What’s it like being a dance grad?

‘Sex permeates the city’


Things have always worked out for Fabia Black. A bright girl from the West Midlands, blessed with as much of a gift for dance as conversation, her future always looked promising.

But the reality of making a living from the performing arts in London has hit Fabia like a sledgehammer square on the mandible. “There’s a lot to be said for selling out” she tells me, straining to be heard over the monotonous groan of the traffic trudging past Liverpool Street Station.

Our meeting is taking place on a crumbling wooden bench next to Wasabi on the station’s corner. “When we were at Stage School there was a disillusion. We had a student loan that allowed us to dance all day every day and still pay London rent. The reality of graduation means you either remain reliant on your parents or work two jobs.”

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A stark contrast is immediately evident talking to Fabia. The pearlescent dream sold to her by the London Studio Centre (LSC) prospectus and her current efforts at self-sufficiency – juggling dance auditions and castings with personal training in Hammersmith and serving champagne for a cruise company.

And the two are, apparently somewhat connected: “The way men talk to me when I serve them drinks in unbelievable. I guess that’s why I like putting them through their paces in personal training.”

“Sex permeates the city – work in the city and you’ll get a topless dancer for corporate entertainment. A lot of my friends works at bars, as a hostesses, and she gets paid to shake their tits and hand out champagne. She can make 2 grand in tips in a night.”

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Fabia’s personal training clients clearly don’t share the same passion for exceptional individual fitness. An attitude ruthlessly enforced by LSC: “We were weighed at the start of the term, and it wasn’t because they wanted us to be a certain weight.

It was because they were so conscious of everyone maintaining a healthy weight, and if you didn’t you were out. Girls were kicked out in the time I was there because of anorexia.” The statement resonates more heavily when coincided with Fabia’s barely touched box of sushi.

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But it’s evident she isn’t unhealthy, quite the opposite in fact, likely because of the wide and vibrant, but regimented, training imposed upon her by LSC.

“The school I went to is known for being super diverse. Every day started with ballet with teachers from the Royal Ballet. But then we would do things like contemporary and jazz. 

“I’m a very clean cut girl, I much prefer enjoying ballet. That’s what I was good at. I always found it fun to watch other people being more outrageous.

“Some of my friends are so down to earth, and they’re from the country side. With long term boyfriends that they’re faithful to. But you put on some slutty music and they are off. I learnt, as wanky as it is to say, it really is a form self expression.”

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The unfortunate thing about self expression is that it doesn’t pay bills and, until a dancer lands a decent job, there are a lot of them. “For every audition I go to, I have to have a bag with all my audition stuff.

“A go bag so that when I get a call that says you need to be there at 1pm today I can just go. It has my CV, my head shots and all my sheet music.

“To print that off, on average, an audition costs £40. And then you have to get there. If you get the job you then pay your agent a cut of your fee.”

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What’s more, for all of this outlay, you won’t see a return for a long time. “On average you’re looking at 6 months to get your first job but your first job could be singing in a jazz bar or performing in a profit share show. Or you get lucky and you’re in an actual show where they pay you per week with a good salary.

“My friend did a West End show a couple of months ago, working on a profit share basis. He did this show for a two month run, and then you add on to that a three month rehearsal period. For those five months he earnt £127. For 5 months work.”

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So, to have any shot at success, Fabia needs to find her niche. No mean feat, as a five foot seven blonde girl whose stand out feature from her competitors is that she isn’t from the home counties. “I would like to set up my own school, my own business, and teach. Realistically, that’s not a niche market so I have no idea how I’ll do it. What I want to do and what I’m employable as, or marketable as, are different things – sadly.”

Photos: Mark Barnfield
MUA: Anna Popescum