April Prato has long dreamed of becoming a professional dancer since starting out at the age of two. With her mum, aunt and sisters all having danced, it was in her blood. She even danced while wearing nappies. Now, at the age of 17, she studies at the Ballarat Ballet Centre spending up to 30 hours a week dancing. She was the one from her dancing family to “run with it”.
April has studied classical ballet, jazz, contemporary and song and dance. She has received scholarships to not only her local dance school, but also the Scimm Dance Company in Melbourne, and a performing arts scholarship to Ballarat Clarendon College where she has just finished her high school education. She is adamant that her dancing has not interfered with her final year academic studies and already she has bypassed University entrance requirements with early acceptation into a threeyear contemporary diploma course at Transit Dance in Melbourne. One of just 25 dancers selected from auditions held across Australia and New Zealand, she says: “Getting to this point hasn’t been easy. It’s a lot of work and a lot of time. I couldn’t do any other sports or catch up with friends, but I am so fortunate to be in the position I am”.
Justine Morris believes April is succeeding in a country that does not value performing arts in the same way that other countries do. Artistic director at the Ballarat Ballet Centre, Justine says: “Arts in Australia are not supported in the same way they are in European countries. It comes from a really grass-roots level of whether it’s valued or not.”
Justine took over the studio in 2008 after having danced there for many years as a student. She has now employed April to teach several classes including jazz, contemporary and solo routines. Yet to April it is not work, “it’s a choice” to spend the long hours, dancing, as well as the time she spends teaching and choreographing for her students. “She has an innate ability to teach,” says Justine, who believes “she can just do everything”.
Although April had originally envisioned herself as a classical dancer, she is now pursuing a contemporary career. “When I started dancing, classical dance was where I wanted to go,”she explains. “It was when I started to fail in the ballet industry that I knew it wasn’t right for me.” Her friends were being accepted into programs she wasn’t, and her ballet exam scores were dropping. Justine believes that most young dancers first imagine themselves as ballerinas because they haven’t been exposed to other styles of dance. “I felt defeated, but it encouraged me to put my priorities into a different style”.
Contemporary dance is now her main focus. “There is no right or wrong with contemporary compared to classical ballet. In contemporary you can explore a range of different qualities including interpretation and expressing a story”. She particularly likes performing routines that she can connect with, and engaging her audience with that emotional connection to the story she is trying to portray.
A contemporary dance piece she performed as part of her high school studies, choreographed by Ballarat Dance Centre teacher Stacey Whitlock, illustrates this. In liability April portrayed a young woman being taken for granted by those around her, someone that nobody cared about. “It was something I really connected with, especially in these last few years due to changes in my friendship groups,” she says. This piece was selected to be performed at Top Class Dance 2017, a showcase of the work of Victoria’s top performing arts at the Melbourne Recital Centre.
April believes the importance of family is pivotal to her success. “If I didn’t have such a supportive family I wouldn’t be able to put the time into dance that I do”, she says. Her mother Jane danced at the Ballarat Ballet Centre for five years, however she says she had two left feet. “Watching April perform makes me feel very happy because I know that dancing is her passion,” says Jane. “It has been April’s hard work, dedication and talent that has got her to where she is now”.
April recently performed the lead role in the 2018 Scimm Dance company production Void. Choreographed by company directors Scott Pokorny and Timothy Barnes, it aimed to interpret the emptiness and vacancy people face in their everyday lives. “Ever since I’ve worked with Tim and Scott my love for dance has grown so much”, says April. “Their passion and ability is unbelievable and it drives me to improve and keep going”. Her mother Jane believes that April’s role in the production is one of her biggest accomplishments, among her scholarships and numerous competition awards.
When April completes her course with Transit Dance, she plans to audition for other dance companies, hoping to gain a professional place. However she does not want to limit her opportunities, and says she is happy to travel abroad or stay in Australia. “I became who I am now because of dancing,” says April. “I’ll dance wherever it takes me.”