Future proofing the performing arts

Written by Kerrie Alexander

The saying one man’s loss is another man’s gain rings true for one Hervey Bay dance teacher, principal and director.

Except, the gain is now taken by up to 26 teenagers who can attend the Hervey Bay Performing Arts College each year.

Jonathon Heeley, 30, has lived and breathed performing arts for as long as he can remember but sadly, due to living in reginal Queensland, missed an opportunity to attend a dance high school in Sydney where the road to fulfilling big dreams as a professional dancer could have been realised a lot sooner.

Instead, hard work and perseverance led to tap dancing professionally for Raw Dance Company in Brisbane many years later.

Jonathon met many influencers and inspirers while performing around Australia including some Sydney-based friends who had started their own Performing Arts College.

It incorporated a focus on intensive dance programs as well as high school studies for students in Year 6 to 12.

It was then that Jonathan made big plans to bring the same opportunity to performing arts students in Queensland.

Jono, as he is affectionately known to his students, purchased Hervey Bay Dance School on Thomas St in Pialba in 2015 and by 2017 had transformed it into the Hervey Bay Performing Arts College.

In collaboration with Cairns School of Distance Education, Jono said the staff of seven teachers strive to provide students with the best possible alternate Grade 6 and High School experience.

“I wanted to give this opportunity to regional Queensland, so I gave it a hot go to see if there was any interest,” Jono said.

“There was nothing like this around. The closest schools at the time was Gold Coast and then Sydney.

“We started with three kids in 2017 and now have 17.

“They never would have had this opportunity otherwise.

“The parents love that the kids can still be passionate about performing arts while still getting their education.

“They love what we do and wouldn’t want them anywhere else.”

At 24-years-old, Jono won the Cultural Award on Australia Day from the Fraser Coast Regional Council for his contribution to the development of dance in the region.

The top of the Thomas Street building has been transformed into a learning hub with individual study nooks.

The lower floor is where all the action happens while training in performing arts, drama, dance, singing, tap production, choreography and fitness.

“Normally, depending on the days, the students will go for two days where they do full schoolwork and the other days, they will do half days academic and half days performing arts,” Jono said.

“We have a really versatile program.”

The students are also well versed in travel having been to competitions in Brisbane, Gold Coast and taking out national and state championships around Australia.

In 2019, a team of nine students competed in the Australian All Star Cheer Foundation WinterFest on the Gold Coast where they placed first in the senior lyrical/contemporary section as well as second in the senior hip hop.

They also placed second overall in Queensland for Senior Lyrical and won the bid to attend the exclusive Australasian Cheer and Dance Pinnacle in Melbourne.

They entered the Maryborough Eisteddfod for the first time a month later and the school’s team won the majority of dance sections for Years 10-12.

The girls, aged 12 to 17, finished top of the podium for jazz and contemporary, also claiming highly commended for a second performance in the same contemporary section.

They have also performed for appreciative audiences locally at the Brolga theatre many times.
The college’s latest greatest achievement, Jono said, was 11 of the students being chosen to compete in the Varsity Summit Dance Championships in Orland, USA, this year.

“The students will be in a junior division world competition where they will compete for Australia against other countries.

“They will be competing in hip hop and lyrical routines in Los Angeles as well.

“It’s set to be a really fun trip with two weeks staying at Disney World in Orlando.”

It’s this kind of opportunity that the talented dance students would never get if they were in mainstream education, Jono said.

“We travel a lot of with the kids; we go to Sydney every year to other high schools, Gold Coast and Melbourne.

“They get experiences they may never would have had otherwise.”

Jono is proud of what has been achieved in the past five years.

“The college helps the kids do what they really want to do and we provide an environment where the feel supported and nurtured.

“We just want them to keep working towards what their vision is and achieve their dreams.

“That is my biggest hope for all my students.”

Parents who would like to find out more can visit the HBPAC website at http://www.hbperformingarts.com.