Dancing is my life

Dancing is my life

by David Hall

Claire was doing a lift with her male partner. As she jumped out of the lift, instead of landing on two feet, she landed on the side of just one. Claire heard a crack, felt the pain and despite trying to continue with the show had to exit as gracefully as she could.

She was part of the entertainment team on board the Costa Magica cruise ship and as she sat off stage trying to cope with the excruciating pain, she knew she would be having a rest from her chosen profession for some time.

Four days later, after a flight from Portugal the wheelchair-bound 26- year-old dancer was at home in Burnley with her parents facing at least two months before she could return to the stage – and even then would have to dance with care for some months.

But for Claire Rhodes it was merely a set back, not a major event.

Ever since she was introduced to dancing as a two-and-a-half-year old in a local nursery school she knew it would be her life. Local dance instructor Claire Slater visited the nursery weekly to give dancing lessons to the toddlers. “It was to give us co-ordination, confidence and discipline, but it gave me far more. It introduced me to something which was to become my life,” Claire explained.

“I joined Miss Claire’s school, East Lancs School of Dancing, and continued to learn a whole range of dancing styles from ballet to jazz to tap. I also discovered I loved to perform.”

At the age of eight, her improved skills meant that Claire was also earmarked for a number of elite training sessions. Miss Claire was a second mother, often collecting her for school and taking her straight to class.

With those extra sessions, summer schools, and the competitions she was now entering life became hectic for her and her family. Her father made a miniboard on which she could practise tap dancing and, she recalls: “My mother would drive me to competitions in the North West to begin with, and then all over the country with many being in London and even Scotland. Meals were often sandwiches on the way to somewhere.”

She was picked to represent the North West in All- England competitions, performing at the Mermaid Theatre and other large theatres all over London and for three years was entered for the Royal Ballet awards in which she twice beat children from all over the world in her age group.

But it identified her future: “Dancing became my life.”

The calling was clarified even more when Claire was accepted into Ballet West and given a spot in the ballet The Nutcracker – a sixmonth tour of Scottish Theatres, dancing six days a week, 12 hours a day. “It was terribly gruelling. I was only 16 but I loved it,” she said.

Claire enjoyed the ballet experience but a sudden growth spurt sent her to five feet eight inches high – slightly over the height recognised for ballet dancers – so she knew that other forms of dancing would be her mainstay, although ballet has never been forgotten.

Whether jazz, tap, modern or ballet, each has its own skills and special training but Claire embraces them all.

Photo shoots for Vanity Fair and Dancewear Central were further encouragements along with dancing at a number of corporate events.

Then came her first experience on board a ship; seven months touring the Mediterranean entertaining the 1,200 passengers on board the MSC Melody, followed by other work, such as corporate entertaining for Bor Productions.

“This was my first experience of a proper dance job. There was no extra training. I was entirely on my own with a team of dancers. We had wonderful costumes, visiting different towns in different countries and creating videos, appeared on television, and had an amazing variety of experiences.”

She has since covered a lot of ground with a number of different organisations including a Christmas dance spectacular with the Swedish -based World Dance Company, a 1920s revival show for the Globestar Company, corporate events and Midnight in Monte Carlo and Party at the Pyramids for Plan B Productions, and an American tour with the Circo Hermanos Vazquez.

A couple of videos for the Mexican actor and singer, David Zepeda, were followed by dancing and flying work in the Kaleidoscope production by Son Amar Theatre in Palma.

It was in Palma that she saw a cruise ship in the harbour and decided to try life on board again – she missed the travelling and performing that you get while being on a cruise ship. “Cruise ships are great because you don’t do just one show. You can do several that are all different styles, so you always feel challenged and pushed to your limits. With the demanding rehearsal schedule and
the set-up cruise, it can almost make you question why do you do it, but the moment you step out on stage to do your first performance, it’s worth every second of it!

“Shows are always a bit hectic with so many costumes, accessories and not to mention the 15-second changes – in the dark – along with the dancing you do on stage, they can be very tiring. We do two shows in the evenings. So when one finishes it’s back to rest and then ready for the next!”

It was on that vessel that she damaged her ankle. “Dancing on a ship is very different from dancing on any other surface. The boat moves and while the audience is sitting down and doesn’t notice it, we have to be aware. Leaping in a dance you might find the stage is lower than anticipated when you land – or higher. You have to account for this. We feel every slight movement.”

Her time waiting for the ankle to strengthen has not, however, caused her to waver from the life she has chosen, and having a father who is a doctor and a mother who is a nurse obviously aids the healing process.

“I gave up so much for dancing as a child and as an adult but there is nothing like the pleasure I get from being on a stage and seeing the audience enjoying themselves. Most dancers get used to fighting the pain barrier. I am no different.

Dancing is my life.”