Ella Havelka started taking ballet classes at the age of 7 in Dubbo NSW after watching a video of Swan Lake. As an only child of a single mother, Ella knew of her Wiradjuri lineage, but had little knowledge of her cultural heritage. Ballet was an expensive pursuit but her teachers supported her and recognising her natural talent, encouraged her to continue.
At 15 she was accepted into the Australian Ballet School and after graduating in 2008 went on a journey to learn more about her Indigenous heritage.
She joined Bangarra Dance Theatre in 2009, debuting in ‘Fire’ a 20 year retrospective were she visited Arnhem Land and learnt all of the companies historic repertoire.
After a collaboration between Bangarra and The Australian Ballet, Ella’s passion for Ballet reignited and in 2013 she became the first Aboriginal dancer to join the Australian Ballet. She has since performed in numerous ballets all over Australia and Internationally.
In 2015, ‘ELLA’, a feature documentary was created about her story in which she gets to perform Swan Lake in China.
Q & A
Here are a bunch of questions I am frequently asked. If you have a question that is not discussed on here please feel free to IM me on Instagram and I can add it to the list.
Can you tell me about your family heritage?
Born in Dubbo, I am a descendant of the Wiradjuri people. My Grandmother Betty Hampton was a member of the stolen generation. She was taken away from her family as a young girl and placed in the Cootamundra girls homes. As an adult she found herself in Narromine, a small town outside of Dubbo, where she met and married Joseph Havelka, a refugee from the Czech Republic.
Janna Havelka, my mother, was the oldest of their four children. She bought me up in Dubbo as a single Mother. My father, who was of Irish decent, passed away in 2003. I was born in 1988.
Do you know much about your Aboriginal culture?
I grew up knowing very little of my Aboriginal culture. I knew I was a descendant of the Wiradjuri people and my Mother always told me to be proud to be Aboriginal, but thiat was it. When I graduated from the Australian Ballet School in 2007 I began a journey to find out about my heritage. I took a coarse in Aboriginal and Torres-straight islander art, learnt traditional basket weaving, joined Bangarra dance theatre in 2009 and went on a cultural exchange to North East Arhnem land.
Members of my family who live on Wiradjuri country have helped me connect with online courses that allow me to learn about my Wiradjuri language and heritage. I also practice traditional weaving with my Aunties in Wagga Wagga.
Why did you start doing ballet and how old were you?
I was 7 years old when I took my first ballet class in Dubbo. My mother bought home an old VHS of Swan Lake for me to watch and I was enamoured by the swans. I loved watching the girls in the white tutu’s flying through the air to such beautiful music. I grew bored of many activities like athletics, physical culture and other sports but I never grew bored of dance.
What are your main goals in dance?
I want to work with many different choreographers and try many different styles of both Classical and Contemporary Dance. I also I want to perform in front of my home town and inspire other country kids to pursue their dreams.
Who taught you how to weave and why do you like it?
I’ve had lost of teachers including; Aunty Kathy Marika a traditional elder from north east Arhnem land and my Aunties in Wagga Wagga who are part of the Hands On Weavers group. I have always enjoyed being creative and I like that weaving is a link to my heritage. I find it relaxing and a good way for me to reflect and reconnect with myself.
Do you know much about your Czech heritage?
My grandfather was reluctant to reveal much in formation regarding his life before coming to Australia. So in 2013 I took my mother over to the Czech Republic to see the country where Joseph was born. It was an amazing bonding experience for us both and I enjoyed learning some of the language.
Who inspires you?
My Mum has always inspired me because she is so strong and has had so much hardship in her life. She overcame so many obstacles to make sure I had every opportunity to become a dancer and I will always admire her courage and determination.
What do you love about dance?
I love that there are so many different ways of dancing and that it is so universal. Dance can tell any story, convey any emotion, and you can become anything or anyone you want when you dance.
What do you want to do after you finish dancing?
I’m not 100% sure yet but I do know that I want to find a way to be both creative and be able to help people at the same time.