Growing up in Edmonton taking ballet, jazz, modern and tap classes at the Edmonton School of Ballet, I could have never imagined that my professional dance journey would lead me halfway across the world, performing while sailing in the middle of the ocean. But that’s what I’m doing, and I am thrilled to able to travel, call a professional stage my home and meet so many incredible people from different walks of life.
Three months ago I was hired as a production cast dancer for Royal Caribbean Productions aboard the Quantum of the Seas, the second largest ship in the Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) fleet of twenty-six. Working for RCCL is truly a dream job.
My contract aboard the Quantum includes two full production shows performed on alternating cruise nights, and the ship currently travelling around Asia (China, Korea and Japan) for six months.
It’s been a whirlwind from the first day of our six-week rehearsal period at the RCCL studios in North Miami, Florida, to the opening night of our first show. Here’s some of what that looks like and the elements that need to come together for a successful cruise ship contract and ultimate onboard work and life experience.
Every RCCL contract starts with time spent at the company’s rehearsal facility in North Miami, Florida, on the Biscayne Bay Campus of Florida International University. Depending on the cast size, contract length and the number of shows to be learned, the amount of time the cast will spend in Miami will vary. The RCCL studios house many different casts rehearsing contracts for different ships at once. Our cast was there for six weeks, and once we left, another cast preparing for a different ship took our place at the studios and began rehearsing for their time onboard.
Meeting on the first day of our rehearsal period was daunting for me, but our cast of twenty-two (ten female dancers, six male dancers and six featured vocalists) quickly formed a tight-knit family. I’ve learned this closeness is essential when putting together two full productions.
Rehearsal days varied in length throughout our time in Florida, but an average day, from around 9am until 4pm, involved rehearsals, staging and running the shows. The facility has a wonderful gym, and our cast took advantage of the equipment and space before or after our rehearsals. While there, we rehearsed Sonic Odyssey and Sequins and Feathers. These shows are opposing in dynamics and storylines — Sonic Odyssey is a journey into the musical rhythms of different genres and areas of the world, showcasing an instrument known as the earth harp, while Sequins and Feathers is a glamorous showcase of classic showgirl numbers with a more modern and sassy flair. This challenged our cast to push our creative limits and artistry. Rehearsal days were tough and mentally taxing, but we were all working together toward making these two shows our own.
Once a show is learned, casts at the RCCL studios perform an “office run.” This is where other dancers, choreographers, administrative staff and studio directors have the chance to see the cast perform their final product before moving to the ship. Since Sequins and Feathers is very unique, with its extravagant costuming and highly stylized choreography, we were extremely excited to show what our cast had accomplished in three short weeks. It was an incredible feeling to have our peers, directors and even friends and family come and see how hard our cast had worked to create this beautifully finshed product. Morale was high on that day; I could tell that every cast member was thrilled to be finished with rehearsals and even more excited to board the Quantum.
Travel Day and First Day Onboard
The Quantum of the Seas is one of the largest cruise ships in Asia, attracting thousands of guests every cruise. Our cast flew out to meet it two days after the “office run” in Miami. The journey included over three flights with layovers before finally arriving in Busan, South Korea.
The interesting part about living and travelling with the same twenty-two people for six months is that the groups gels into one big family — like having all these brothers and sisters to talk to and explore with. It also makes you feel secure knowing you’ve got these people watching out for you.
Once in Busan we went through “sign on” (the process of signing onto the ship at the start of every contract), passing through Korean immigration to take our luggage across the gangway (a long, sometimes slippery and narrow entrance to the ship). If ever there was a moment to capture a blooper reel, it would be watching the cast roll or carry their three to four bags of luggage along this narrow passageway!
Aboard the Quantum, we have an entire deck at the top of the ship devoted to sports and activities. Complete with a rock climbing wall, three pools, a solarium, indoor bumper cars, trapeze lessons, a roller skating arena, gaming rooms, an indoor skydiving simulator known as Ripcord by iFly and an onboard surfing simulator called the Flow Rider, this ship was designed for fun, and you can see how much the guests love it every day. There are also two main theatres (The Royal Theatre and the Two70 Lounge, where the other dancing cast performs their show entitled Starwater), a casino and countless shops, bars and restaurants along the portion of the ship known as the Esplanade. Living aboard such an amazing vessel comes with an immense sense of pride; I couldn’t be happier to call the Quantum my new home.
Tech Rehearsals and Costume Fittings
During the first three and a half weeks onboard, our cast went through the process of installing both of our shows as well as participating in numerous safety training sessions. Since we were still jet-lagged, this was long and hard.
We started with Sequins and Feathers, as it opened first. Days consisted of rehearsals, costume fittings, sound checks and technical runs of the shows followed by naps and movie nights to recover. Despite being tired, our cast remained happy and positive knowing that the end product would be beautiful. We had our costume fittings within four days of boarding the ship, and trying on the beautiful garments made me excited for opening night. Sequins and Feathers is the epitome of glitz and glamour, with no shortage of sparkle! Our wardrobe team worked for countless hours refitting and altering our specific costumes. The girls in the show wear feather backpacks for several of the dance. Attempting to complete the numbers while wearing the backpacks and heels for the first time was quite the experiment; however, after several days of rehearsal, we all looked like Victoria’s Secret models ready for the spotlight.
One of the major challenges with dancing on a cruise ship is definitely combating the rocking of the boat. On sea days when we are travelling to new ports, the motion of the boat can be quite drastic, depending on the weather. Our first sea day proved to be quite the experience; falling over onstage, wobbling endlessly, sea sickness tablets and dancers, who had not yet acquired their sea legs, lying in the theatre were all fun little aspects that will become fond memories by the end of this contract.
A typical rehearsal day involves waking up around seven and making my way to the crew mess for breakfast (usually whole eggs, vegetables, fruit and coffee). Around 9am I aim to be in the gym lifting weights and doing a chosen circuit of the day, before heading to rehearsal at 10:30am or 11:00am. We usually rehearse for several hours in the morning, have an hour lunch break, then proceed with rehearsals until 5pm or 6pm.
After two weeks of rehearsals, we finally opened Sequins and Feathers performing two shows, one at 7:30pm and one at 9:30pm. Nerves were high, excitement was palpable, and as everyone put on their costumes and makeup, I could sense a transformation that only happens with live performance. It is that incredible feeling of performing for a packed theatre, doing what you love with a group of people whom you have seen grow over the past several months.
We were all proud of the show that night and had a champagne toast to celebrate. The installation team, the technical backstage team, the costumers, the musicians and of course the performers worked so hard to make this show come to life, so I think we were all feeling an incredible sense of pride to share this with the guests and the ship’s crew.
Working on a cruise ship as a performer is one of most unique experiences. I get to travel the world, meet people from many different places and be part of an amazing production. I’m now one month into my performance contract, and with both shows installed, I cannot wait to see what new experiences we will have and what great things our cast will accomplish by the end of our time on the Quantum of the Seas.