Leisa Prowd always wanted to dance. Professionally. Since she was a girl. But it never seemed to be an option for her. The world had apparently put it out of her reach.
“That was the message I got from the beginning,” she says, once people saw her less-than-four-foot frame, the short limbs from her achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism.
Leisa Prowd in Harmonia at Theater Bremen in Germany.Credit:Jorg Landsberg
“I was never going to get into the Australian Ballet.”
And here she is now, over Zoom from Germany where she’s been working as a professional dancer: most recently in a show called Harmonia for German contemporary performance group Hodworks. It follows her work in Australia with Weave Movement Theatre and Rawcus.
“I like to challenge the narrative that a particular type of body is the only one accepted in dance,” she says. “What do you think dance is? People think of these set choreographies, set bodies doing – amazing – set routines. But dance isn’t just that.”
She will return to Australia later this year to take part in a groundbreaking project at Arts House in North Melbourne: The Warehouse Residency, which over five years will commit $100,000 a year for artists with disability to explore ideas and showcase new work. The first year will also see residencies from artists who are deaf or autistic.
Prowd grew up in the 1970s and 80s: at the age of five she started ballet classes at the local community hall. She loved it. At the end of the year she was an oyster and the Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland, performing the show’s only solo. She still remembers being wheeled through the audience in a teapot: the applause and laughter of the audience, the photo call for the local newspapers.
But as the eldest of seven kids in a one-wage family, pretty soon there wasn’t the money for ballet classes. “[My parents thought] ‘well, she’s not going to get a career out of it’. She is what she is, she has what she has, and her body is like this. So we won’t sacrifice that money.”
At high school there were rare dance units in PE: the only time she could excel in that class. She would borrow dance books from the library and read them in her bedroom, pacing out the choreography.
But life went on, she became a wife, a mother. She worked part-time in a mailing house call centre.
Letting go: Prowd in Harmonia.Credit:Jorg Landsberg
Then a decade ago she noticed that her own kids’ dance class company in Narre Warren also had adult dance classes, so she enrolled. And she found her way into a professional career.
She is still discovering her potential. Working on Harmonia, a ballet instructor was taking her through floor exercises.
“She was showing us how to turn out the hips and turn out the legs … She put her hands on my knees and moved my legs out a bit and said ‘yes, you’ve got it, your body can do this’. Wow. I can do this. At this age, mind you.”
Prowd is wrestling with what she wants to say through her work.
“I want to talk about dwarfism, but I don’t want to talk about dwarfism,” she says. “I don’t want [the Arts House residency] to be an ‘inspirational dwarf story’ but at the same time it’s going to be part of my story. It’s really difficult.”
She sees Hollywood actor Peter Dinklage, “just an actor on the screen doing his thing, and I think ‘wow, that’s what I want’.”
Her residency will also examine themes of voyeurism and consent.
“When I step out my front door I’m very visible,” she says. “I’ve been filmed in the street … everybody slips out their iPhone and just does it, they think they’re being surreptitious but I do know. [And] I have this feeling that I can’t just be genuinely who I am in public, I’ve got to ‘show’ this positive, happy, friendly, polite person, even if I’m having a crappy horrible day … because I feel that if I lose it they’ll get the impression ‘oh, short-statured people have a chip on their shoulder’.
“So I’m exploring the fact that when I’m on stage I’m inviting an audience in, and I’m controlling what they see.”
She’s still quietly amazed about how her life has changed. She was worried, when she finally quit her office job in 2020, that it was a terrible mistake.
“But it’s just a case of letting go and inviting it in. Being on stage, having an audience, being able to say something not necessarily with language but with your body: I just love it.”
A cultural guide to going out and loving your city. Sign up to our Culture Fix newsletter here.
Most Viewed in Culture
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article