Six Taree ballet dancers among New South Wales elite

Competition finalists: (back) Mahalia Anderson, Jasinta Birchall, Mia Paske, (front) Coco Solomon, Wil Hellstedt and Esther Smith. Photo: Scott Calvin.
Competition finalists: (back) Mahalia Anderson, Jasinta Birchall, Mia Paske, (front) Coco Solomon, Wil Hellstedt and Esther Smith. Photo: Scott Calvin.

Six students from the Andrea Rowsell Academy of Dance in Taree will be up against the best ballet dancers in New South Wales this Sunday, March 24, as they compete in the finals of two prestigious Royal Academy of Dance competitions.

Mahalia Adamson, Mia Paske and Wil Hellstedt have all successfully moved through the first round and semi-finals in the Isobel Anderson Memorial Awards, while Jasinta Birchall, Coco Solomon and Esther Smith have done the same in the Joan and Monica Halliday Awards (for younger students).

"These are high achieving children who did very well in their exams last year," said dance school principal Andrea Rowsell, explaining that the only criteria for competition entry is that students completed an exam last year.

"They achieve highly in our local area, so it's good for them to go to a bigger scale and be together with high quality trained dancers and see what else is out there. For them to succeed and get to the finals is pretty amazing."

In Coco and Esther's Grade Four group in the Joan and Monica Halliday Awards, for example, the number of entrants started at 112, with only 12 finalists remaining.

It is the second time 10-year-old Coco has competed in the awards and made the semi-finals last time.

"I'm just really excited. I know it's not something everyone can do and I'm really happy all my hard work has paid off."

Esther Smith, Coco Solomon and Jasinta Birchall will compete in the finals of the Joan and Monica Halliday Awards this Sunday.

Esther Smith, Coco Solomon and Jasinta Birchall will compete in the finals of the Joan and Monica Halliday Awards this Sunday.

She has enjoyed having the same dancers in her group as last year. "I've been able to learn how they've progressed and how I've progressed."

Esther, 11, is competing for her second time and has made the finals for the second time. "It feels amazing. 

"I really enjoy it because I get other experiences and I'm grateful to have the opportunity. I like how I get to watch other kids and learn from them."

Also competing for her second time is Jasinta, 12, who this year is in the Grade Five group. She made the semi-finals last time and said she's excited to have progressed to the finals. "I'm grateful that I've got the opportunity."

She said she enjoys the competition a lot. "You learn different steps and you get to do classes with different teachers."

This is 12-year-old Wil's first time in the Isobel Anderson Awards, after competing in the Joan and Monica Halliday Awards twice previously, making the semi-finals last time. This year he is competing at the Intermediate Foundation level and said he was "beyond excited" to make the finals. "I've never made it to the finals before so that's a huge step up for me."

They achieve highly in our local area, so it's good for them to go to a bigger scale and be together with high quality trained dancers and see what else is out there.

Dance principal, Andrea Rowsell.

He enjoys seeing the same people at the competition from previous years. "You're all growing together. I enjoy the open class and gaining experience. I don't care about winning, I just want to have a good time, learn and watch other kids."

Also competing at the Intermediate Foundation level is 13-year-old Mahalia. It's her first time in the Isobel Anderson Awards after two years in the Joan and Monica Halliday Awards. "I've never made it to a semi-final so when I made the finals, I was really excited." 

She said the competition's experience is "really good. You just enjoy it, be nice to everyone before you go in and make friends."

Mia Paske, 13, also started with the Joan and Monica Halliday Awards and this year competed at the Intermediate level in the Isobel Anderson Awards.

"It gives me a chance to be in the atmosphere of an audition. They teach you exercises and you've got to pick it up and perform it. It's a chance to show them what you can do."

As a Grade Four competitor made the finals, in Grade Five she went to the semis, and this year she is back in the finals.

Mahalia Adamson, Wil Hellstedt and Mia Paske will compete in the finals of the Isobel Anderson memorial Awards on Sunday.

Mahalia Adamson, Wil Hellstedt and Mia Paske will compete in the finals of the Isobel Anderson memorial Awards on Sunday.

"I'm excited. I didn't expect to get into the final. So many my age are doing full-time dance or doing so much, so early. It feels really, really good".

Andrea, who will travel to Sydney to support her students on Sunday, said they aren't going into the finals with any expectations, only to enjoy the moment and how far they've reached.

"It's great to meet people, and people they might be working with if they go on to a career in dance."

"It's about pacing each other and learning how to improve themselves, which is what dance it all about."

The dancers have only been required to do classwork in each level of the competition so far.

The finals will see Esther and Coco do three set studies (which gives them about 50 seconds to perform), while the older students will do a set study and an open class on stage.

"The judge gets to see how they cope and who can pull out a bit more and perform, " said Andrea. "It's about performing as well as being a good technician, and the artistry on stage."

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