Melissa Toogood



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Melissa Toogood

Melissa Toogood Photograph: Anna Finke

When did you start dancing and where are you from?
I started dancing when I was about three in Sydney, Australia.

Why? Did you want to dance?
I think my parents put me in it. I don't remember not dancing or not wanting to dance, so it's hard to tell.

And what kind of dancing did you start with?
Mainly jazz and tap. And some gymnastics, but it wasn't until I was about ten years old that my aunt told my father that if I wanted to be serious about dancing, I had to take ballet. So I started ballet when I was ten; it was just because it was supposed to help me be a better dancer in general. I never wanted to be a classical dancer. But I took it very seriously.

Where were you studying? Anywhere of note?
Not really. Just a little local dance studio. I took as many jazz and tap classes as I did ballet classes. Then I went to a local performing arts high school, which was not very good. There's this huge variety show that happens in Sydney, it's called "School Spectacular."

I think I've heard of that. It includes all disciplines, right?
Yeah. I think it's the largest variety show, at least in the southern hemisphere. It's amazing. So I was in it in seventh grade, which for us is high school—seventh through twelfth. I was there with my first high school and I saw the kids from Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, and I was like, Why aren't I at that school? [Laughs] So I came home and told my parents I wanted to change schools, and they were like, "Oh that's funny, the principal of your primary school told us we should send you there, and I was like, "Why didn't you tell me?!" So I auditioned the next week and started there the next year, and that changed my life.

Tell me about that place.
It was, first of all, an amazing education in dance. I probably did more written work for my dance classes than I did in my English classes. It's ridiculous; it's very in depth. Not just dance history, but writing about composition and a lot of analysis. The first time I saw Merce's work was watching Beach Birds in high school and writing papers about it.

Oh, that's amazing.
I hated doing all that stuff—like they'd make us keep dance journals and all these things, but I'm like so glad, and even now when I get stressed out—or there was a point in college when I wanted to leave—I just turned back to doing those things that they taught me, and it helped me figure out what was me being emotional and what was really a problem. And they also brought me to the United States: My high school was invited by Daniel Lewis, who started the National High School Dance Festival here. So my high school really pushed me to go to college and leave home to pursue a career. They really opened up a lot of opportunities for me and also prepared me physically and mentally.

You mentioned dance journals. Did those help you emotionally?
Yeah, very much, I think more so when I went back to doing it again. They made us write about what we were learning and what we were doing, what we were going through. And I've always had a lot of injuries, too, so figuring out that stuff...and that started in high school. So the fact that we were studying so much kinesiology and anatomy, I really took to it even more because I wanted to figure out what was wrong with me. I think that's definitely helped me with Merce's work, too.

So when did you come to the United States?
After high school, I got a full scholarship to New World from the High School Dance Festival. So I started there in 2000, missed the Sydney Olympics. I left right before.

That sucks.
I know. [Laughs] It's like the one regret I have in life.

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