Brooke Barlow is an Aussie success story who is now performing on 'ocean' stages all over the world – wowing audiences with her extraordinary passion for movement and dance.
"I absolutely love to dance. I fell in love with dancing at the age of eight. It's always been an outlet for me to just forget about everything and capture the energy of the stage and the minds of the audience," Brooke said today.
Considered one of Celebrity Cruises' leading performers, Brooke secured her first role with the five star cruise line in 2014 during an Australian audition tour as an associate choreographer. Her star rose quickly with Brooke being named Dance Captain on her very first contract with Celebrity Cruises. She has since been named Dance Captain on every subsequent contract with Celebrity Cruises.
"My role is extremely fulfilling. As the main person responsible for directing and maintaining the integrity of the production of shows onboard, as well as performing on stage myself, I work hard to ensure the cruise line delivers the most entertaining and captivating shows possible," Brooke added.
"It is a huge task, but one that I love and thoroughly enjoy."
As one of Celebrity Cruises leading entertainment directors and dance captains, Brooke needs to ensure her fitness and nutrition is maintained with precision.
"I have to keep fit, very fit. In essence, my body is my instrument. I have to ensure that it is in perfect condition at all times so I can perform at optimum level night after night," Brooke added.
"The entertainment regime on a cruise line is intense. It is very important to keep healthy and well. I work out a minimum of five days a week. Keeping up with fitness classes while working on a ship can be difficult so I regularly do my own ballet barre warmups and workouts to maintain my technique as much as possible.
"Celebrity Cruises is a fantastic organisation to work for. It is like a big team environment.
"I am keen to continue my involvement with the cruise line to keep developing shows and working with all of the crew. Being such a big operation, I am required to organise and manage a lot of entertainers, many of whom come from every corner of the globe.
"While performing on a cruise line sounds glamorous and it is, there are also quite a few differences compared to performing on land.
"Shows are hardly ever cancelled due to rough seas, so it is important to adapt to the movement of the ship.
"At times, this can be very challenging however I have learned to work with the movement of the ship and adjust my centre of gravity so as to keep performing without falling.
"I also train and assist others to develop up their skills in this area quickly as it is an important element of performing while at sea. We also vary partner lifts and shoes if needed.
"It is hard work, involves significant skill and it's not for everyone – but I love it and am looking forward to gracing the stages of many more cruise ships with Celebrity Cruises."
Brooke is considered one of the cruise industry's most experienced and dynamic entertainers who not only wows audiences on stage, but also trains and mentors performers and creates enthralling and mesmerising performances for audiences from all over the world.
Question: How did you become one of Celebrity Cruises' leading performers?
Brooke Barlow: I think the most cliché way to answer that would be to say through hard work and dedication but that's honestly it! I attended their Australian Audition Tour in 2014 as the choreographers assistant and was lucky enough to meet the office team. I started working for them as a Dance Captain in 2015 and just made sure I put my best foot forward every single day. They soon learnt that I was very reliable and responsible and began trusting me with more and more.
Question: Can you tell us about your role as a Celebrity Cruises' Dance Captain?
Brooke Barlow: As Dance Captain I had several roles that the other cast members didn't. I was responsible for leading the cast in warm up and conditioning sessions. I would get videos of the shows each week to watch them and take notes on anything that was different from what had been set during our rehearsal process and give those notes to the cast prior to the next time we would perform each show. I acted as the liaison between the ship and the office team in Miami creating weekly reports to send them informing them how the shows were looking and how the performers were doing and relayed any important information between the two. By far my most challenging role as Dance Captain however, was adjusting the show if a cast member was ever too sick or too injured to perform. This would involve moving people around into different positions in every single number to ensure symmetry on stage so that the audience couldn't notice anyone is missing. I once had 10 minutes notice that a singer had injured her foot to the point where she couldn't walk and hence she couldn't go on in the show. I had 10 minutes to learn all of her lyrics and choreography and go on in her place! Fortunately they had a recording of her voice so I didn't have to sing live as well but that was probably my most stressful 10 minutes as Dance Captain!
Question: What's a typical day like for you when you're on board a Celebrity Cruise?
Brooke Barlow: A typical day for me on ship would consist of waking up mid-morning and doing some yoga or pilates to wake my body up. I would need to be theatre late morning to begin our rehearsal. Our schedule would start with a half hour notes session where myself and the Vocal Captain would give any notes we had from the previous weeks' show. I would then lead the cast in a 30 min warm up/conditioning session to ensure our bodies were ready to minimise the risk of injury. After that all of the aerial equipment would be safety checked and the singers would do a microphone check with the orchestra to ensure the levels were correct. We would then do a complete run of the show with everything except costumes (this would be a closed rehearsal) followed by any fixes necessary. We would then have a couple of hours to rest, eat and do our hair and makeup ready for the evenings show. I would head backstage an hour before show time to get my costumes ready and warm up again ready for the show. Our shows were an hour long and we would perform a 7pm and 9pm show for our guests. After that we would pack away all of our costumes and props, cool down and stretch out before leaving the theatre sometime around 11pm.
Question: Where do you find inspiration when creating entertaining and captivating shows?
Brooke Barlow: My biggest inspiration comes from 2 places - the music and the audience. I'm quite musical and love picking up accents in the music and relating that to the choreography. Each piece of music has a different feel and the first time I hear a song I like to close my eyes and let myself feel whatever the song is telling me to feel, then I know what sort of feeling I should be portraying whilst performing it. Then of course there is nothing better than seeing the looks on the audience's faces when they are watching you perform. While the theatre is dark at show time, the stage lights are enough to be able to see at least the first 5-10 rows and the beauty of performing on a cruise ship is that every week it's an entirely new group of people watching you perform, most of which have never seen the shows before and so seeing it for the first time through their eyes each week is what keeps me inspired.
Question: How do you prepare ahead of these shows?
Brooke Barlow: One of my teachers from college always told us "practice makes permanent", and that's something that has stuck with me throughout my performance career. I will practice and rehearse a show until it feels so comfortable in my body that I am sure I can get from start to finish comfortably without any brain blanks. Of course each time I perform still physically challenges me as the shows are demanding on the body, but I like to set myself up for success by being as comfortable as I can with the counts and the sequence of the show.
Question: How can other young dancers participate in the cruise line industry?
Brooke Barlow: My biggest piece of advice to a young dancer interested in pairing travel with their dance career is to take classes in as many styles as possible. As a cruise ship dancer, you aren't always necessarily performing your favourite style so it's important to feel comfortable in multiple styles. I've had to perform everything from jazz, tap and contemporary to ballroom, latin, disco and commercial, all on the same ship within the same contract. Then make sure you are following all of the major cruise lines entertainment pages on social media and that's where they will always post about up and coming auditions.
Question: How difficult is it to perform whilst at sea?
Brooke Barlow: That definitely depends on where in the world you are cruising! Some places have rougher seas that others. I did multiple contracts in Alaska which was relatively calm compared to Cape Horn around South America which presented some more difficult performance conditions! In 2016 I was cruising around Asia and on our way to Japan we unfortunately had to sail through a Typhoon!
Question: How do you keep fit whilst on board?
Brooke Barlow: Obviously the nature of my job does keep me fit but I am always trying to strengthen my body and improve myself. As a cast member, we are lucky enough to get access to the guest gym facilities onboard so I would create my own little exercise plans for myself that would be a combination of pilates, yoga, weight training and HIIT workouts. Naturally in a group of 16+ performers everyone keeps each other motivated and someone is always offering to take a class when the gym floor or theatre are empty.
Question: What or who originally inspired your passion for dancing?
Brooke Barlow: As a child I just danced for fun, as an outlet for my energy. It wasn't until I was 21 that I decided to try make a career out of it and I auditioned for a performance academy. There it was my head of dance Deby Holmes who became my inspiration. She would tell us stories of her experiences and places dancing had taken her around the world and she was just such a fierce woman I aspired to create a life like the one she had explained.
Question: What's next, for you?
Brooke Barlow: I absolutely love performing but I have always had a passion for teaching and directing. I have been offered a position with Celebrity Cruises as a rehearsal director which would see me working out of their rehearsal facility in Miami teaching the shows before a casts get onboard their ship for 6 months. I am really excited to now pass on my knowledge and experiences with people and have a hand in moulding performers and their characters within a show.
Interview by Brooke Hunter