This year’s AIMES Supreme Award and Arts Award winner, Zoe White, talks dance, Devonport and doubting yourself, answering some questions put to her by Heather Barker Vermeer following her win.
- Which suburb did you grow up in & where do you live now?
I grew up in Devonport (albeit a couple of years in Sydney when I was little) and currently I am back to living with the family in Devonport.
- Who most influenced your pathway into dance?
My pathway into dance was influenced by my sister, my first ballet teacher and my Mum.
I idolised my sister (who is 16 months older than me) and Mum loved the idea of her little girls doing ballet at the local studio, so enrolled Venice at the Devonport School of Dance, which was then run by Christine Snowball in a charming little studio. Naturally, from the moment my sister started ballet I was ‘desperate’ to as well. Christine was my primary ballet teacher for a long time and without a doubt laid the foundation for my love of dance. She taught me for 10 years in total, and still lets me use her studio frequently!
Also, if we’re including fictional beings, Angelina Ballerina and Barbie (in the Nutcracker and Swan Lake) also played their part in inspiring my journey.
- What's been your personal favourite dance moment so far?
Such a hard question! There have been so many. A highlight when I was younger, for sure, was getting to dance with the Imperial Russian Ballet Company when they came to Auckland, in 2008 with the Nutcracker, and 2010 with the Sleeping Beauty.
Performing is always a highlight, but I’ve loved rehearsing and training day-to-day with some really cool people as well, the friends I’ve made, and creating in the studio. Seeing performances overseas has been amazing, and the student choreography showcases at Rambert School (participating as a performer and a choreographer).
I’ve had the opportunity to do workshops with international dancers and choreographers, and while I was in London, I got to work with various choreographers directly on making performance work. I was fortunate enough to be cast in all six works that were due to be shown at Sadler’s Wells Theatre and the Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House for the Rambert School Centenary. And my graduation in 2020 was another major highlight.
Going to Moncalvo, Italy for the Akram Khan Company Summer School 2019 was another, as was understudying for a leading role in Mark Bruce Company’s ‘Return to Heaven’ - spending time learning and rehearsing the repertoire in the company studios and performing to the company at the end of the three days.
- How much do you dance for other people and how much do you dance for yourself?
It’s a good question. I definitely dance for myself for the reasons that dance training and the journey I’ve been on has taught me so, so much, and primarily feels good (most of the time!), artistically and physically. Moving fairly intensively has always been a necessity to keep me sane! I am taken to another place when I’m performing, and I feel much more balanced mentally when I’ve been moving and dancing. I love the artistry and physicality of dance as human expression and it has connected me to people.
It used to transform me as a person - I would come home from school and Mum wouldn’t be able to talk to grumpy, tired me, then after two hours or so of ballet, I’d be rejuvenated and ‘delightful’ according to her!
I also definitely dance for other people. I love the feedback I’ve received from audience members - family and friends, and I hope to move them. I love it when I make people cry! Which sounds terrible, but it means I’ve done my job. I want to give, to evoke, to make people think and feel and question things. I love that a lot of dance and theatre is up to every individual’s interpretation, and everyone will have their own responses, memories brought up, desires brought to the surface. I want to continue to use dance to connect with people, something I’ve always struggled to do on a person-to-person social level. I love that you can address large numbers of people with dance as well. As I get more confident, I would love to continue to share, to guide people so that they can experience a love of moving as well. And I would love to help other aspiring dance students on their way, as I know how important my mentors were for me.
- We hear you're going to Sydney to dance, could you share a little about the details of this?
I did the pre-professional year with Sydney Dance Company last year and was meant to do a week-long secondment with the company as part of the course. However, we were hit with lockdown during the time when my secondment was meant to be. It hasn’t been set in stone yet but hopefully soon! While I’m there it will be great to reconnect with my old classmates, my old tutors and possibly make a trip to do some other auditions/workshops/company classes with the likes of Australasian Dance Collective in Brisbane and Australian Dance Theatre in Adelaide.
- How did winning the AIMES Supreme Award feel?
A shock. I wasn’t expecting this award at all, so I was honestly taken aback in response to hearing my name! The other five AIMES winners had incredible histories of achievements to date, and I was definitely expecting one of them to receive the supreme award, so imposter syndrome was something I felt when I heard my name!
As a quiet person and an artist who struggles with confidence in a very subjective field, I wasn’t expecting this level of recognition. I am truly honoured, and taking the award away from my personal self, as a representative of the arts and dance in particular, from the North Shore, I feel proud, and I want to continue to pave the way for dancers, introverts, creatives, anyone! It feels incredible to have a network of people see you, believe in you, and choose to support you so generously on your journey.
- What is your hope for your career in dance?
Oof. Where to begin. I have big visions but my confidence and reality have a harder time living up to them as soon as I would like. I have to be patient and am always focused on taking the next step!
I hope to continue to travel, see new places, cultures, and perform (indoor, outdoor, theatre, musicals, installation), cross paths with other artists and ideas, keep growing and giving as a performer. I hope to use everything I’ve learned and, as a vessel, allow it to come through me and help educate and inspire others.
I want to hold classes and workshops; ballet, improv, creative, contemporary, ideally repertoire as well. I want to see how I can use dance as a tool for spreading environmental awareness and wonder how we can push the boundaries of NZ dance and bring some of that European flavour back here.
Continuing to bring back to NZ what I can. I will keep coming back because I get too homesick when I’m far away!
I want to experience life in a company, even a small one.
My next overseas venture at this point includes auditioning and workshopping in Germany, taking part in festivals, hopefully leading into creating my own work, with old friends/colleagues from training, and other artists I meet. On the way, I want to get deeper into my pilates and yoga practice, as they are so beneficial for the body and mind, and to get further experience teaching.
I’m passionate about film, and excited to continue delving into it for dance, choreography, directing. Also exploring other mediums - I love visual art (painting, drawing), photography and writing, and I’m also interested in theatre and how it crosses over with dance.
I am passionate about psychology, state of mind and mental health, the inner critic, perfectionism and self-talk as a dancer, and want to make sure I help support up and coming students, with the knowledge I gained and what I needed at their stage in training.
I would love to research psychology in dance, particularly with full-time students, to enhance the knowledge that’s out there and help to support them as best as we can.
- Do you like to set goals, or do you prefer to go with the flow?
I definitely like to set goals but not too rigidly. I think it’s wise to keep an open mind and be flexible while on your path, as you never know how you might change or what opportunities may come up. I like to have visions of a bigger picture, and a higher version of myself so I know where I’m headed, but then focusing on the process of growth to get there.
I am without a doubt an idealist, so I can easily feel deflated when I think where I want to be as opposed to where I am now, but I’ve learned that that comparison doesn’t help, and negativity and inner criticism are not sustainable motivators. So instead, my new tactic is encouraging myself positively to try, to test, to experiment, to fail and to learn (very much still working on it!). Life isn’t about ‘getting there’, it’s about the process along the way and the opportunities to learn and grow. Otherwise, you miss out on your life! I also think it’s also good to have balance, to have breaks from working towards your goals to go with the flow.
- What is your advice to young Shore people considering applying for an AIMES Award?
I would definitely say, for starters, that if you’re doubting whether to apply, just go for it! Be proud of yourself for trying. I kid you not, the opportunity to apply came up last year while I was in Sydney, and I really doubted I was going to get to the next stage let alone receive the award. But I thought, why not apply, and my parents helped to encourage me. I was thinking I surely haven’t ‘done enough’ to receive this but it’ll be worth a shot even for the process of applying. Which is true, the act of doing the application helps you to be more confident next time. And, you never know what the outcome could be…
- Anything else you'd like to add?
Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. People tend to project their own fears and inhibitions onto others, and that’s what makes us so scared to try; this fear of judgement, of failure. Celebrate failure! Learn and show up and commit to yourself. Also, while striving for something, it is crucial that you learn to become aware of your self-talk and to acknowledge that your thoughts are not the truth. We make such convincing stories up in our heads that can hold us back from so much, and as negatively wired beings, it can take a long time and a lot of commitment to change the way we think. So have self-compassion, but work on becoming aware and try and try again to catch yourself and reframe your self-talk; it requires a lot of encouragement! But amazing when you notice the results.
It’s not always going to feel right, or confident, or even possible, but if you love something, or are even just curious about something, follow it, show up time and time again, and see what comes out the other side.
(This is all advice I am continually giving myself!)
Remember everyone is making it up as they go, and we can only try.
As a person who really struggles with confidence and anxiety, I wonder how many potential artists don’t make work because they’re afraid. I’m still afraid! I would love to choreograph and have visions in my head, but my confidence requires me to work up to making it a reality in steps; small steps are ok. One inch of movement is far better than nothing. Time, commitment and attention can really bring out the best work.
Finally, sensitivity is NOT a weakness. Lean into it, channel it, you have a gift.
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