Award nomination 28 years in the making for Australian Ballet star


And the dedication has certainly paid off.

Spencer, a soloist with the Australian Ballet, is one of six dancers nominated for this year’s Telstra Ballet Dancer Award which could gain her a $20,000 prize if she is voted the Telstra Rising Star, or $5000 if she wins the People’s Choice.

“When I was 11 or 12 my dance teacher in Tamworth told my parents I was actually quite good,” Spencer tells Insider between rehearsals for Sylvia at the Sydney Opera House. “About a year later my family moved to Newcastle so I could pursue my dancing.

Sharni Spencer fell in love with dancing at an early age.Source:The Sunday Telegraph

“They both had businesses in Tamworth that they ran, so it was a big move for the family. They have always been
so supportive.”

A tiny tutued Spencer started dance classes at three — “if you can call it dancing at that age”.

In Newcastle, she attended a performing arts school for a year, followed by 18 months of full-time ballet with school work done by correspondence. After completing her School Certificate in Year 10, she headed off to the prestigious Elmhurst dance school in Birmingham for a six-month stint. And this was followed by two years dancing in New Zealand.

All this before she turned 18.

Back in Australia she auditioned for the Australian Ballet in a gruelling three-class audition.
And she landed a contract.

She has been with the Australian Ballet ever since, clocking up 12 years, elevation through the ranks and several international tours.

Sharni Spencer in the rehearsal studio.

Sharni Spencer in the rehearsal studio.Source:The Sunday Telegraph

“I remember that audition so clearly because
I was absolutely petrified,” Spencer says. “I forgot a few things and must have looked like a deer caught in the headlights.”

If she thought that was the culmination of years of hard work, she was mistaken, it was only the beginning. The full-time contract involved a six-day a week schedule of training, exercise and rehearsals.

In her first season, Spencer performed in Graeme Murphy’s Swan Lake. She had a central role in The Merry Widow in 2018 and this year danced the lead in Cinderella and Alice In Wonderland.

On non-performance days the AB’s troupe train from 10.30am to 6.30pm and on performance days, they have classes and rehearsal from 11am to 3pm, break for lunch/dinner, and are back to get ready for the performance at 5pm.

Sharni Spencer is a nominee for the 2019 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award.

Sharni Spencer is a nominee for the 2019 Telstra Ballet Dancer Award.Source:The Sunday Telegraph

While the Australian Ballet is based in Melbourne, it spends a four-month stint each year in Sydney and then travels around the country and to perform overseas to locations that have so far included Los Angeles, New York, China, London, Paris and San Francisco.

While it may not sound like the kind of career that would support a relationship, Spencer has been lucky. Her structural engineer husband, Michael Gratton, is able to work from Sydney, so relocates there with her every year.

Spencer has so far been free of the injury that so often plagues dancers and hopes she has at least a decade left in her career.

Sharni Spencer performing in Sleeping Beauty.

Sharni Spencer performing in Sleeping Beauty.Source:The Sunday Telegraph

“A dancer is doing well if they can dance into their 40s,” she says. “It is a shorter career, so we do have to think about a second life, so to speak.

“I would like to stay in the industry, so teaching dance could be an option for me later on. For now, I am loving what I do and I like to focus on that.”

Voting in the People’s Choice category of the Telstra Ballet Dancer Awards closes at midnight tonight. You can vote at telstra.com/ballet. Both awards will be announced at The Nutcracker on November 30



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