Born in Melbourne, Phillip Adams spent his early years in Papua New Guinea, where he received his first dance training, Darwin, Brisbane and Canberra. Throughout these years he continued to dance but was also strongly involved with music studies, especially in Canberra where he was an undergraduate student at the Canberra School of Music. In Canberra he also took dance classes with Stephanie Burridge and her Canberra Dance Theatre. While working with Burridge he successfully auditioned for the dance program at the Victorian College of the Arts. In 1988, his final year at the Victorian College, he was awarded an ANZ International Fellowship for a graduating student, which allowed him to travel to New York to work and study. Over several years in the United States he encountered an eclectic range of dance styles and worked with choreographers such as Nina Wiener, Donna Uchizono, Bebe Miller, Dennis O'Connor, Amanda Miller and Irene Hultman.