Growing up, Ellie Cook stood in the wings of the Cromer Pier show, watching the professional dancers, knowing that’s what she wanted to do.
But it’s been a bumpy road and she’s seen good friends abandon their dreams, especially as Covid tightened its grip. This is her story.
The pandemic has made me question a lot of things. I’ve seen so many people on social media who I was in the same year group with change career to teaching or going to uni to do something completely different.
I get it. I can’t lie, I’ve looked into it myself. I’ve never seen people in the industry so angry in my life [over the “your next job could be in cyber” campaign].
After everything you go through to get where you want to be it’s just unbelievable.
But being in a studio space with 20 other people who absolutely love what they’re doing as much as you do, there’s nothing more inspiring than that.
Being able to watch other people, feed off each other, support each other.
Performing is just another thing, without sounding too cringe. I love the whole lead up to the show itself. The adrenaline, everyone’s getting ready, that moment where there’s a blackout and you walk out onto the stage.
It’s so hard to explain. It’s just a surreal, phenomenal experience. I love performing. I can’t just give it up now.
I graduated from Bird College with a degree in Professional Dance and Musical Theatre which I had to finish at home, which was an absolute nightmare. Then we had all just started to audition.
My plan was to stay in London because that’s where all the auditions for dance jobs were, theatre work… I was lucky; I was getting noticed by Royal Caribbean [for shows on cruises].
I’m doing deliveries for a supermarket [when we spoke] because of the pandemic.
It’s been a bumpy road to get where I have. People lose their love for it [performing]. I’ve seen it happen so much. I’m 24 and in the industry that’s a little bit older than same of the people who are now going into it.
I’ve done auditions and it’s so competitive, the standard is so high. I’m sticking with it because I’ve worked too hard to just give up.
To even get to a professional performing arts college is tough. I auditioned straight after sixth form and got into some good ones. I got offered a three-year course but not the funding. To get it is unbelievably hard.
You’re competing against so many others from similar backgrounds and you just can’t think negatively – like “they can do this and I can’t”.
You’ve just got to go “right, it didn’t happen, move on”. But at that young age when you’re auditioning it’s so hard to get your head around. You’ve got to pick yourself up and think “I’ll try again next year”.
I tried again and was offered a three-year course elsewhere and didn’t get funding. I got into a few other places then Bird came up.
After the auditions I was like “what will be will be”. Then I got the phone call that they’d like to offer me a place fully funded. Best day ever. I was so happy.
I’d got it into my head that I wasn’t going to go, so the call was the biggest shock. I’d started to work full-time, I’d bought myself a new car. I was like “right, I’m set. I’m just going to teach and that’s my route now”.
It wasn’t completely what I wanted to do but I was fine with that.
I started dancing when I was six. I did a lot of the Cromer Pier shows growing up. That inspired me.
We always got to watch the dress rehearsals. When the show was going on we used to learn the adult choreography in the wings so by the end of the season we had it down.
It was always “that’s what I want to do”. I’ve travelled the country doing different dance competitions, festivals, things like that.
The Garage’s recent Introduction to the Creative Industries programme sounds good. It’d be good for students that want to go into the industry to understand what they’re getting themselves into.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had the best three years of my life [at Bird]. However, one of my housemates and best friends hated it and couldn’t cope.
I’ve seen people get mentally ill, people get health problems like anorexia, I’ve seen it all. It’s been difficult to see close friends go through that.
You’re training for a lot of hours. You have to get up dead early and have a decent breakfast, because if not you’re not getting through your first class let alone a whole day.
We started at 8.30am and in my third year I finished about 9pm because I did all my classes throughout the day and then my dissertation in the evening which I was choreographing. It was exhausting.
When I went I didn’t really know anyone at the time that was then in training or had only just graduated. I’d only known people who’d graduated years ago and so much had changed.
For me it was “oh, this is really full-on”. My biggest advice is to grow that thick skin now. It also makes you so prepared for the industry. You’re put in situations where you have to adapt. It’s intense.
We had a choreographer called Matt Nicholson come in [while at Bird]. It’s always a big thing to audition for his piece whether you get picked or not.
It’s always the leggy girls who can do tricks… and he did a Star Wars piece and I got in. I was like “how, is this not meant for me, is this real?” That was my best time at college.
Before the degree I attended ballet at The Garage and was in [its performance company] Pulse. I taught there until I went on to do my own professional training.
It 100%, hands-down [helped when returning to training]. It’s the most positive place I’ve ever done anything with. That makes for a good performer.
It would be interesting to see where I’d be now if I didn’t dance at The Garage.
One of my biggest problems [during lockdown] was space to practise and film myself because I haven’t got any big mirrors. I love choreographing but I don’t know what it looks like.
All summer, being warm, I was in the garden, choreographing. The neighbours were loving it.
My four-year-old niece dances herself now. She was up at the window watching me on the grass and was always like “teach me how, teach me”.
We did get the ballet barre out in the garden.
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