Self-expression and how I found an outlet in musical theatre

From a young age, I always wanted to perform.


As a toddler, my mum put me in all of the ‘little girl’ classes — ballet, gym-bunnies, the list goes on. Little did she know that I was going to scream and cry as soon as she left the room, so much that she would end up having to sit outside the room for my 2 years at playgroup.


In primary 1, when I’d grown out of my abandonment issues, she decided to let me go to active school dance, once a week after school. After our final performance, the teacher came up to her and said ‘don’t ever let her stop dancing, she far too talented’ and I think that’s when my mum knew that this was more than something that only she thought I was good at. Looking back on that video, I still wonder what on earth was that teacher talking about. I was awful!!


At age 12, I was the youngest cast member at the Edinburgh Playhouse’s production of Footloose. I was in the amateur cast for the Brunton Theatre’s pantomime for 5 or 6 years. I was addicted to the stage and how it made me feel. I somehow managed to juggle all of this along with school work.


I decided to work really hard at dancing; switching dance schools to a more advanced teacher, where I started improving so quickly that I soon developed the nickname of being like a sponge. I was serious about it, and the amazing thing was, my mum was so supportive. If there was an extra class, I was there. Even if the tuition fees were a lot, it somehow still happened.

 

When I was around 10 years old, my sister was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis) and my mum was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.


As a young carer back then, as cliché as it sounds, dance was always my happy place, being able to set aside my home life from my studio life. I didn’t realise at the time truly how much it helped. Don’t get me wrong, home life was still very happy, but dancing was truly where I could escape for a while.


Looking back, I see this outwardly confident young girl, but I know it was all for show. The truth was, I had it in my head that I should come across confident and happy all the time, even if that’s not truly how I felt. I was a people pleaser and that weighed me down.

In my 4th year of high school, I decided to take on one of the hardest and toughest ballet exams I had ever sat. I would be at the studio 4 or 5 times a week— even catching a bus from school during PE twice a week. I was determined to push harder than ever to be what I believed to be perfect. And that’s when I ruined it for myself. I’d put far too much pressure on myself. This is when I broke.


I guess I had to learn the hard way that perfection was something every dancer was striving for. That no one is ever truly perfect, and the only person I really had to please was me. It’s a hard pill to swallow, and I feel to be happy, nearly every performer, dancer, singer, actress experiences this to some degree.


So, I started looking for other ways to express myself, and one of those outlets was musical theatre.


It’s helped my mental health, as it was a way to let my feelings out in a safe space, and acting/musical theatre let me become a completely different character than who I actually am. I swear every theatre kid says this, but it is true, I could become what I felt inside. If I was sad I could sing about it. I could relate to more serious monologues. It also made me more confident in both presenting myself but also communicating with people. This time, it was real, genuine confidence.


Fast forward a few years, I am now in my second year of studying dance at Performing Arts Studio Scotland in Edinburgh and I am loving every second.


I have such amazing lecturers around me, and friends who are genuine due to being interested in all the same things. I’ve had so many opportunities that I would never have taken if I hadn’t had come so far internally. All thanks to dance and being able to express myself.


When COVID and lockdown hit, I thought this was it. Everything was over. However, I was still able to dance, stretch, and take classes from people all over the world. I was able to keep myself occupied doing what I loved, even if what was going on elsewhere in the world wasn’t good.


Even since January, I feel I have accepted the way things are. Three lockdowns later and I feel like a pro. I've mastered ballet in the kitchen without sticking my knees in the washing machine. I've become a whiz on Zoom. I feel now like I can tackle anything and find a way to make it work.

My mental health has gotten a lot better too. I’ve finally, for the first time in ages, allowed myself to take that day off when I get overwhelmed. I've learned to ask for help when I need it. Whenever life gets too much, I remember I am able to vent to my flatmates and my lecturers. They truly know how it feels and we are all just carrying each other through to the other side.

I'm not going to lie, I'm nervous about how the world and the performing arts industry is going to look when we are finally out of lockdown. In a way I'm glad I still have a year of training ahead of me before I have to go back out into the ‘real’ world on my own. I suppose it is really us – the performers – that will truly dictate how it is going to look, and we are shaping the industry into what it will eventually be.

Silverlings, I suppose; in some ways, I guess you could say COVID was somewhat of a blessing, giving myself and so many others time to pause, work on ourselves, and do the things we love.