Gary Bowering

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Dancing the Rhythm

Copyright Gary Bowering 1997. All rights reserved. Story originally published by Wellington papers in January 1997.

For 12 years Monique Koorey has been dancing her heart out -- and she's just 17. That love of dance, combined with hard work, persistence, and the financial help of Birthright, has paid off. Early in 1997, Monique fulfils her dream when she begins the Teacher's Diploma at the New Zealand School of Dance in Wellington -- one of just four new trainees. And there is only one course in the country.

Sitting with Monique and her family, drinking coffee and orange juice in the sun, it's easy to see that this is a close, happy, clan. They laugh, constantly smile at each other, and clearly share a lot of love. But when the subject turns to dance, Monique's eyes sparkle even more. This she lives with every breath.

"Studying dance teaching is what I've wanted to do for a long time. It means I can dance professionally while I'm young, and later in life give something back through teaching."

Maturity of this level is rare in one so young. It comes, according to Monique, from the discipline of dance, and the need to cope as a child of a single parent family.

Monique on top of her world "For the last eight years, Mum's been bringing the four of us up on her own. It's been tough, but she's always done all she can to help us do the things we want, and we've all tried to help each other too. Some of the things she's done have been really amazing."One was the move a year ago from Hastings to Newlands, Wellington. Monique gives her mother another big smile as she tells the story.

"I wanted to do the Dance and Education Course at the New Zealand School of Dance, and that meant attending one and half to two hours after school every day, and all day on Saturdays. So that I could do that, and have a chance at getting into the Diploma course, the four of us moved here."

Monique is the second oldest of four (the eldest stayed in Hastings). Mum Jenny says she'd do anything for her kids, but notes that for single parent families financial constraints can make some things almost impossible. As she speaks, the worry returns to her eyes.

"Monique's course costs $660 a year, then there is a pair of point shoes at $80 every couple of months, plus dance gear and uniforms, travel, and all sorts of other expenses. Plus, of course, the other kids have their things. Fleur (the second youngest) is good at drama and dance, and is having acting classes, and she's also wanting to do some more dancing next year. And Andre has started playing rugby. It's marvellous that my kids are good at something, and I want to encourage them to succeed, but the costs of living have to be covered first and that doesn't leave a lot left over.

"A Hastings neighbour suggested that I contact Birthright, a nationwide charity organisation which helps children of single parent families. The people there were a Godsend as I was getting quite stressed. Monique had just been given the lead in Sleeping Beauty, and she needed two tutus and new shoes.

"Birthright made all the difference," she sighs with obvious relief. "It otherwise would have been impossible for both daughters to have taken lessons last year. As it was I still had to resort to the credit card to get all the things they needed."

Jenny pauses to sip her coffee, letting the memory of tough times fade. She continues with genuine enthusiasm for the organisation that helped her and he family get through.

"It's the way Birthright supports those it helps that makes a big difference. Rather than simply handing out money, it directly subsidises the children's activities. With Monique, a third of her dance and education class fees were paid, as were the fees for Fleur's drama classes. School uniform and shoe vouchers are another way the kids were helped out. By doing something for the kids themselves they appreciate it a lot more and will stick with it -- it's much more meaningful than a cash hand-out. Even the tickets we got to a magic show were appreciated and remembered. There was no way that I can afford to pay for show tickets for the kids.

"Some people might be embarrassed about asking for help, but they shouldn't be if they need it. The first year I felt a little funny when a Birthright Christmas food package was delivered by someone who lived down the street. You know, I thought I didn't really need it, and that there were people worse off than me, but the money I saved on food meant I could get the kids a Christmas present. In the end, that little gesture did make a big difference."

Monique heartily agrees with her Mum.

Monique "Those little things mean the most. If life had started to get too tough, I would have felt bad about the cost to the family of the dance training, and might have just left school and turned my part-time supermarket job into a full-time one. But, in the end, we had enough help for me to do it.

"Things get even more expensive for me next year. The course costs $2200 a year, then there're uniforms, point shoes, tights, books, and all those other things. If Mum hadn't moved to Wellington so I could still live at home, even the student allowance and loan wouldn't have been enough."

Monique appears to have a big future ahead of her. She has already, as a child, appeared in Royal New Zealand Ballet productions. There have been parts in numerous productions, scholarships to School of Dance seminars, and successes in dance competitions all over the North Island. Now she wants to help other kids, and is keen to tell the story of how Birthright helped her succeed. As she talks, she gets more and more excited.

"I was asked if I would become an ambassador for Birthright Wellington, and I said 'yes' straight away. Without the help I had I wouldn't be living my dream now. I can't afford to return the favour with donations, but I can give other support. Birthright has always been a quiet, background, organisation. People need to know more about them -- both so parents know where to go to get help for their kids, and so people who want to help kids like me, and my little brother and sister, know how to do it.

"You know, my friends think it's cool what Birthright did for me, and they think it's pretty cool that I want to help in return. Everybody goes through a tough time in their life, so getting helped isn't something people should be ashamed of. It's something to be proud of -- to show that you did your best and got through, to prove that you weren't too stubborn to do what's sensible. Birthright helps kids fulfil their dreams and to make something of themselves. I'm all for that."

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