Emma Terry- from Ballet to psychology

Emma Terry graces the stage with pure elegance. Although she is only 22 years old, her career so far as been as stellar as her dancing.

Emma first began dancing at the age of 5. “I started doing the usual styles- ballet, tap and jazz”. But it was ballet that became her true passion.

The first dance school that Emma attended was the Lisa Williams Dance Studio. Emma tells me what it  was like to be so young and doing dance exams. “I was 5 and I still didn’t know my right from my left. Mum (Donna) took me in beforehand and said ‘See that window? When she says to go right you go that way. When she says to go left, you go towards the door'”.

But Emma’s passion for the art form began a year earlier. Donna took Emma to see The Australian Ballet perform Swan Lake. At only 4, Donna was surprised that Emma knew and understood the story line, even though she herself didn’t entirely understand the premise. It was then both Emma and her mum knew that she had fallen in love with ballet.


From the Lisa Williams Dance Studio, Emma went to various dance studios before coming across Classical Dance Academy in 2005. This is also the year that I first met Emma and began taking classes with her. The dance studio ran by the amazing Kelly Edwards (nee Watson) was ballet based so was a dance studio that both Emma and I thrived at. “I loved dancing there. I loved and gained so much knowledge about ballet there”.

Emma became such a wonderful dancer that she decided to audition for Sydney’s most prestigious Performing Arts High School, The McDonald College. “My stepdad took me to their open day and I fell in love with all of it; the dance studios (all 12 of them), the entire vibe of the school environment was amazing”. And so Emma auditioned successfully and began attending the school. She felt accepted and for the first time in a very long time, Emma felt that she finally fit in and could be herself and not what she felt she had to be to fit in.

At the age of 15, whilst she was attending The McDonald College, Emma decided that she wanted to start auditioning for companies in the USA. “I don’t know what drew me to there but it was where I wanted to go”. So, Emma sent off an audition tape to the Boston Ballet and got accepted into their Summer Program. Originally, Boston was where Emma envisaged herself performing for awhile, but once over in the US she decided to take a trip to Florida. On a whim, she decided to audition for the Orlando Ballet School.

It was also during this time that Emma realised the career she could have in ballet. “You want it badly before of course, but once you are one of the few left getting interviewed for the final audition process, it kind of hits you”. Of course, it has been a dream of Emma’s for many years so getting accepted was really a dream come true.

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During her time with the Orlando Ballet School, Emma got to perform many times and being only 16 years of age, that sort of opportunity is rare in Australia. “I was at Orlando for a few years. I had my eyes on the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago for awhile. I flew up with my parents and saw the company and studios. I was in love”. And so the audition process for the Joffrey Ballet begun. It started with Emma attending their Summer program and whilst there, auditioning for the Joffrey Ballet Trainee Program. It’s no surprise that Emma was delighted to receive the news that her audition had been successful.  “It was a dream that had literally become a reality. Chicago still is to this day one of my favourite cities in the world”.

Emma enjoyed her time in Chicago and tells me that she learnt a lot dancing in the U.S. “Dancing over in the US taught me to step outside my boundaries and comfort zone. I was constantly evolving seeing dance styles I had never seen before and learning new things from people all over the world”. She also says that whilst over there she met lots of great people and formed friendships with dancers from all over the world. Some of these friends became more like family and would even host Emma at their house over special holiday periods such as Easter and Thanksgiving.

In a way, Emma never got a chance to be a regular teenager as she was constantly busy dancing in a foreign country. “I never had the normal, crazy teen years”. Emma continues to tell me that being over there without her parents forced her to mature and become an adult sooner that she would have if she danced for a Sydney based company. The U.S taught her to be courageous and independent; how to push for her goals and work hard towards something; along with dedication and passion for what you do. With all of these Emma believes that you can conquer the world like she did.

Of course with the highs comes the lows and because Emma was so young and living on the other side of the world to her family, there were of course difficult times for her. The first night after her mum left was one of the hardest Emma tells me. “I watched mum go outside and get in a cab in the pouring rain. I bawled my eyes out into my pillow which mum had secretly sprayed with her perfume”. It is indeed amazing that Emma was able to do what she had done at the age of 16, a time when most teenage girls need their mum the most. “I think the absolute worst was when I was sick, and even though I felt like an adult for sure, it brought heartache for home”.

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Emma feels that the downs helped prepare her for many things in life that the ordinary person wouldn’t necessarily know how to handle, a true sign of her maturity. “I know what it’s like to be turned down from a job you desperately want. I know how competitive the world is out there. In ballet you turn up to an audition with over 100 girls all wanting the one position”.

Sometimes Emma feels that young people tend to forget that there is always another opportunity around the corner so if you want something so bad, don’t ever give in. Emma has learned along the road not to take rejection to heart, as most performers have also learned, because there may just be something better down the road.

Although dancing can seem like it’s all glitz and glamour in certain Hollywood depictions, there is also a very competitive and hard side to it. Not necessarily as dark as Black Swan but definitely more cut-throat like in Centre Stage. This is something that I feel many young dancers may be disillusioned by which can lead to severe mental illnesses. Which is why Emma’s experiences have now lead her to the path of psychology.

Since her return to Australia, Emma has begun studying Psychology at Wollongong University. “There was a long time where I felt lost after finishing dancing in the US. I think that’s something many dancers go through at some point in their life. You go from doing something 6 days a week for many years of your life to trying to be a normal person and it’s really hard”. This loss Emma describes is felt by many dancers when they retire either due to injury, illness, age or any other serious issue. This is now why Emma wishes to be able to help dancers deal with certain psychological illnesses they face during their time performing. Dancers have to be both physically and mentally tough and in a lot of cases the latter is more difficult than the former. “I wish I had someone to turn to and talk to who could understand, other than a teacher or parent”.

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As Emma describes to me, the show must go on so more often than not, dancers push any anxiety, stress or depression aside and continue performing to their highest ability. “But in all honesty, it needs to be talked about. In ballet you are rewarded for your ability to ignore pain. If you have a mental breakdown, you are strong enough to do it”. Emma goes on to tell me that in elite ballet, it’s all about mental toughness which comes at each dancers wellbeing. Those performers who are mentally tough and have the ability to shut everything out get promoted but those who show any sign of weakness are replaced. Yes, it really isn’t all tutus and pointe shoes!

“I suffered from anxiety as a dancer and I’m not afraid to hide it. I always just thought I was weak, not capable, and not normal because I felt this way”. That simply isn’t true though, Emma stresses to me. This is why psychology is now her calling. Why should other dancers suffer or go through the same thing that Emma did? “Dancers need to know that they aren’t alone. You’d be surprised how many of them are just good at hiding it. The truth of your pain and suffering does not negate your talent or drive as a dancer. It merely means you are human”.

So although the curtain has closed on Emma’s career as a ballet dancer, a new and exciting curtain raises for her. It gives her the ability to help others who may be facing a similar situation to what she did. But above all, it lets these dancers know that they actually aren’t alone in the big, exciting but exhausting world of dancing.

©Creative Collections 2018

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