have a really nutritious breakfast, so that I can get through a long day of rehearsals and classes – I love granola with fruit and maybe a piece of toast. I don’t find it heavy because I used to start dancing at 9:30 am. So I was up by 6:30 in the morning. Nowadays though, it is more like, up at 7:30 am and dancing at 8:30 am - which is much better.”
So what about her feet? ...The hardest working part of a dancer’s body. What does she have to say about them?
“I always like to soak my feet in methylated spirits – just to harden up the skin, so I don’t get blisters. When I do have blisters, I soak them in warm salt water, it’s much better.
Having lived a good portion of my life as a professional dancer and a teacher of dance, I am always curious as to whether or not today’s young dancers engage in outdoor, physical activity. I had quite a buzz of energy at Chloe’s age and took on just about anything. Is Chloe any different?
“To be exact, I really like going for walks – just to keep up my stamina. I find it really relaxing, but I tend to rest on the weekends. However in the afternoon, I usually walk, stretch and do a few exercises.”
So, is there never a day to sleep in? My curiosity jumped a million fold. Isn’t Sunday, God’s day of rest?
“Ha-ha! Yes, sort of, but I still like to do something.”
As many of you might know, feet are not the only things dancers must worry about. A very time consuming part of any dancer’s life, is in the correct selection, moulding, treatment and use of ballet shoes.
“FREEDS shoes are what I wear now; I use them a lot. English National Ballet asks us to use them because they’re soft, but they also strengthen my feet.
Are they then, the company’s preferred dance shoe? I ask.
“No – just the academy – for first year students. They actually die very quickly in Pas de deux, so I prefer to wear Energetiks. They’re good for promenades.”
I remember bashing the heck out of my shoes, when I was a dancer.
I wondered how far down that road, Chloe went. Was she too, a closet shoe basher?
“Yeah”, Chloe giggles. “A bit – just to get the noise out and to bent the arch. It needs to fit my foot, otherwise it doesn’t quite connect – I don’t break the bridge though. Then, I soften the sides so they don’t rub my feet and toes...and I wet the tops a bit.”
With all that bashing, wetting and bending, it seems shoes might not last, all that long. I guessed this treatment, would indeed be expensive.
“FREEDS usually last me a week and ENERGETIKS last me two weeks – the bill is humungous!”
Mum and sister – Allegra, smile knowingly at each other. I join in.
I remember, putting mine in the sun, after every class – it hardens and dries out the shoes; gets rid of sweat and the like. In my day, we’d stuffed the shoes with newspaper. You’d have to be careful, though or the newsprint would rub off, onto your shoes.
“Yeah, we do that and put them on the radiators – it helps a lot.”
My next mouthful of words was probably the most difficult to deliver.
You see, even after all that hard work, sacrifice and diligence – a dancer’s life is often, a short-lived one. One needs to have a backup plan, if and when the lights, no longer shine. So, had Chloe thought that far ahead - even at her young age?
“I’m not really sure at the moment. I rather like photography – I haven’t thought about it much.”
And you know, that’s okay. Because at sixteen, life really is your oyster. You should be dreaming as big as you can; ticking off as many bucket lists and rosebuds as ye’ may. And to keep all that momentum going, one must surely have a famous quote or even music to inspire one to reach those lofty goals.
“I really love quotes and put them all over my room, so when I wake up in the morning, I can look at them. My favourite is: ‘Admire someone else’s beauty, without questioning your own’. I don’t know who said it, but I really like it!”
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