Dancing through life (and the supermarket)!

Cassie Simmons has been dancing since she was six-years-old. This obsession now fuels her passion for collaboration with young dancers and Cassie loves to see them realise their creative potential. After working with young dancers for over 20 years, Cassie is enjoying a new chapter of creativity through her own company and school in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

Ausdance VIC caught up with Cassie to hear more of her story about launching a new dance business during Melbourne’s bumpy ride through COVID-19.

Three dancers in a studio wearing black with black elastic stretched and winding around their bodies. They are standing close together and using their outstretched arms and legs to create strong angles with their bodies.
“Tied Taut and Twisted” 2022, Cassandra Robyn Dance Company. Photo by Cassie Simmons

Ausdance VIC: What is it about dance that keeps you moving?

Cassie Simmons: I was always moving as a child, and dance was a great outlet for all this energy that I seemed to have that other sports just couldn’t help satisfy. Some might say I still move too much as an adult—like dancing behind my partner while we grocery shop much to his annoyance (laughter) I can happily spend endless hours listening to music, and just moving.

I started teaching dance routines when I was 14 under the eyes of my dance teacher at the time. Today, my adult self is very impressed with my younger self that I had the confidence to ask. As soon as I started creating works of varying styles (mostly jazz at that point in time) I fell even more in love with dance.

Ausdance VIC: What are your first memories of dancing?

Cassie Simmons: Being at the back of a V formation for a performance of Swan Lake at my first dance school when I was 6. I can remember going through the same set of steps continuously until we had our timing right. Although it was a small part of a larger production, I can remember enjoying it, and being happy being part of something. I also remember being given the freedom to have time in class to improvise and be creative with large pieces of fabric and other props, and I’m sure this is where my active dance imagination comes from. It’s amazing what having the space to be yourself can do.

Ausdance VIC: What’s your training background? Are you traditionally trained in ballet or other genres?

Cassie Simmons: I started with ballet at 6, but quickly moved to jazz and ballet became a distant memory. I found contemporary dance in my teens and never looked back. I studied dance in high school at Sandringham Secondary College, finishing with a cert II. None of the places I danced at growing up were particularly serious and were always more recreational. It meant that when I was at an age where I considered dance more seriously, I was behind technically. But that was still okay to me, as I loved it, and only ever danced for me. It also pushed me to be more creative to make up for the technical shortcomings I may have had.

Ausdance VIC: Who inspires you in terms of dance role models?

Cassie Simmons: Stephanie Lake. When I saw Colossus at the Arts Centre, I was so pumped, and full of energy afterward, that I felt like I could do anything. This was my first introduction to Stephanie’s work, which sent me on an exploration of all things Stephanie Lake Company. I love the freedom and the passion in her works, it’s like I can feel it through my whole body. There is a clear collaboration between herself and the dancers, which is something I always strive for. To find balance between your ideas and creation, while bringing out the best in your performers. Her own personal dance journey is equally as inspiring, and I wish I were as brave as her at a younger age. It’s what I strive to be now, and it gives me the courage to be my true, free, and creative self.

Ausdance VIC: You’ve been operating Cassandra Robyn as a dance company since 2020. How did you manage to launch such a venture during COVID-19?

Cassie Simmons: I do have the habit of diving in headfirst (laughs). I’d rather try than not try at all. In the back of my mind, creating a company was always something that I would do, and COVID-19 had a way of putting things in perspective. With the support and encouragement of the principals of the studios I was working at, at the time, I set about launching at the tail end of 2020.  I believe the young dancers were excited to try something new and to learn further contemporary skills and performance techniques outside of their regular training.

In 2021, we were able to have in-person sessions, and when we went back into lockdown these were moved to Zoom. We would meet on Sundays once a month and work on contemporary choreography and skills. In 2022 we were able to have the full year in person which felt so good! 

Ausdance VIC: Now, you’re taking another leap and establishing a studio school at Cassandra Robyn. Why did you decide to do this?

Cassie Simmons: Like the dance company, it was something that I always thought about doing. Why not now? Why not try? I also thought that maybe the idea of a dance company might be too intimidating or scary for some. I enjoy working with young dancers and seeing what amazingly creative and fun ideas they come up with and I wanted the school program to be a space that these dancers can enjoy learning works and skills in, but still have fun doing it.

Ausdance VIC: Do you think the dance economy is recovering from the hardships of the pandemic?

Cassie Simmons: Every time I go and see a live performance, I get excited just for the fact we’re able to be back in theatres again. Going to see Dance X was a highlight for me. Seeing such varied styles of dance all represented on the one stage was fantastic. I’d love for there to be more performances like this, bringing different people and styles together. From a dance school perspective, I know there are many that are still struggling with retaining students or gaining new ones. I’m not sure how long it may take to get back to normalcy. But I have hope that it will.

Ausdance VIC: I know it’s early days for you in terms of classes and students, but do you see any potential superstars in the mix?

Cassie Simmons: Can I say all of them? They all bring something unique and exciting to the table, and they all want different things from their experience, so I couldn’t really compare or put one ahead of the other.

Ausdance VIC: Who are the young dancers today? Is there a “type” among the students? We see a lot of diversity now in genres that also seem to attract a more diverse range of dancers. Do you see that in your studio spaces?

Cassie Simmons: There is definitely more diversity which I love. It makes for a more dynamic class/group performance. All dancers at any age have such unique perspectives and the fun part for me is finding out what their ‘thing’ is, and helping them reach their creative potential.

A dance teacher standing in a studio wearing black with black elastic winding and stretched around her leg, body, head and between both arms. A student is in the background mimicking the pose with black elastic.
Cassie with young dancer. Photographed by Conor McCaul

Ausdance VIC: What’s next for the Cassandra Robyn company? Are you rehearsing anything or working on any new pieces?

Cassie Simmons: Outside of dance I work as an Interior Designer full-time. Any chance to bring that and my dance together is an exciting one. I began work on a piece that utilises elastic, that showcases the spatial experience of a dancer which I’m excited to keep working on.

Ausdance VIC: Do you have any performances in the pipeline?

Cassie Simmons: Not as yet – watch this space!

Thanks for the opportunity to talk about my company. Dance is such an integral part of me, I’m absolutely obsessed. Any chance that I have to grow and learn from others and create new works is a happy and exciting day for me.

Ausdance VIC: A pleasure, Cassie. Thanks for your time.

Visit Cassandra Robyn Dance Company to learn more about the company and explore the class schedule.