Backstage: West End Dance Captains

Published July 5, 2010

The unsung hero of the West End, the Dance Captain helps keep a musical in tip-top condition throughout its run. As Big Dance attempts to send us all dance-crazy, Official London Theatre says aye aye to Dance Captains from some of the West End’s top shows.

OLT was speaking to:

Tim Stanley, Dance Captain, Mamma Mia!

Michael James Scott, Assistant Choreographer and Dance Captain, Hair

Amy Edwards, Assistant Dance Captain, Priscilla Queen Of The Desert The Musical

Helen Dixon, Resident Choreographic Supervisor, Love Never Dies

Trent Whiddon, Dance Captain, Burn The Floor

Aaron Morgan, Dance Captain, The Lion King

OLT: Describe your job in one sentence.

Tim Stanley: Making sure that every night has the energy, excitement and accuracy of an opening night.

Michael James Scott: I’m the person in charge of maintaining the show’s choreography/movement for the current onstage cast and teaching new cast members when they come into the show.

Amy Edwards: I am an Assistant Dance Captain, so I help the Dance Captain keep the show in good shape.

OLT: What do you love about being a Dance Captain?

Tim Stanley: The buzz of knowing that when the chips are down you are able to provide the glue that keeps the show going.

Michael James Scott: I love the reward of teaching someone the show and seeing them go into the show based on your teachings. 

Helen Dixon: I love seeing how much people improve when they are in the process of rehearsals.

Amy Edwards: I love the extra responsibility, as it keeps me on my toes. I also love that I am involved in keeping the show looking its best.

Trent Whiddon: Having a little more responsibility and passing on some of my knowledge when needed.

Aaron Morgan: I love the relationships I make with each individual and to see the final product look amazing after hours of rehearsals.
 
OLT: Is there anything you dislike?

Tim Stanley: During a cast change it can be very long days.

Michael James Scott: It would have to be when everyone comes at you with something at the same time, and because I’m a perfectionist I want to make sure that everyone is happy.

Helen Dixon: Having to sort the show out when we are lots of people down, and it’s nearly impossible to cover every part.

Amy Edwards: There can be quite a bit of pressure involved, so I’ve had to learn how to think and act very quickly.

Aaron Morgan: I hate having to discipline people.
 
OLT: Is there a tactful way for telling a cast member they are doing the wrong steps?

Tim Stanley: Some people respond better to a note if it’s preceded by a compliment. Other people just like it straight. I personally would rather get to the point but there is a time and a place for everything; knowing the difference is the key.
 
Amy Edwards: Yes. Instead of making them feel bad about it, I encourage them and help them to get it right. We’re there to guide our fellow cast members and work as a team.

Trent Whiddon: Just be clear and precise. It’s nothing personal and you shouldn’t make them feel that way. Everybody is just interested in improving themselves and the show, so it’s not a problem for anybody to get notes including myself.

OLT: What is your top tip for dancers to avoid injury?

Michael James Scott:  Actually taking the time to stretch before and after a show. It’s extremely important and the biggest way to avoid injury.

Helen Dixon: Always warm up well and stretch after a show. I do a lot of Yoga and find that is really helpful too.

Trent Whiddon: If injured get the ice on it straight away. We also get in the ice buckets after the show, which isn’t much fun but really helps and also cools us down after the show.

Aaron Morgan: Prevention is better than cure so I say learn how your body works and provide it with the correct things. I always compare my body to a car, if you don’t put petrol in, it will not run. 

OLT: What / who inspired you to become a dancer?

Tim Stanley: MGM musicals, Gene Kelly and Debbie Allen.

Michael James Scott: I think the [Bob] Fosse style really inspired me to become a dancer.

Helen Dixon: Watching old dance movies when I was little.

Amy Edwards: I always wanted to be a ballerina when I was young. I loved the thought of being on stage, so I started classes at the age of seven and haven’t looked back since.

Trent Whiddon: I saw a jazz troupe do a Grease number at my school when I was six. I thought it looked cool so my mum took me to some classes and I was hooked.

OLT: Do you harbour ambitions to be a choreographer?

Tim Stanley: No. I have done some before but there are people who can do it much better than me!

Helen Dixon: Yes I would love to choreograph one day.

Amy Edwards: For me personally, it’s not an ambition of mine. I love re-creating a choreographer’s steps with my individual touch, but I’m happier to be taught a routine and then perform it, rather than make one up.

Trent Whiddon: Yes, my partner Gordana Grandosek and I worked as a choreographer on Australia’s So You Think You Can Dance? this year and it was a great experience. We’ve also choreographed our own show Satisfaction On A Dance Floor, as well as our own ballroom and Latin work. So I would definitely love to do more in the future.

OLT: What is the most difficult thing about your job?

Tim Stanley: As a Dance Captain and a Swing dancer it’s all about getting the balance right. Being able to give notes (sometimes not nice ones) and then move on as that night the person in question may well be your dance partner! I know I’m quoting the best Mafia film ever but it’s true… it’s business and not personal!

Michael James Scott: I think it’s learning 26 onstage tracks and knowing all the ins and out of them. But it’s also one of the best things about it because it’s a big job and I love the challenge of it.

Amy Edwards: Knowing every role in the show! There is so much to learn and we have to know male and female roles, as well as the principal roles, so we can take notes and teach them all correctly.

Trent Whiddon: Having to make quick decisions during a show if somebody gets injured or something goes wrong. Knowing who can cover what roles and to be able to make the show continue smoothly without the audience noticing anything is different.

OLT: What essential qualities do you need to be a Dance Captain?

Tim Stanley: I’ve said it before but it’s as much (if not more) about people skills as it is dance ability.
 
Michael James Scott: Patience, organisation, leadership and a sense of humour.

Amy Edwards: I think you need to be a people person for sure. Our job is interacting with our cast in a way so they respect and trust you to do right by them and the show. You need to be able to think on your feet and handle responsibility well.

Aaron Morgan: Basically you need to have a computer for a mind and understand basic people skills. The required skills are much more important then paper qualifications.

OLT: What makes the hard work worthwhile?

Michael James Scott: When you see the show and see the cast truly loving the work on stage. It reminds you of why you are doing what you do.

Helen Dixon: Getting lovely feedback from cast members and seeing people do the choreography that you have taught them.

Amy Edwards: When you see how much your cast enjoy performing in the show and how much the audience appreciate watching it, as we’ve helped mould that and keep it to a high standard.

Aaron Morgan: Opening night, because after nine weeks of rehearsals then to see all the hard work and energy poured into the opening night show, that makes it worthwhile.

OLT: Can anyone be taught to dance or are some people beyond help?

Tim Stanley: Absolutely! You generally can’t beat starting at an early age, but having said that I know many an exception to that rule. Everyone in the world can dance. Everyone can play football… doesn’t mean you’ll be joining United anytime soon!

Michael James Scott:  I think there’s the rare exception who are beyond help, but I do think that everyone has their own natural rhythm of movement and it’s up to a choreographer to figure out how that rhythm can work for them.

Amy Edwards: Everybody can dance! That’s the biggest misconception: people think you have to have had training for years. If you want to make dance your profession, it is important to be taught, but you’re never too old to start learning.

Trent Whiddon: Yes anybody. That’s the great thing with ballroom dancing, it’s suitable for all ages and levels. Whether you’re just looking to do some social dancing and have fun, or young children looking for a new activity, or if you’re more serious and want to pursue a competitive career, or you’re looking for another artistic outlet.

Aaron Morgan: Not everyone has the natural talent to become a dancer, but with hard work and determination I believe anyone can be whatever they want to be, so I say prove to people that they’re wrong.
 
OLT: Why should people get involved with Big Dance?

Michael James Scott: Because like music, dance is an international language that everyone in some way, shape or form can get involved in. It inspires us all and it should make you want to express yourself in a way that you can’t do anywhere else.

Amy Edwards: No matter your age or where you come from, we all have forms of dance that make us happy. Dancing brings joy to people who watch it and those who perform it. It’s an infectious feeling and it’s so important to stand together and support an art as wonderful as dance. It brings communities together and most importantly, it’s so much fun!

Aaron Morgan:  Not only for your health, but dance has a way of letting people express themselves. Individuals gain a new found confidence. Plus I believe it’s a wonderful thing to push your body to its limits and find out what it can do. Dance is also a great way of meeting people from all different cultures and to learn and break down social barriers. I don’t see any negatives about dance just positives, so use the Big Dance as a stepping stone to build a foundation to a new world of endless opportunity. If you watch Saturday night TV and say ‘I can do that’ or ‘I would love to do that’ then make it a reality, don’t wait, go and get it. Go and DANCE. 

To find out how you can get involved in Big Dance visit www.bigdance2010.com

CB