Born and raised on the sunny Gold Coast in Queensland, multi-talented performer Monique Dawes is gearing up to move to the U-S-of-A to perform in the show ‘Champion‘, best described as “Tony Robbins meets Olympic Event meets Hamilton.”She has performance credits on stage and screen both in Australia, having toured in Hairspray and Grease! The Arena Spectacular, and internationally with well-loved children’s shows such as Barney and Dora The Explorer. She has danced for Kylie Minogue and has been cast in multiple online and TV commercials. We were lucky enough to catch up with the incredible Monique to talk all things discipline, the industry and her journey to gaining management and obtaining a visa in the US.
What was the moment you realised you could pursue this as a career?
Growing up playing state basketball for Queensland and competing in sports competitions for surfing and athletics, I was unsure what I was going to do once I had finished high school. A friend of mine from drama and dance class was going to a full time dance course in Brisbane, and I had already shown a strong passion for performing in school, so much to my surprise I was accepted into the Australian Dance Performing Arts Institute. It wasn’t until just after I had graduated and received my Advanced Diploma that I was attending class and my current teacher told me that I wasn’t talented enough and wouldn’t work professionally within the performing arts industry. It was in that moment that I knew I would succeed and I continued to pursue dancing as a career.
How did you approach finding management in the USA? What was that process like?
In 2010 I was a full time dance student at The Space in Melbourne. In this year we had a lot of international teachers come to teach us, one being Michelle Zeitlin. The next year Michelle asked me to be her assistant for the duration of the Australian workshops. Five years passed where we kept in touch every now and again, but in 2016 we got chatting about my ultimate goals and aspirations within this industry. Michelle told me to come to LA to audition for her company and last year Michelle signed me with MoreZap Productions and Management. I believe you should always ask the question, because you never know who you might be talking to and how they can help.
What was the journey like to be cast in “Champion?”
It can be so hard auditioning for overseas projects; I would much rather be in the room with the panel. You can tell so much about a person just by their energy and self-tapes don’t always give the same effect. I filmed dance, acting and fitness scenes to be sent via video to the US production team. It was four months later that I was told that I had been successfully cast in Champion.
What advice would you give to young people wanting to pursue a career in this industry, especially those wanting to work overseas as performers?
Honestly, if you love it and it makes you happy, please do not give up. Every day will be hard work and there will be all kinds of judgement, but never forget your worth and how talented you are. If you want to work overseas, first you should travel there and see if you love the place that you could be calling your home away from home. Secondly, a lot of international artists come to Australia to teach workshops – attend their classes and introduce yourself. All cultures are different in the way they dance and even how they teach acting and singing, so you want to be ahead, if not on the same page, when you move to their country. Lastly, keep a copy of everything you have performed in; programmes, newspaper articles, reviews and even references from the people and companies that you work professionally for. All of these things are vital in obtaining an overseas working VISA in the performing arts.
How do you take care of yourself as a dancer and vocalist?
Preparation and post-performance maintenance is the key to longevity of the body and voice. Many performers are always in a rush, hair/makeup and an outfit/costume seems to be the number one priority, but if you run out of time to warm up your body, you’ll wish you would’ve given it some TLC. Get to know how long it takes to do your hair and makeup and get dressed, and then arrive to class or the theatre early enough to make sure you can also warm up. You can do vocal exercises whilst doing your makeup. It’s the same with post-class or performance, there is no rush to get out, so take 5-10 minutes to warm down. Trust me: tomorrow’s self will love you for it. I personally have worked hard to become in tune with my body and listen to what it needs.
What is the best advice you could give to a young dancer deciding whether or not this is a career for them?
I started dancing when I was 16, and in the dance world, that is very late to start. I was aware of the level I was at and where I wanted to get to, and every day I put 110% into growing and being the best I can be. It’s ok to be confused about what you want to do in life, but If you have a passion and desire to be a dancer and it makes you feel incredible then don’t let anything get in the way of that. The beginning is always the hardest; life will always reward you as long as you work at your goals every day.
What advice would you give on how to handle rejection?
I have really grown to realise a lot about rejection, considering every time I wasn’t successful I used to shut down for two or three days — until I discovered that 98% of the time it really has nothing at all to do with how talented you are. Your hair could be a shade too dark, or you’re 5cm too small, or maybe your right leg mount wasn’t high enough — and the list goes on. What is important is that you don’t linger on the jobs that you didn’t get, and instead, keep being persistent and diligent in your training to show each audition panel that they will benefit in having you be a part of their cast.
Through the entire process of being cast in Champion and gaining management in the United States, what would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt?
When I was last in LA I had an audition for a major dance agency. My manager informed me the day before to go up to the directors and introduce myself, as my manager knew them on a personal level. In Australia we don’t tend to step outside the box and walk up to the audition panel in front of over 500 people to introduce yourself. Even though there was a 30 second opportunity for me to do this at the LA audition, my nerves got the better of me and I chickened out. The next day my manager calls me and asked if I had introduced myself and I said no; she then read out the email that the audition panel had sent her. “It was such a shame that Monique never introduced herself, because we had no idea who she was all day.” Whether I would or wouldn’t have gotten the gig, in that moment I missed a crucial opportunity to let them know who I was. Be brave enough to step outside your comfort zone; it’s where all the magic will happen.
Do you have any advice for any actors, musicians, artists, chefs, mixologists, makers who are thinking of making the move?
Save everything to a database. Everyone you meet, contact details; keep reviews, photos of shows and performances you have done. Just everything that states why you are exceptional at what YOU do. Oh, and that Americans really are lovely and welcoming people — just don’t stop to take a photo in the streets around Times Square. The locals have places to be… fast.