Kyra Dooley: Energetiks x Dance Informa’s newly re-crowned 2021 Ambassador & Model Search Winner
This article, like many things last year, was temporarily sidelined by something that gravely impacted the dance world and the world in general in ways almost unimaginable pre-2020. Amongst the many other tragic effects that the COVID-19 pandemic had, it was with great reluctance that one of the Australian dance industry’s most cherished events, the Energetiks Victorian Dance Festival had to be postponed, and with it the chance for VDF attendees to meet last year’s wonderful VDF Ambassador and Energetiks Model Search Winner Kyra Dooley. If anything, the turbulence last year imposed on everyone only solidified our certainty that Kyra was – and is – the perfect role-model for an age like no other. Gracious, patient and compassionate in a time where the best and worst of human nature was revealed, the talented nineteen (now twenty) year old took every setback and hurdle easily in her stride. With vivid green eyes, beach-tousled locks, sun kissed skin and proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, Kyra is a quintessential Aussie ‘golden girl’ who is just as at home on the beach as she is under a spotlight. And if you’ve seen Kyra in her natural element on stage, you’ll know that the smile-y, unassuming demeanour is quickly replaced by a fiery performer with abundant star quality and a mesmerising gravitational pull. For lack of a better word, it’s the ‘It factor’, compounded by a fierceness of energy that she sets alight with each performance. This time last year the phrase ‘Corona Virus’ was just entering our vocabulary, little did any of us know that a year later many of the things we were looking forward to for 2020, would still be (tentatively) on the to-do list at the start of 2021. Whilst COVID continues to impact all of our lives, here in Australia we have found ourselves in a fragile and ever-fluctuating state of ‘COVID normal’. And with VDF now re-scheduled for April this year (and set to be the grandest, most hygiene-conscious Festival of all), it is with great excitement that we at last get to introduce you to the extremely deserving (and newly re-crowned) VDF 2021 Ambassador, Kyra Dooley.
Kyra wears the Elysia Crop Top and Sabre Tights from the Viva Collection
Before our world ground to a halt last March we were able to catch up with Kyra for a desert-themed photoshoot and found out first hand what makes her a shoe-in to succeed. Born in Brisbane (as the youngest of four siblings), Kyra tried her first ever dance class on the Gold Coast at the age of five. It was a mixed experience; “All I remember is mum coming, and me running out of the class in tears!” Kyra recalls with an amused laugh, explaining it was probably nerves. “I did enjoy it though! It was definitely more just for fun and because my friends did it when I was younger.” As time progressed, Kyra realised her passion for dance was more than just a hobby, and her weekly jazz and tap classes became weekly jazz, lyrical, contemporary and commercial classes. The latter three being the styles she is perhaps most known for today. “I think what hooked me was the passion that dance gave me. I’d done other sports for a few years and then I would stop, but I never felt the urge to quit dance – I was always so excited to go to dance class in the afternoons and that passion just gave me the drive to want to make dance a career.” Kyra explains. She continued at her local dance school, Dance Force, completing full-time training there before moving to Sydney in 2019. This was accompanied by a slew of exciting opportunities. After having completed the first year of Marko Panzic’s Dream Creative at seventeen, she went on to win the Get the Beat Senior Protégé section and subsequently a scholarship to Panzic’s Dream Show Business, and assist on the Dream Creative Junior and Senior divisions as well as going on the Dream Experience Tour alongside Michael Dameski in 2019. Kyra showed such promise that she was offered the opportunity to teach her choreography to the Dream Creative’s Junior dancers in 2020, and a routine for the Dream Experience teens on showcase night. At eighteen she was also promptly snapped up by Jeep Management, one of Australia’s leading talent agencies specialising in representing creatives, and it’s easy to see what they saw. Kyra is a prime example of why Aussie performers are a sought-after commodity the world over. Hard working, refreshingly down to earth and un-phased by new challenges or situations, she adapts to the unexpected with ease, making her every choreographer, producer or casting agent’s dream.
Kyra wears the Iris Camisole and Alice Skirt in white
Little wonder that the start of 2020 promised even bigger things in store for Kyra. On top of being announced as the Energetiks x VDF Ambassador of the Year, Kyra was cast as a dancer in Baz Luhrmann’s highly anticipated biopic, Elvis, starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks. Rehearsals were to start in the first few months of 2020, but by March the film, as well as the Victorian Dance Festival (scheduled for April) had both been indefinitely halted. “Last year was a massive shift for me as the entertainment industry was majorly affected with everyone out of jobs,” Reflects Kyra, “I had some exciting jobs leading up (the Elvis movie, working with the Energetiks team), plus many auditions I was looking forward to, but unfortunately couldn’t attend because of COVID.” Sadly the Arts – an industry of largely casual/freelance workers who rely on audiences and communal places to train, rehearse and perform - was hit harder than many sectors with the onslaught of COVID-19. Whilst many turned to entertainment to distract from a new, frightening reality, Australia’s entertainers went largely overlooked – actors, musicians, dancers, writers, artists, singers and their companies and schools were amongst the unfortunates left without support or assistance in a time when everyone needed it most. 2020 was a reminder that in spite of the Arts’ pervasive reach, it’s still viewed as somewhat of a fringe industry in many of the ways that count most. Yet who of us would have survived the past twelve months without the enjoyment of music, dance, film or some form of entertainment?
Kyra wears the Keria Leotard from the Viva Collection
Like so many of Australia’s dancers, Kyra found herself without work, or opportunity to train, and is frank about the challenges that created: “I struggled to keep determined and keep training throughout the hard times […] The year put a massive strain on me not only as a human but as a dancer and performer, as this is my passion and unfortunately I wasn’t able to showcase that.” If there is a silver lining to 2020 for Kyra however, it’s that it forced us to remember what is of paramount importance; “This year reminded me to be grateful for what I already have, which is my family and my health. It definitely taught me not to take anything for granted and to take every opportunity you possibly can.” Perhaps in some ways dancers were better prepared for the hurdles of the past year than most of us – life is a constant rollercoaster of uncertainty with highs and lows at every turn and no chance to relax and get comfy. Gratification is fleeting, and success is only ever incremental; there’s always someone better, always more to improve, more imperfections to work on and now more than ever, a scarcity of jobs. Dance can alienate you from those outside the industry, but conversely you can make some of the strongest connections of your life with those bonded by the artform. This dual consequence is what Kyra cites as both the greatest reward and challenge of her chosen profession – “I think one of the biggest challenges is as much a pro as it is a con: where dance can take you in the world. As in it will take you away from your home and your family and friends, who you’ll miss. But then on the flip side of that where dance can take you is incredible, there’s so many different avenues. And the other thing is that the friendships you make through this industry are friendships that last a lifetime. I always find I’m the closest with my dance friends out of all my friends. I also feel that it’s so rewarding that you can share your passion and what you love doing with the people closest to you when you perform and they come to watch a show or something like that. I just love that you can show them what your job is and why you love doing it.”
Kyra’s mentality towards facing a challenging day or rehearsal in dance also served her well for facing a global pandemic. She encourages others not to focus on instant gratification but to see the bigger picture, thrive on the challenge and revel in the end goal. “If it is a long rehearsal or something, the reward is always so much bigger at the end. What you’ll get out of it makes it worthwhile. There may be all these hard moments and difficult paths but it only makes the reward of getting to where you were aiming for so much better. If you can stick it out, and wait your turn, better things are going to come. The end result, and knowing how much better I’ll be in the long run is the biggest motivator of all.” Truth be told, there’s far more days spent working towards something than there are days of enjoying the achievement of reaching it, so it’s no surprise to hear Kyra admit that she’s also somewhat of a workaholic, and the harder the work the better. “I enjoy the feeling of being in a long, challenging rehearsal,” She says earnestly, “It gives me a sense that I’ve really done something. Really worked. It’s not something easy, and I enjoy that because it’s not supposed to be easy. Overcoming things that are challenging and hard is the only way to improve.” Aside from this exceptional work ethic and dedication, another quality of Kyra’s that made her an instant standout from the first time we worked with her was her absolute versatility as a dancer on stage and in front of the camera. She may be primarily a contemporary/commercial performer these days, but when Energetiks were ready to launch our stunning new Pro Ballet collection, Viva early last year, we knew Kyra had the technical facility to carry the campaign, and the result is some of our favourite imagery to date. So when asked what quality Kyra believes is the most important one to have in order to succeed as a dancer, her response made perfect sense. “I would definitely say your ballet training, one hundred percent! Because almost every job you go for – say you go for a commercial jazz role – you still always need that strong foundation, your ballet training for sure.” Says Kyra. “The first audition I ever did was a cruise ship audition, and the very first thing we did was kicks down the room, in chorus heels. It’s not about how good the chorey is or how well you can smash something out, the first criteria is always technique. So I would always say keep up your ballet.” Considering how the past year has gone for everyone, getting to a ballet class might not be the easiest thing in the world for some right now, as Kyra knows – “Even now, my goal at the moment is to get into a ballet class! So just try and get into as many ballet classes as possible, even if it’s just an open class, keep up that training. And when you’re at home – work on your core, work on your technique and don’t just slack off because you think ‘Well I’m a commercial/jazz dancer,’ with any style of job they’re going to notice how good your technique is. It’s just so important.”
Kyra Dooley and Jack Hersee, for the Energetiks Viva Collection. Photography: Elly Ford
After a year of unfulfilled projects and postponed plans, in November filming was finally able to resume on Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic, and Kyra got to complete filming for her part in the project, then in December the Victorian Dance Festival announced the shrewd decision to book out a second date for the 2021 Festival (in October), ensuring that even if this year gets off to a rocky start - and the jury’s still out - the Australian dance community still has something to look forward to later down the track; and that one way or another 2021 will be Kyra’s year to shine and inspire as the event’s official Ambassador. We have a feeling that the extended wait will only heighten the excitement, talent, community and exhilarating atmosphere that VDF is known for, and we’re ecstatic that it will be Kyra who will be the face of this year’s Festival, a revival of dance, community and of perseverance through thick and thin. “I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity again for 2021 and have all of these amazing experiences. I have never been to VDF before so I’m very excited to see all the amazing Melbourne talent and to work with all the incredible choreographers they have planned.” I ask Kyra how she first felt, back at the start of last year upon hearing she had won the Energetiks x Dance Informa Model Search and all the things that entailed, and she tells me she was completely surprised, explaining “My mum called me, I think I was just at home and had just woken up. And it had been a few months I think since I entered, so when she called from work and said ‘You won!’ I was like ‘What did I win?’. But oh my god, I was so excited. It’s just so amazing where dance can take you, because I would not have entered if I wasn’t a dancer – obviously! – but if it wasn’t for dance I wouldn’t have ever gone down a modelling path, and it’s so exciting where this opportunity could lead to next. You never know. I feel like recently I’ve really opened new doors and I love it.” With so much going for her, and jobs being far less abundant in Australia’s insulated dance industry it’s easy to imagine Kyra’s ‘one to watch’ status prompting some moments of fierce rivalry amongst her peers, but she’s adamant that is not the case. That’s why she loves this industry so much; “Everyone is incredibly supportive with each other. Especially with my group of friends; with every job they get or I get we’re always so supportive of one another. It’s never a case of trying to tear each other down and I just love how in the dance industry – and particularly within Australia – everyone is so for you, and for you getting that role. Regardless of the competitive element they’re not trying to beat you down.” Of course, there’s things Kyra would like to see change too. But it’s not so much with the industry, but rather with the status quo of the dance industry, and it’s perceived place in the wider social and commercial landscape. Something 2020 brought more sharply into focus. “I would just like to see Australia appreciating dance more. Just things like having more productions where dance is the focus instead of being the back-up entertainment behind other artists or events. Dancers put just as much time and effort into their careers as singers or actors or any other creatives, so it would be so nice to see them have the same opportunities in the limelight.”
Kyra wears the Iris Camisole and Alice Skirt in white
We also chat briefly about performing, and she tells us about her pre-performance ritual: Alone time, “I feel like you need a minute to get into the right mindset to go where you need to go in your performance, so if I give myself that alone time to prepare I know I’ll give my best performance”. Does she feel nerves at all before going on stage? Yes, “Before a big performance I always get some nerves. And I think that’s important. Because I think if you don’t get nervous then it’s probably I sign you don’t really care. My teacher always told me ‘If you get nervous it’s a good thing, because it means you care about what you’re about to do.” She shares her guilty pleasure, “An acai bowl!” – I scoff, how is that guilty? But she assures me that it’s an addiction that she craves daily. “I don’t know why! Otheriwse… Cold Rock Ice cream, with Nutella and M&Ms.” We chat about what makes her laugh - it’s those random facebook videos you get sucked into watching on loop, “You know when you’re just scrolling along and something silly pops up? I end up laughing at the most random things!” Kyra admits with a grin. I begin to ask her to describe her ‘perfect day off’ but before I get to the ‘off’ she’s already jumped in enthusiastically with “Dance!” and looks deflated for a minute when I break the news that the question was about a day off. “Oh… hmm.” Kyra stalls, then she gets excited: “Laying by the beach! With an acai bowl!” I’m also curious to hear what’s something others might not know about her, and she admits – with some amusement – that’s it’s probably her heritage. “I’m Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander, on my mum’s side. When I say that people are often like ‘No you’re not?!” The blonde locks might be the source of confusion, but it’s obvious this heritage is something Kyra is incredibly proud of. Perhaps it also explains why myself and Jack Hersee (our stunning male dancer for the Viva Campaign) both turned out a lovely shade of lobster after a full day shooting on the beach last summer, whilst Kyra came back the second day looking more radiant than ever. We also discuss some of the opportunities Kyra is most grateful for in her career so far, and whilst there’s many she credits standouts as being Guy Sebastien’s music video in 2019, ‘The Choir’, the Courtney Act music video for Eurovision, the Dream Dance Company’s show ‘Déjà vu’ and her recent job, as a dancer in Baz Luhrmann’s new film ‘Elvis’. An impressive resume for a dancer who has only just left her teens behind, and battled through a bleak 2020 with little on the radar. With any luck, 2021 will see the stars align for everyone once more, and when they do Kyra will be one of those rising stars you’ll definitely want to keep an eye on.
Before we wrap up our chat there’s a final few questions I have for Kyra. At the time of our interview we’re seated in the boardroom at Energetiks Head Office, having done a full day of shooting and about to embark on a six hour round roadtrip the following day to find the location that will result in the photos above. We get rained on (drenched), we also encounter some lightning and thunder (thanks Vic weather, and also see above) and as ever, Kyra takes it all in stride, unphased and more than happy to race barefoot through the rain for the perfect photo, something that makes working with her an absolute pleasure, truly. No matter what challenges the day might hold. So before we get to this, I want to know who Kyra looks to for inspiration? “I think there’s too many people to list that inspire me as a dancer.” She replies, “My mum inspires me; what she does for me, and how much money has gone into dance! It really makes me want to push more and succeed with my passion. As a dancer though, I love watching Galen Hooks, everything she’s done in her career is inspiring to me. Brian Freedman as well. I watch either of them and I’m like ‘How do you move like that? How are you like that?’. And my friends and family are the ones who inspire me to keep going, always.” As the newly re-crowned VDF 2021 Ambassador, Kyra will have plenty of opportunity to not only be inspired, but to greatly inspire the hundreds of eager dancers who are set to attend the event this year, and I have no doubt she will. So with this in mind the final question of the day is what last words of wisdom she would like to offer to other dancers, and she responds, “I think just to enjoy the time that you have as a dancer. Especially for the younger ones, because when you get to eighteen or nineteen you won’t necessarily be dancing every day like you used to. And I really miss doing class every single day in the afternoons. I remember going to school and then heading straight to dance class for like four hours daily. So for kids especially, don’t wish the time away thinking ‘I can’t wait until I’m older and I’m doing this or that’ – all of it is great, and I’m loving what I do, but also be sure to really appreciate the time when you’re getting that consistent training that you do. Make sure you’re going to those ballet classes and the contemporary and jazz and tap, because you won’t get all of that so consistently when you’re older. Appreciate the time that you get to enjoy knowing you’re going to a set dance class every day. That would be my piece of advice.” The past twelve months have probably reminded us all how lucky we are to have our weekly dance classes to turn to, as well as each other. Whilst no one knows exactly what this new year has in store - as Kyra has shown - it certainly helps if you can learn to see challenges not just as obstacles to overcome, but as the moments in life you thrive on.
Kyra wears the Elysia Crop Top and Sabre Tights from the Viva Collection
Follow Kyra’s journey here: @kyradooley and stay tuned for more exciting projects with this talented dancer.
Meet Kyra at the 2021 Victorian Dance Festival, booking and info here: www.victoriandancefestival.com
Article and photography by Elly Ford
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