Jason Coleman All the right moves
For Jason Coleman, one of Australia’s most recognisable dancers, creating his own dance studio 10 years ago has brought his career full circle. Jason talks to Success about his accomplished career, achieving 10 years in business, and the million-dollar film he never made.
There’s a saying that the more strings to your bow, the more likely you are to succeed. If there’s truth in that, Jason Coleman was always destined for success.
Jason began dancing at four years old, following his older sister and the neighbourhood girls. When the girls were done with dancing, Jason stayed on. He won many trophies, received a scholarship at 12 years old, attended the Australian Ballet School and was performing professionally by the time he was 16.
You may recognise Jason Coleman as one of the original judges from So You Think You Can Dance Australia (2008–2010), or you might be familiar with his work choreographing major events like the Sydney Olympics opening and closing ceremonies. Perhaps you don’t even realise you’ve experienced the talent that is Jason, in his many musical theatre roles like Chicago and Hairspray or as a dancer for music legends including Whitney Houston, Frank Sinatra, Kylie Minogue, Olly Murs and Tina Arena. There are far too many credits to list.
For “a kid from a small town who liked to dance” Jason has achieved what many young dancers only dream. Of the thousands of young dancers who aspire to succeed, maybe 100 will get into a course that has the gusto to get them there, of those who finish the course just 10 might get into an agency, and only one will still be dancing at 30 years old. It’s a competitive industry.
“Statistically, I’m very proud to have not only had an elite career as a dancer traveling around the world, dancing in 27 different countries and doing 18 different Broadway musicals, and all those things that I did here in Australia, but to be able to turn dance into the second act of my life.”
Jason’s Act Two is his acclaimed dance training academy, Ministry of Dance, which he opened 10 years ago in 2008. The academy, located in Melbourne, is the largest private dance space in the world, employs 140 people and encompasses full time courses, mentorship programs, summer school and a junior school, as well as a talent agency and production company. It runs 12 hours a day, seven days a week, 362 days a year, “it’s like a train station for dance”.
“I come from the old school form of learning dance where you were hit with sticks and made to hold a ruler in the crack of your bum…”
The studio has also been the rehearsal home for countless international productions, such as Wicked, The Book of Mormon, Cats, Kinky Boots and Les Miserables. And has launched numerous dance careers. As well as training and booking dancers, Jason has developed a collection of high-energy shows he takes around the country. Many Cairns and Townsville residents will be familiar with the high-energy, fast-paced cabaret show Razzle Dazzle which toured the north in 2018, featuring Jason and seven sensational dancers.
“Ministry of Dance is the best thing I ever did in my life,” admits Jason. “It’s like having my own family; I wake up every day and it needs me. As a middle-aged guy, there something very cathartic and strong and profound about that.”
To think, Ministry of Dance almost never existed.
“My mum was the person who most nagged me to ‘Open a studio! Open a studio!’” tells Jason. “I had written a film and I wanted to spend a million dollars to make it, and my mum said to me, ‘Look, you don’t know that world, you know your world. I think you should spend the million dollars in a studio.’”
Jason did, and, it turns out, mum knew best. Ministry of Dance is now the biggest full-time dance course in the country, has become a hub for the commercial and musical theatre scenes, and Jason says the school delivers a higher success rate for young performers than any other studio in Australia.
“Creating opportunities for younger versions of myself – the full circle nature of my life – is very rewarding,” reveals Jason. “I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last 10 years too. So much has shifted in our industry. I come from the old school form of learning dance where you were hit with sticks and made to hold a ruler in the crack of your bum and all these strange things.
“We were told, ‘Do it again, you’re not worthy! Do it again, you’re not worthy!’ Now, we’re still working in a disciplined art form, but the world has shifted and at the Ministry of Dance, I say to the younger versions of myself, ‘Do it again, you’re so worthy!’ That’s the real difference for us.”
As Jason embraces his life’s “second act” he can’t help but contemplate the location for Act Three. “I hate winter, I hate the cold; I’m from Melbourne and I’ve never gotten used to it. When I get to my later years and I’m looking at retirement, it’ll definitely be in this part of the world,” he says from sunny Cairns.