As a young man living in the Coalfields Lawrence Lambert should probably be a ute-driving tradesman.
Or, if he followed stereotype, he could be a coalminer in training, spending his days in heavy duty navy overalls and steel-capped boots.
But Lawrence has followed neither path.
Instead, the young Aberdare man surrounds himself with girls in tutus and lives his life in tights.
He rises every day at 4.30am to stretch his sinewy limbs, awaken his mind and tell himself that today is a great day to dance.
“It’s great being a young male dancer because there aren’t a lot of us around so we’re kind of a novelty, but there is that ridicule,” Lawrence said.
“If you’re male and you’re a dancer that’s the total opposite of what you’re supposed to do in my community. You’re supposed to be a tradie or work in the mines. And that’s hard to get over at first, but you just have to learn to go with it.”
It’s close to 9am on a Wednesday morning and Lawrence is warming up for another day at the National College of Dance in Lambton.
This year he is one of five-Maitland area students enrolled at the college which provides nationally accredited training to those wishing to pursue a career in the dance industry.
“I got into dancing after seeing the movie Centre Stage,” Lawrence said. “I started dancing around the lounge room and my mum just told me to go to dance lessons.
“So I did and I loved it and everything just went from there.”
Much like his fellow dance students, Lawrence lives and breathes dance. He makes the sacrifices needed to follow his dream and one day he hopes to take his own centre stage in a production created in his honour.
“My ultimate goal would be to become a principal dancer or a freelance principal, going around the companies and take on major roles in ballets. It would be very exciting to tour around the world doing what I love,” Lawrence said.
“I’d love to have a choreographer take an interest in me and create a ballet for me. That would be very exciting. Performing on stage kind of feels like being in love for the first time or having a little crush with all the butterflies, that’s what it feels like.
“I wouldn’t be anything without dance. I don’t know who I would be or who I would identify as. Dance is me.”
Sharing studio space and woes of mutilated feet with Lawrence, is Grace Walker.
“I love everything about dance. I couldn’t do anything else, I don’t know anything else,” Grace, 17, of Largs, said.
But Grace knows full well life as a ballet dancer is much more than a world filled with tulle and pale-hued ballet shoes.
“It is a daunting industry to be a part of because there are so many other dancers out there and only a small percentage get to where they want to be, so it does make you question whether you can make it,” she said.
Like many emerging young ballet dancers, Grace dreams of dancing the roles of either Sleeping Beauty or Giselle but she knows many more pirouettes will need to be perfected before that happens.
“You make a lot of sacrifices to be a dancer,” Grace said. “You can’t party of a weekend with your friends because you have to be in the right mindset to dance and you have to look after your body. It is your tool so you have to treat it right.”
Isabelle Leonard has been dancing for 12 years after attending her first ballet lesson at the age of five. But the East Maitland teenager was little more than a toddler when she first discovered a love for the art form.
“When I was about three I started begging my mum to let me go to ballet classes,” Isabelle, 17, said.
“But because my uncle is a professional dancer, my parents didn’t want any of their children getting into the industry because they knew it was such a hard life.
“But my parents got sick of me begging, so they let me do it and I loved it straight away and it’s always been part of my life.”
Isabelle dances six days a week and has no intention of lessening her workload.
“It can be tiring but it’s such an amazing feeling and I would never give it up,” she said.
“I have so many ambitions when it comes to dance. I’d like to be part of a contemporary company, maybe in Germany, but I also have a passion for musical theatre as well.
“But at the end of my career I would like to be choreographer. I guess I would love to own my own company.”
Shorter and blonder than her classmates is Montana Doyle – a girl with a penchant for the contemporary style of ballet rather than the traditional.
“I’ve been dancing since I was three,” Montana, 16, of Thornton, said. “I used to dance around the house and when I ended up going to ballet class it was fun.
“It’s hard to explain how I feel about dance but it’s something inside me I guess. I dance all the time, I’ll be in a shop, hear a song and I just have to move.
“There are a lot of restrictions placed on you when you dance, you can’t just go out with your friends whenever you feel like it but you get used to it and it’s what you have to do.
“You have to put dance first.”
This sentiment is most certainly not lost on Rebecca Collins.
“There have been a lot of times where I have missed parties and stuff but you can’t afford to do it to yourself,” Rebecca, 16, of Louth Park, said.
“But when it is something that you love, you make those sacrifices and you are happy to make them.
“I get exhausted and my body gets exhausted but if I miss a day or I’m out because of an injury I think I should be out there trying to perfect another step.
“Because when you dance, you can truly let go, it is so raw.”