My journey from The Royal Ballet School to performing in two original West End casts
by Robin Kent
I always danced around when I was little, but it wasn’t until I was about six that I was finally persuaded to attend a dance class. I started with Jazz and Tap, but soon my teacher told me that, if I wanted to build on my technique and improve I would have to go to Ballet. I was resistant to the idea but went along anyway.
At nine, I joined The Royal Ballet Junior Associates Programme & At 11 I joined Elmhurst School for Dance. I had been also been accepted into The Royal Ballet School, however not wanting to give up my Jazz and Tap training I decided that I wanted to go Elmhurst.
When it came to furthering my education at 16, I was torn between wanting to follow my passion for Jazz and Musical Theatre or follow the Ballet path that I had now been guided down towards, so I auditioned for both Ballet schools and Musical Theatre courses. The pressure to choose which school would eventually shape my whole career was immense.
I chose to attend The Royal Ballet School Upper School in Covent Garden. The lure of the ‘name’, establishment and sheer fact they had accepted me again, was overwhelming but I immediately felt out of my depth. Ironically the more rounded training in multiple fields of dance had left me at a disadvantage on a purely ballet focused course. I was aware of feeling like the weakest in my class, but I tried to focus on the positives and living in central London for three years!
Six months into my first year a scan revealed a cyst in my knee, I had surgery and it took me out of training for six months, which was a massive knock to my confidence. I already felt like I was behind and now this. Following this I had ankle surgery to remove a spur. Essentially, by my 3rd year, I had only participated in half of my three year course.
The school prided itself on a 100% graduate success rate, with all of it’s students all going on to work in professional Ballet companies. I was auditioning all over the world to try and get work, but nothing succeeded. One of my teachers saw that I was struggling and spoke to a friend in Singapore Dance Theatre, I sent them footage of me dancing and miraculously I got a job! I was happy and very grateful to have been given the opportunity. Arriving in Singapore alone, on the other side of the world at aged 19 was, on reflection, exactly what I needed. A break from the bubble of London, the struggle of school, the comfort of friends and family. A reality check.
A year later, having met some amazing new friends and finding new mental strength, I took it upon myself to make sure I got myself a new job closer to home in Europe. I knew no one was going to push me other than myself.
This took me to Poland to work with the Polish National Ballet for four and a half years. I felt the most at peace with myself that I have ever felt. I was stronger, mentally and physically; I was content in the Corps de Ballet and by the end of my third year I’d been promoted to the level of Soloist, something my younger self had never dreamed of. What I had noticed by this point was that I loved creating and developing characters in the rehearsals and out on stage.
Despite this new-found strength and confidence, striving to be atheistically perfect in my ballet technique whilst critiquing myself in a mirror for hours each day drained me. More injuries availed and by the age of 24 years old the physical impact of dancing at that high intensity had led me to a total of four orthopaedic surgeries. Some Ballet dancers bodies are made for it but mine just wasn’t! Ballet had taken it’s toll physically and more so mentally and I had decided that It was time for me to move on…
I’d seen an audition advert online for the London cast of An American in Paris three times already, but every time had ignored it. I kept on telling myself I was done with performing, but the pull of achieving my childhood dream of being in a West End Musical was too strong. Out of the blue, I received a message from a friend asking me if I would audition, they were specifically looking for dancers/singers from a ballet background. I agreed and many auditions and months later was offered a job in the Original West End Cast, a literal dream come true!
The rehearsal process was exciting. Getting to sing and act and develop characters was amazing! Learning new skills, sitting through music calls and hearing vocabulary I had never heard before felt scary but I loved every second. Even speaking for the first time on stage felt like a huge hurdle to overcome but I did it! It was a very nurturing and supportive atmosphere in the company, everyone had something to learn from each other, from the very first to the last day of the contract.
Working on the show taught me more about Musical Theatre as a business too. My colleagues taught me about agents and castings and other parts of the industry that I didn’t know. Eventually auditions for the next job started, one of which was Strictly Ballroom. I really enjoyed the audition process and obviously very happy to be offered the job. I’m currently a swing on it and I don’t mind putting it out there that I love my job! Ballet always works in ‘Rep’, you have to learn multiple ballets at one time & you always cover multiple parts. For that reason I think my mind is used to thinking about more than just one track at a time and I like the diversity it’s given me throughout the contract so far.
Ballet, I always found, was very regimented; there is a clear structure to how it is taught. It’s very useful as it lays a clear foundation of technique and discipline, which can be applied to many other genres of dance. In hindsight, I had the best training I could possibly imagine. The discipline and technique is something I don’t believe any other dance training can teach you.
Musical Theatre has reignited my passion and put the fun back into performing for me. It was daunting, joining a new industry at 24 with no musicals on my CV, but I am now proud of my pervious professional experience in the Ballet world and want to carry the lessons it taught me forward into my future, at the same time as learning many new ones!