From Moulin to Mentoring: An Interview with Raquel Alder

By Mia Lyndon

Raquel Alder, Professional Dancer from Australia, has been performing within the industry for 9 years. She recently finished a contract with the famous Moulin Rouge, among performing in an array of dance contracts and productions world-wide. With extensive experience on stage, Raquel continues to fulfil a satisfying career in dance performance and coaching in the UK and Europe. 

1. Studying at The National College of Dance, what was the most difficult part of your training, and how did you stay focused during this?

Adapting to independence was probably the hardest thing to deal with at first. I had moved to a new state the day after my 15th birthday to live in a house with no parental guidance, so I would call home about 5 times a day to ask how to cook something or do certain tasks. The training was also tough: three long hard years of on-going, testing curriculum, which undoubtedly has been the foundation of my career today. But feeling grateful for even being accepted into such a school helped me stay focused during the full-time course.

The principal of the college at the time, Marie Walton- Mahon, would exclusively teach the third year students which was an exciting privilege and pushed my focus to remain strong. It was in the third year that I really noticed my hard work coming together. Suddenly realising I had reached the peak in my dance training and discovering a level of strength I’d never felt before, I evolved into a dancer ready to take on the professional industry. Each student was filled with such determination as we prepared to graduate, which was really infectious, and created a wonderful goal-driven environment to graduate from. 

2. After dancing professionally for almost a decade, what motivated you to turn your hand to coaching and mentoring?

There’s this stigma that surrounds dance which I don’t particularly like. “When are you going to leave this fairy-tale dance world and get a real job?” To which I politely reply, “If my passion remains with dance, then my career shall remain with dance too!”.

If you study hard your whole life for something, why should you be expected to change industries and start from scratch after you finish professionally performing? Rather than change professions to get a ‘real’ job, I wanted to evolve my career in the dance industry by taking my knowledge and passing it on to others through career coaching and performance mentoring. If I can stay true to my passion for dance and at the same time positively impact the lives of others, then it’s win-win.

I strive to be a mentor and coach with real, fundamental experience behind me to pass forward to other professionals and younger dancers. In saying that, I’m definitely not finished with my dance career yet! I still have many professional goals I’d like to achieve. That’s why I really wanted my coaching and mentoring to work harmoniously alongside my personal performance journey. It’s important to me to continue to grow myself as a dancer and performer so I can always give more to the professionals and students that I mentor. 

3. What has been one of the greatest set-backs of your career and how did you overcome this?

That’s a tough question to answer! I think it would be the change in direction of my career once I left college, after an up-and-down battle with stress fractures in my feet from pointe over my three-year full-time training. Deciding to move away from what was predominantly a ballet driven path was a hard decision as I felt really attached to classical dance, after training in it almost daily for 14 years. But it was the right decision to make for my body if I wanted to pursue a professional dance career.

Taking on my first cruise ship contract and adapting to ‘non-ballet life’ was probably the hardest thing to deal with, it was like some kind of culture shock. But thankfully, my decision has led me to some incredible opportunities throughout my career that I am ever so grateful for, and it allowed me to discover a new love and appreciation for dance through different styles. Learning to adapt has been important, as well as seeing challenges as opportunities to take different paths or push myself in exciting new ways. 

4. How have you kept yourself motivated and inspired?

I definitely feel that I have a very natural drive and determination for my craft which was likely instilled into me through the disciplined training I’ve received over the years, and also, frankly, from my life-long passion of dance. I’ve been very lucky to have a solid, ongoing career in the arts – knowing that I have an upcoming contract or audition that I need to be in prime condition for has kept me motivated. I guess I’m a bit stubborn, as I mostly refuse to work in non-dance related jobs, so persevering through the hard times to get my next contract has been a main drive for me.

Naturally, finding inspiration for myself has been harder (yet more important) during the Covid-19 pandemic, but I find inspiration in watching other incredible professional performers on social platforms. It’s been uplifting seeing the amount of dancers posting and inspiring others to keep their training, stamina and spirits up, and admiring their talents encourages me to continue evolving mine. 

5. Is there any part of the dance industry that you wish to change?

I guess I’d like to improve the accessibility of work visas for artists taking on international contracts. As an Australian, I am quite lucky in that I have easier access to work visas in a lot of different countries, which is of course something I am very grateful for. However even despite this, I have been in conversations with show directors who have told me they’d love to hire me, but couldn’t due to being on an Aussie passport.

Whilst I’ve had relatively little disruption to my dance career due to passport / visa issues, I  know that, for many dancers, these restrictions can be much stricter – and this is a massive shame, because there’s a whole load of talent out there!

Of course, I am certainly no expert in immigration law, but I would love to see the dance world have more open doors rather than closed ones.

6. What has been the biggest misconception of dancing professionally?

There is a huge misconception that cruise ships hold a lower standard of talent (which I just don’t believe to be true anymore), and that they are ‘easy’ jobs. Some of the hardest shows I’ve done in my career have been on cruise ships. I really think they’ve lifted their game in the previous years to push the boundaries of the professional standard at sea, especially now that some of these multi-billion-dollar cruise liners offer some of the highest quality, renowned, west-end shows across their fleets.

I’ve gained an incredible amount of knowledge, discipline and skills working at sea which has set me up for other professional contracts, and I’ve definitely grown as a professional dancer due to the large range of styles I was forced to become proficient in on cruise ships. It definitely made me the versatile dancer I am today and I believe it’s a great opportunity that all young performers should strive to attain, too.

7. Is there anything that you wish you knew before you embarked on your professional career?

If I could give my younger self some advice, I’d say: ‘Be prepared to work with the full spectrum of personalities from Artistic Directors to cast members. Bring your best work ethic to all contracts and always stay kind, that way you’ll build a positive reputation and enjoy the journey along the way’. 

8. You’ve both danced and modelled professionally- what are the similarities and differences between these two industries?

The majority of my experience definitely lies within the dance industry, however I’ve had some wonderful modelling experiences that I’m very grateful for. In my view, there are far more similarities than there are differences.

Whether doing catwalks, photo shoots, or production shows, both avenues require me to work as if I am ‘on stage’ – because in all these things I am still giving a performance. I feel both are very much about the way you hold yourself, your facial expressions, the emotion and body language you radiate.

There are differences as well of course, but these are mainly to do with the type of performance: am I doing the Can-Can, or am I doing Still Modelling? Dance shoots, for example, focus mainly on capturing the lines of a performer’s body: their muscles, their positioning, their pointe, their talent – the dancer’s body is the sculpture. With modelling work, it’s often about the product: what the model is portraying, or perhaps the intention and promotion of a product, or how the model plays around with certain elements. Even in these areas though, there is still definite crossover between the two! 

9. How does mentoring, writing and coaching compare, in terms of fulfilment, to dancing professionally?

Well, it has absolutely saved my sanity during the global crisis of Covid-19, which has been an emotional rollercoaster. I have to say that my number one love is being on stage, and no other profession could compare to the thrill of dancing professionally. However, mentoring and coaching has been an exciting and challenging journey for me. It started with teaching on-and-off between contracts over the years, and has since been transitioning more into coaching and mentoring after almost a decade in the industry.

My overall goal is to enhance the careers of performers by providing education on the fundamental logistics of the professional scene. Dance training is imperative of course, but I feel there has been a lack of information available to young professionals and graduates regarding the professional industry, and bridging that gap through career coaching is rewarding to me.

I also really enjoy writing. I love that I can write articles on dance and performance-related topics that I have been passionate about for years, and see it have a positive effect on the careers of others. It’s all been a wonderful pleasure so far! 

10.How important is writing, journaling and expressing dance through written/spoken word?

Wow, great question. Personally, I was never really a reader when I was younger because I was only ever focused on dancing; only in recent years did I pick up the habit of reading and writing, which I now see has been an important part of my own personal growth. For myself as a dancer, I was very driven and passionately committed to my craft but I lacked creative stimulation in other areas of my life. Spending time writing both on a personal and professional level has definitely fulfilled my creative need outside of physical dance. It has allowed me to create an educational platform which serves to benefit others. Writing, to me, has also been very important in expressing not just dance, but the experiences that professional dancers endure, and that information can sometimes be the very guidance that young professionals and graduates need. 

One thing I do wish that I did more of in the earlier stages of my career was reading up about the dance world, absorbing more professional stories and blogs, and doing real in-depth research. Now, of course, we are so lucky to have such fantastic access to a plethora of online information such as dance blogs, podcasts, websites and platforms that inform us of auditions and updates in the industry. All of which are such fantastic tools for personal and professional growth, and a great advantage to those who immerse themselves in these platforms. 

11. How have you seen the dance world changing and evolving in recent years? What do you think will happen to the industry in the nearer future?

The cruise ship industry has evolved massively since I began my professional career in 2011. I definitely saw a lot of changes where many companies revamped and replaced existing shows with top of the line productions. It was a very exciting time, seeing some of those companies turn up the quality of their shows to a whole new level and employ many highly talented performers, which has had the very best dancers fighting for a place at sea.

Particularly during my time living in Paris, I’ve also noticed various French cabarets modernising some of their productions, tweaking the traditional structure of French Dinner Shows and adding a bit of modern flair to choreography, staging and costuming, which of course has been interesting to watch as the history of dance evolves. As for the industry moving forward, there are a lot of unknowns and it may be a long, slow journey ahead. It seems that many places may not open their doors for a little while due to Coronavirus. However, I have met a lot of performers in the industry over the years and know that we are a very strong, determined group of people.

Though the industry may be a little different to what we’re used to after Covid-19, I do believe the entertainment industry will bounce back, so long as there are dedicated, passionate performers ready to hit the stage again.

 

A massive thank you goes to Raquel, for her amazing responses and enthusiasm for this interview.

Raquel Alder – Professional Dancer and Performance Mentor

Raquel Alder, a Professional Dancer from Australia, has been performing in the industry for 9 years. She recently finished a contract with the famous Parisienne cabaret, the Moulin Rouge, among performing in an array of dance contracts and productions world-wide. With extensive experience on stage, Raquel continues to fulfil a satisfying career in dance performance and coaching in the UK and Europe. 


www.pro-performer.com

INSTAGRAM: @pro_performer

FACEBOOK: @ProPerformer

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