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Megan McEvoy works as a professional dancer. She has worked and studied in Spain where she learned the language, it then helped her communicate in castings and professional environments.
What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?
The first big milestone for me was to choose a course and career that didn't require a certain amount of points or a CAO application. I did decide however that even though I was going to study dance I wanted to remain in school and get the best results in my Leaving cert that I could just in case I would need them in the future.
The next major decision for me was to accept a scholarship to a degree course at the Institute of the Arts, Barcelona. I lived and trained there for 4 years and graduated with a BA (Hons) Degree in Dance. Studying abroad gave me the confidence and experience that is really vital in my career to be open to travelling to difference countries for work and working with people from all over the world.
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
I met a choreographer and dance teacher at the age of 14 who told me I had something special. I started to take dance classes from her and she opened up the whole world of professional dance for me, giving me advice, introducing me to the colleges where I could study and giving me performance opportunities.
I looked at her life and all she had achieved and I knew in that moment that I wanted to be just like her. Without doubt, had I not met that teacher I never would have had the confidence or knowledge to pursue this career. I'm also very lucky in that my parents have been a continuous support to me throughout all of my career decisions and while I know at times they have been worried for me, they allowed me to choose my own path.
How did you go about getting your current job?
The contract that I just finished was as a production dancer on a cruise ship. The ship was called the MS Silja Serenade and cruised between Sweden and Finland. I saw the audition advertised on Facebook and as I fit the criteria I decided to attend. They were auditioning in Madrid and London but I decided to audition in Madrid as the date suited me better and as I speak Spanish I knew there wouldn't be any problems.
There were approximately 60 people at my audition and I knew that they only needed 8 girls so the chances weren't great. Luckily I got through to the final round (it was a long day) and was told that after the London auditions they would watch the recordings they took of the auditions and let the successful people know.
The night of the London audition I was emailed to say that I had been chosen and to forward the necessary paperwork to them. A few weeks later they sent me my flight details and I headed to Madrid for a month of rehearsals before flying to Stockholm to board the ship.
Describe a typical day?
Luckily, on this contract we had no day duties which meant that unless we had rehearsals for the shows we were completely free during the day. For that reason when we docked in a city I was free to get off the ship and explore which was really incredible. I knew that straight away after this contract I was going to be choreographing a musical back home though so some days I needed to spend time during the day preparing for that too so that I had it all choreographed and ready to go.
Sometimes in the afternoons we would have rehearsals for the shows just to clean up any problems or change things if one of the dancers was injured. Then I would go back to my cabin and start my make-up for the show. We always warmed up together as a group before the show to make sure we could give it 100%. After the show we would prepare all of our costumes for the next day and see if anything needed fixing, cool down and go to bed to do it all again the next day.
What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
For performance jobs you are expected to learn choreography and be able to perform it as shown and required as quickly as possible. Costumes and props can also make this more difficult but as a professional, these cannot hinder or change the level of your performance.
As I mentioned before in this industry your body is your most vital asset and so it is also your responsibility to remain healthy and fit for the duration of the contract and avoid injury as much as possible. You must be adaptable enough to cope with last minute changes to a performance that may be necessaryfor the overall benefit of your team.
What are the main challenges?
On my last contract the main challenge for me was to learn all of the material for the shows in a matter of weeks. We had 4 shows and 3 weeks to learn it all so we were rehearsing Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm which, although draining, was really a great buzz. When everyone you're working with is as passionate about the job as you it really helps you to give it all of your energy.
The difficult thing was remembering everything we had learned in the previous weeks while still learning the new choreography. When we finally finished the rehearsals and had all 4 shows down there was such a feeling of accomplishment and naturally all of the dancers on the team had bonded through the learning process which made the challenge even more rewarding.
There are not many people who can say that they make a living out of their passion but luckily I am one of those people. I can do my favourite thing in the world and get paid for it and I will never take that for granted. Nothing will ever quite beat the adrenaline rush when you finally finish the show and hear the audience applause. For me that feeling will never get old.
What's not so cool?
Everyone has days when you want to do nothing but lie in bed and dancers are no different. Sometimes it's tough to always have energy, especially on days when your body is hurting. I think people forget the immense physicality of dance but it's no mean feat to do an hour show every single night for 3 months straight with no night off. It's that exhausted feeling that I don't like.
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
I've always been a creative person and really love the creative process. This is really invaluable especially in terms of choreography work. Very rarely will a dancer be performing solo and therefore having people skills is a big must in this industry not only in terms of networking to be considered for future jobs but also being likeable so that you would be re-employed by a previous employer.
Luckily I've had great relationships with everyone that I've worked with so far which is great because in the dance world it seems like everyone knows everyone and word can quickly spread if you're a nightmare to work with. Being reliable is another extremely necessary quality. Rehearsals need to start on time and if you're going to turn up late then they'll find someone to replace you who can arrive on time.
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
Aside from English, Irish and maths I did music, French, art and chemistry. I did business studies until the Junior Cert but dropped it then. Although I didn't enjoy business studies I really wish I had kept it on as had I known that I'd be self-employed in the future it would have helped me greatly in terms of tax, loans, self-marketing and starting a business.
Essentially I am now running a small business by being self-employed. While I didn't use French and ended up living in Spain for 4 years I do feel having had a second language in school made picking up Spanish easier for me and I was really willing to learn it. Music of course has helped greatly in my career as there is nothing worse than a dancer who has no sense of musicality. Music has always played a big part in my life and many teachers have commented on my strong sense of musicality through dance.
What is your education to date?
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
At the moment I don't plan on studying any more although there are constantly short courses in specific styles of dance which are always helpful if you need to improve one certain style. Of course for dancers we must always keep training and keep our body fit and capable of performing.
Therefore we will regularly take technical classes such as ballet or jazz to maintain this technique throughout our careers. Now that I have a degree, when I'm older I may consider doing a Masters in choreography or dance science to further my career.
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
I was awarded Best Choreography for my choreography of Grease at the Bord Gais Energy Student Theatre Awards and I was extremely proud of that as I had worked very hard on it. I was also very proud to have been chosen for the cruise job as jobs like that are highly sought after and I know that over 100 people auditioned for it. As I've only been working for 2 years, however, I hope there are many more rewarding events in the future.
What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
I have always been an ambitious person and I think that has helped me to get where I am today. I also consider myself quite brave as to choose this career path was definitely not mainstream and with the points I received in my Leaving Cert. I could have gone on to do Primary School Teaching which was number 1 on my CAO. At times even though I have felt scared I've never turned down a job or an opportunity. I've always been an organised person and I really think I'd struggle with this career if I wasn't.
What is your dream job?
Almost everyone working in the performing arts will tell you that to perform in the West End Or Broadway would be the dream and I'm no different. To be part of a show of such a standard would just be incredible. At the moment I want to perform as much as I possibly can as the performance career for a dancer is normally quite short. After though I'd love to focus even more on choreography and perhaps teach at a dance university or open my own dance school.
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Being self-employed comes with its advantages as well as disadvantages. As my own boss I can choose the type of work I want to do as well as deciding which days I need free for holidays which is a privilege not many have. Not one of my days is exactly the same so I'm constantly on my feet and adapting. The instability can sometimes be stressful as at certain times during the year there might not be much work and you're never quite sure when your next contract will be.
For this reason it's always necessary to plan ahead and if I know that I'm heading into a quiet spell I need to reign in my spending for a while. Being self-employed as a dancer means that I often travel for work which provides amazing opportunities to see the world while getting paid. This can cause some problems with renting apartments however as there's no point paying rent for somewhere while living and working in a different country.
On the upside some contracts come with accommodation provided (e.g. cruise jobs) which means it's not something you need to think about or pay for. To summarise, being self-employed is a lot of responsibility but the lifestyle is very rewarding.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
While I find my career extremely rewarding there are some aspects of it that I hadn't been prepared for. It's a very harsh industry and you need to have thick skin. You could go to 10 auditions and get a no before you get a yes and this process can be quite draining. For that reason it requires not only extreme dedication but also a lot of passion as without the love for dance sometimes it could all seem too much.
I would say to anyone hoping to dance professionally to get into as many technical dance classes as they can now as they'll help you greatly in your training. Pay attention in business studies as soon you'll be promoting yourself as a business be it as a teacher, choreographer or performer. Confidence is key in this career and while that is individual to each person, in general, the more experience and knowledge you have the more confident you're going to be so watch videos, read books and most importantly go to see performances to get a feel for what's involved.
What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
What is your pet hate at work?
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
As a dancer and choreographer the types of jobs you could do vary quite a bit. Almost always though dancers teach at some stage and if you're choreographing of course you'll be teaching it to the production so any kind of teaching experience would be a plus. For performance work it might be more difficult to get experience but keep an eye on dance pages on facebook and get involved in any voluntary flashmobs/charity performances. If any company come to perform in Ireland you could always email and ask if you could come to watch rehearsals someday or see what it's like backstage during a show. In general people are quite willing to help with these sorts of requests.