Dance Captains in the West End are hardworking individuals who help maintain the choreography of a production. They are tasked with not only hard work as a swing or member of the ensemble, but put in extra effort to ‘lead daily warm ups, hold clean up calls, rehearse understudies/swings, and collaborate with the company manager, stage manager, resident team and heads of department to manage the day to day running of a production and reconfigure the show in the case of absence beyond coverable means.’ It is evidently a demanding and busy job, and today we talk to Jaye Elster, who has been Dance Captain in renowned musicals such as Matilda, Oliver, Half a Sixpence, 42nd Street and Singin’ in the Rain, to find out about her personal experience as a dance captain and choreographer. 

We asked Jaye what her motivations were behind going into musical theatre and dance as a career. She begins by explaining that ‘it was a dream that couldn’t wait.’ The theatre industry, and dance especially, relies on performers able to cope with the rigorous physical demands of performance in the industry, much like athletics or any Olympic event. And with the competitive nature of the industry, the sooner you can make your mark, the better, so Jaye emphasises the fact that it had to be ‘then or never’. She also described that she was her ‘sister’s guinea pig for her own choreography’, and her sister was a ‘big inspiration’, having been exposed to choreography and dance from a young age and absolutely loving it. Jaye emphasises how grateful she is for the ‘tremendous support network around me’ and that she ‘can’t thank those that told me they believed in me enough when they did.’ 

Extraordinary skill is required to succeed in such a competitive industry. Curious to discover the work that goes into a successful career, we asked Jaye to describe her personal experience. ‘I am a great believer in the phrase ‘hard work always prevails’. For me, many talented performers fall by the wayside because they don’t take responsibility for their development and instead they plateau while the grafters overtake.’ It is necessary to stand out in the industry, and Jaye describes how she has ‘always had a very analytical brain, my development as a dancer is largely thanks to my commitment to listening to my teachers, trusting their corrections and implementing them.’ 

Jaye also has a passion for choreography, and has ‘climbed a choreographic ladder over the course of [her] career.’, despite the move from dance captain to choreographer currently being in it’s ‘early stages’. We asked Jaye about what she would say makes her stand out from others in the industry, and one of the reasons is her love to just play with the music and choreography. ‘Playing is joyful and joy is infectious. If you see someone having fun, you can’t help but smile. So whenever I meet choreography I try to play. How long can I balance? How quickly can I change direction? How still can I be?’ She also emphasises the importance of ‘pick up speed’- the ability to learn choreography quickly - and also having the right technique. She also loves ensuring her choreography has it’s own musicality. ‘I think the trademark of my choreography is how I marry the steps to the orchestrations.’, This musical insight helps express the story of the piece, and when the steps and music marry together, Jaye expresses, ‘It feels like magic!’

We then questioned Jaye about her experience being a dance captain, to which she replied, ‘The role of a Dance Captain is a challenging one.’ The hardest challenge she has faced in the role is ‘to juggle having executive choice alongside being a company member. A good Dance Captain makes fair decisions that are founded in the protection of the show first and foremost. Some of those decisions can come under fire when personal friendships intervene.’ Evidently the leadership position can be difficult to handle, but Jaye ended it on a positive note with her advice to others in a similar position; ‘Stay truthful, ask for help when you need it and to admit when you’re not sure. It’s okay not to know all of the answers, simply meet the question with ‘I don’t want to give you the wrong answer, so let me check and I’ll get back to you’.

For aspiring performers, Jaye’s ultimate advice is to be nice. She explains ‘There is no way that I would have had my career if colleagues hadn’t recommended me for other jobs. One job is an audition for your next.’ The theatre industry is a challenge, but performers can make it a joyful and exciting place to be by respecting and showing kindness to others. Jaye’s final uplifting words of the interview are - ‘Work hard, respect everyone around you and be nice.’

Article By Josephine Shaw, Lady Eleanor Holles School