08 January 2013
Enobong Essien, dancer
Enobong Essien is a dancer. After completing her A-levels she attended The Centre Performing Arts College where she gained a diploma in Dance and Musical Theatre. Since then Enobong has gone on to be a Principal Dancer and Aerialist for Norwegian Cruise Lines and a cast member in the West End production of Wicked the Musical.
In her spare time she loves to read and also enjoys pursuing other forms of creativity in arts, crafts, writing and fashion. She knitted all of her Christmas presents, including ear-warmers and fingerless long gloves, toy monkeys and bunny rabbits.
As a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a performer but I never thought it was possible. I grew up in a single parent household with three siblings and it just wasn't possible for my mum to spread herself enough to get me to dance classes so it wasn't a hobby I picked up until 14, which is very late in the world of dance, almost too late.
I was blessed enough to be intelligent academically so I went through a stage of wanting to be a writer and an adolescent psychologist. That didn't last very long though and I've always come back to the arts.
How did you end up in the arts?
Honestly I'm not exactly sure. I was part of an outreach dance group in church. I used to choreograph most of the numbers and teach them to a group consisting of my sisters and friends. On the stage I wasn't shy or embarrassed but I loved being up there and dancing for an audience.
It was watching movies like Save the Last Dance, Centre Stage and Flashdance that made me think that I might be able to actually achieve my dream. At 14 I was old enough to get myself to ballet classes where I saw the other students, most of whom were younger, doing these big dance numbers and being so skilled in their craft and I wanted to be like them. I enrolled in tap and modern class and started doing jazz and I remember writing my dance teacher a letter telling her I wanted to dance professionally and could she help me?
Being a realistic woman she told me that it probably wasn't going to happen. To be fair I was 11 years late in starting compared to others, had no flexibility and only my natural rhythm and love of performing to work with. She was probably right but God had other plans. She still agreed to help me nonetheless and I still did my A-levels as a back-up and applied to regular university to study English. At one point I was at school all day and at dance class every night plus on Saturdays. When I got into the first dance school I auditioned for I couldn't believe it and then when I got into The Centre with a full scholarship I began to believe for the first time that my dreams might actually come true.
What do you most and least enjoy about being a dancer?
I most enjoy dancing. It doesn't even have to be a performance, although performances are incredible. But sometimes just going to a dance class with no pressure of impressing an audition panel or the choreographer is the best feeling ever.
What I least enjoy are auditions. I hate them. You are being judged a lot of the time on the way you look rather than your talent. There's no way to predict how an audition will go or whether they liked you or not.
What's been your favourite acting part?
I have loved everything I've done. I'm more of a dancer than a singer. Being in Wicked was definitely one of my most exciting roles. There's one number called One Short Day in which I had to wear this beautiful, green mermaid-tail dress that I could barely walk in and this extravagant hat. That was definitely my favourite costume.
What advice would you give young people interested in performing?
If you believe in nothing you'll fall for anything.
The only way I have gotten anywhere is through the grace of God. I question every day whether I've made the right decision in pursuing such a temperamental career and it's only because I believe in the power of God and in the fact that He cares for me that I can carry on.
You need to believe in yourself and your talent and ability to be the best and believe that people need the arts in this world and that you're serving a greater purpose and creating something beautiful.
Best musical ever?
My favourite musical of all time is The Lion King and it is my dream to be in it.
What person or text inspires your work?
I'm so inspired by the American choreographer Mia Michaels and also by Alvin Ailey and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre. The Bible is my constant source of inspiration. Every time I read it I think, how did I miss that the first time round? It's also a little bit clichéd but I am awed by Beyonce every time I see her perform. That is a true performer.
Have you prepared your Oscar speech?
Haha, maybe a little. I know I'll definitely thank God and my mum and sisters but beyond that I don't know. I didn't even have an autograph until I was in Wicked and a fan asked me for one. I made one up on the spot and it changed each time I did it.
So what's next after Wicked?
I actually got an incredible Christmas present this year. I found out on Boxing Day that I'm off to Hamburg, Germany to be in the production of The Lion King over there. I'll be living in Germany for a year dancing in my favourite show.
What's been your greatest achievement so far?
Getting into dance college. I had excellent teachers and because I was so grateful to be there and still in disbelief I worked ridiculously hard, which is why I've been blessed enough to find work but that four years of slogging to get into college is still the hardest thing I have ever done.