While most 19 year-olds visit Paris to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, Queensland Ballet Academy’s Dani Gibson went to Paris to dance in one of the world’s oldest ballet Companies.
“Initially, even going to the Paris Opera Ballet was just a dream I had written down,” says Dani. “It wasn’t until I was on the plane that I knew it was really happening – a whole new step in a possible career.”
Dani’s ballet journey began later than the typical ballerina, aged 12. After moving from Mackay to Brisbane, a fortuitous chain of events saw the young pianist and actress enter dance training.
“I had never really thought about dancing before as a child – the closest thing I can think of was pointing my toes while kicking a soccer ball!
“I had a few people encourage me to try dancing. Margaret Lucas OAM saw me at school one day and said it would be good if I took a few ballet classes for posture, exercise and fun,” Dani recalls.
“My first ballet class was actually an audition and it was a bizarre situation – I was wearing boys’ shoes and I didn’t know how to put my hair in a bun, but I kept a smile on and went to try my best, have fun and meet new people.”
In 2013, Dani’s first attempt at dancing resulted in an invitation to join QDSE. In 2015 she heard about Queensland Ballet Academy and entered the inaugural Senior Program in Year 10.
“As soon as I got started, I knew this is what I wanted to do,” Dani said. “My technique improved because of my wonderful teachers, and I became a more determined, goal-driven and dedicated worker.”
Dani was well seasoned at the audition process by the end of Year 12. She naturally progressed into Queensland Ballet Academy’s Pre-Professional Program, before taking the leap overseas – her first international trip.
“The number of people auditioning and the number of countries represented was huge – it was such a great thing to see. I was over the moon to be offered a short-term contract at Paris Opera Ballet in January.”
As one of the youngest dancers in the Company at the time, Dani’s job was to understudy a number of Company dancers in rehearsals and performances – all while learning the French language and culture.
“Paris Opera Ballet is a large company with a fantastic history,” she explains. “For me it was all about watching and learning – I watched how the dancers moved, how they listened to corrections, I learnt what they valued and what they focused on.
“In the evenings I practised as best as I could while trying to remember what our choreographers said in French – I’d be kicking my couch and hitting the kitchen bench while I rehearsed at home because I lived in a small apartment over there!
“Every day was different, even if it was sightseeing or embracing the French culture. Being in the theatres and opera houses was such an inspiration and it was crazy to walk through the doors and be surrounded by ballet in France. I was always happy to get up and go to work.”
Dani returned to Australia to take up her position in Queensland Ballet Academy’s Pre-Professional Program in March 2020. While her departure from France was premature due to the COVID-19 crisis, Dani attributes her success to the resilience and technical skills she learned at Queensland Ballet.
“The Academy has taught me so much. Even taking the step to do an overseas audition is hard, but my teachers have always supported me and Christian Tátchev [Academy Director] has always said that ballet is the best thing you can do in preparation for any job because it teaches dedication and determination.”
For now, Dani plans to stay fit from home while undertaking training online. Having gained a love of travel through her Paris Opera Ballet experience, she’s keen to go overseas again.
“This experience opened my eyes to different cultures. It’s amazing to see that ballet is generally the same in every country – it’s a beautiful way in which we’re connected, despite all the oceans.”
To learn more about Queensland Ballet Academy’s Pre-Professional Program, click here.
First photo supplied by Dani Gibson. Photographer for second photo is David Kelly.