For many years Leanne Michael was a regular on the Arts Centre stage but she has gone on to forge herself an extremely successful career on stage, screen and stadia all over the world. Huw caught up with her in the Grail café to find out more.
So Leanne, tell me a bit about yourself. I was born and raised in Aberystwyth. My Dad, John Michael, was a Print Manager at Cambrian News/Printers, and my Mum, Christine Michael, a Local Government Officer, who continues to work at the Aberystwyth Arts Centre Dance School. I attended Plascrug primary and Penglais secondary schools. I now live in London as a professional dancer and actress, with my husband and daughter.
And what was it like growing up in Aberystwyth? The best. I have the happiest memories of growing up in Aberystwyth - it’s such a unique town. The freedom and opportunities you get growing up here can really, without you knowing it at the time, set you up for the future. My sister, Serena and I were lucky enough to have parents that would always encourage us to try out anything and everything, so one day we would be playing golf, the next going to gymnastics. At aged three we started going to dance classes, attending what is now known as the Aberystwyth Arts Centre Dance School, and I have never looked back. This led my sister and I to take part in the annual pantomimes and the professional summer seasons, and as the years went on my love for dancing grew and grew. The facilities and opportunities the Arts Centre presented to me, and continues to present to people growing up in Aberystwyth, really are extremely rare. We’re very lucky to have it.
When did you leave and why? During my GCSE’s I applied and auditioned for dance college. I knew, after many years of dance training and performing, that I wanted to go on to study and then work professionally as a dancer. Luckily my parents were incredibly supportive and allowed this to happen.
Where did you train after that and how quickly did you get your first job once you finished your training? For the first year I trained at Merseyside Dance and Drama Centre in Liverpool, and then I moved to London to complete my last two years at Stella Mann Dance College. I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship for the three years. It was important to me to be based in London as I knew that once I had graduated that was where the auditions would be held. In the first year after I graduated I attended any auditions that I could, just for experience. As time went on you start to realise where your strengths lie, and mine was in commercial dancing. My first commercial dance job was a backing dancer for artists in Thessaloniki, Greece. I was there for a year and it was the biggest learning curve for me. I came back to London more experienced, stronger, and clearer in my mind about what path I wanted my career to take. I then got signed up to the commercial dance agencies that I had hoped to be signed to, and my career really started from there!
Since then you’ve had a very varied career - what have been the highlights? It’s so hard to pick! As a dancer you get to do such a variation of jobs like music videos, films, live shows, fashion shows, commercials, not just as a dancer, but as an actress too. My first commercial dance job in London was a music video with Craig David. What made this job extra special for me was that MTV were there filming an episode of ‘Making the Video’, a programme I’d always hoped to have been a part of one day. Other highlights were dancing on The Brit Awards at the 02 Arena, working with One Direction on their Tour visuals, a backing dancer on Britain’s Got Talent, working on the Harry Potter Films and acting alongside the McFly boys in a short film. I’ve danced at fashion shows in The Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Palace, and have toured hair shows for GHD and Schwarzkopf. Commercials have also become a big part of my career too, having featured in commercial campaigns for Footlocker, Samsung, Sure, Skoda, Specsavers, Virgin, British Airways and many more. A lot of the time they are filmed abroad in places like Barcelona, Prague, Brussels and in fact the British Airways job was partly filmed in India, which was an amazing experience.
And remembering my golden rule that namedropping is compulsory, what’s your most showbizzy story? Ha ha!! Well, for me, because I’m a big fan of hers, it was backstage whilst I was doing The Brits. Rhianna walked past and told me my hair looked hot! I just said “thanks!” and probably went bright red!
So, given everything you’ve told me, would you describe yourself as a dancer, an actor or something else? I would say first and foremost I am a dancer as that is what I trained in and predominately work as. However, acting comes part and parcel with what I do and I am finding myself being cast more and more in acting roles.
What have you got coming up in the future? I’ve recently completed commercials for Vax, Hilton, and Tesco Mobile, which will be out shortly. Also, I’ll be busy promoting a short film I worked on that has been selected for upcoming film festivals.
How often do you get to come back to Aber and what do you do when you’re here? My husband and I aim to come back with our daughter every six weeks. We have our family and friends here, and I really want my daughter, Amelia, to enjoy Aberystwyth like I did as a child. We walk the prom to take in some fresh sea air, and of course kick the bar! We’ll have fish and chips, without fail! And most importantly will spend time with our lovely family and friends.
Well lovely to see you as always Leanne. Anything else you want to add before we finish? Yes just one last thing - I would like to take this opportunity to thank my parents for sacrificing so much to allow me to follow my dreams xxx