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Kirsty Emslie shares her experience as a Dance Captain & Show Company Manager aboard cruise liners

Today, we’re delighted to have an interview with graduate Kirsty Emslie where she shares with us what it’s like living the life of a professional dancer, what responsibilites are involved when you’re a Show Company Manager & Dance Captain and her top tips to make the most of your dance auditions.

Kirsty gained her first professional dance job in a production called PLAY in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, just one month after graduating from Dance For All College in 2015. 

Kirsty began teaching dance locally and, soon after, gained her first professional cruise contract with P&O Cruises Headliners Theatre Company in 2016, working four contracts back-to-back, aboard the MV Oceana 2016 – 2017 and MV Arcadia 2017.

During her time on the Arcadia, Kirsty gained the opportunity to work with West End Star Ruthie Henshall and her team Ten Pin Productions installing Henshall’s show Money.

After four months off, Kirsty went on to become Dance Captain & Show Company Manager with the first-ever cast of Royal Court Theatre Company, aboard Cunard Queen Elizabeth.

In 2019, Kirsty became Dance Captain & Show Company Manager with Headliners Theatre Company, aboard P&O Oceana. During her time on onboard, she got to work with Strictly Come Dancing star Natalie Lowe on re-creating Lowe’s show Dream Lover, as well as with TV Presenter Stephen Mulhern as the original cast for his new magic show, Astonishing.

During her career, Kirsty has travelled all over the Mediterranean, Greece, Canary Islands, Azores, Caribbean, Russia, Norway, Canada, Americas, Iceland and many more places!

We caught up with Kristy after her recent professional-level masterclass training in New York with numerous tutors at renowned dance organisations, Steps On Broadway and Broadway Dance Centre, to find out about Kirsty’s career so far.

How long after graduating did you get your first dance job?

I gained my first professional dance job one month after graduating, in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2015. I was in a show called PLAY and we performed in the Ghillie Duh and also at Fourth On The Fringe at the Edinburgh Playhouse

How did it feel when you heard the news your audition for Headliners (P&O’s in-house production company) was successful?  

I could not believe it! I was teaching at the time and had a missed call. I’d had a voicemail from Adam Jenkins, the head of Headliners Theatre Company asking for me to call him back the following day when he offered me the job.

I could not drive home I was so excited – I had to stop in a car park for about 10 minutes and phone my mum and dad to let them know! It didn’t feel real!

Did you have any more tours before becoming the Dance Captain & Company Manager with the Royal Court Theatre Company, aboard Cunard?

No, I got offered the position aboard Cunard cruise liners when I was between contracts. I was originally just offered a dancer’s position, as they had not cast Show Company Manager/ Dance Captain yet. They then chose me during the first week of rehearsals.

What’s it like being a Dance Captain & Company Manager? What additional duties does your role involve? 

It was hard work but good fun, I have learnt a lot about paperwork and emails. Learnt how to deal with others and also manage a group of 14 people with any problems that they may have and try my best to solve them. It’s a difficult yet rewarding job – looking after everyone and also making sure the shows were as clean and polished as possible

What is a typical day for you? How many shows a week do you perform?

On a typical show day as Show Company Manager/Dance Captain, I would go to the office in the morning, check my emails and see if there were any changes to the schedule but I would normally know the day before. The cast would go to the theatre and have a half an hour warm-up including physical and vocal.

We would then go directly into a full technical run/rehearsal of the show, which I would sit in the auditorium and watch the cast, taking any notes of anything that stood out to me such as wrong spacing and make sure everyone is doing the same choreography at the same time, etc. 

After the rehearsal, I would go through my notes with the cast and then pre-set my costumes for the shows in the evening. 

I would then head for dinner and do my hair/make-up for the shows. Half an hour before the show I would head backstage and double-check my costume pre-set and have a small warm-up

I would perform two shows in the evening and then after that put my costumes away and head back to the office to see if I had received any emails while being in the theatre and fill out a show report of anything that may have gone within each of the shows. I would then do the show laundry and get some food.

Any favourite performances, genres or roles so far? What are the main highlights?

There are too many choose from. All the shows are so much fun I can never choose but normally the harder shows are always my favourite!

🌎 Where have you travelled to so far? Where would you love to go? 

I have travelled many places… I’ve just spent my last contract around the Mediterranean and Greece. I have been around Europe, Russia, Norway, Iceland, Canada, USA, Carribean, Dubai

I would love to travel to go to Hawaii someday!

You’ve just come back to Scotland from New York, what were you up to in the ‘the city that never sleeps’?

In New York, I was taking masterclasses and advanced professional training with a number of extremely talented tutors at Steps On Broadway and the Broadway Dance Centre.

Many of the incredible choreographers who have taught me during the Master Class Series I’ve just taken, have worked with Bob Fosse, perform on Broadway and teach the Rockettes.

As well as learning Bob Fosse’s original techniques, I’ve also been learning choreography from Broadway stars and award-winning choreographers, including:

  • Lloyd Culbreath (veteran Fosse dancer and lead instructor for the Fosse Master Class Series sanctioned by the Verdon Fosse Estate, credits include DANCIN’, Guys and Dolls, Chicago)
  • James Kinney (50 musical theatre productions including NEWSIES, Children of Eden, Oklahoma!, A Chorus Line, Cabaret, West Side Story, 42nd Street, Phantom)
  • Dana Moore (Chicago, A Chorus Line, Sweet Charity, Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ and many others)
  • Luis Salgado (American Gangster, Step Up 2: The Streets, Enchanted, Cirque de Soliel, multiple credits on Broadway)
  • Mimi Quillin (Pittsburgh and Milwaukee ballet companies and Dance Captain and Assistant to Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon on Broadway in Sweet Charity)
  • Andy Blankenbuehler (Hamilton, Cats, Annie, 9 To 5, In the Heights, So You Think You Can Dance)
Kirsty with choreographers and directors James Kinney (above right) and Luis Salgado (lower right)

I’ve taken part in a Professional Work Session to create a number from an upcoming new musical with multi-award-winning Broadway & international choreographer/director Chet Walker. The results of this particular session was performed in a showcase in front of dance industry agents and directors.

And after a Professional Work Session with Jim Keith, the founder of LA Talent Agency MTA Agency finding out how the American Industry works, I travelled across to LA for more advanced professional dance training at Millenium Dance Complex in varying styles such as Commercial and Contemporary.


What are your future plans?

At the moment I am just having some time to myself and figuring out what I want to do next. I have learnt so much since coming to New York and feel like I want to keep working hard and just see where I end up and what the future holds for me. 

I’m also really excited to be holding a series of advanced Jazz dance workshops while I’m back home in Scotland to share the techniques I’ve developed as a professional dancer and incorporate the advanced training I received in New York.

Audition Tips

How did you prepare for your auditions? 

It’s hard to prepare for auditions when you first start – you just need to accept that you are going to get more noes than yeses. They choose the people they want on what they need and you should not take the process personally at all. You just need a thick skin. 

Do you have any tips for upcoming dance graduates?

Work hard! Listen to every correction/note you are given, your teachers are only trying to make you better.

I would not be where I am without the help and tough love I got from my teachers when I was training at Dance For All. They prepared me for the very tough rehearsal processes I have been through.

Just listen and absorb everything. 

Photo: Maggie Mowbray Photography

What about young people applying to dance college – do you have any audition tips or advice to them?

The honest answer is… the dance world is very difficult but I have had the best time of my life since the day I started up my training at DFA.

If it is what you want to do, do it but just do not give up. Keep going and stay strong.

Download your FREE Audition Tips + Checklist!

How did your 3-year professional dance college course at DFA help prepare you for your dance career?

My teachers pushed me, which I am extremely grateful for. I managed to complete more exams than I ever would have dreamt of and achieved every single thing that I wanted. The training I had in 3rd year was hard but paid off when I received the call for my 1st professional contract. 

What did you love most about your training?  

Of course, I loved dancing and training every day but I can’t describe how much I loved my year group. I made the most amazing group of friends and we made the most amazing memories that I will never forget!

We have our group chat where we keep each other updated and we meet up when we can once a year or maybe twice if you are lucky but there are always people away somewhere in the world dancing who can’t make it.

Ballet is one of the foundations our training is built upon. How important were the ballet techniques you learned at DFA? 

VERY! I’ve come to learn that no matter the style I have done, ballet technique is the base of it all and helps so much when learning different styles. 

Photo: Maggie Mowbray Photography

Did any other specific styles &/or life lessons help you in your auditions and career? 

DFA provides so many different styles and every class that I had was very helpful as I am now a versatile dancer.

This gave me more opportunities within my job and in certain dances when they only needed a specific style of dance I would get chosen over someone who was unable to do that style. 

My time at DFA was great fun and I learnt so much! 

What’s the most important thing people should know about us?  

DFA is a versatile college – You learn so many different styles of dance!

Kirsty will be back in Scotland in December 2019 and is available for teaching workshops and masterclasses. She’s holding her Advanced Jazz workshops on the 17th and 19th December at one of our former tutors, Simon Hunter’s dance school, Simon Says Dance HQ.

Contact Kirsty via email to book your place at her one of her workshops or host her at your dance school.

Kirsty Emslie Advanced Jazz Classes in Edinburgh
Kirsty will be teaching two Advanced Jazz Classes on December 17th and 19th. These classes are designed to be pressure-free yet push you and provide you with style and choreography rather than the basic Jazz technique which we know and love.

You can also follow Kirsty online for behind the scenes, rehearsal and performance photos and videos on social media:

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