Well it’s been a couple of weeks since we finished our tour with the fabulous Glenn Miller Orchestra, and I can honestly say it was one of the best dance jobs I’ve had in my career.
Following on from my last blog, I thought I’d share a few stories about the rest of the tour. Last time I wrote we were yet to head down to Masterton, Napier, and Wellington before jumping on the InterIslander Ferry to go to the South Island.
Our shows all over were so well received, and with so many people in the audience the applause was breathtaking. We would all come off stage with huge grins on our faces after busting out or dances and hearing everyone clapping and cheering for us.
It was my first time performing in the Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington, and it was a great experience. It’s a concert hall, so there were no Wings, and no Proscenium Arch, the audience had seats right around the sides of us, so we could be seen from all angles. It was a different experience performing that way, I had to keep reminding myself to look out at all the people and try to connect with the whole audience, not just those sitting in front of us.
After our shows in Wellington we were all loaded onto the Ferry early the next morning and sailed over to Picton where we met our new bus for the South Island leg of the tour. Thankfully for those people who didn’t have their sea-legs, the trip was very smooth, it was very windy on the top deck, but it was absolutely beautiful looking at the countryside as we came in to Port.
Our brilliant Tour Promoter Ian, organized for us to have lunch at Hunters Vineyard on our way to Nelson, which was a lovely treat. All our shows in the South Island went extremely well, and again we had fantastic responses from the audiences.
We performed in Nelson, Westport, Greymouth, Christchurch, Timaru, Invercargill, and Dunedin. It was very lucky that we were able to get through the pass from Greymouth to Christchurch, as the weather had been so horrendous. We waited over 2 hours for Snow Ploughs to clear the way so we were able to drive into the pass, and it was absolutely stunning, completely covered in snow! Like something out of a movie. I’d never seen so much snow in my life!
Unfortunately I became very sick during our time in Invercargill and Dunedin. I was coughing, feeling weak in my muscles, and at one stage I completely lost my voice. In order to keep performing well in the shows I decided to stay in bed at the hotels and rest as long as I could. It felt like a shame to be missing out on spending time with our guests seeing the sights, but I was there to do a job and do it well. I didn’t want my flu compromising my dancing.
Wendy, our amazing lead female singer – who performed with Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, and The Supremes – gave me some Cayenne Pepper to put in my soup, and some Vocal-Ease lozenges that were the most disgusting tasting things I’ve ever had in my life! But man, they worked.
I was still dancing each show hard-out, busting my chops every night, and then collapsing in bed right after. I got to the point where I was feeling much better, but each show once we had finished performing “In The Mood” (our fastest routine) I would have a coughing fit, and couldn’t stop due to the cold air in my lungs and throat.
Simon -a fellow dancer – said to me one night that I fueled his smile during our whole last routine, because he saw me in the Wings coughing up my lungs and the next second I was on stage with a big grin on my face. The audience would never know!
Perhaps our biggest travel days came after our Dunedin shows. The next morning we flew from Dunedin to Wellington, 1hr 45 mins flight time, then jumped on the bus and drove from Wellington to Napier, 5hrs 10mins driving on the bus, then we had just enough time to shower before putting on make-up and doing our hair and performing the show! It was a bit chaotic but we made it. The trip to Christchurch was fairly tight getting to the theatre on time too, as waiting for the road to clear put us behind schedule, so again we only had a short window of time before we had to be at the theatre.
Each day there was something to keep us on our toes, which made it really enjoyable. Sometimes it was the difference of performing in a gigantic space like the CBS Arena in Christchurch to a teeny tiny stage with only one meter of dance space in Masterton or Whangarei. Other days it was the band leader Rick Gerber changing the set list and taking out a couple of songs here and there, and forgetting to tell us. So we had to quick change and be ready to run on stage, and unbeknownst to the audience, sometimes we were definitely not ready!
We would hear our song announced from the dressing room, and absolute PANIC and CHAOS would ensue. We’d all be sprinting down the hallways and stairs, tying up our belts or pulling up our knickers as we sprinted backstage into the Wings and literally flew on stage!
I was extremely fortunate to be working with such fantastic people during this tour. And I must give a special mention to my amazing dance partner Anton Fassler. Every night we made each other smile, and we gave every single dance, in every single performance our full energy and commitment. Anton is a great partner who I would trust with my life. I felt so comfortable leaping up into the air and spinning around with him, he made me feel like a 1940’s princess while we were on stage.
I trusted him so much, that when we put in a new lift at the end of “In The Mood” I volunteered a lift that I had been so scared of doing in swing shows years ago. But with Anton, I knew we could tackle it, and I knew it would look amazing and I would be safe with him.
The lift worked like a charm, and it saved my wrist – an injury to my left wrist was the reason for changing the lift – and I really enjoyed performing with Anton every night. One of the most caring, warm, and entertaining people I know.
Simon Watts and I had so much fun performing our Tap number together, each show this routine developed and grew, and we had a laugh playing off each other and getting to throw some comedy into the show. This routine was really well received by all our audiences, and was Wendy’s favorite which was very cool. Simon is one of the most amazing Tap and Hip Hop dancers I’ve met. Every night he would go on stage and improvise, develop, and fine tune what he was doing. I had an absolute blast dancing with him. Simon has a wicked sense of humor and is a really genuine spirit. He challenged me, and he made me laugh like crazy.
Next I must give a shout out to Belinda Moore, who was my “Roomie” for the tour and fellow female swing dancer. This girl is so talented and is a master at tackling different forms of dance and being so versatile that it looks like she has been doing that style for years. She looked after me during the tour, made me giggle, and tried to teach me how to ‘chuck’ stuff across the room. Belinda is a passionate person, someone I admire for her courage and strength. It was so much fun spending more time with her during the tour and getting to know her even better.
Finally we were on the home stretch after Napier, and headed back to Auckland via Hamilton, for our last shows. It was very sad coming to the end of the tour. We had all bonded so much and we all had a mutual appreciation for the skills, talent, and great people that we were surrounded with. Our crew that traveled with us were absolutely outstanding. Hours and hours they would spend Bumping In, Packing Out, traveling to the next venue, and they all took such great care of us – they were mostly performers as well.
Our last show at Aotea Centre in Auckland was very emotional. We were all backstage crying when the Swing Kittens sang Pokarekare Ana for the last time, and Anton made me cry on stage when we shared a smile during our curtain call.
It was such an honor to be a part of such a special tour.
Some more stories to tell my future Grandchildren one day.