An Interview with West End star Carly Miles

Earlier this year, performer Carly Miles held virtual dance classes for the Trent Community. Writer Ellie Moylan talks to Carly about her career in dance, the West End and her collaboration with NTU teaching online dance workshops…

Q: How long have you wanted to work in the arts?

A: I have wanted to be involved with theatre ever since I attended my first set of ballet lessons at a small local dance school at six years old. It was very apparent to me that I would want to make a career out of the arts and I never imagined myself heading in any other direction than that to become a professionally trained dancer. I don’t believe I was consciously thinking about a career at all as I was growing up, but I did know that dancing was my first love! It honestly felt like the natural path was laid out for me already and all I had to do was follow it. I remember reaching the end of my academic studies in year 11 and some of my friends were struggling with the decision of what to choose as a career path but I was lucky in that it was always a very easy decision for me, I always knew what I wanted to do.

Q: Who is your biggest inspiration?

A: I’ve never really had an inspirational influence that I can pin to just one person. I take a lot of inspiration from many people in the industry, from my friends and colleagues and their continued persistence to carve out a career for themselves in an industry that’s renowned for being one of the toughest. It gives me a boost and motivates me knowing that we’re all striving for the same goal and we’re not willing to give up, even if there are knockbacks along the way.

I also found a lot of my teachers from when I attended professional musical theatre college influenced me greatly as a performer. I remember admiring them immensely and just hoping that I might one day achieve success to the same level that they had. I do think my inspiration changes all the time, especially having been in the industry for 10 years now – sometimes it’s working with incredibly creative choreographers that reignites my passion again and reminds you why you chose this career in the first place, or just being in a show that’s very close to your heart. Sometimes even just taking a dance class in town with a fabulous teacher is enough to get me refreshed and inspired again.

Q: How has the arts been affected by the pandemic?

A: It was such an abrupt shut down of the theatre industry back in March 2020 that I don’t think we as performers really understood how impacted our industry was going to be. We had been warming up on stage ready for an evening performance – make up done, costume and props prepped, even the audience was allowed into the front of house bars to wait before they were seated(!) when our producer came on stage to tell us we were closing there and then and that he didn’t have any more information on when we would re-open. That’s how sudden it was for us; we collected our things from the dressing rooms and the audience were sent home. Nearly everyone lost their job overnight and a lot of companies don’t have the funds to bounce back from over a year of being out of business. It has been worrying and stressful for our whole sector. It is massively encouraging however that the industry is starting to open back up again this summer – the light at the end of the tunnel which we are all desperate for! Hopefully people will support us by purchasing tickets and attending shows, concerts, live productions of any kind and revive our amazing and uplifting industry.

Q: What’s been your favourite production you’ve been in?

A: This is always such a tricky question to answer because each show or contract has been amazing for different reasons! My first job out of training when I was 18, was as an ensemble member in Dirty Dancing which was a dream come true. I already loved the soundtrack and the film, and to be cast in a large-scale production such as that with the chance to perform incredible choreography night after night was so exciting. I couldn’t believe someone was paying me to do it, I felt so lucky, and I had worked all my life to get to this point and finally I was here. I was so in love with that show and still am and I’m so grateful to my choreographer David Scotchford for casting me in it and giving me those wonderful experiences. I then later took over as Dance Captain on the UK tour of Dirty Dancing when I was 21 and discovered my passion for leading a company so it was really the show that gave me the base to build the rest of my career on, and why I often say it was my favourite.

Q: Who would you like to work with?  

A:I have been lucky enough to work with many choreographers, directors and producers in the past 10 years that as a student in training I would never have dreamt of having those opportunities. So, I try not to set my heart on any particular production or choreographer because things change so quickly in this business and opportunities pop up, sometimes from unconventional places, so I like to cast my net wide, go with the flow and just look positively towards the future.

Q: Do you have any plans for the future or anything in the works?

The Prince of Egypt in theatre
Image credit: The Hollywood Reporter

A: If the roadmap for easing the restrictions in England continues on track, then I will be gladly returning to The Prince of Egypt at the Dominion Theatre in London’s West End. Previous to the theatres devastatingly being forced shut by the pandemic, I was working as the Assistant Dance Captain on the show. We had been intensely rehearsing for months prior to our first preview in February 2020. That meant we unfortunately we were only able to play 6 weeks’ worth of shows before we had to stop again, which was incredibly sad for all involved who had worked tirelessly to get the musical into such great shape. I still sometimes can’t quite believe it’s been over a year since our last show at the Dominion, so it will be brilliant to hopefully be back in the summer and to get the show up and running again – if it all goes to plan! I am very appreciative that I have something to look forward to and we are expected to be among one of the first initial productions to reopen in London.

Q: Do you have any advice for people wanting a career in the arts?

A: My best advice would include:

Always be prepared and be on time(!) – You want to give yourself the best chance and to feel as confident as possible in auditions for professional productions/ drama school, showcase/performances or even your rehearsal period. Whether that’s knowing your script or songs inside out, or ensuring you are wearing the appropriate clothing or shoes. There are many things you can’t control when it comes to these sometimes-daunting situations, but these things that you CAN control, like arriving in plenty of time to help reassure yourself are so important and they will help you relax. It also makes a great first impression to see that someone is organised and prepared.

I think it’s also an important skill as a performer to be able to continually motivate yourself and keep encouraging yourself to push forward, especially through those difficult times or knockbacks you’ll experience in the industry. At college or school, you can often rely on the support of your teachers, but once you graduate you must be very persistent with your goals and be diligent with yourself. Focus on your path and not be too discouraged if things don’t always go as planned! It will be worth all the hard work eventually and with the right attitude, you will definitely reap the rewards! As the saying goes – ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.’ A good attitude really is the most important thing and choreographers/directors/casting agents will always pick up on it.

Q: How did it feel to teach online workshops (like the collaboration with NTU) rather than teaching classes in person?

A: I have actually really enjoyed teaching online workshops and thank goodness for Zoom and the technology that’d allowed for us all to still connect and train together. Initially, it all felt quite alien to me, especially not being able to travel my sequences/routines across the room and confining my movement to the small area of wooden flowing in my living room! I am grateful that we were able to continue during the lockdown in this way. However, there is no comparison to the feeling of dancing in a studio in person. Corrections are much easier to give, much more space to dance freely, increased motivation, and training alongside other dancers and getting to learn and vibe off them is very important and something I’m sure everyone training to be in the industry would agree with! Most professional colleges have had to do with nearly an entire year of online training, and I admire my students greatly for keeping with it. We all cannot wait to get back into the studio full-time.

Just like many others in the arts, they had to adapt to the circumstances. As they say in Theatre, the show must go on…

By Ellie Moylan

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