“I’ve been coaching aerobics here longer than most of our girls have been alive,” laughs Jess Hayes counting the years at the helm of the School's successful Aerobic Squad.
She’s coached teams, solos, duos and trios to National and State titles and built the Mentone Girls' Grammar aerobics squad from 8 girls in 2001 to this year’s beaming, lycra-clad squad of more than 115 - competing in 54 different event categories including Aerobics, Dance and Glee.
Along with her band of ten equally enthusiastic coaches, including old girls such as 2017 School Captain Maddie Royle, Jess switches on the gym lights six days a week for morning training and is back each weekday afternoon for more of the same.
“Nothing brings me more joy than watching the girls perform onstage at school where their friends, parents, grandparents and teachers can see the results of their hard work, “says Jess of the squad made up of girls from Year 3 to VCE and even includes a few past students still enjoying the thrill of performing.
“Competitions are all around Melbourne, and even interstate, so often nobody gets to see what they can do,” says Jess unable to mask her pride “and what they can do is pretty amazing”.
When it comes to being in the spotlight herself, she’s a lot more comfortable backstage - but that hasn’t always been the case.
Jess was born in England, raised in New Zealand and by 16-years-old had moved away from her parents to Sydney to take up a converted position at a performing arts high school.
“From there I became a professional dancer, singer and dancer and dance teacher and toured with Disney, often as Princess Jasmine,” shares Jess who found the international circuit left little time for her dance students.
Away from the high kicks and meticulously timed choreography home is with her partner Mike of 22 years and their two rescue cats Harley and Wilson – one of which Jess describes as “so ugly she is actually cute”.
In between her bookend schedule at school Jess also acts as an agent for a global dance tour company who arrange national and international dance tours – mainly in America.
Under Jess’ guidance Mentone Girls’ has made it the Nationals every year, except one, 2007 - “Those were dark times,” shares Jess with a faux serious expression.
But jokes aside Jess adds: “With such great results for that many years there comes an expectation to keep it going and that can be a lot of pressure.
“We remind the girls all the time that none of this can be taken for granted…that all of us are lucky to be here and to be fit and healthy enough to get out on stage at all”.
Over and above the bright lights, stage smiles, glistening sequins and the tight buns Jess says the true success of her squad runs a little deeper.
“It teaches the girls about discipline, commitment, resilience and being part of a team.
“They have to learn to get up early and get to training, manage their school work, jobs, other sports and friends and family,” she adds “and that’s not easy but it does build character”.
So, while early mornings, loud music and a gym full of girls may not be everyone’s perfect start to the day, Jess Hayes has, and continues to make it, a winning combination!