Updated: Aug 28
In her mid-twenties, Jessica was a dental nurse. It was a job she enjoyed, but after experiencing the loss of someone close to her, she realised that you only get one life. She wanted to make changes so she wouldn’t have regrets about the journey she didn’t’ take.
She knew she wanted more passion and creativity in her life. She is a classically trained musician and had played in orchestras for musicals, but she started to wonder what it was like on the other side of the orchestra pit. While she wanted to learn to act and dance, she thought perhaps she was too old to start learning to dance.
She needed to find somewhere to dance that suited an adult beginner, and that was fun and welcoming. So she turned to a friend for advice. Luckily, her friend pointed her in the direction of Dragonfly Dance (then called Move Through Life Dance Studio), where Jessica was able to start ballet and jazz.
She’s found a community of like-minded people who enjoy having regular ‘me time’ in dance classes. She’s lost weight, toned up, and developed more muscle definition. But the most amazing thing is that dance classes have unlocked something inside her. An emotional and social release that she’s found liberating, and helped give her the confidence to make even bigger changes in her life.
Does Jessica’s story sound anything like yours?
Keep reading for her full story so you can decide if Dragonfly Dance could help you too.
In her mid-twenties, Jessica decided that having a passion and purpose in life was important, and she was prepared to make a radical change to her life.
“I’m 26 years old and have been a dental nurse for the last eight years. But I quit that last year from being full time. Now I still have a hand in dental. I run workshops in primary schools, and I picked up a bit of catering. I’ve quit full time because I wanted to change my direction more into arts and entertainment. It’s a very transient moment of my life.”
“I just kind of fell into dental nursing. I always loved working with people, so I guess the health industry was an easy affiliation to that. The opportunity came up. I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I just knew I loved people and there was no reason not to do it, so I did it. And though as much as I can do it well, it didn’t feel like my purpose or anything. That’s why I made the decision to try something more aligned with a purpose and passion.”
Dance helped Jessica change direction
Jessica says the change in direction has been a bit of a journey, and getting involved in dance has been part of that.
“In 2014 my dad passed away, and that was a very life changing thing. And up until then I’d been a classical musician. I went to Brighton Secondary and played viola and violin, and that was very much my thing. And when that all happened it brought back the home truth that you have only one shot at life. When you are young you think there will be opportunities to do it over, but unless you actually do it, it won’t happen” she explained.
“I’d played in a few orchestral pits for musicals, which was enjoyable, but I decided I wanted to try the other side. I didn’t want to sit in the pit – I wanted to be on the stage. I really admired what they did. So then I decided to do some acting courses and see if it took my fancy. And I loved it. And it kind of grew from there. So with this epiphany, or moment of emotion sitting in an orchestra pit thinking ‘I wish I was up there’, I thought, ‘what else do I need?’. It all lead to doing dance.”
Jessica has already made a start on earning money from her new direction.
“At that time, I was still working full time at the dental practice and doing the casual acting gig, and I was fortunate enough to have some paid work for that as well. It lead to me realising I didn’t have to be full time in this job that I don’t absolutely love, so I could take a risk. I’m young and so I decided to take the leap, and was fortunate enough to retain some hours and supplement that with the workshops in schools and now I’m studying, which is fun.”
The studying is a diploma in drama and voice.
“It’s a course you do as a foundation to sit the AMEB diploma exam. But I must say that the thing that sold me on it was that it is two days a week, which is perfect for anyone with financial commitments. And it’s broken into three sessions in the day. It has a massive section of dance, a large chunk of voice, and an afternoon of acting. I’m not starting until term 2 because I had to get my work commitments all in order to make it all work. But that is on the horizon which is exciting.”
Jessica says that her father’s passing was the real trigger for her taking this leap of faith to find passion and purpose in her work life.
“As sad as it is, it was hearing my dad list some regrets, and I thought ‘I don’t want to be there’. It brought thing into a real perspective that I am in control. It won’t always be easy. That’s where I saw his struggle. I saw his need to please other people in his decisions, which is great if you can, but ultimately you have to do what you have to do. Those who love you will be happy for you and come along for the journey. When you fall into that steady income it’s hard to give up that money, because the money facilitates so much opportunity of itself in other areas.”
While Jessica isn’t sure what her dream job is yet, she knows she is heading in the right direction.
“My husband, Nigel, kept saying ‘where do you want to end up?’, but I can’t pinpoint that yet, it’s not super clear. But I feel like, in whatever way I can, even if it’s just an office admin thing, I just want to be within the arts. I don’t mind if I’m the one scheduling the fundraising, but to be centred in that industry would be fantastic. I’d wake up in the morning and feel that purpose. Every step you take, something becomes clearer. Either ‘I didn’t like that’ or ‘I do like that and I’ll explore that a bit further’”
To conquer, explore and challenge herself
Now that Jessica has stopped working full-time, she finds that there is one thing that really offsets the reduction in income.
“Nowadays, my home is my happy place a lot of the time. Which I’m super grateful for, given the financial situation, which is of course will be a drop in income thanks to me quitting my job. But I’m lucky going away on holiday is not where I go find that sense of satisfaction. It ties in with the choices I’ve made. When I was working full time I felt this enormous pressure to travel, and even coming home wasn’t enough Maybe because I had to get up the next day and go to the job, but if we saved we could get away and explore and conquer and challenge, but I think I’ve taken that drive and put it where it needed to be – to conquer, explore and challenge myself and put that where I really want to go. This has resulted in home becoming a much happier place. It’s the place where I recharge.”
As far-fetched as it may seem, Jessica thinks that starting dance classes has been a part of the change of direction she’s taken.
“I don’t think I would have quit my job. I think it played a great part in a series of events that allowed me to explore me a bit further. I don’t know if I would have made that leap without it. I think I’ve really discovered so much about myself, just from dance. It extends so much further and it can encompass your life. I think realising you can enjoy dance without being the best at it was a pretty big revelation. I think it ties back to the classical music thing. Gotta be better, gotta be best, that very strict teaching way. And as much as you always want to be improving in dance, it’s not about being the best. You don’t have to make it to Broadway to just enjoy it. I never quite grasped that mindset with classical music.”
Before coming to Dragonfly Dance, Jessica really hadn’t done much dancing before.
“I had done ballet when I was very young, and it was quite fleeting. It always seemed too late. Where do you start when you haven’t started in that child environment? It seemed so tricky to make that first step.”
“I really related to Nikki’s statement about feeling I was too old to start.” She said, in relation to an article about another MTL dancer, Nikki Long. “You feel as if you didn’t start when you were seven it’s too late.”
Jessica called her friend Deb who was a dancer (actually, a founding member of Move Through Life - the original name of Dragonfly Dance) for advice on where to start.
“I just needed something to get me started, and that is going to be fun and inadvertently, a form of exercise. So then started dance with you guys, and I love it!”
Jessica stresses that starting something new can be difficult, but she has tips on how to get through it.
“You have to work through those emotions. It’s so easy to give into them. To just say ‘I feel like rubbish and I don’t want to do something that makes me feel that way so I’ll stop’. It’s hard to believe in yourself in that moment when you feel incapable. But it’s better to say ‘I’ll give it six months’, to have that short term goal, and just live through it, be easy on yourself with it, and enjoy it. With so many other things in life we are so hard on ourselves, so it probably feeds from the other aspects of our lives. The pressure to be always better can be a good pressure because it helps us grow continually, but you need to have a balance about it.”
Fitness and freedom
Jessica has found that dance has had a positive impact on both her physical and emotional wellbeing.
“I have definitely toned up, which has been lovely. Physically I feel in better shape. Now I find myself comparing my muscles with my husband’s, because he does Taekwondo. I get him to feel my arms and look at my legs when I engage my quads. And just overall confidence. I wouldn’t say it’s super reflected on the scales. I did when I first started, drop quite a bit of weight. I did a bit of a diet change as well, inadvertently. I dropped over ten kilos. When you are tall it probably just wears itself evenly across your body perhaps. But I definitely noticed that on myself. And then since then I’ve really noticed the muscle development.”
“Emotionally I feel like dance makes me feel more free. As a musician, I compare it to classical music which is so technical. I mean, ballet is as well, but you make ballet so much fun. With music it was creative but a strict creative. It’s creative but captive. But dance, even though in class you follow instructions, it gave me some sort of freedom of creative license outside of that. It just unlocked something. Instead of just walking down your hallway you end up galloping down and putting some spin in the middle. That was probably just a combination of emotional and social release. All of this is in conjunction with the big choices I’ve made of late. It’s very liberating.”
Jessica explains how dance has played a role in this sense of freedom and liberation.
“It starts off with the ‘me time’. When we go to a dance class, we’re not there for money or praise, but just for us. And then when you do conquer something and things become clearer and something you struggled with two months ago suddenly clicks and you feel great. Eventually you realise that creative license is transferable outside of that room. That room is great for the allocated hour that you book in for that class, but after a while you harness or realise that you can take that into any space.”
Growing and challenging yourself
Jessica does both ballet and jazz at Move Through Life. Having started as a beginner, she is starting to consider making the move to the intermediate level classes.
“I was trying to work out if I was at an intermediate level. When it’s the right time to make the step without feeling like I’m drowning. I talked to my teacher about it and she encouraged me to give it a go. There were some months when I thought ‘oh my God what am I doing?’. But most of it I survive, which is great because it gives you that sense of challenge, somewhere to grow. It’s great to feel good in the beginner class. There are days at the end of a bad day when I just want to know that I can get it. But it’s good to grow and challenge yourself.”
Jessica noted that making the step to go up a level is a little bit like when you first start to dance – scary, but rewarding.
“I remember feeling that when I first came to dance classes. I loved the music and movement, but I found I was very hard on myself. It doesn’t take much for me to feel like rubbish. It’s not what someone else says, it’s just in my head. Maybe because it was a new interest later in life. With music I did it at such a young age I never felt consciously bad at it. Coming in at totally ground zero at an older age was a really a great personal challenge for me.”
And while it sometimes feels uncomfortable, Jessica stresses that you’ve just go to encourage yourself.
“To work through those feelings, I’d say to myself ‘come along, you’ll have a good time, and each time it will get better and easier’. I kept saying that to myself. Some days I believed it, some days I didn’t. But looking back on it now, I never thought it would feel as fluid as it does now. I think it’s about just over a year now. I think six to eight months in I started feeling more fluid and confident. Between the two styles … do jazz a few weeks, and go back to ballet and feel like I’m in square one and vice versa. And being tall I never feel that graceful. But whatever, it’s worth breaking through that barrier.”
Now she’s made dance a big part of her life, Jessica plans to keep growing and challenging herself.
“My goals about dance are to keep going and growing and enjoying that feeling of freedom. I guess I’ve taught myself quite a bit, even just with starting dance, that a lot can be achieved, even if you think you’re too old, or you’re gonna look silly. Don’t just stick to something you know how to do. Break down those barriers, and keep improving, with no real pressure. That ties back to the overall direction of my life, I just want to see where I end up. It’s unleashed something for me so far. So imagine how much will be unleashed if I keep going?”
Like-minded people in a safe space
Jessica loves being able to move and dance, but when asked what was the most rewarding part of dancing at Move Through Life, she said something else.
“I love the like-minded people and that it is such a safe space. I find that a great reward because I don’t think there are too many truly safe spaces in this world. There is always the thought of someone watching or judging. Not maliciously,” she was quick to add. “Just out of human nature. It’s what we do. But we are not there for the praise at the dance class. We aren’t there for any other reason than to enjoy the moment.”
“I was worried that when I first came to class I’d be rubbish, they’d all be great, and they’d be nasty. I think I’d watched too many dance movies. But when I got there, there could be anything farther from the truth. Everyone is there for their own development, whatever stage of their life, whether older, younger, new mum, grandparent. They are just there for them, and for most of them it’s their ‘me time’. Just knowing that we are all there with a common interest of music and movement and self-development, it can’t help but create a safe space. You’re not worried about fluffing up. We’re all going to fluff up some days and it’s great knowing that we all persist with that. Everyone gets that reward of ‘I nailed it’ at some stage. We’ve got each other’s back.”
Nothing to lose and everything to gain
When asked about the reasons she keeps coming back to dance, Jessica was a bit perplexed.
“Why wouldn’t I?” she exclaimed. “I really look forward to it. There’s just no reason not to. It’s all good stuff. Even when you’re tired and you’ve had a late Friday and have to go out Saturday night. There are days when you just can’t be bothered but you know you’re going to feel great afterwards. Even if I do nothing else with my day. I can’t even talk myself out of it anymore. I know deep down it’s a great idea. I couldn’t imagine not doing it now."
"There is nothing to lose, everything to gain.”
That’s Jessica’s mantra, and something she’d say to anyone thinking about starting a dance class.
“Come along, see how you feel. But perhaps you need to be ready to try something new at a mature age. It’s much trickier than when you are young and everything is a bit of chance.”
“As adults, we judge other people all the time. We live in such a competitive world, that it’s really beautiful to come into a space where you’ll benefit emotionally, physically and many other ways. No-one is going to judge you. We’re all there with the same goal in mind. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.”