A Mother’s Laugh

Posted on 04 May 2022 By Behind Ballet Editor

Ballet is serious business. So is motherhood. But, as three of our extraordinary dancer-mums share, it's important to have a good laugh, and often. In celebration of Mother's Day this year, Amber Scott, Amy Harris and Dana Stephensen reflect on the importance of having a giggle and seeing the lighter side of life, especially when navigating everything from rehearsals, to Facetime, to costume fittings to feeding time, all in the one day. 

Amber Scott

Can you share an experience of a time when something made you laugh on stage?

Funnily enough, some of the most amusing experiences I’ve had onstage were not funny at all in that moment. It was actually the next day and for many years after when I could re-live these stories that I had a real giggle, after the initial mortification! For instance, accidentally wearing my leotard on backwards for a certain contemporary ballet we once did. I tried to fix it from riding up while dancing a very sensual pas de deux with Adam Bull (who was quite amused to see this). Another was somehow completely tying myself up in the famous 'Scarf' pas de deux in Act 3 of La Bayadère, and then having to extricate myself from it before throwing the whole mess of it at my Solor (Ty King-Wall) to take off stage.

What about in rehearsals?

I laugh a lot in rehearsals! We all do actually. I’ve experienced many long hours in the studio with Adam Bull and he has the best sense of humour. He also has the best poker face, much better then me! I fall to pieces when he does something funny, I can’t hold my centre at all but Ad manages to keep dancing and being cheeky! I also laugh a lot at my husband Ty (former Principal Artist Ty King-Wall) when we rehearse together, he gets very philosophical and loves to analyse what we are doing, getting into long chats with the ballet staff. I enjoy teasing him about it, even though I am secretly very impressed with his attention to detail!

Amber Scott says a good laugh in rehearsals helps to release some of the tension that comes with her career as a Principal artist.

A ballet career is serious business. Why is it important to have a laugh every now and again?

To do ballet well, you have to take it seriously but never take yourself too seriously. Ballet is too hard to get hung up on impossible perfectionism. There is always a fine line between tragedy and comedy and as artists we need to convey the whole spectrum of human emotions. In such a physically exacting art form it is so important to find a release of tension. And to be honest, these in-between moments when things don’t go to plan and you have a laugh, they are my favourite moments!

Can you share something your kids have said or done that made you laugh?

Well my 11-week old Marion is laughing and cooing at herself for the first time and this makes me laugh constantly! There is nothing quite like seeing chubby little baby arms and legs pumping up and down in excitement with big eyes and a huge gummy smile as they discover the world for the first time. My 3-year old Bonnie is now coming up with some incredible conversation, I’m constantly in awe of how astute, perceptive and unforgiving a small child can be! I get away with nothing! When I was pregnant with her sister I asked Bonnie what she thought we should call the baby and without a pause she answered “Chandelier!” I had no idea she even knew the word, but it became Marion’s nickname before she was born!

What is something you do, or have done, that makes your kids laugh?

It seems like just being myself! This also appears to work with my husband. I can only imagine how much they will all laugh/tease me as the years go on.

When was the last time you laughed at yourself? What happened?

Recently I went to a family event at Bonnie’s kindergarten, I was quite tired, since Marion was only 5 weeks old. Another lady walking in said to me “cute” and I replied “thank you” assuming she was talking about my girls, without realising my face was covered in an array of sparkly stickers Bonnie had earlier decorated me with, but I’d forgotten about!

Amber laughs as she recalls getting herself tangled in La Bayadère's Act 3 'Scarf' pas de deux. Amber rehearsing in the studio with Principal Artist Adam Bull, who she says has "the best sense of humour".

Amy Harris

Can you share an experience of a time when something made you laugh on stage?

I was only reminiscing about this the other day! During our Don Quixote season a few years ago, I managed to keep stepping back onto my long skirt while doing a shimmy and kept getting lower and lower to the ground with each step. There was no recovery! I couldn’t do anything, and the worst thing was I was at the front so everyone behind saw and we all ended in fits of laughter… on stage! 

What about in rehearsals?

On the daily! Too many to share, but I’m always up for a good giggle and there’s always moments where I laugh at myself or with my colleagues throughout rehearsals.

A ballet career is serious business. Why is it important to have a laugh every now and again?

I think because it is serious and so focused you need to have that balance and downtime. I have always loved that about what I do, we work so hard but we have so much fun doing it.

Principal artist Amy Harris hard at work in the rehearsal studio, and having a ball in the process.

Can you share something your kids have said or done that made you laugh?

Every day we laugh! Some things are probably best not shared but recently while in Sydney and during our run of Anna Karenina, my daughter Willow came into a rehearsal. Jarryd (Senior Artist Jarryd Madden is Amy's husband) was rehearsing sofa pas de deux with Imogen (Soloist Imogen Chapman) and Willow didn’t like the kiss. She leant over and said to me “I don’t like that girl kissing Daddy, why can’t they just high 5”.

What is something you do, or have done, that makes your kids laugh?

Sometimes I feel like they are an easy crowd. Just a facial or a noise and it can make them belly laugh (best sound in the world!) Other times they make me work a little harder for it! Unfortunately, toilet humour seems to be the funniest thing at the moment in our house (I point the finger at my husband for this one).

When was the last time you laughed at yourself? What happened?

Probably recently in rehearsals when I completely missed a section but had no idea and just kept going. It got to the end, and everyone had a giggle, and it wasn’t until someone said that I missed a section that I actually had any idea that I did. We all had a good chuckle! Safe to say I have never missed that section again.

Amy pictured on stage in Graeme Murphy's 'Swan Lake', and side stage in David McAllister's 'Sleeping Beauty'. She says a good laugh helps to balance the serious business of being a ballerina, both on and off stage.

Dana Stephensen

Can you share an experience of a time when something made you laugh on stage?

There are many! Live performance is fertile ground for things to almost magically come together and also sometimes go awry, sometimes comically. Just recently, during our Anna Karenina season in the scene of Betsy’s Salon, each night we would come up with a theme for the party that night, something to all focus on and develop our individual storyline’s. One night, the theme was everyone had had a bad prawn cocktail at the party so there was a lot of queasiness and sore tummies around the stage and also lots of giggles, imperceptible to the audience of course!  

What about in rehearsals?

I am a real giggler and I’m always laughing in rehearsals. My friends and colleagues make me laugh all the time. I fall over a lot, often in dramatic fashion. Watching the Marco Goecke sections in Kunstkamer especially has me giggling in the most wonderful childlike way. The intricacy, cleverness and personality that comes out of the dancers in his work is truly joyful. Tim Coleman my partner in the Johann section really makes me laugh! 

A ballet career is serious business. Why is it important to have a laugh every now and again?

I think having your sense of humour with you at all times is really important especially when things get a bit intense or serious in rehearsals. I think it’s important to take the work seriously but  not to take yourself too seriously. We are all human and it’s the light and shade that makes us. For me, I’m a real giggler and I find it diffuses a situation or keeps me feeling like “me” the most. Perspective is a wonderful thing and actually brings the best out of me more than feeling like I have to maintain an intensity when I work as the only way create a great performance.

Senior Artist Dana Stephensen is often one to get the giggles in rehearsals.

Can you share something your kids have said or done that made you laugh?

My three beautiful children are all so vibrantly different and they each make me laugh every day. Lulu is very expressive and entertains us each day with a multitude of facial expressions and performances. Jasper chasing Lulu around the house shouting “Police” makes me laugh - she giggles like mad and the joy in Jasper’s face making his little sister laugh like that is precious. Lottie is our little squirrel and picks up as many things as she can and very adeptly carrying them with her is very funny.

What is something you do, or have done, that makes your kids laugh?

I feel very fortunate that our children are growing up in a house of love and laughter. Their Dad is always playing games with them and doing funny voices and skits with them to much cackling all around. I see how much some well-timed laughter can change a mood or a little joke with Jasper can really help a tricky moment. We do love a big tickle session on the bed, all three kids and big people instantly squealing. The combination of that tactile play and laughter is so good for all of us. It’s really nice as a mother, who is often by nature the organiser, the one in the night who can soothe them back to sleep, can also be fun and playful and for the children to see that joy in you too. 

When was the last time you laughed at yourself? What happened?

I laugh at myself most days, both at home and at work but today we had a rehearsal for a section in Kunstkamer in which a girl falls out of a window and is caught very safely and ably by the men below. It’s a real adrenaline rush as it’s quite high and you just have to fall out very nonchalantly. After my first attempt I laughed so hard at myself, because the adrenaline was so strong and I can’t believe this is part of my job sometimes! My reaction to nerves is usually to laugh and this time was absolutely spot on! 

Dana pictured having a laugh with Senior Artist Valerie Tereschenko in 'Anna Karenina', and striking a more serious silhouette in Wayne McGregor's 'Dyad 1929'.