"I REALLY believe in connecting people with culture. When we do that, we start to figure out we are. And from that, we can shape who we are."
Jake Mangakahia's passion for linking people with the arts has resulted in him being nominated in the Telstra Ballet Dancer of the Year award. A lead dancer in the Australian Ballet company, the Noosa native said he always felt at ease when telling stories through movement - even as a toddler.
"My parents would put classical music on, and (my dad) would tell us a story, and we had to interpret the story," Mangakahia said.
"And I think from that story telling, I moved in a very expressive way. And a dance form that really encapsulates that is ballet."
While the 25-year-old only spent part of his childhood growing up in Noosa, his memories of the town are vivid.
"At Tewantin Primary, they ringed me in to being Ken (in a dance performance) in that song that came out called I'm a Barbie Girl, there was two Barbie girls and I was Ken," he laughs.
"My dad and my mum helped manage a gym in Noosa. I remember as a kid running around the gym with the music playing.
"My dad also worked at a camp close to Noosa called Carrawatha, they had this high ropes course. He taught me how to do the high ropes course at the age of six or seven."
Mangakahia's parents fostered their son's love of dance and enrolled him in his first classes at Sue Altman's School of Dance in Tewantin.
Being of Polynesian descent, Mangakahia said his big family placed value on music, creativity and expression.
"We would go to the Sunshine Plaza, as a big family, cousins, uncles, aunties, grandparents, and we would do a show of Polynesian dancing," Mangakahia said.
"My dad is naturally talented at sports but he's also equally talented at dancing.
"A lot of dads, they're afraid of social stigmas attached to putting their children into things, like dance classes.
"Whereas my dad didn't have that fear, which I'm so grateful for because it allowed me to flourish."
Mangakahia was accepted into the Australian Ballet Dance School in Victoria as a 10-year-old but left after a year to go travelling around Australia with his family.
He returned to Queensland as a teen and was encouraged to audition for the school again by his high school teacher.
Mangakahia was accepted again and excelled, even being named school captain in his senior year.
The director of the Australian Ballet, David McAllister, took note of Mangakahia's talent and selected him to be in the company.
"We had an end of year graduate exhibition, there were about 18 dancers, and four of us got in," Mangakahia said.
"This is my fifth year (in the Australian Ballet). I've been able to travel to London, New York, we're going to China next year. It's really a dream come true."
Mangakahia said he hoped his experiences engaging others with the arts will help him win Ballet Dancer of the Year.
"Connecting people with culture is my passion. I believe this is how our stories are shaped, and I tell that story through arts," Mangakahia said.
"Through Bloch (a dancewear brand), I've supported kids in regional Australia who are interested in dance.
"If I win, I would purchase video equipment for myself and other dancers at the Australian Ballet to use so it can provide opportunities to create dance for people to connect with online.
"As people, we're all trying to figure out our identity, and we can do that through dance and the arts.
"To be a part of creating that unique identity, it would be a privilege."
You can help Jake win the popular vote of Ballet Dancer of the Year by texting 'Jake' to 0439 225 538 or visiting telstra.com.au/ ballet.
Follow Jake on instagram at @jakemangakahia.
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