Tori Davies is one of many performers dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. She gives Ruby Furby an insight into her career journey as a professional dancer and how she has dealt with lockdown.
Tori Davies is a multi-skilled artist with a passion for dance. She started tap and modern at age four, the only hobby which she didn’t share and compete in with her brother.
The 26-year-old describes herself as a “jack of all trades” and is continuing to try new things during lockdown such as choreography and filmmaking.
She committed to dance around age 16. “I never thought about it seriously,” she says. “When it came to GCSEs, I thought, ‘Well, I’m going to do dance’ and it progressed from there. I wasn’t really enjoying high school and I just thought, ‘do you know what? I’m going to go for this dance thing.’”
Her absolute, biggest inspiration, she says, was her college dance teacher, Lee Lomas. “He would tell me, ‘you need to go for this, you are sassy, you are fab, you have legs for days, just go for it!’”
His choreography and mantras drove her to work harder than anyone else. The thing that stood out about his teaching most to her was that he taught ‘sex appeal’ which the college curriculum lacked.
“He was all about giving it the ‘Va Va Voom’ otherwise you’re going to get out there in the real world and be like a fish out of water, you have to sell yourself. It was never inappropriate or exploitative. If anything, it stopped us being taken advantage of later because we knew what we should and shouldn’t be asked to do.”
It happens if you take someone’s everything away from them
Unfortunately, amid the pandemic, Tori received some sad news about Lee.
“I saw that he had deleted his socials and then my friend rang me to tell me he had actually committed suicide. It was just heart-breaking. It happens if you take someone’s everything away from them and dancing was his everything. Mental health is just so important during these times.”
Even when the dancer started jobs abroad and across the UK, she would attend his classes between contracts and to this day, thanks him for her career.
After attending a performing arts college, not being able to afford university caused a bump in the road. “I stopped for about 18 months. I was working at Domino’s Pizza; I had a flat cap and a bum bag. I was a bit of a mess, kind of all over the place. I’d lost my passion, my creativity, everything.”
One of her other former dance teachers reached out asking if she wanted to attend an audition with her.“I told her I hadn’t danced in over a year, I couldn’t touch my toes, I couldn’t do anything. She said, ‘what have you got to lose?’”
From that audition, Tori got a half scholarship and started Centre Pointe Dance School a week later.
For two-and-a-half years, the training she encountered at Centre Pointe was intense and personal. She was under constant critique with people having opinions on her looks and weight.
As she recalls times she was told she was “too fat” or “too thin”, she says: “It was a mind-melt. You have to be really headstrong with the comments people make about you because if you’re not, in this industry, it can be really heavy and honing. I don’t take myself seriously at all which is so freeing. When you have a job to entertain people, you have to lose all inhibitions.”
Tori, from Manchester, denies the idea of ‘abuse’ in the dance world as she believes the comments guided her to be where she is today.
“If you were in a university lecture and a teacher had come up to you and said, ‘you’re looking a bit fat, you need to put the cake down’ you wouldn’t think that was okay. But in the dance world, it is totally okay and normal. So, it was brutal, but it really shaped me. I needed that discipline.”
I live every second that I’m on stage, it’s like you’re born to do it
Her first job was a topless cabaret show at Benidorm Palace in Alicante in Spain. From there, she went on to do another cabaret show in Macau in China on an eight-month contract and featured as a Can Can soloist in Paris for the company who owned Moulin Rouge.
She says one of her favourite things about her career is: “I get to experience all these different places and live in these different countries, it’s beautiful. I live every second that I’m on the stage, it’s almost like you’re born to do it. Big kicks, big feathers, Can Can, glitter, I love. Which is funny because in real life I am such a tomboy. It’s like having a liberating alter-ego.”
One of her ‘pinch me’ moments was performing for the Monaco Grand Prix Official After Party. “I was just dancing, and I saw someone that I thought I recognised and wondered ‘How do I know you?’ then it hit me, and I was like, ‘Oh, that’s Jon Snow, cool’.”
Her skills excelled when she began learning how to perform with fire, stilt-walking and ankle grinding. Her motivation came from seeing trick performers being paid more in a show than her.
“You want to learn what they are doing. It’s not enough to just be a dancer. The more skills you have, the more employable you are.
Before the first national lockdown, Tori had a job on a cruise ship which she says was one of the lowest points in her career. However, she refused to give up.
She was due to continue onto the next cruise in March, however, lockdown meant that she was placed on furlough instead. “I was extremely lucky, so many of my friends were out of jobs and had no income and my stubbornness not to quit meant I didn’t have to worry about that for a while. Plus, I never have to step on that cruise ever again now!”
During lockdown, Tori has been keeping busy with teaching various online dance and fitness classes. Her favourite projects in the last few months have involved creating choreography and directing music videos for upcoming artists.
However, she is eager to get back to her usual job on stage. “A dancer’s performing life is very short. I don’t want to say that I’d be performing into my thirties and I’m 26 now which fills me with fear a little bit. I need this apocalypse to stop happening so I can get back on stage!”
Despite the ongoing pandemic, she encourages young dancers to commit to it: “It’s going to suck but don’t give up. There will be blood, sweat and tears but if you can visualise yourself on that stage and work for it, you will get there. Collect experiences, collect memories, and just create yourself. Stay authentic but push and sell yourself.”
Entertainment is what keeps people alive
Regarding the recent attitude of the government towards the arts, Tori says it has shaken up a lot of artists and describes the ‘re-train’ adverts as “soul-destroying”. “There are mandatory jobs, but entertainment is what keeps people alive. That is art in its rawest form and when you are told that your art form means nothing, it cuts deep.”
However, in a positive turn, she says creative artists and performers are excited to return and have big plans in store for the world of entertainment. “We are strong, hard grafters and we are ready to come back with a bang.”