A Dancer’s Life For Me, Part 1
When people discover that you work on cruise ships, they are usually intrigued. A slew of questions follow: How did you get into that? What are the crew quarters like? Can you get off in the ports of call? Does it pay well? Do you get sea sick? How long are the contracts? What is a dancer’s life like?
With so many different cruise lines out there, everyone’s experience is different and I can only report on the experiences I’ve had. I do know that in those early days (and still to this day), it’s the advice and guidance I received from those more experienced professionals around me that have helped shape me into the performer I am today.
I can only hope that by sharing my experiences that I can do the same for someone, somewhere along the way. So whether you are a young performer who wants to learn from my mistakes, or a lover of live entertainment who is curious for a peek behind the curtain, I hope that I can provide you with some insight into the industry, some helpful hints to help you on your career path, or at the very least, some entertainment value.
So, in the words of Julie Andrews, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start”…..
I like to think that my career in cruise ship entertainment began one sunny morning in March 2001. I was lying on Coogee Beach after a refreshing dip in the ocean, when I received a phone call from an agent that I had auditioned for the previous year. Little did I know, that phone call would change my life. The conversation went something like this;
Agent: I have a job for you if you want it. You will be dancing on a cruise ship based out of the US, you will be gone for 9 months and you will leave in 2 weeks. I need a yes or no answer, right now.
Me: Um, yes? (Sounding very unsure)
Agent: If you say yes, you can’t change your mind later. I need a definite answer now because you’ll be leaving in 2 weeks and I won’t have time to replace you. So is it yes, or no?
Me: Yes! (With more conviction this time) It’s a definite yes!
I honestly don’t remember much of the conversation after that. All I remember is as soon as the call with the agent ended, I immediately dialled my Mum, hands trembling, heart pounding and asked her if I’d done the right thing. I remember thinking I had no idea what I had just gotten myself into and I was right. Barely 19, I had only been overseas once, on a short dancing trip with my high school, and my Mum had accompanied me…
The next 14 days were a whirlwind of emails, phone calls and faxes (yes we still used faxes then), answering questions, filling in forms & signing contracts.
I had to obtain a C1-D visa and complete an extensive medical (stool sample and all!) to gain clearance for the ship.
I had to break the news to the owner of the studio where I was currently teaching that she would need to find a replacement teacher ASAP. She tried to convince me to stay, telling me that cruise ships were all sex & drugs and I only seemed to confirm her beliefs when she asked me the name of the ship I would be working on and I replied with the MS Ecstasy!
I had to break the news to my (not so understanding) friend that I would not be taking that trip to Bali with her and she may lose the deposit we had just put down on our flights & accommodation (for the record, she got hers back, I did not). I had to pack my life into a suitcase and say farewell to my friends and family.
Thankfully my family were very supportive of my decision and even though I’m sure my parents were terrified that their little girl was traipsing off to the other side of the world, they never let it show.
It was an emotional two weeks. There was the euphoria that comes with actually getting hired in the first place – They want ME! The panic of trying to submit all my documents by the ridiculously short deadlines, the doubts about whether I had made the right decision, the tearful goodbyes – Don’t forget about me, okay?
And finally the excitement of the adventure that lay ahead and the realisation that not only was I going to spend the next 9 months doing the very thing that brought me joy but I was going to be paid enough money to live while I was doing it!
I’ll never forget saying our farewells at the airport. I was travelling with another dancer, who I had met once. She was hired through the same agent and joining the same ship as me. After many hugs and a few tears (from Mum), we waved goodbye to our families and as we turned to walk through to security, without a clue what awaited us at the end of our 20-something hour journey, my fellow dancer said quietly to me:
“Don’t look back, trust me”.
I took a deep breath and followed her advice.
And so as we walked through to the area only ticketed passengers are allowed, staring forwards, with butterflies somersaulting in my stomach and my head giddy with anticipation, my journey began…