Photo: Darby Heaysman
It’s always inspiring to meet a young woman pursuing a love for dance, especially one who is such a positive ambassador for young girls to foster creativity, discipline and ambition.
SO… let’s introduce you to Hannah Troth, a full-time dance student at the Victorian College of Arts, who grew up on NSW’s Central Coast and moved to Melbourne to pursue her studies. As she enters her final year, we’re excited to share her journey, dreams of working overseas and advice for girls keen to pursue dance.
Bev: Hi Hannah, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where did you grow up and how did you get involved with dance?
Hannah: Hello there, I’m 20 years old, a VCA dance student and about to go into my third year which is super exciting! I was born in the Philippines but moved to Australia and grew up on the Central Coast of NSW. I am proud to call myself both a Filipino and Aussie.
I got into dance as a young child and was encouraged by my mum who loves to dance. Just like a lot of little girls I wanted to be pretty ballerina wearing a sparkly pink tutu. I actually started dance at 7 years old, which some people would say is late but that doesn’t really matter. I was also just that little girl who really enjoyed moving to music, so beginning dance seriously made me such a happy kid.
I thought dance was magical and created such a fantastic feeling and atmosphere, and here I am now trying to pursue it as career.
BB: What would be your favourite style of dance? What styles have you had the chance to learn over the years?
HT: My favourite style of dance is Contemporary. It is such broad style of dance but you can pretty much do anything. This style really allows me to be myself and be creative. I love the feeling of heaviness, release, falling, being curious with your own body, the space and other bodies around you. Of course, also being precise and using the different types of dynamics. I also really enjoy the different techniques you can learn like Cunningham, Graham, Gaga, Horton, and so much more.
They’re all very good with getting to know your own body, strengthening and expanding your movement vocabulary. Contemporary isn’t just about big and impressive movements that are aesthetically pleasing to the eye, there is also minimalism, voice, and I love to move internally because it’s genuine and I don’t need to worry about anyone else but just keep aware.
I’ve learnt Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Hip Hop, Lyrical and Musical Theatre in the past. All of these styles require a lot of discipline, strength, flexibility and creativity but it’s a lot of fun too.
BB: What motivated you to study a dance degree in Melbourne? What do you enjoy most about the new city?
HT: To be very honest, I wanted change. I wanted to move out of home and be independent. Sue Healey, a choreographer that I met and look up to, studied there. She succeeded in her career along with many of other dancers/artists/choreographers, so VCA had quite a good reputation. That’s what attracted and motivated me to study in Melbourne. I love this city! Melbourne is way better than Sydney in my opinion – the people are friendlier, the art industry is more supported, architecture is pretty cool and unique, trams are convenient and it’s just a super easy city to get around. I’m also a fan of the cold so I really enjoy the chilly winter.
BB: Tell us a little bit about your family and friends. Have they influenced you with your active/healthy lifestyle?
HT: My family still live on the Central Coast in NSW. I have a younger brother who just turned 14 years old, and my parents work in insurance and the furniture business. I can’t really say that my family has influenced any of my active/healthy lifestyle (besides the fact that my mum put me into dance). I grew up with my mum cooking fantastic traditional Filipino food which wasn’t unhealthy but I picked up the habit of being a big eater.
My friends however are very active. They are adventurous and fun to be competitive with in sport. They motivated me a lot to push myself through exhausting situations. I guess they somewhat influenced me being a healthy eater, but to be honest, it was just a thing I dealt with on my own. My dance teachers and dance peers definitely motivated me to be and eat healthier. Right now, it’s my partner who heavily influences my active and healthy lifestyle. It’s important for him to be nutritious so of course he’s consistent with helping me reach my goals.
BB: What has been your experience with dance competitions?
HT: I wouldn’t say that I was that type of dancer that went to every competition because they require a bit of money, especially the bigger ones. My experience with dance competitions was mostly positive. It definitely boosted my confidence up as a performer but as I got older, I realised that it was more of frustrating thing than fun. Of course I enjoyed it but dance wasn’t all about showing off tricks, extreme flexibility and all those sort of ‘impressive’ things. I felt that I was copying trends just so I could try having a better chance of winning and I didn’t feel true to myself.
That may be my experience but I don’t regret any of it. I made mistakes and learnt so much from them. Whenever I won something, it was because I really enjoyed performing that solo and I put a lot of hard work into it. You gain so much great exposure from competitions and if you’re lucky, you can be seen by some really important people in the dance industry.
I definitely got inspired by other competitors to push myself out of my comfort zone. I will continue to do that in this day. I’m not trying to put down anyone who loves dance competitions, my opinion is due to experience. There’s so much more to being dancer/performer/artist – or whatever you want to call yourself – than just winning trophies and a bit of money.
Also, I want to thank my old dance teacher, Miss Patti for putting so much time into training me, non-stop encouragement, believing in me and making me aware of what is important for me as a growing dancer.
BB: Who inspired you to take on dance and what qualities do you admire most about them?
HT: Definitely my mum and my old dance teacher Miss Patti have inspired me. My mum showed so much excitement when I began dance. She also has great rhythm and enjoys herself when she dances, so it becomes a bit infectious as I want to begin moving my body. I’m reminded to keep having a good time with it.
And Miss Patti, well, she was like a second mother to me. She nurtured me during my whole time training with her. She pushed me and checked in on me to see if I was okay. The knowledge that she gave me, pushed me up another level as a dancer. I am super grateful. Of course a lot of dancers in general inspire me. I like to make sure I have my daily dose of inspiration from any dancer to keep my interest in dance which I doubt I would never lose.
BB:What are the most important lessons you have learned with dance?
HT: I’ve learnt are stay true to yourself, find out what your strength and weaknesses are, and keep improving. Be aware of when you can keep pushing yourself through the toughest times mentally/physically. When you need to stop, listen to your body! Speaking of listening, listen to your mentors and peers. They have so much information that you can take and benefit from. Do your research. If you are interested in specific companies and want to be seen by them, research what their style is, watch their work, email them asking about classes but be careful to be patient for a response and not be annoyingly persistent.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try out their movement qualities and see what new movements you can add to your vocabulary. Being rejected may feel like the worst thing ever but you need to continue to fail to succeed.
Also, a good night’s sleep is so important for a dancer. You require so much energy throughout each day and you need to be the most attentive and energetic you can be. If you want to change to eating healthier, make it a lifestyle, not a diet.
BB: Describe what a typical week is for you to balance your studies, work and dance.
HT: Well I would aim to wake up at 6:45am (usually get up at 7.00am), have breakfast (a chai latte, banana bread or something from the bakery) and leave the house at 7:30am. I give myself a good hour to get to uni because of peak time. Before class, I give myself 15 to 20 minutes to warm up my body.
Contemporary or Ballet technique classes go for 1.5 hours and sometimes I would have 1 or 2 of those in the morning. Depending on what year (1, 2 or 3), we could have Anatomy class in the morning once a week, Dance Lineages (Analysis, History and Repertoire) a few times a week, Kinesiology and Feldenkrias once a week.
As I enter my third year, we have our full length performance rehearsals every day that range from 2 to 4.5 hours each day so my uni schedule is pretty full on. My contact hours would be 40+ hours per week. Sometimes I will be doing extra projects outside of uni so trying to balance it out with work is so hard. I usually can’t fit in work because I’m so busy and exhausted. But when I do work, I’m able to fit in work on a Friday and Saturday night when I can.
BB: Have you ever sustained any injuries? How did you overcome these?
HT: I’ve had injuries with my back, hamstrings, knees, and other parts of my body. It is not fun a time. It reduces your time to dance but listening to your body is so important. I cannot stress that enough. How I deal with these situations is to become aware of how little or big this injury through how painful and odd feeling it is. If it is not super painful but I know something is up, I will back off a bit with how hard I dance and I will make an appointment to see my massage therapist who works with dancers or a physio who works with dancers.
As a student, it’s not always easy to just pay for an appointment like that because it is definitely pricey but you have to do what you need to do to prevent anything serious. Rehab is really important to get you back on track and consistently doing the rehab exercises you were given would help. The more you listen to your body, the more you know how to deal with it and the more awareness there is to preventing injuries in the first place. Yes, we are human and we make mistakes but our bodies are also very smart.
BB: What advice would you share to girls who are keen to study or pursue dance?
HT: Be a good listener, train hard and independently. The dance/art industry is tough so make as many connections as you can and keep them. Keep curious as a choreographer/performer and keep finding new things, you can be competitive but learn from the friends you make. Do your research, be yourself – it’s a lot easier than trying to be someone else. Be prepared for an incredible experience, but also stress and breakdowns. Be organised, it helps keep you consistent.
BB: What are your dreams and ambitions after your studies?
HT: I’d really be happy for any contemporary dance company or project contract when I graduate just to get me going with my career. A big ambition is to work in a company in Europe. I’m actually going to Europe this year so I have the perfect opportunity to check out the companies in person and have a feel of what their work and style is really like. Being a choreographer isn’t my strongest suit as an artist but I am really interested and enjoy collaborating with many choreographers and from those experiences, hopefully become a freelance choreographer.
BB: What advice would you pass on to girls to help inspire them to be active?
HT: Being active allows me to feel good and my best. You have to want it. Change comes from within and if it does, being active becomes part of your lifestyle. Listen to your body but don’t give up during the toughest times, build it up in small doses, be comfortable with what you’re doing but keep eager to push further a little more each time. The hard work is what makes it all worth it in the end, you are helping yourself become the better you.
BB: What are most looking forward to in 2018?
HT: 2018 is going to be such a crazy year for me at uni as it’s my big third year and lucky timing, it’s actually the 40 Year Anniversary for VCA dance. My year has been given the fantastic opportunity to work with Gideon Obarzanek, an Australian choreographer, for our full length work coming up in May, I believe! This will be an awesome experience and I am just so excited to learn from him. I’m about to begin working on a project outside of uni in collaboration with four other musicians so there is going to be a lot going on.
This next thing is a personal goal that’s not really relevant to dance but I don’t actually know how to swim and I’ll finally be taking on swimming lessons this year which I’m so stoked about! Like I said, I’m going to Europe and travelling is just one of the most expensive things ever that just happens to be a big obsession of mine. It is seriously a must to explore this beautiful and crazy planet!
Lastly, just push my fitness level to the best it can be so that I am ready for whatever is thrown at me.