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November 29, 2022

Alstonville offers refuge to Lismore dancers

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Dance students Scarlett Hutley, Rory Neaves, Charlotte Menger, Zane Robinson and Bella Huish with their Tarkett floor in Alstonville. Photo David Lowe.

Dance students from Karen Ireland’s Dance Centre, which went underwater in the Lismore floods, have been offered a place to continue their training, at Alstonville Dance Studio.

The specially sprung Tarkett floor has been cleaned and salvaged from the muddy floodwaters at 191 Magellan Street, and temporarily reinstalled at Alstonville, where Suzanne Whiteman of Alstonville Dance Studios has generously made her space available to the Lismore students.

Karen Ireland’s dance students Zane Robinson and Charlotte Menger. Photo David Lowe.

Miss Karen has been teaching dance in Lismore for twenty years.

Past students have been accepted into the Australian Ballet School, the New Zealand School of Dance, Royal Danish Ballet Company, Tokyo Disney and the Australian Ballet School Junior interstate program.

Some of her current group of students have been studying with her since they were three.

Now a fundraiser has been launched to try to get the Karen Ireland Dance Centre back en pointe.

Miss Karen told The Echo the floor was about the only thing that survived the flood – everything of value was moved upstairs, and unlike previous floods, upstairs was nowhere near high enough to be safe.

Dance student Charlotte Menger. Photo David Lowe.

Water everywhere

Student Charlotte Menger was shocked to see the street containing the Lismore dance centre going underwater from her house, which was close by.

‘When the studio was inundated with water I didn’t really know how to feel,’ she said.

‘It was almost like a part of me was gone. The water kept rising and wouldn’t stop. Watching people being rescued from the roofs of their houses with only a backpack of personal items was heartbreaking.

‘The whole town was submerged and all we had left was the community to rely on.’

Dance student Rory Neaves. Photo David Lowe.

Student Rory Neaves said, ‘It was sad. We lost everything.’

He explained current students and ex-students from far and wide all chipped in to help however they could, especially restoring the floor.

‘It’s specially padded for when we are jumping and doing thing things on our knees,’ he said. ‘It protects us and we use it all the time.’

Young student Bella Huish said, ‘The studio was like a second home to me, going there nearly every day to dance. After hearing it went under it broke my heart knowing it would take forever to build back up again.

‘You don’t know how much you have until it’s all gone,’ said Bella.

Fellow dance student Zane Robinson said he was ‘just so thankful to have this studio. A lot of dance studios around here don’t have any space to continue classes.’

Dance student Scarlett Hutley with Rory Neaves in the background. Photo David Lowe.

Student Scarlett Hutley told The Echo, ‘When I first heard about this, I just couldn’t speak. We all went in to help.

‘And then we were training at home really hard, trying to keep our strength up. That was hard.’

Competitions approaching

Charlotte Menger has been dancing since she was four years old, and studying full-time ballet with Miss Karen for three years.

For Charlotte, ‘Dance is something that you can always improve on. You can always get better. That’s what I like about it.’

Recently she participated in the Youth America Grand Prix, making it to the Top 12 in the International Virtual Senior Classical Division. She’s been invited to compete in the finals in Tampa, Florida, later this year, but the flood disaster has now threatened that dream.

Suz Whiteman putting the young dancers through their steps at Alstonville. Photo David Lowe.

Suz Whiteman was moved to help the Lismore students when she could see they would otherwise have their studies interrupted, which would be a major problem, especially for those with upcoming competitions.

‘If you want to have a career in dance, you have to study full-time,’ she explained. ‘It only takes days to lose your strength.’

Rory Neaves has his next competition next weekend.

‘It’s been hard, definitely,’ he said. ‘It was devastating that we lost all our equipment. And it was quite hard for us to keep up. But I think it’s good that we’ve had the dedication, and we’ve kept going and stuck to it. So I’m really proud of everyone.’

Why dance?

Rory told The Echo, ‘Ever since I was a little kid, I always thought all I really want to do this. And it’s an amazing way to express yourself. You meet so many people, you learn so many different skills. It’s just always an amazing time.’

Dance student Bella Huish. Photo David Lowe.

Bella said, ‘I love dancing. My dream was always to become a professional dancer. You can express yourself and you get to do it with friends and have fun.’

Zane Robinson said when he discovered dance, ‘it just clicked. It was like love at first sight. And I just want to keep on going at it.’

Charlotte Menger explained that she and her friend set up the GoFundMe appeal in the hope that rebuilding of the Karen Ireland Dance Centre could begin, and some lost items could be replaced.

‘Any donations are useful in helping rebuild the studio that holds so many memories,’ she said.

You can find out more about the GoFundMe and support the Karen Ireland Dance Centre Flood Appeal here.

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