Even after five years as a professional dancer with Bangarra, Beau Dean Riley Smith says he sometimes has to pinch himself to make sure it’s real.
Mr Riley Smith, who was born in Dubbo, didn’t even want to be a dancer until at 19-years-old he fell in love with the form of expression while trying to become an actor.
He may have been a late starter, but Mr Riley Smith just won a Helpmann Award for Best Male Dancer and an Australian Dance Award for Outstanding Performance.
“When I got my Helpmann Award I froze on stage. The first thing that come out of my mouth was ‘shit’. I honestly didn’t think I’d get it, I didn’t prepare anything and I just froze,” Mr Riley Smith said.
“Maybe in a couple of years it will register.”
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Mr Riley Smith’s dance career started at the National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association Dance College.
“I’m kind of an introverted person so to be able to act using the body without necessarily using the mouth, I haven’t really thought about it but maybe that’s what I love about it,” he said.
“People say so much with their body language. You can read somebody much better through body language than through their native tongue. I just fell in love with this kind of art form.”
It was an intense learning experience. Mr Riley Smith said he was hard on himself, but so were the teachers. Despite having no dance experience he would be made to take classes with people in their final year of the course.
The dancer, who admits he gets bored quite easily, thrived on the pressure. But when Bangarra Dance Theatre had an opening he hesitated.
“A friend of mine told me to audition for the company and I was like ‘no way, I’m not auditioning’,” Mr Riley Smith said.
“I was a pretty self-conscious kind of guy. I used to be quite heavy and voluptuous, I didn’t think I fit the mould of what a Bangarra dancer was. They’ve all got six packs and they’re really good looking and they wear just their undies and I thought I wouldn’t be what they want.”
Realising it would at least be good experience, Mr Riley Smith auditioned. From there he was offered a contract.
Mr Riley Smith started with Bangarra in 2013. By 2016 he was choreographing pieces and in 2017 he was offered the main role in Bennalong, which explores the life of Aboriginal man Woollarawaree Bennelong.
“I’m incredibly fortunate. I still pinch myself. I do classes with the company and I’m surrounded by beautiful dancers and I sometimes pull myself up and go ‘you’ve got it really lucky. You’ve got a beautiful job and a beautiful life’,” Mr Riley Smith said.
“I remember being at NAISDA and watching these guys perform and thinking ‘wow, could I do that? Could I be that person on stage? Could I be telling those kinds of stories? Do I have what it takes?’.”
While possible accolades never played a role in the creative progress, Mr Riley Smith said it was quite humbling to have peers and the Australian arts industry recognise whats he’s doing.
His family are also extremely proud.
“Sometimes it puts a lot of pressure on you because I’ve got my family name, but they’re very proud of me and that makes me feel amazing that I can make my family proud,” he said.
Mr Riley Smith said he sees his future in choreography.
“It’s like doing a puzzle. You’re trying to see how things fit and what things go. You have to work out what’s the right choice and what’s the wrong choice. You get to fail, you get to learn, you get to inspire and you get to create. It’s very exciting. I think that’s a beautiful part of creating work,” he said.
“The show is just the icing on the cake, it’s just the final product. The magic happens in the studio, that’s where you find your artistry.”
However, he said no one ever knew what they were going to do in life.
“I have dreams and goals now for the future but that’s possibly not what I’m going to do because you never know. Life is spontaneous and it’s beautiful and people chuck curve balls at you and you might get new dreams and new opportunities. That’s quite a beautiful thing,” Mr Riley Smith said.