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Leading us on a merry dance

Leading us on a merry dance

Australian choreographer Laura Joy Kiddle (second from left) works with members of Dance Workshop Cambodia.Laura says the classes offer a healthy leisure-time choice.

Weary of relentless happy hours in Phnom Penh, a group of expatriate dancers will show off what they’ve learned instead and kick up their heels in performance

There are dance schools on every street corner…and every little girl wants to be a dancer.

Thursday evening is the debut performance of Dance Workshop Cambodia – the brainchild of Australian choreographer Laura Joy Kiddle.
She admits it’s “exciting” – but don’t assume the chirpy 27-year-old will be suffering any first-night nerves.

“Nervous? No, no, no, not at all. I grew up onstage. What do you mean?” is her incredulous response.

But then, this is a woman accustomed to performing in front of crowds of up to 25,000 in some of the most spectacular productions ever to tour Kiddle’s native country, including Les Miserables Spectacular, where “we were getting thousands and thousands – and I did a tap show called 42nd Street all around Australia. That was a big one.”

Those experiences must reduce next week’s gig to the equivalent of a nativity play. Kiddle says she’ll be pleased if 50 people show up.

“Normally we’d be dancing onstage and have blackouts and all sorts of props,” she confirms.

“But the venue we’re using doesn’t even have a stage. It’s pretty intimate – we’ll be able to see people’s faces, and they’ll be able to see us.”

To the uninitiated, the prospect of being that close to an audience sounds even more terrifying than facing some distant and dimly lit anonymous mass – but what do I know? Kiddle’s the expert.

She even hails from the island state of Tasmania, which, she explains, has more dance classes per capita in than anywhere else in Australia.

“There are dance schools on every street corner; more than McDonald’s – and every little girl wants to be a dancer,” she says.
“But you have to work really, really hard to get noticed.”

Kiddle trained at institutions in Melbourne before arriving with her partner in Cambodia in 2005, where she realised there was an opening in dance.

“It’s exciting; you’re at the forefront of a developing country, so every day there’s something new happening.”

After teaching at local international schools, she started offering dance tuition to give punters a bit of leisure-time choice.

“It’s fun,” she says. “It’s getting away from going to every single happy hour and more of a health kick to do a class. I think it’s nice for people to have something else to do.

“I’ve now got girls – I almost had a boy, but he ran away – who’ve never danced before, and are really excited to be doing a show.”

But the transient nature of expatriate life in the capital city makes it difficult to establish regular clients.

A couple of the 10 to 11 regulars due to perform will be leaving the country soon, which has prompted Kiddle to bring the show forward a month as “they’ve been training so hard” that she didn’t want them to miss out.

The show will present six to nine pieces set to jazz, classical and contemporary sounds, from Jeff Buckley songs to an interpretation of “Thriller”. So, was MJ really one of the greatest dancers to ever showcase his twinkle toes?

“Performer,” Kiddle corrects me. “Yeah, of course – everybody loves Michael Jackson. I think he was my first big crush as a dance fan.

After Thursday’s performance, Kiddle plans to hang out and party – an ideal chance for interested spectators to find out about joining her classes when they restart in January. Don’t be shy: best foot forward and all that.

Dance Workshop Cambodia perform at Gasolina, No 59 Street 57, from 7 to 7:30pm on Thursday.


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