Opportunities Abroad: The Cruise Ship Dancer
As the dance industry in Australia continues to grow, so to do the opportunities for work. From musicals to dance companies, there are now, more than ever, so many ways for today's dancer to forge a professional career. But if you're dreaming of travel and adventure, or simply a change of scenery, it might be time to consider a life at sea - or at least a contract or two!
Cruise ships have undergone somewhat of a renaissance in recent years. No longer typecast as a getaway for the older generations, cruises are enjoyed by people of all ages, providing ready-made and captive audiences for the huge range of entertainment available on board. The rise of the super ship, with state-of-the-art technology, has led to incredible performance spaces such as aqua arenas, ice rinks and full size theatres at sea. And with all these amazing entertainment options, the demand for talented dancers, singers, acrobats, ice skaters and (yes!) divers has gone up - which means it's not only a viable career path, but competition has led to extremely high standards. So what can you expect from a (dance) life at sea?
Well, modern cruise ships are basically floating cities, with shopping, entertainment and dining available pretty much 24/7 for the guests. Depending on your contract, as an entertainer you will most likely have access to all or at least some of the guest areas, meaning you can enjoy dinner in the formal dining room, or watch a show yourself - you are unlikely to be performing every night, and on other evenings the entertainment will vary from comedians to tribute artists to specialty acts such as contortionists or aerialists. Guest entertainers, unlike the production cast who live on board, will fly in and out for only a few nights to do their show - so you'll probably get to see a huge range of these performers during your contract. American guest entertainer Zach Winningham, whose musical performances won him the accolade of Princess Cruise's Entertainer of the Year in 2014, cites his favourite part about performing on ships as the "extremely receptive, and captive, audiences." Equally important to Zach though, is the opportunity to "sample places all over the world", and that is perhaps the biggest drawcard to living on a cruise ship - you wake up in a new place every day.
The travel aspect is a huge perk of the job - let's be honest, who doesn't want to spend their days laying on various Caribbean beaches or wandering the streets of Rome or Pisa? Contracts vary from around 6 to 10 months, and within that time you might reposition - so within even just one contract you might get to see several different countries. If you do multiple contracts in succession, you'll get to truly see the world! The nature of your role as a performer means most of your work will be done at night - so you'll often have your days free to explore whatever port you're in. If you're up in Alaska, that will mean hiking, whale watching, and visiting glaciers (wow), while a cruise around the Pacific Islands means water sports, tanning and cocktails on the beach. Sign us up!
Don't forget though, there will be some work involved. Your role will encompass (as well as the performances themselves) tech runs and rehearsals several times a week, and depending on the cruise line you work for, extra duties such as backstage tours, dance classes for the guests, and hosting events. As a crew member on board, you will also be assigned a safety duty. This might be manning a lifeboat station, counting guests in an emergency, or assisting with safety announcements. You will be fully trained in your safety position and you will take part in weekly drills - no matter what cruise line you work for. Safety at sea is a huge part of your job, and the cruise ships have to comply with various international regulations in order to be able to operate. Don't forget though, you're getting paid to travel the world and dance every day - so a safety drill here and there isn't too bad. After all, if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life!
Before you even join the ship, you'll probably spend weeks or sometimes months in rehearsal to learn the shows. Most cruise production companies have a "head office" or rehearsal space where they will teach you everything so that all that's required when you join the ship is a short handover with the previous cast and some technical blocking rehearsals. The best part about this rehearsal period is that you'll really get to know your cast - these are the people you'll be working with for the forseeable future so those bonds are bound to be strong. Not only that, but it's likely that (depending on your position and the company you work for) you might be sharing a cabin with one of your castmates - so it's important that you solidify your friendship before you start living together in a fairly small space. Don't worry though, the cabins might be cosy, but you'll barely spend any time in there anyway, except for sleeping.
So - does this sound like something you might love to do? The first hurdle of course, is the audition. And it's no longer simply about long legs and a showgirl walk. Casting directors are looking for versatility. It's likely that if successful, you'll be performing in multiple shows, in multiple styles. Royal Caribbean Cruise lines for example now produce full-scale Broadway musicals on board, from Hairspray to Chicago to Cats, and cast in conjunction with the Broadway production team themselves - so the standard they look for at auditions is extremely high. Not only that, but as well as performing in a musical, you'll also be included in one or more original productions, in various styles such as contemporary, ballet or even tap. So be prepared to showcase your abilities in multiple genres at the audition. Its common for there to be several "rounds" of elimination, and you will be put through your paces over and over again. Royal Caribbean casting specialist Sandie Backus says at auditions, she looks for "dancers with extraordinary talent, meaning a mature and seasoned quality of movement, excellent technique, strong performance qualities and an emphasis on great fitness". Competition is very high, so the casting directors can afford to be choosy at every stage.
Sandie also notes that what dancers wear to the auditions is so important - she stresses that it is essential to wear "clothing that shows off your lines and body to full advantage". She has noticed a trend in wearing "fashion" items like skirts and shorts and a move away from more classic dancewear - but the most important thing is to choose something that flatters your body. Think about your outfit carefully - for girls, a high cut leotard or even a pair of high waisted leggings can extend your lines considerably. For boys, a pair of fitted dance pants or leggings rather than something loose will allow the choreographers to properly see your movements. Take a look at our Linkd and Velocity collections for audition outfit inspiration, and remember that the main thing is that you feel your absolute best in whatever you're wearing - so you can be yourself and dance your heart out.
If you're interested in a life at sea, most cruise lines have dedicated websites for casting and entertainment, and regularly hold auditions throughout Australia. We've included some links below to help get you started.
Article by Emily Newton-Smith