Eloise Harpas is a twenty-one-year-old professional dancer who has just returned home from the U.S. after a three-month scholarship at the Broadway Dance Centre in New York where she was awarded the ‘Outstanding Student Award’: the only Australian on a three-month scholarship to win it. After jumping on a plane with the intention of completing the three-month course in New York and the goal of being noticed within the U.S industry she successfully made connections in the Big Apple. Eager to push herself further, she extended her trip to Los Angeles to see what she could achieve in the metropolis of the entertainment world.
She also happens to be a very close friend of mine since our childhood. We spent every waking moment together growing up, high school, dance classes, weekend competitions, late night rehearsals, ballet exams, even interstate and overseas group performances. Our passion for dance has evolved and manifested itself differently into our lives these days since we both graduated from Ettingshausens in Sydney. So I sat down to have a chat with her about what it’s like to try and ‘make it’ in the dance world.
Sally: So, tell me about your experience in New York and L.A. Did it live up to your expectations?
Eloise: I didn’t go over with too many expectations because I had no idea what it was going to be like. I just went over with an open mind and thought I will try my hardest and see how it unfolds. But, overall the whole experience exceeded my expectations. I did so much more than I thought I was going to, made so many connections, achieved my goal of being noticed and I got signed to an agent in L.A. After that I knew I was ready to come home and what my end goal was going to be.
S: And what is the end goal?
E: I would love to tour the world. Ideally, I would love to move over to L.A., land a really great audition, get signed to contract for an artist’s show and travel the world for that artist. That’s really what I want to do.
S: As a dancer, you deal with rejection regularly. In L.A. I imagine that rejection is almost on steroids. How did you stay motivated in L.A. when everybody is trying to be somebody and successful?
E: I think it comes down to my training and the people I was surrounded by in Australia. I’ve been rejected in Australia too. Growing up in the industry I have been surrounded by amazing and humble dancers that are like my family which has given me a sense of almost protection that taught me how to deal with it. I know that if I’m rejected there’s always another door that’ll open. So, I think rejection in a way for me is more of a learning curve. I never bring myself down or get self-conscious about it. You can’t grow from that.
S: Let’s talk about body image and dance. L.A., for many people seems like a place that would have a specific type of desirable body. Did you feel any pressure whilst in L.A.?
E: Body image is bullshit. No really. I’m quite a built physique, more athletic, so to go over to the States and see that there were so many different body shapes, everyone looked different, heights, sizes, everything. I was so happy about it. It reassured me because a lot of the dancers I look up to over there are more athletic. One thing I learnt whilst I was here in Australia is that dancers here are mainly one type of shape. What you could call a ‘model dancer’ is popular someone that looks like a model but dances. I had moments in Australia where I was down, I doubted myself and the way I looked. I was actually told by a few people that I didn’t have the right look. But then when I went to America and it doesn’t matter what you look like. It comes down to talent. That’s what I really like about the States and it changed my outlook on body image.
S: Do you think that acceptance also comes from the fact they have such a bigger industry than us?
E: Yes, they have a much bigger pool to pick from, but look, no one wants to see something that looks fake. Of course you have to be fit as a dancer, for your own health, your stamina, energy, it’s important to look and feel your best. But looking your best is what it should be, not looking like someone else. Being happy in your own skin, which is what I was definitely reassured about in the States.
S: Coming home must’ve been hard then because there is definitely pressure back in Australia, right?
E: That’s a really good point. I was on such a high when I came home and I was so optimistic when I went into class not thinking about what anyone else thought and it was great. Now it’s been a couple of months since I’ve been back, it’s so easy to be influenced back into the way you thought before. So yeah, sometimes I find myself questioning things about how I look and how others look. But that’s what makes me grateful for my experience because I look back on my time there and know that’s where I’m headed.
S: So much of the pressure for the right type of body is coming from social media these days. Do you think it has influenced the dance world at all?
E: Definitely. Dance has and always will be for me a passion, an emotional outlet and something that I would do no matter if I was professional or not. As a dancer growing up it wasn’t as big as it is now so dance was influenced only by those emotions and feelings. Now being in the professional industry and having to use social media as a portfolio there is a much higher pressure to maintain that. You can’t even get some auditions in the Sates if you don’t have a large following. I think these days sometimes the focus can be lent more towards the social media side of things than why you started dancing in the first place.
S: Do you see that in your students?
E: As a teacher, I find that a lot of my students aren’t tapping into why they started dancing in the first place. I think that too is because of social media. I don’t think social media is entirely bad, it’s a great business tool. But there needs to be a healthier balance between how much we use it and how much it influences our life.
S: We started dancing together from such a young age together, we were both so dedicated, we were both great – well you still are great.
E: You still are great! Your life has just taken you somewhere else.
S: Exactly! So, for me there was a distinct cross roads moment. Do I pursue this passion I’ve dedicated so much time to or do I take these new opportunities that have presented themselves and try something else? Did you ever have a similar crossroads moment? Or was it always dance no other option?
E: For me there was never a crossroads. I think because I was fortunate enough to start working professionally in the industry from such a young age that pushed me. My first professional gig was when I was fifteen, I’m now twenty-one. So, it was more so a lot of ‘what if?’ moments. What if I didn’t do dance? Would I have a 9-to-5 desk job? There was always ‘what ifs’. I was always scared because if dance didn’t work out for me I never gave myself a backup option, because that’s how much I loved it.
S: Does that still scare you now?
E: Sometimes, but not too much now. I’m an adult now I know how to deal with it. It flickers into my head sometimes, but I switch it off because I don’t need to worry about that. What keeps me going is my foundation and why I started dancing in the first place. I don’t see a full stop happening anywhere anytime soon.