Yvette Lee: My Working Life Has Only Known Dance
Yvette Lee is has been working for over a decade as a choreographer and dancer in all areas of the entertainment industry. Her portfolio is extensive and includes TV shows like Dancing With The Stars, The X Factor, Asia's Got Talent, So You Think You Can Dance, Australian Idol, Neighbours, The ARIA Awards - she has even worked with Chris Lilly on Ja'mie Private School Girl and Summer Heights High. What's more, Yvette has worked with artists like international pop sensation Zara Larsson, and Aussie icons Guy Sebastian, Ricki Lee, and Josh Groban. The list expands to theatre stages too, working on Rock of Ages and StageArt's In The Heights. Yvette was recently invited to be an international judge in the US for the dance industry's night of nights The Industry Dance Awards which is no small feat.
Dance is hugely popular in Australia. According to Roy Morgan, in 2014 over 30 per cent of kids between 6 and 13 participated in dance, making it the sixth most popular sport in Australia, and a total of 1.3 millions Australians of all ages dance. Yet it remains a lucrative career and a difficult path to purse professionally. Yvette spoke with Music Love on just what it takes to become a full time professional dancer.
What does music mean to you?
Music is the core of everything for me. Being in the dance studio everyday, music is the foundation of my work and the trigger of all things creative. It is my biggest inspiration and guidance. The music will always tell me what to do choreographically, even before i have put myself in front of a mirror to create the movement.The secrets to all great choreography lie in the rhythm patterns and accents and journey of a piece of music.
What does dance mean to you?
Dance has always been at the forefront of my life. I come from a long history of dancers in my family so the love of it transcends generations. Before I could walk, I was dancing. My parents used to play ’Nut bush City Limits’ and I would hoist myself up on anything that would pull me to my feet and rock along to the song! My working life has only known dance, so I don’t know a life without it. Once I begin to dance there is only that moment, everything else seems to disappear. It is what I like to call a ‘present escape’. I can’t imagine existing without it.
Do you dance everyday?
Almost! I dance almost every day but I do like to give my body and mind one day off. Calming the mind and being conscious of letting the body rest is very important to me.
Life in the dance studio – what is something most people wouldn’t realise?
Studio practice is crucial for any serious artist. Perhaps some people don’t realise that you have to show up at the studio as often as possible, no matter what. It doesn’t matter if you feel good or bad, inspired or flat – the studio wants you to show up as you are. It is the birthplace of creativity, for you to channel those feelings into artistic expression. But if you don’t show up, the studio will stop becoming that outlet for you.
You have an impressive portfolio – how did you get to this point?
As any career in the arts, it wasn’t easy. I was really lucky to have been taught by amazing teachers and mentors. I always knew that my dance performance career had a certain life span, so while I was performing, I was always watching and learning from my choreographers because I knew that was what I wanted to eventually move on to do. I think having resilience is important. Rejection is a huge part of the dance industry and being able to pick yourself up from the ’no’s’ and move forward confidently is what helps keeps you afloat. Dance is the same as in life: treat people with respect, appreciate those who came before you as well as those who are coming up after you, learn from every situation and constantly try to better yourself as an artist.
Most memorable artist video, stage and/or TV dance moment?
Working on the Australian season of So You Think You Can Dance was a very special time for me, as I knew we were bringing dance and dancers into the spotlight.After many years of people having an opinion that dance was just a ‘hobby,’ all of a sudden the public were understanding the hard work and dedication that goes into the craft. People were understanding the choreographic process realising that behind every great dancer is also a great choreographer. Also, seeing how much time and dedication goes into putting together a 2-3minute piece.
Behind the scenes at a dance Yvette choreographed for Neighbours. Image Ash Brewer
Can anyone dance?
I think anyone can dance! Everyone has totally different ideas on what good dancing and bad dancing is, but dance is essentially whatever comes out of your body when you connect to a rhythm. No one is right or wrong in these opinions… just like everyone has a different idea on what’s a good hamburger or a bad hamburger, it’s about taste… it doesn’t change the fact that it's still a hamburger!! So yes! I think anyone and everyone can dance!
What advice would you give to dancers who want to become professional?
Know yourself, trust yourself and back yourself. Be humble & respect your fellow dancers and mentors. Learn from every job you do, every class you go to, every audition you attend, every choreographer you work with - the lessons of this craft are never-ending. Love dance but don’t be under the impression that it needs to consume you 100 per cent. Yes, you must be devoted to it, but you also need to have balance. Always take time out for yourself, your family and your friends. Travel, see the world and you will find that you will be constantly inspired
Who are your favourite Australian women in music?
Kelly Abbey, is a very famous Australian choreographer, and a huge inspiration to me. She has had, and continues to have, a hugely successful career and remains wonderfully humble. Her work is meticulous, she is always inspiring to her dancers, she continues to support upcoming talent through motivational talks. She is a blessing to our industry.
What was life like growing up for you?
Life was literally a song and dance for our family! I feel so lucky to have been bought up in an environment that supported and nurtured a love of the arts. We were always encouraged to perform, to develop and express our talents. Entertaining others was seen as a good thing to do, not a ‘hobby’ or a waste of time. My parents thought that music, dance, acting etc. was an important profession. I am forever grateful for that. One thing I want to say about Australia and the arts: I grew up in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne to an Anglo mum and Chinese dad. It makes me proud that the urban dance scene naturally displays ethnic diversity in its casting, music and choreographic style. It is important for Australia to have a reflection of that diversity. It is who we are. And the urban dance scene has always been a place for kids of all backgrounds to meet and express themselves fully in that kind of environment.
What is your favourite place in Australia?
There’s no place like home - Melbourne is where my heart is!
What is your favourite Australian café/restaurant?
Dr Jekyll! My local St Kilda cafe.
Who is your favourite Australian artist?
Honestly, it is my mother! My mother was a Tivoli dancer on Bourke street in the 1950s. She is in her 70s now and has not slowed down. Dance is as much a part of her now as it was back then. She has started a group called the Last Chance Dancers consisting of ladies in their 60s and 70s who rehearse each week to perform an exclusive Christmas concert …for their husbands! She is currently rehearsing for her annual tap concert with Glamour Puss Tap Studios where she will be a featured tapping Octopus. (!) She is the most inspiring, strong, hysterical, free spirited woman I know. When I grow up I want to be just like her.
Favourite non-music thing to do
I love yoga. It slows my mind down and brings me back to myself. But mostly I love my puppy, Eddie. He is two years old and makes me laugh constantly!