Kirsty Grant: Dancing at Ten Feet Tall
Brash, ballsy dancer Val has long been a fan-favourite character in A CHORUS LINE. In a part that demands oodles of crass sass and 'Tits and Ass' - a real departure from previous quiet/confident roles - performer Kirsty Grant is thrilled to show she's got the chops for dancing, singing and acting in equal measure. But when director Zach famously asks 'if today were the day you had to stop dancing, how would you feel?', Kirsty's own instinctual reaction reminds her there's just one thing she couldn't do without...
I don’t remember being interested in dancing at all as a child. My Mum took me to a church hall with a tin roof when I was three and the older kids sat on my knees to push me into splits. So we never went back. School seemed to happen and I joined a local youth theatre group. I wasn’t interested in the acting side because of a lack of self-confidence, brought on again by the ever-intimidating older kids. The dancing was the frustrating part. Whenever the company would put on a musical I felt let down by the predictable ‘hand dancing’ and step-right-step-lefts of amateur theatre. I wanted it to be faster, more complex, more of a show.
When I was eight I ended up auditioning for the part of a young dancer in the local pantomime. Apparently I sailed through. Afterwards I remember the choreographer telling my Mum there was something special about me but I had to start dance classes to train technically. I ignored her though - not able to take the praise, got embarrassed and ran out into the car. The pantomime itself was, to me, one of the best things to have ever happened. The stage was terrifyingly brilliant, I got to miss afternoons in school and ran high through the whole Christmas season on this amazing nervous energy that started building in what the professionals were calling ‘the wings’. I remember the blue-black glow of the lights backstage, the dust, the costumes and feeling so happy that I seemed to swell every time I stepped inside the theatre. When the final performance was over, I came home, sat on my Dad’s knee and cried for hours.
I danced in the pantomime for three years, while my parents took me to the theatre at least once a month to see all the big touring musicals. I remember sitting in the front row of the audience for West Side Story and feeling utterly hypnotised by what was happening on stage. The dancers exploded through the crescendo of the ‘Prologue’, one rushing to the edge of the stage, looking me right in the eye, seeming ten feet tall. I caught a shiver of desire to be up there beside them, it felt like my heart was aching. I sat shaking with silent tears as the score melted through ‘Maria’. I was too involved, this was only musical theatre, but it made me feel like nothing else I’d ever experienced.
I did eventually start dance classes when I was 13 and performed every year in the summer show. I shied away from ballet because it was unfamiliar, and it’s become one of my biggest regrets. I was painfully quiet in class but would dance every single night for hours in front of the mirror in my bedroom, watching music videos and copying what I saw, dancing flat out until it was hard to breathe. As high school went along I never pursued dance as a career choice, because I was told it ‘wasn’t a proper job’ but mainly because those “older kids” never go away. They had no talent, no passion but enough self-confidence for a whole room full of me’s. I needed someone or something to force that certainty; I couldn’t make it happen on my own.
I ended up going to University to study English, keeping up dance just as a hobby in the evenings and things continued like this until 2010. My Mum steered me towards a pre-audition evening for a new amateur production of West Side Story, the one with the heart-melting score, the one where the dancers were ten feet tall - I wanted to be a part of it so badly. Auditions happened, I relaxed into them and the “older kids” didn’t bother me so much. I was cast as Velma and couldn’t wipe the smile from my face for three days. The cast, the production team, the entire show was just what I had been looking for. Every single aspect was dealt with so professionally, the musical numbers scrutinised, the dialogue with real thought put in, the cast bonding fast but it was the choreography by Marion Baird that really excited me, everything I hoped it would be and no hand-dancing in sight.
That same strong production team helped me prove to myself that I was actually dancer who could act if I would only let myself believe it, playing Iris last year in Fame, and now a dancer who can sing, playing Val in A Chorus Line, opening in just three weeks at Eastwood Park Theatre.
When Zach asks the dancers, ‘How would you feel if today were the day you had to stop dancing’, I can’t help but really think about his question on a personal level. I wouldn’t be able to take the crushing feeling of regret that reality would leave me with. Standing on the chorus line waiting to hear if Val has made the final cut, I was surprised by the overwhelming emotions I felt. I was too involved again, every single part of me wanting this final scene to be mirrored real-life. I want to get my first professional show more than I can possibly explain.
I’ve finally found the confidence that has been missing for too long. It’s no coincidence that being involved with Glasgow Music Theatre has brought out this side in me. It’s made me realise best possible standard of performance that I have to give and how to achieve this. There’s never a feeling of amateur dramatics, only true passion behind what they do to be able to offer professional quality shows. I’m so excited to be bringing Val to life on the stage at Eastwood, just before the West End revival of this fantastic musical.
After everything I’ve learned here I finally feel ready, years too late to go after what truly makes me happy. I want to dance, I want to perform, I want some little girl in the front row to look up at me with wide eyes, standing ten feet tall.
- Kirsty Grant