kelley abbey



guest speaking

Kelley has had a full and varied career so far, and is very philosophical about her artistic pursuits and her life in general. She has spoken to many students and performers alike with her Follow Your Dream lectures, including at the Ausdance conference Dance - Beyond the Boundaries, aswell as giving advice in DanceTrain magazine.

kelley says

Over the years I have always been very committed to teaching and continue to teach in between jobs at the Brent Street School of Performing Arts. I often take guest workshops and Master classes at other schools and in different states.

It was Ausdance that approached me to do some lecturing work in the 90's on topics as broad as "Dance on Film", "Choreography for TV and Stage", "Bob Fosse and other pioneer choreographers", "The Audition Process", and motivational talks on "Breaking Your Boundaries", and "How to release your fears and Follow Your Dream".

My "Follow Your Dream" lectures became quite popular and I did a series of them around QLD and NSW for Full-Time Performing Arts Courses and Theatrical Agencies.

As I get older I am very aware that the spiritual process of a performer pursuing a career in the Arts is very important and nurturing information and education on how to deal with rejection and believing in yourself is a necessary tool.

kelley abbey
At Sydney Dance Expo with Nikki Davis from DanceTrain Magazine




This issue we put some piercing questions to the dancer Kelley Abbey.

What is the best venue you have ever performed in?
I would have to say the MCG stadium in Melbourne where I sang in front of 98,000 people for the AFL Grand Final. Performing in a venue big enough to fit that many people gave me an adrenalin rush I will never forget.

What is your earliest memory of dancing?
I started when I was four years old. I was a bit of a tomboy and very enthusiastic. I remember the other kids crying and clinging on to my dancing teacher's leg [Sandra Breen] and me absolutely loving it. I didn't cry until it was time to finish.

What word would you use to describe your feet?
Little! I take a size 5-and-a-half shoe. My feet are in pretty good condition considering.

What is the best costume you have had to wear?
I performed in the Australian Youth Ballet Company when I was a teenager. I played the principal role in a ballet named Cydalise. This costume was designed and made by the company's artistic director Inara Svalbe. It was incredibly detailed and ornate and I felt like the queen every time I put it on. It was exhibited last year at the Queensland Performing Arts Museum as part of an exhibiton celebrating and displaying the company's work.

What is your funniest moment during a performance?
When I was playing Rizzo in Grease - the Arena Spectacular I was singing one of the final songs in the finale with Jane Scali while standing on the front seat of the Greased Lightning car, when a streaker ran onto the stage and did a lap around the car. Jane and I could hardly contain our laughter as we were trying to sing. "Streak" was the word, was the word that you heard...

What is the hardest thing you have ever performed?
Without a doubt, Sweet Charity. It was an absolute Olympic marathon to get through every show. It was incredibly exhausting and challenging on every level - emotionally, mentally, vocally and physically. They had an oxygen tank for me side stage in case of emergencies as Juliet Prowse used one when she played the role. I had vitamin B shots every week to get through the run. It remains to this day the hardest yet most fulfilling role I have ever played.

What do you always take with you to a performance?
Jellybeans! Give me glucose!

Do you have a favourite role?
Charity Hope Valentine would have to be the ultimate, but it was great to play Carmen Diaz in Fame the Musical as it was wonderful to be able to perform my own choreography for the first time. [I worked as the choreographer on this show as well.]

Is there a role you would love to dance, but haven't yet?
There are plenty I would like to play... but to dance? I would say anything Fosse.

What book are you reading at the moment?
Chocolat, by Joanne Harris.

What is your pet hate?
Lateness and mobile phones ringing in rehearsals and performances.

What do you admire in people?
Courage, positivity and creativity.

What do you like about yourself?
I'm a good cook.

What annoys you about yourself?
I'm my own worst critic.

What makes you sad?
Recognising loneliness and heartache in people and feeling unable to help.

If you had your life over again, what would you do differently?
Nothing. I'm a big believer in fate and the grand design of life. I'm not into regrets.

If you could meet anyone [living or dead], who would they be and what would you ask them?
I'd like to meet Stevie Wonder [I'm a huge fan] and ask him what he sees when he hears his music.

What is your proudest moment?
Last year I recreated my choreography for Fame the Musical for a tour of Asia. As I was not performing in this version, on opening night I got to sit out front and see what I had created for the first time. The cast were so amazing. I was so proud to be involved.

What occupation would be furthest from your true nature?
I could never be a lawyer and represent someone I knew deep down was guilty. I'm a bad liar and it would morally go against my beliefs.

Dance Australia - April/May 2003

Kelley Abbey - Top Ten Questions

Kelley Abbey answers your top 10 questions on auditioning, singing, training, parents and all those other things you need to know when dancing is what you want to do!

1. Where is the best place to stand in an audition?
The 'best place' to stand is where you can be seen and where you can clearly see the choreography you are required to learn. If you are having problems with being able to see, politely ask the choreographer to rotate the group. Don't be frightened to ask the choreographer to re-demonstrate anything you have missed.

2. Should I continue to do class once I have finished my dance course?
It is incredibly important to maintain your craft. Just as a handyman keeps his tools in perfect working order, we too as performers need to keep our skills honed and confident. It has been my experience on audition panels to see fabulous dancers fall out of turns and jumps on an audition day purely as a result of not keeping up with maintenance classes. We lose our ability to be "on it" and to be really confident and fit when we stop doing class. Doing class can also be an opportunity to be seen by working choreographers or just to keep perfecting our craft and becoming more of ourselves. We never stop learning. I am still learning more about performing every day.

3. How do I tell my parents that pursuing a career in dance is what I want to do?
The best thing to do is to be honest with them. Tell them how you feel. Tell them how passionate you are about it (and you will need to be). Ask for their support in following this dream. You may be surprised to find that they really listen if you express the truth about it. I have also known dancers who have supported themselves whilst pursuing a dancing career. They have found part time jobs after leaving school or have managed to finance themselves through Full-time courses. If it is something you really, really want then anything and everything is possible. When leaving school after completing my HSC, I pursued a career in Dance in Sydney. I was very fortunate, but had a bumpy start whilst establishing myself. I had to finance myself by working in a Gym. There is always a way if you really want it.

4. How do I go about finding an agent once I finish my training?
The best thing to do is ring the agents and try and make an appointment to have a chat. You need to find out who is interested in taking more people on their books. You may find that you need to send the agent your photo and CV so they can assess whether they want to see you or not. Most often they will want to see some kind of video footage of you. This doesn't necessarily need to be of professional quality, just some kind of footage to display your capabilities. The other option is to invite them to watch you in a dance class or to anything you may be performing in so they can get an idea of your abilities. From there they will assess wether they will be able to take you on or they may have some advice on what you need to improve or work on to be considered.

5. How do you find out about auditions?
If you don't have an agent the best thing to do is check the notice boards at various dance studios, check the newspapers for the advertisted open calls for Musicals, log on to the casting and audition website, and check DANCEtrain for news of what's coming up soon.

6. Is it important to keep on taking ballet class if I want to get into musicals or commercial dancing?
In my opinion ballet training makes an excellent Jazz dancer. Most choreographers like working with dancers who have this skill and strength. In 'Fame; the musical' it was one of the prerequisites that each dance ensemble member could do lyrical jazz, street funk/hip hop, and classical ballet. Great dancers who couldn't cut a classical line missed out. When 'Westside Story' auditions came around in the late '90s most people were obsessed with doing funky jazz. When they were required to do Jerome Robbins jazz of the 1950s, which is very classically based, a lot of people were completely lost. It is therefore important to keep up your classical ballet. Even with Commercial Dance, choreographers like to be able to call on these skills to create with.

7. Singing lessons are really expensive - are they that important?
Every dancer needs to be able to sing. Anyone who dreams of playing a role in a show ultimately needs a great voice. Most dance ensemble parts end up understudying these principal roles and therefore need this voice to even get into the dance ensemble. It is incredibly important to be able to do all things. There is not enough constant work around to just be a commercial dancer. If singing is your weakness then it would be beneficial to invest some time and money into developing it. It is important to be prepared for any audition by having a suitable song prepared in all styles.

8. Is Sydney really the best place to find work as a commercial dancer?
Sydney and Melbourne are definately the best cities to get commercial dance work. Sometimes it may swing either way with which city currently has the most. You will find that most Sydney dancers will fly to do work in Melbourne and vice-versa.

9. How early should you arrive to an audition before it's due to start?
I would say that is is good to arrive 45mins - 1hr before the audition time. This gives you time to physically warm up and prepare yourself mentally for what you are about to do. It is often that people may be rushing and enter the audition with a completely scattered energy, and may risk injury by not being physically limber and focused. It is good to spend some quiet time alone before you step into the audition room to put your nerves into perspective and psyche yourself for the task at hand.

10. How long should I pursue a career in dance without getting my first job?
This is a difficult question albeit an important one. It actually depends on the person. I have known people that have worked straight away after their initial training, and others that have waited for years before securing their first job, and others that have lost their confidence and patience in waiting for the right job and have moved onto other avenues in the entertainment industry. It is hard to know the grand design of life and what the future holds. If you love to dance and are finding it difficult to get an agent or a job and are losing patience with the whole thing, try and expand your goals and nurture other creative talents. It is important to do what you love and pursue things that align with this.
Dance Train Magazine - Jan/Feb 2003

kelley abbey Starring Kelley Abbey - She rocks!!

The tale of Kelley Abbey's career so far is just amazing and certainly hard to fit into one article! This unstoppable performer and choreographer has so many awesome stories - from starring roles, to teaching Jazz in China, to taking fifteen classes a week as a teenager to get noticed!

Interviewing Kelley Abbey, for me, was like being a kid in a candy shop. I got to hear all the close up and real life details of a career I have watched with extreme admiration since I was young. I even managed to surprise Kelley with my memories of many of her performances! To be honest, I didn't do very much interviewing - I just soaked up the story of this amazing and ongoing career like a sponge!

The beginnings...
Kelley tells me that she was taken to dance class at the age of four, she thinks, "to kick the tomboy out of her a little bit"! It seemed to work with Kelley joining the Australian Youth Ballet Company as a teenager and considering ballet as a career. "I put a lot of energy into ballet - I was thinking I was going to become a ballerina - and then I changed my mind." At the age of 17 she jumped on a train from her hometown of Brisbane to head to Sydney. "I didn't know exactly what I'd do - I just came down to dance - simple as that. I really didn't know what was going to happen."

The first break...
The industry she found, at this time in the 80s, was vastly different from the one dancers know today. "There were no Performing Arts Colleges or dance agencies. Anyone who was working in the commercial area - a clique of about ten people - was called for jobs directly by the choreographer. If you weren't in the clique, you had to wait until one of those ten people got sick." So Kelley went to fifteen classes a week just to be seen. And - halleluiah - one day, someone got sick and she got a phone call!
This first big break came in the form of Aussie movie "Rebel", in which Kelley got to perform in the closing number for choreographer Ross Coleman. "From then, I didn't stop!" Being the 80s, it was the "Fame" and "Flashdance" era and dance was literally in everything, Kelley explained. Sometimes she even ran around doing up to five jobs a day!

The Electric Legs really kick it off...
One of Kelley's many dance jobs at this time was performing with a group called "The Electric Legs" (I remember thinking this was such a cool name) at the Hilton in Sydney for David Atkins. He then turned this group into a dance show called "Dancin' Man" whose story revolved around his life story and was hugely successful - and Kelley's first show.

The Tomboy returns - on TV!!
One of the most memorable scenes in "Dancin' Man" for me, was also the one which sent Kelley's career in another direction for a time. This was a scene in which Kelley played David's tomboyish-truck driver sister! The producers of hot Aussie Soap show at the time "E Street" were also paying close attention to this scene and immediately requested Kelley for the role of 'tough' musician Jo Jo - via a note in her dressing room!!
Kelley took this role - initially as a guest appearance and then after touring with David's second show "Dynamite", as a regular - without having taken an acting lesson in her life, and ran with it. This throwing in the deep end school of acting really worked, and Kelley was a full time actor for two years. She also had to learn to sing for the role, which certainly came in handy in the future, as you will see...

Musicals are calling...
Kelley admits that when it comes to touring with musicals she was originally not so keen. "I get bored quickly!" However, when the chance came to audition for her all time fave "West Side Story" she went for it and got to understudy and perform the role of Anita for Caroline O'Connor. Kelley tells me that this musical will always be one of her favourite musical scores.

A star is born - in the bathroom?
A few years later Kelley helped good friend and choreographer Keith Hawley take the auditions for musical "Sweet Charity". Kelley was overheard singing in the toilets and was then persuaded to audition for a role! To cut a long story short - she scored the starring role!

Starring in 'Sweet Charity'...
As Kelley tells me about playing this role, I must say I am enthralled, as it is the first time I've really found out about just how draining a lead role can be. Receiving rave reviews for her performance, Kelley tells me that she too has newfound respect for these full-on "Triple Threat" roles.
"It was a hard role to play because it was two and a half hours non-stop! Every show, about half way through, I would feel the oxygen depleting from my muscles and my legs would turn to jelly! My lungs would be burning at times and I would actually want to vomit! Basicallly it was an Olympic Marathon to get through. Because I was laughing, singing and screaming on stage every night, I wouldn't speak all day. I wouldn't even answer my phone - I became like a recluse!
Having said that, the most challenging, stimulating, amazing experience of my life to this day was "Sweet Charity". Nancye Hayes played it thirty years befor me and was quoted as saying that nothing came along afterward that stimulated her the same way."

Accidentally receiving rave reviews in 'Grease'...
Kelley's next great story involves taking the job as assistant to the Choreographer for "Grease the Arena Spectacular." Dannii (as in Minogue) was joining the rehearsal period later so Kelley had to rehearse in her space. One night Dannii was ill and Kelley went on in the role of Rizzo. "It was opening night in Brisbane, all the reviewers were there. The producers looked at me and said can you save our show?
When I put Dannii in to the show I knew her dance moves and plot but not really the lines.
I only knew the songs from watching the movie as a kid! Add to this the fact that Dannii's moulded earpiece didn't fit me so I couldn't hear myself sing! Somehow I, apparently, did the most amazing job. And the next day I got the best reviews and was even on the news as the Brisbane girl who saved the day!"
When Dannii had to leave, Kelley ended up touring with the show as both the resident choreographer and Rizzo!

Again she started out on the creative team! Kelley was the choreographer and director David Atkins was having trouble casting the role of Carmen - another "Triple Threat role".
Once again she was convinced to "go on the other side, take a number and audition for the role." She choreographed the entire show and performed the lead. "It was the biggest challenge since "Sweet Charity". Again it burnt me out physically, but it was great."

The future...
I hated wrapping up this interview, but a photo shoot was calling so I asked this inspirational performer what she wants to do next (is there anything she hasn't done - and done fabulously I ask you?!) Currently staging the Asian tour of "Fame" (but not performing!) Kelley tells me she is actually in the process of writing her own show. This she feels is the "next step".

So does she love performing or choreographing more?
"I think they really complement each other. I don't know that I enjoy one more than the other. I really enjoy the process of creating things - I choreograph something every day.
By the same token, there's nothing like feeling that adrenalin run through your body and that energy spraying out of you when you're in the peak of performance." Not liking to be "pigeon-holed" kelley likes the idea of working on whichever project captures her at the time.

She really does "rock"!

More from Kelley's CV!!
Now in between all the starring moments, Kelley has worked on lots of other great stuff...
- Teaching, specializing in jazz, continually since age fifteen.
- Choreographer for Human Nature - since their initial stages in the industry. She even helps out with their "look".
- Video clips - combining the knowledge of cameras she gained from working on E Street with dance. Artists include Girlfriend, Tina Arena, Human Nature and Toni Pearon.
- Stage director - The Main Event with John Farnham, Anthony Warlow and Olivia Newton-John.
- Invited to sing at the opening of Olympic Stadium, and on TV shows like Midday etc.
- Lecturing - Kelley has been invited many times to speak about motivation and following your dreams.

Kelley's Faves
Musical - West Side Story
Music - Stevie Wonder
Movie - Shawshank Redemption
Food - toast
Celeb you've met - Shirley MacLaine
Hero - Judy Garland
Dance Train Magazine - May/June 2002

Auditions - Kelley Abbey

Most recent auditions you were involved in?
Fame - the musical (Asian tour), as choreographer.

What sort of cast were you looking for?
It was really specific because there were only specific spots to cast - five principal roles, three male ensemble parts and one female swing. Lots of talented people (600) turned up but we had nowhere to put them.

What did the audition involve?
For the principals, because the roles have been played before, we were looking for people to match up with the partner in the show. They had to sing and read first. For the ensemble, we saw them in groups of fifty. They were first taught a combination - 4x8 bars of technical style 'old jazz', with jumps and turns, and then we eliminated straight away.
That sorted out the men from the boys. Then we added another 4x8s to the same combination and did a further elimination. If they got through that, they did a funk combination, including showing any tricks, such as acro or breakdancing skills. Next came a classical combination and then singing and acting.
Because nearly every ensemble member covers a principal role, they have to have all these skills. For example, one role we were casting has to be a black dancer, who can breakdance, cut a classical line and sing a D in his chest.

Technically, what do you expect as a minimum?
In this audition, technique accounted for 50 per cent of our requirements. The rest was about the 'X' factor, the special edge, the attack and the showmanship. I also prefer classically trained dancers. Any brilliant dancer has had classical training.

What catches your eye?
Confidence, and what they are wearing - people who make the effort and try to achieve the look that is appropriate for the project. If a person catches my eye in a group of 50, they also need to show that they are feeling what they are doing to keep my attention.

Any hints on improving audition technique?
Pay attention to the detail. I can't stand it when people don't do the choreography as I do it. I also like people who pick up quickly. You can't afford to employ a great dancer who can't learn fast. So keep going to class to exercise your short term memory.
Also, give the audition your all and do it for yourself. Speak to your agent and get all the detail about what you are going for. Research the role and the show. You must also be malleable when working with a director. Don't have a fixed view of how you think the role should be played.

What is the best knowledge you have gleaned as an auditionee?
It was when I finally auditioned for Sweet Charity and realised that I didn't need anybody's approval. I just wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Because I wasn't worried about anybody else, I was able to stay in the moment: when you are outside the moment it stops the energy flowing and stops you from being the best you can be.

Describe your most memorable audition experience.
When we did the first round of Fame auditions, a street (dancer) guy came in to audition for the role of Tyrone. He did the full-on Flashdance wave-your-finger-in-the-faces-of-the-audition-panel type performance when he presented his dance combination.
He was then asked to go to the piano to sing some scales and it was explained that he would start on the first note he heard and then travel up the scale as the pianist played. The first not was hit and he sang "Yo" and then continued to ascend the scale as he sang "yo, yo, yo, yo, yo, yo!"
Dance Australia Magazine -June/July 2000

There Can't Be Anything Better Than This!

The thing that immediately strikes you about Kelley Abbey's theatrical experience is the fact that she's an all-rounder. She can turn her hand to anything and do it well. Her casting in the demanding role of Charity bears witness to that fact.
"You have to be an all-rounder in this business. Especially in Australia and most especially in this climate. It was easy for me. I'm one of those people who get bored very easily so I like to have many hats to put on."
I actually give lectures on this. I travel a lot around to various cities and I talk to young people starting in the business about this very thing and about following your dream... staying positive. It is hard out there. You do have to go to lots of auditions and you invariably get knock-backs... suffer disappointments.
I tell them no to take failure personally. There is an audience for everyone's creativity.
There will be people out there who will appreciate your talent. I tell them to believe in themselves. That is the secret.
Preparation is the main element for success. The triple threat is vital. Get your singing happening. Develop your dramatic capabilities. Take dance classes. If you excell in just one thing and ignore the others you won't be a constantly working person. Dress for an audition... for the part.
I remember consciously selecting a skimpy little dress to try and be like Charity when I knew that it was finally down to a choice between just five of us for the role."
Stage Whispers Magazine - September 1996