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Southbanker

09 Sep 2020

Southbanker Image

Dancing against the odds

By Marco Holden Jeffery

When Jesse Teichelman appeared virtually at this year’s World Championships of Performing Arts, it was a different experience to his first appearance in 2015, when he flew to Los Angeles and won gold in the junior dance category.

But if you’ve seen the 22-year-old Southbank resident dance and heard his long list of achievements, you wouldn’t know dancing was something he was told he would never be able to do.

“When I was a kid, doctors said I would never be able to do any type of sport, let alone dance,” Jesse said.

“They said I’ll never be able to go to the Olympics or compete in anything, so it’s best to find something to do that isn’t physically moving.”

Jesse was born with a rare heart condition where he had just one coronary artery, restricting the flow of oxygenated blood into the heart, and had four open heart surgeries before the age of 16.

But that didn’t stop Jesse from pursuing his love of dance, starting in 2009 when he learned to moonwalk for a school assembly performance in his hometown of Perth commemorating the death of Michael Jackson.

“When I discovered dance, it was something that came so naturally to me, so I’ve grown to know my limits and know when to stop,” he said.

“So many kids are told ‘you can’t do this’ - if anything my condition inspired me to push and do more.”

Jesse kept dancing for fun - an improvised blend of hip-hop and freestyle dance - and started posting videos on Facebook for his friends and family.

After a few videos spread beyond his immediate circle, Jesse appeared on Australia’s Got Talent in 2013, making at as far as the second round.

“I was so young back then and looking back at it there was no way I was going to win - but it was the first real competition I ever went in and it was a great experience,” he said.

And it wasn’t the last time Jesse would dance competitively - in 2015, a scout reached out to him to represent Australia at the World Championships of Performing Arts, flying him and his mum out to LA and the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.

“Everything in LA was in your face, big, out there,” Jesse said.

After placing first in the junior solo dance category, Jesse spent a day talking to agents and scouts from all across the industry including a producer from the Step Up series, Janet Jackson’s backup dancer and Missy Elliot’s manager.

“When I came back to Australia from LA, it felt like a ghost town - I felt like nothing was here and if you wanted to achieve something, you had to go to LA,” he said.

But if a professional dance career was out of reach, Jesse wasn’t too fussed - his other passion was working with children with disability, a sector he had been in for seven years.

“I guess the passion for it comes from my childhood - having a heart condition I was hardly at school, I was having four appointments a week and there were a lot of gaps in my learning,” he said.

“And then in high school I unconsciously surrounded myself with the kids who needed help and it just sprung from there.”

Jesse moved to Southbank from Perth less than a year ago, but there was one with which he already had a connection.

“When I was in Perth, I used to travel to Melbourne three times a year for a holiday, and I would always stay in Southbank,” he said.

“I love it - it’s bustling, it’s busy and there’s always something happening.”

The pandemic meant Jesse had been stuck at home - his “safe haven” - rather than out and about dancing or helping others.

But before long he hoped to back to his charitable dancing self - he regularly performed on the Channel Seven Perth Telethon and danced at the Perth Children’s Hospital and Royal Children’s Hospital here in Melbourne.

“I try to give back as much as possible and use my talent as a tool to entertain and inspire,” Jesse said.

“It’s all about not taking life for granted.” •

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