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The life of a professional cabaret dancer

The life of a professional cabaret dancer

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When you meet someone following their dream, leading a very different life to you; you just have to find out more.  From dance classes in rural NSW to the stage of the Paris Lido, Leah’s amazing dance career has taken her around the world from the Cannes Film Festival to the Warsaw Opera, with 6 months in a circus motorcycle act thrown in for good luck!  Leah sure is kicking up her heels and living the dream.

I had the absolute pleasure of meeting and photographing Leah in Paris recently – we had such an amazing time taking photos in some of Paris’ most iconic locations.

Currently dancing in a new show in Macau while on a break with Le Lido, Leah generously took time out from her schedule to put her feet up and chat about her life as a dancer.

Tell us about yourself, your background and what motivated you to become a dancer?  Where did you learn to dance/ study?

I grew up in Orange, NSW and attended a local dance school with my two sisters studying jazz, ballet, tap and modern. I also did Physical Culture from age 4 to 16 and was in my school dance troupe. I knew from a little girl that I wanted to be a dancer. I loved it. My mum would often ask if I’d done my homework and I’d reply ‘No, but I made up a new dance, do you want to see it!’ At age 16 I moved to Sydney to study ballet full-time for two and a half years.  At 18 I landed my first dance job in Seoul, South Korea. It’s a dream come true to be a professional dancer and get paid to do what I love.

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All images copyright Kris Ashpole

You dance on one of the world’s most famous stages.  What attracted you to become a performer at Lido? 

Lido is one of the most prestigious cabarets in France. It’s located on the Champs Elysees, one of the biggest and most beautiful avenues in Paris. The theatre is stunning and home to a multi-level stage complete with a water fountain and ice rink. I saw the show about 7 years ago while I was working at another French cabaret in Alsace. I remember thinking how elegant and graceful the Bluebell girls were. I knew the Lido loved tall dancers and a few people had said to me that I had the height and the right look.  So a few years later I went to an open audition for the brand new show which opened in 2015.

My audition lasted 9 hours, there were hundreds of girls there. We had several dance and fitness rounds to get through. At the end of the day, I was one of the 12 girls left. A month later I got a call and they offered me the job! I’ve been living my dream and performing at the Lido for three years now.

 

Blue Bell Two Up

 

You’re one of the BlueBell Girls at the Lido. Can you tell us about the history of the BlueBell Girls? 

Margaret Kelly, known as Miss Bluebell due to her striking blue eyes, was the founder of the original Bluebell dancers.  Her Bluebells become the stars of the show, performing at the Lido since 1948. They were the tallest most beautiful dancers and with their costumes and high heels, towered over everybody on stage. She handpicked girls with classical training and a minimum height of 1.75cm which is usually too tall to pursue a career in ballet.

In the current show, there are 12 Bluebell girls, who are the covered dancers. We have 10 Belles who are topless dancers and 5 Sublimes who have principle roles in the show. We also have a line of boys in the show. It’s an honour to be part of the Bluebell legacy.

 

How would you describe the feeling of being on stage and performing each night?

It’s a great feeling being able to do something that I love and seeing the joy it brings to the audience. I work with such a lovely group of people. We honestly have so much fun on and off stage. The theatre seats 1200 people so when you get to perform to a full house, the energy and atmosphere are exhilarating.

 

Two up BW feathers and fun

 

What is the most exciting part of being a performer?

Definitely getting to travel and perform in some amazing locations such as at the Eiffel Tower, Cannes Film Festival or the Warsaw Opera House in Poland. It’s also exciting when I’m invited to perform different roles at work, such as replacement principle and cancan solo.

 

Cancan Two Up

 

What is the style of dance at the Lido and how it is part of Parisian culture?

Lido is known for tall leggy showgirls draped in Swarovski jewels and feathers. We are high kicking, classically trained dancers. Most of us grew too tall to join ballet companies. Cabaret is a highly respected art form in Paris and throughout France. It’s part of the Parisian Culture. Parisian showgirls are elegant and chic. I love this style because it’s a celebration of women. Although the main style is showgirl there are elements of jazz, contemporary and ballet in our show which I also really enjoy.

 

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What does a typical day look like for a dancer at the Lido? 

Given we work at night, it’s different to most people. Most days I’ll sleep until 11am. In the mornings, I often catch up with my family in Australia and then take my dog Milo for a long walk. Sometimes we have rehearsals at work during the day. Otherwise, I’ll run errands, take a dance or yoga class, go to castings, catch up with friends, shopping etc. We have a physiotherapist at work, I’ll see her maybe once a week. I work 6 days a week, so on my day off I like to rest or use the time to take a trip out of Paris to see friends or explore.

A typical work day for me starts at 7:30pm when I leave for work. I arrive by 8pm, put on my show makeup, do my hair and warm up for the first show at 9pm. The 2nd show is at 11pm. We finish by around 1am, pile into the Lido taxis and are home close to 2am. In the beginning, it took me a few months to get used to working such late hours but now I really enjoy having my days free.

 

Two Up Behind the Scenes

 

What is one of your most memorable experiences as a professional dancer?  

The time I got to perform at the Cannes Film Festival with Lido. It was such a fabulous event. We were all a bit star struck. We waited backstage with Nicole Kidman and got to meet Nicki Minaj & David Beckham. After we performed our dance numbers, we sipped champagne all night at the afterparty overlooking the French Riviera with the celebrities!!

I also performed with Lido at the Opening Ceremony of the 2016 European Football Championship under the Eiffel Tower. We shared the stage with Will I Am and afterward, David Guetta put on a concert and we watched from the front row.

 

Two up Leah

 

You’ve been dancing for 10 or so years now – what have been your highlights and where has dancing taken you?

Dancing has taken me all over the world. I’ve been very lucky to perform and live in many countries including South Korea, America, Poland, Italy, Denmark, and France. It’s been a lot of fun traveling and discovering different places. I’ve met so many wonderful people along the way and can now say I have friends from all over the world.

Being a professional dancer has opened up many doors for me; modeling jobs, hair shows in Europe and overseas, performing on cruise ships and so much more. I even ran away with the circus for 6 months and performed as a stunt girl in a motorcycle act!

 

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What are the challenges of being a professional dancer?

At Lido, we perform 2 shows a night, 6 nights a week. Physically, it’s extremely demanding. It can be challenging keeping up the same energy level for every show.

One of the biggest challenges moving to France 7 years ago was the language barrier. It was quite frustrating having to ask other people for help, but thankfully over the years I’ve learnt the language and it has made life a lot easier.

 

What are some of the hardest things you’ve had to do to pursue a life as a dancer?

Definitely living away from my family and friends in Australia. This has been really hard at times. Sometimes being so far away from home means I miss out on big events like birthdays, Christmas at home and weddings.  I’m really lucky to have such a supportive family who’ve always encouraged me to go for my dreams and come to visit me and watch me perform.

 

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Who are your dance heroes? 

Over the years there have been many people that I look up to. I remember on my first contract when I was 18, I looked up to the older girls in the cast, at how professional, experienced and well-traveled they were. They passed down tips about the industry, generally helped us along the way and even gave us contacts for our next dance jobs. I now find I have adopted this position as I get older and see the young fresh dancers coming up. It gives me a good feeling to be able to pass on my knowledge and help them find their feet on their first contract.

 

What would you say to young girls dreaming of becoming a dancer?  

Go for it, it’s such an exciting and rewarding career. Be driven and train hard to develop good technique.  Always believe in yourself and surround yourself with a good support network.  Don’t be discouraged if you get knocked back a few times, sometimes talent is not the only thing a producer is looking for – you can be the best dancer at an audition but if you don’t have the right “look” for that particular show, ultimately you won’t get the job. Work on your self-esteem and develop resilience.

 

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I spent three weeks in Paris last year and fell in love with the city all over again.  It must be amazing to live in one of the world’s best cities?  What do you love about it?  

Paris is full of surprises. It’s a beautiful city and there are so many places to explore. I usually save the touristy things for when I have friends or family visiting. In summer, I love going for really long walks or bike rides and just getting lost in the beautiful streets of Paris. I’ll often meet friends at the Eiffel Tower for a picnic in the afternoon before work. On a night off I might meet some friends by the Seine River for a picnic and wine or head to a rooftop bar to watch the sunset. The sun goes down very late in summer (around 10:30pm) so there’s always people out on the terraces. Sometimes after the show, we’ll go to an underground live music bar in Saint Michel or to a party at a nightclub. The Lido girls always get VIP access and free champagne which is a bonus.

 

Lastly:   What’s your favourite quote – one that guides your work or your life? 

My motto in life is to stay open to new opportunities and say yes to new experiences.

 

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All photos copyright Kris Ashpole

 

A big thank you to Leah for sharing her passion, her story and allowing me to share these photos.  Speaking of passions, I was able to fulfill a dream of my own last year – photographing a dancer at Le Lido – a huge thank you to Leah!!!  You’ll find photographs from my shoot with Leah throughout this blog.

Leah and I also spent a day together doing a portrait shoot – click here to see those photos.   Watch this space for more from my Lido shoot….. can’t wait to share my black and white series of Leah.  Make sure you don’t miss a post by subscribing via the link on my Homepage here.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this ‘Creatively Speaking‘ post – love to hear your comments below.

With love and light

Kris xx

Kris
2 Comments
  • sarah
    Reply

    What a fabulous story! And such beautiful pics. Thanks for shining a light on Leah’s journey, Kris…Very inspiring, makes me want to do a late-career switch to ballet (though not sure I could manage all those incredible costumes and head-dresses. How does she do it??!

    March 28, 2018 at 9:36 am

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