A ballet background doesn't often lead to dancing in
the air or hanging from strips of fabric, but that's one of
Rochelle Brophy's specialties. Charmian Smith reports.
Photos by Peter McIntosh.
Rochelle Brophy was shattered when she wasn't accepted into
the Australian Ballet School but it turned out it wasn't the
end of the world for the 15-year-old. So many other doors
opened, she says.
Brophy will perform at the opening of the Dunedin Fringe
Festival on March 14, dancing high above the Octagon on
strips of fabric hanging from a crane. Silks, as the
apparatus is called, is one of the aerial arts she now
teaches in the city.
Although born in New Zealand, she grew up in Canberra, and
after the disappointment of the ballet school she did
secretarial work for a year before realising she really
wanted to dance. She joined a dance company doing
cabaret-style work and toured Asia, then auditioned for a
''My friends dared me to and I got the job. I thought it was
a good way to travel and see things,'' Brophy says.
She became the magician's assistant, jumping out of
boxes, being ''cut in half'' and turning into a lion, she says
with a laugh. It was a lot of fun but she decided she wanted to
learn aerial work as well. However, it was a traditional circus
and the aerial performers didn't want to give away their
secrets. It was before circus schools started, she explains.
Her new husband, Ashley Brophy, who came from several
generations of circus performers, rigged an apparatus for her
and she taught herself aerial skills.
''Because I taught myself, a lot of the tricks were my own
and the style was my own because I had no-one to copy off,''
After a year and a-half with Silver's Circus, she and her
husband travelled, performing all over the world. She
specialised in dancing, aerial work and flying trapeze and he
was skilled at high wire, among other types of performance.
''We were never out of work. We were really lucky. We came
across the right people at the right time - theatres, clubs,
casinos - whoever would have us.''
Then her husband injured his knee. He continued to perform
until it became too painful then they cut their contracts
short and in 2002 returned to Australia so he could recover.
There they established Brophy Aerial Studios and Brophy
Productions, a circus school and company. She learned other
types of apparatus so she could teach them, but now silks is
her specialty, she says.
It was hard work, as she was teaching, performing, making
costumes, and had a baby as well - Jakira, now 9. She worked
in aerial until she was four months' pregnant, but taught,
danced and choreographed right up until the baby came. Two
months afterwards, she was performing aerial tricks again.
Jakira was often in a pram in the dressing room.
''I had a job and I had to get into it. I was booked before I
had her. In our business there is no such thing as sick
leave,'' she says.
After 18 years together, the Brophys separated and about
three years ago Rochelle came to Dunedin with her daughter.
Rochelle was adopted out but 12 years ago met her birth
mother and birth father, both of whom were still living in
Dunedin, although not together, and she felt she had family
here. She has been working in nursing since she arrived.
''I love Dunedin. I feel safe and the dance community is so
She danced with Shona Dunlop MacTavish, with whom she did
dance classes in Australia 20 years ago.
''I did that just for myself. I just wanted to stop
performing and do something for me. It was time to heal, I
guess, and Shona was fab. She just tucked me under her wing
and looked after me from day one.''
Now 42, Brophy does community dance and has hung her silks in
the phys-ed school at the university where she teaches aerial
performance. She plans to open an aerial school for all ages
and is taking bookings on email@example.com.
''It's good for strength, stamina, confidence and
awareness,'' she says.
''I love dance. It just brings me to life, but aerial dance
is something different. I guess because I developed my own
style and tricks and made it me, I just love teaching it.
People say 'I can't do that, I can't do that,' then they give
it a go and `wow! I'm doing it'. I love my students, I love
teaching, I love everything about it.''
Rochelle Brophy and her students will perform at the Dunedin
Fringe Festival launch in the Octagon at 8pm on March 13.