In this series of regular articles, our Melbourne-based correspondent meets the Positively Scottish Humans of Oz
From the mystical movements of Turkey’s Whirling Dervishes and the acrobatic feats of the Ukrainian hopak, to the vibrant shimmies of Bollywood performance and the storytelling rituals of ancient tribes, boys and men in many cultures are encouraged to dance as a way of traditional masculine self-expression. In places like the UK, Australia and America, however, men generally avoid the dance floor for lack of confidence or fear of being seen as a bit ‘girly’. Which is strange, considering how many of the world’s most highly acclaimed dancers and choreographers are men. In Western countries, ‘masculinity’ is more often linked to dominant and aggressive behaviour expressed through sport. Thankfully though, attitudes are changing and more and more males are smashing stereotypes and finding their feet through dance. One of them is Andy Howitt, a professional choreographer and dancer from Newport-on-Tay, who has just opened his own studio in Melbourne.
I started dancing when I was about 15. Before I came out to Australia four years ago, I was running YDance in Glasgow, which is the Scottish national youth dance agency for children and young people. Prior to that, I was artistic director with Citymoves in Aberdeen.
I opened Commercial Street Dance Studio this year and teach contemporary dance classes, after-school classes for kids, and classes for mature adults. On a Thursday, I’ve also got a boys-only group.
I’ve always wanted to have my own studio, but I probably would never have done it in Scotland. Australians are such great lovers of dance, in terms of creativeness and jobs, and there’s a real support in Australia for starting a new business by yourself, which you don’t find in Britain. There’s a real positivity towards new ideas here—it’s part of the culture.
I also think Australia is culturally more relaxed. It’s just the way people are bought up here. The weather certainly helps, but I also find it fascinating that the working week finishes on a Friday, and you don’t have any contact with your job until Monday. You actually have a weekend here.
Back in Scotland, every day of the week it was meetings and phone calls, left right and centre. Australians have what I call this ‘backyard’ mentality. You have a barbie and a few beers and just chill. I mean, I had never carried an esky (portable cooler) in my life before I came here! There’s always so many free events, like music in the park, and you go to the beach for a whole day!
To be honest, Melbourne reminds me a bit of Glasgow. It’s a busy port city, with a great music and arts scene, and lots of people living here have moved here from other places.
Leaving your home country is a bit dramatic—or traumatic, depending on which way you look at it. You sell your house, your car and your possessions. You leave your family, work and safety net behind, and you arrive in your new home with nothing. I had no friends when I moved to Australia. I was very Scottish and I actually thought I’d miss Scotland much more than I have. I thought I would want to go back because I’d had enough, or it wasn’t the lifestyle I wanted, but it’s not been like that at all. It’s been the opposite.
I felt I had done everything I could possibly do in Scotland—I actually began to reinvent the wheel a bit—so it was a natural time to leave. I’ve re-found my energy—and I’m actually the fittest I’ve ever been.
Starting again in a new place allows you to reinvent yourself. You take the good bits and get rid of the bad bits, and you brush up the good bits and make them nicer and do the things you’ve always wanted to do. I’m definitely much more relaxed out here. I’m certainly much more approachable. I’m much less driven by my work. I just allow myself to be.