By Kriti Sarawgi, Grade 12
Ballet, an art form that has strong roots in tradition and is often deemed ‘highbrow’, has a reputation for being less than welcoming towards the marginalized. In its approximately 60-year history, Australia’s national ballet company has had no recorded dancer of Aboriginal origin before Ella Havelka, a descendant of the Wiradjuri people.
Like many aspiring ballerinas, Ella’s journey to the stage ignited as a dream. At 13, she attended a performance by the Australian Ballet at the Sydney Opera House and couldn't bring herself to take her eyes away from the ballerinas’ bodies, impersonating the classic curvature of swans. A sea of white dancers in a perfect concert consumed the stage, telling the story of Swan Lake. It was at that moment that she knew she wanted to become just like them.
The physical and mental strength needed to train long hours, find the ideal balance of athleticism and elegance, and adhere to nearly unattainable beauty standards calls for unmatched resilience and passion. With discriminative practices, racial differences, and financial difficulties added to the mix, there are very few dancers with thick enough skin to pursue this career. To this day, Ella, alongside Evie Ferris, are the only two women of Aboriginal descent at the Australian Ballet and are paving the way for forthcoming generations. By succeeding in a world-class classical ballet company, these two dancers give budding marginalized dancers hope.
Recently, Evie was announced as the inaugural Aboriginal Wiggle. She explains that Ella’s leadership and mentorship played a key role in developing her self-confidence and shaping her future as a ballerina.
"Having someone that you identify with can become a guiding light for realizing your dreams and is critical in one’s development of self. It is easy to lose your connection to your culture when the environment you are in is a polarising contrast to your cultural identity. Education and awareness are so vital for change and equality and I think creating a nurturing and encouraging environment is a great step and I hope to be the figure that Ella was and is to me for future generations", says Elvie.
While there is a long journey ahead to untangle all the knots that exist in the world of ballet, each ballet dancer deserves to dream of being on a stage with the confidence of knowing that one day, they could be a white swan too.