September 9th, 2015
Published on January 23rd, 2012 | by johnw0
I used to sing myself to sleep almost every night. I loved to sing. There wasn’t a night when I didn’t.
In grade 7 I was 11 years old, it was the final year of primary school and I clearly remember that moment I asked myself “what do I want to be when I grow up?”
As a kid, I instinctively drew on the things I loved doing. I had heard many high profile people say ‘find the thing you enjoy, and I would have the stamina it takes to be successful. I’d withstand the inevitable ups and downs.’
After some thought I realised I wanted to be a performer; a that stage a singer and dancer. This was what I loved doing and it was primarily what I knew. I made a pact with myself then, to do what was necessary to achieve this and not waste a moment of time; I needed to utilise every moment since time was precious. Time, developing skills and hard work was required to achieve my dreams.
I was brought up in a predominantly Italian area, 15-20 minutes north-east of Adelaide city in a suburb called Hectorville, in the City of Campbelltown. I spent the first 17 years living here where I attended primary school. My personality was partly moulded as a result of the jovial, extroverted Italian culture that surrounded me.
I consider myself to have been a privileged child having had all the opportunities to pursue interests and hobbies with no financial limitations or cultural restrictions. Although it is common place for kids and teenagers to partake in interests these days, it wasn’t common when I grew up. The parents of the kids with whom I attended primary school, were mostly 1st generation Italian immigrants, and in their minds, there didn’t seem to be much sense in doing hobbies. It wasn’t a part of the culture they knew and was a foreign concept. School, according to the culture I grew up in, was not only a baby sitting service, but it provided and fulfilled all the students’ needs. There wasn’t the input from parents who normally would help with the homework or oversee outside activities. Most of the parents had little or no English anyway and weren’t able to, but bottom line, considered it unnecessary to supervise in these areas.
My mum thought differently.
Don’t get me wrong, they went along with the expectation of the culture I grew up in in that they didn’t supervise homework, and I am not sure if they were terribly concerned how we did at school. They did however do whatever was necessary to give me and my two brothers the recreational opportunities we needed.
My mum, Eunice Neale (nee Hoad), never thought twice about finding activities outside school to extend us. Her mum had given her the opportunities available to her. Eunice probably didn’t know any different, viewing hobbies as a good opportunity to keep her kids occupied, give them a focus and consequently keep us out of mischief. Throughout my childhood and teens, she kept me occupied with hobbies that interested me.
Mum recalls my first ballet concert at 3 years old where she was secretly dreading being embarrassed due to my age and lack of concentration and ballet ability. She left that concert relieved that all people noticed was the ‘cute factor’ of all the kids – who did everything on stage but dance.
I started piano lesson at 7 years old and continued until I was 16: until school and hobby commitments didn’t allow me to put in the necessary practice needed to pass the exams. I wasn’t a natural piano player, I simply worked hard.
I went through the Australian Music Examination Board (AMEB) syllabus and completed grades 1 – 3 music theory, and at the same time, preliminary – grade 6 piano exams. Always doing really well, achieving high marks because I put in the work. I never really enjoyed playing the piano as I didn’t enjoy the music I played-all classical songs-an era I couldn’t relate to. I did however find that working through the graded system gave me direction and goals.
I so wanted to give up piano many times in my teens, but felt it ‘wasn’t the right time’, always knowing in my heart of hearts I still had more to learn.
I stuck with what I believed to be the right thing to do -‘hanging in there’ with piano lessons. Consequently, sticking to it gave me the skills I needed for the rest of my life in the industry. It was helpful later in life as a singer because as a classical and music theatre singer, I needed to be able to read music to accompany myself when learning the music.
Perhaps somewhat ironically, I made it a condition for teachers who taught at my singing studio (which I opened in 1995), to have good keyboard skills in order to accompany the students when singing warm-up exercises and songs.
I also did calisthenics from the age of 7-11 at the Marden Calisthenics Club.
Classes were held in a large church hall on Payneham Road, Marden, 10 minutes from home. Marden Calisthenics club was one of the best, if not the best club of the day. The standard and expectations were high. We rehearsed routines over and over until they were perfected. Competitions were held over a few months from May each year at the Royalty Theatre in Angus Street in Adelaide. The club regularly won competitions and put on an impressive concert at the end of the year, also at the Royalty Theatre.
The club is still as successful today. At Zumba class a few months ago, a lady came up to me and said “are you Leanne Hoad?” I answered
“Yes, I go by my married name now, but yes, that is me”.
She was the founder of Marden Calisthenic Club and remembered me from over 30 years ago. She informed me the club is going stronger than ever. I was impressed to hear she maintained the standard and high results for 40 years. Quite an achievement for any organisation.
From an early age, my experiences of being a part of associations and businesses which excelled, instilled in me that excelling was the norm.
At the age of 11 I swapped calisthenics for more traditional dance and enrolled at Theatreama (now Tenison College of Dance), a ballet school offering classical, modern, tap and national lessons. I wanted to do only jazz but they insisted I do classical lessons. They were compulsory as they provided the basis of correct technique required for the other genres. I learnt all the forms of dance they offered and never regretted the classical lessons. Classical classes not only gave me poise and presence but also the dance skills to be technically precise and polished for all other dance forms. They did know best and i am glad I took their advice-it would have been easy not to.
A large part of my life was spent at Theatreama. My colleagues and I were serious about our dancing, aiming for high marks at exams and excellence at concerts. We achieved these under the tuition of our exceptional teachers, and the high expectations within this culture. We had many wonderful times and experiences as you do when you spend four nights a week and all day Saturdays with the same girls during the formative teenage years. Yet again, I was a part of a studio that encouraged and attained excellence.
I believed personal excellence and the fulfilment of dreams was now a given!
At 16 years old mum posed a question to me: “The Norwood Council is supporting the Miss Norwood Quest, would you like to go in it?”, “Hoad Woodcarving Academy would sponsor you which would be great publicity for the business, especially if you won”, she continued, sowing an intriguing idea in my mind.
“Why not?”, I thought.
I must admit, the benefits of winning appealed to me. After all, winning the Quest, to me, was pretty much a clear-cut marketing exercise-you identified specifically what the market (the judging panel) wanted and worked towards achieving this.
- Winner of 1982 “Miss Norwood Quest” Leanne Hoad (seated), with runner-up, at Hoad Woodcarving Academy, Norwood, Adelaide.
The Miss Norwood Quest was connected to the prestigious Miss Australia Quest in that all money raised went towards The Spastic Centre (now SCOSA). The Spastic Centre was also involved in the judging, and the winners wore the eleborate and beautiful Miss Australia gown and crown.
Apparently, your sponsor is supposed to assist you in raising funds. No one told me this. I didn’t mind. I found raising funds came naturally. I identified the areas where I could make maximum money with minimal effort. I sold raffle and lotto tickets in shopping centres and pubs, for the fabulous prize of a new Gemini car. I also gathered as many family and friend to the organised events, since all tickets sales went towards our fundraising total. I also sold gear at markets from the boot of my car. or on a rickety trestle table. What I sold I cannot remember, but I made money and had a good time!
Selling was easy, and identifying opportunities was instinctive. I single-handedly raised over $5,000.00 in 1982 (roughly $18.000.00 in 2012).
On the day of judging, I looked and dressed my best, and confidently gave all the correct answers to each judge’s question.
I ended up winning this quest, mum got her publicity when I went got the paper, as it mentioned my sponsors the Hoad Woodcarving Academy, and I rode in an open top carriage wearing the Miss Australia cape and crown at the 1982 Norwood Christmas Pageant.
I went on to raise a further $3,000 the following year for The Spastic Centre as an entrant in the Miss South Australia Quest. I didn’t win this one, but I learnt through the process the importance of having a good angle when submitting an editorial or story.
To this day, I use the “Miss Norwood Quest” experience in that you need a news-worth angle when pitching stories to papers and magazines.
I did quite a few other hobbies during my teenage years all relating to the performing arts industry including a few modelling course-as dancers so often did. It was a natural progression from the dancing. I did a few contemporary dance courses at the Australian Dance Theatre, performed in a few amateur musical theatre productions with the Metropolitan Theatre Company and took up singing lessons.
When I finished my primary schooling at Newton Multi-Cultural Primary School (now East Torrens Primary School), as is the norm, I was booked in to attend the local public high school in the area I lived in. My local school, Campbelltown High School (now Charles Campbell Secondary School) in those days had a bad reputation for drugs and bad behaviour. It was assumed I would attend this school.
Fortunately, by a strange twist of luck, fate stepped in and I was rescued from what could have been the making of a very different person…