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Kirstie McMillan: Set For Success in Rio

Charlotte Rickett

Many dancers only dream of getting the chance to travel across the world and make history for Australia.

For Kirstie McMillan, this dream has become a reality with her recent victory at the 1st Annual Australasian Brazilian Samba Queen Competition. The title will see her wing her way to Rio de Janeiro in February to represent Australia at the World Samba Congress.

“I was completely shocked [when I won the competition],” says Kirstie. “Watching all of the other competitors from side stage, I really had no idea who was going to take the crown, as they were all such talented dancers. When I was announced as the winner, I was so overwhelmed with emotion and joy I was completely speechless”.

The win comes less than five years after Subsdance Dance Studio‘s manager and instructor took  up the style. While Kirstie has been dancing for 10 years in a variety of different genres ranging from hip-hop to burlesque, it was the discovery of the Latin style that saw her leave a job in the real estate sector to pursue dance as a profession.

“While I love to dance, it is my job…literally. I teach three samba classes per week, each requiring up to an hour’s prep time; I train myself and my elite team for competitions, as well as up-and-coming instructors. It can total 15+ hours a week total just training, rehearsing or preparing for classes,” says Kirstie.

“When I’m not physically moving, I am thinking about the next class, and how to best represent the authenticity of Samba so our students are receiving the closest Brazilian experience as possible. It can be consuming, and I find it hard to switch off from it, but the more I immerse myself the better I become at representing it.”

For Kirstie, it’s about ‘more than moves’ — she feels a responsibility to represent Brazil’s history and culture when she dances.

“One of the biggest reasons I am so passionate about Samba is because Brazilians are so passionate about it. Samba is life to them. It gives them purpose,” she says.

“To dance is to express how I feel when those drums are played. They light a fire in my stomach, my heart swells and I absolutely have to move. It’s an overwhelming feeling that I can’t contain.”

Winning the competition means Kirstie has qualified for the International Samba Queen competition, also earning a two-hour workshop with international superstar Carlinhos Salgueiro, known as ‘The Samba King’.  In preparation for Rio, Kirstie will be continuing her daily practice with her coach and Director of Subsdance, Kate Ticehurst, who is very proud of Kirstie’s win.

“Her passion for Brazilian culture is unmatchable and she is the perfect person to represent Australia in Brazil,” says Kate. “The pride I feel watching her grow is indescribable, I know she will do amazingly in Brazil as she has invested so much of herself to learn about the culture and this beautiful dance style”.

While she doesn’t expect to be crowned an international winner, Kirstie says that the chance to learn from the masters, and to share her love for Samba with them, is prize enough.

“I want to create moments so I can tell stories for years to all of my students: present and future. I also want to look back on my dance journey, when I am old and unable to move my hips like I can now, and truly know that I did the best I could. I continually progressed, I loved it fiercely and threw my whole being at it.

Photography by Maz Smaily Photography