My first gig as a podium dancer took place on the other side of the world from Ibiza. I was 14 (going on 18) in a Canadian rodeo town and it was fucking freezing, something like -40. Slipping across black ice toward an unmarked metal door, my heart was racing. I entered just as Daft Punk was spliced into a lengthy set of The Neptunes’ off-kilter hip hop, saccharine smoke pumping out over acid green lasers in an attempt to make the club look busy. Rushed to the backstage area, my hair was spiked into a jet black, red and platinum mohawk of extensions while I was sprayed head to toe in gold and put in stilettos to match. Flanked by five male dancers dressed in asymmetric chainmail, I clambered atop a towering pyramid of podiums.
Despite being styled like a fierce cross between Mad Max and an Academy Award, I was struggling to downplay my nerves. A group of girls loitering by the side of the dancefloor began mimicking me, pointing and laughing. I felt like a total idiot and fought back tears until I eventually ran off in floods. “You’re getting paid for tonight,” yelled the agent, grabbing my arm, “that sad group of girls are paying to watch you. So go back out, be fucking ferocious and act like a professional!” The rest of the evening exploded into an electrifying golden blur and sparked an adrenaline-fuelled addiction, waking a confidence in me that not only changed me as a performer but has stuck with me every time some hateful naysayer has criticised me since.
Few things in life beat dancing for a living – but tell people that you’re a podium dancer and some people feel the need to commiserate. The truth is, I’ve never felt as empowered and fearlessly provocative as I felt on a podium. Within a couple of years I had danced over a fight between two of the most notorious gangs while suspended in a birdcage, sweated my tits off as a shadow behind a screen and performed dressed only in cling film. By my 20th birthday, I’d danced for De La Soul and Snoop, landed a full-time stint in Cancun and been on podiums at super clubs in Miami, New York and Puerto Rico. But I never made it to Ibiza.
To make it as a club dancer in Ibiza is the peak. Not only are you starring alongside the best DJs on the planet, but at some of the most legendary parties in clubbing history. Unsurprisingly, there are hundreds vying for the few available jobs. You can be a highly skilled performer who’s trained for years, or a famous club kid flown in solely for the season: those lucky enough to secure a spot need to possess an otherworldly magnetism and an unstoppable resilience. Because surviving a season in Ibiza takes massive stamina. The workload is heavy, the expectations are high, the cash low. Some dancers fly in and out weekly to do shows elsewhere, hold down relationships and pay their rent. Many won’t last – they’ll take too many drugs, drink too much, run out of money or all three.
The rewards, though, are worth it; from fronting major modelling campaigns to running your own booking crew or performing year-round across the globe. At the dawn of this season’s opening parties, I caught up with Ibiza’s most iconic performers to find out what life as an Ibiza dancer is really like.
How did you end up dancing in Ibiza?
Nadia Chabane, aka ‘Shabby’: “I was dancing on a podium in the main room at Amnesia on a night called ‘Made in Italy’ and this guy came over and asked me if I wanted a job. After that I danced for Amnesia for three years before Cocoon asked me to dance for them. I was at Cocoon for six years, while dancing for Carl Cox and Kehakuma. I started dancing at Enter but left because Paradise were hounding me and offered me more money! I’ve been at Paradise ever since.”
Rachel Montague: “I wanted to be a dancer my whole life, but my parents refused to let me. My grandmother was a ballerina who suffered from injuries and they didn’t want that for me. One of my best friends knew how badly I wanted to do it and loved my look, so he got me in as a dancer at a gay club. I was only 14 at the time and had to sneak out. I’ve been go-go dancing for over two decades now – when I started it was proper old-skool, with white fun-fur boots and glowsticks. Amazing! I loved it, and they loved me, I guess, because I’ve been booked ever since.”
Terri-Lee Blake: “I became a podium dancer by default, really. I was a waitress at Pacha and one season my contract hadn’t been renewed. I took a job dancing at Space as a last resort. A decade later, being a podium dancer has really helped me so much on a personal level. It gave me the confidence in myself to become a model. It’s also it’s an outlet and a release. If I’ve had a bad day, I’ll kick off on that podium.”
Lucy Fizz: “I became a dancer after being this crazy club kid who got spotted in the queer scene by going out every night of the week.”
BAYBJANE: “I came to Ibiza in 2008 as the official mascot for Pacha for David Guetta’s first season of ‘Fuck Me I’m Famous’. The reason I came was a crazy and personal one. I’d found out that I was going to have a very serious surgery, and I thought, ‘If I don’t make it, I’m gonna go to Ibiza first and rock!’ If something happens, I can say I rocked the island and then like that – if that’s it – I’m gone. Maybe it’s a magic that was meant for me. I’m still performing on the island three decades later. So in the end, it all turned out good.”
What’s your typical working night like?
The MxFit: “A club like Hï Ibiza is like the Superbowl when it comes to the production level. Dancers are put up in apartments and given a driver, ‘Group A’ is picked up at 21:00, ‘Group B’ at 21:30 sharp. You’re dropped off at the club for hair and make-up and then divided into teams and given rotating sets until about 5am. Depending on the club, after you dance you might take a quick nap and shower. Often you’re sent to the beach to pass out promo goodies and find cool people for the guest list. There is never a time in Ibiza as a performer where you’re not interacting with someone.”
Rachel Montague: “At Cocoon where it’s techno-heavy we have to dance really hard, so I’ll make the sets 15 minutes each because any longer and you’ll lose power and not look so good at 6:AM. In Ibiza now, it’s the dancers who are plastered on posters for some of the clubs, where the DJ used to be.”
At what point did the hype shift?
Rachel Montague: “Cocoon had the first group of podium dancers in Ibiza who became something more. It was the first of its kind where the photography became more about the dancers and not the DJ; the first time you had six girls all up on stage, with matching costumes looking so strong.”
What level of training do you need as a dancer to perform in Ibiza?
The MxFit: “Lots of people who dance in clubs are not dancers. There’s a clear difference between dancers and movers. A mover is someone who knows how to move so that it looks visually interesting... there’s no pressure, they’re just giving what they’ve got and the crowd can feel that. A dancer will always think, ‘I need to get better’. A dancer will constantly remind themselves there’s an audience and they have to put on a show.”
Is there an upper age limit for dancers?
Rachel Montague: “Of course you can’t look wrinkly as hell, but I know girls who have had babies and now have stretch marks and I book them myself for dozens of gigs. [After a decade on the Island] I’m booking more jobs now then I did as a kid in Ibiza. I feel younger now, and I dance better.”
As a dancer your name is inked on near enough every DJ and club guestlist on the island. With the temptation to party at peak and the hours insane, what would you say is the key to staying in the game?
Rachel Montague: “Being professional, showing up on time, having a good reputation and taking care of yourself. That comes with experience. When I’m dancing in a club I don’t party because that’s my office. When I’m booking the dancers at Amnesia I’m looking for the same. If you take too many drugs you get too skinny; if you drink too much you get bloated. I want healthy-looking dancers who aren’t going to flake out halfway through the season.”
Shabby: “Try not to get too sucked in, be you, be original. Get your sleep and eat heathily. Take time out to really enjoy the island and what it has to offer…. and tequila.”
The MxFit: “The more you party, the more you know the bookers. Once you know the bookers, when an interesting gig comes up you’ll be the first they call.”
Would you say there’s more competition between dancers in Ibiza over style than skills? Has your look ever been copied?
BABYJANE: “I’ve been copied a lot! But it’s a good thing. It means you’re creating something new that’s making an impact.”
Rachel Montague: “On the aesthetic side there’s a trend whereby lots of clubs are hiring dancers not by the way they dance but for a look that fits.”
The MxFit: “At Glitterbox we’re like a family. If someone is dancing amazingly, I love it and I can vibe off that. But there are some clubs where they’re dancing like it’s an open casting for Beyoncé. Looks-wise? It’s hard to keep your position. You’re constantly thinking, ‘What can I do better?’ Now, most clubs provide elaborate costumes, but in the beginning you had to hustle. Every penny went into your look, and as you know Ibiza is not cheap.”
What’s been the craziest thing you’ve ever worn?
The MxFit: “I used to glue things to my dick! I sometimes shave everything and wear a c-string. It’s basically like a triangle with a string that goes through your legs. I glue the triangle to the front with gems and rhinestone on it, so from the sides it looks like I’m naked. It stays all night: if I sweat, if I do the splits, it doesn’t move. I use mastic, which is like an industrial concrete glue. I can’t really tell you how I get it off.”
Lucy Fizz: “There are a lot of people whose first memory of me is at a rave when I was wearing a pair of pants and covered in chocolate. It was Easter and I just thought it fitted the theme.”
Can dancers make enough money to survive in Ibiza?
The MxFit: “People come to Ibiza for the summer to be seen, and I know many dancers who will take a job for free. When [clubs] say that to me, I say, “OK, let’s see if that person will bring the same amount of outfits as I do, and the same quality of dancing, and give the same show that I do and get the same reaction from the crowd”. If they still want to pay that cheap price, then OK, let the other dancer have the job. Luckily for me, each year my income goes up.”
BAYBJANE: “There are lots of jobs for dancers and performers, but not all get an apartment, which means they can’t afford to stay. Out of all the clubs in the world, Ibiza clubs pay the lowest. It’s very important that besides the massive fees for DJs, they invest more in the performers and the artwork. Because that’s what gives Ibiza its magic.”
Have you had any bad experiences that back up the stereotypes that come with being a podium dancer?
Rachel Montague: “People respect you in Ibiza. Sure, I’m working in a place where everyone is partying, but I haven’t ever had any problems, and if I had I’d just smack them around the face or kick them from my podium.”
The MxFit: “Performing in Ibiza is unlike anywhere in the world. The way you dance isn’t the same. The vibe isn’t the same. In Ibiza, it’s all love. People pay the ticket price to see a show.”
Terri-Lee Blake: “Being someone who books dancers now, I get pissed off
calls from parents, girlfriends, boyfriends all the time. One of the main things that I’m really proud of is that my parents always supported me. My dad has been to all the clubs I’ve danced at in Ibiza and stood at my podium and cheered me on.”
How important is the music that you dance to?
Terri-Lee Blake: “I’ve never felt the music so much as when I danced for DJ’s like Octave One and Carl Cox! You get a lot of DJs who just stay still and it looks like they’re hating their life up there. As a dancer, you think, “Come on! You’re supposed to be motivating me!” Seeing DJs who are dancing behind the decks, loving what they do and are feeling it – that makes you feel it so much more. Then to have people around you who can feel that and are having it: there’s no other rush that good.”
Lucy Fizz: “The music is everything for me. As one of Artwork’s dancers I sometimes won’t take a break all night during his sets. I’ll keep having to remind myself to stop for water, but then the next song will come on and I’ll love it even more than the last so I’ll stay up there.”
Rachel Montague: “Dancing to music you don’t like is the worst thing ever! Your set feels like it lasts forever and you don’t get ‘skin orgasms’ like you do when the music is good. When the music is shit, then you start thinking – and that comes off in the way you move.”
What drives you to keep coming back to the White Isle?
Lucy Fizz: “When you’re so passionate about it and you enjoy it so much it doesn’t feel like work. I’m doing it sober now, which is a totally different experience. I think I’m wilder and have even more insane amounts of energy than I did before. That’s probably because I love it so much. No matter how many shows I get booked for, or how exhausted I am, I still feel so privileged and get shivers on the plane knowing I’m living my dream. When I’m going straight from the club in London to board that 6:AM Sunday flight for Glitterbox at Hï Ibiza I’m still like, ‘OMG’.
Tracy Kawalik is a freelance music and culture writer, follow her on Twitter
The dancers (in order of photo appearance)
Nadia Chabane aka Shabby
Legendary Ibiza name, booker, dancer, and star of Paradise since the very beginning
Performing for nearly 20 years
Dances at Paradise @ DC10
Dancer, model, booker, and queen of the podium
Performing for nearly 12 years
Dances at Cocoon, Resistance @ Privilege and Rumors
Club kid, dancer and transgender icon, a face of Glitterbox and Smirnoff alongside Honey Dijon
Performing for 10 years
Dances at Glitterbox @ Hï Ibiza, XOYO’s Pleasurehood
Spanish model, performer and one of Ibiza’s original podium dancers
Performing for nearly 10 years
Dances at Glitterbox @Hï Ibiza, Paradise @ DC10
French-born, nightclub-raised drag queen, dancer, music video performer and model for the likes of Vivienne Westwood, and the face of a slew of other illustrious brands
Performing for 10 years
Dances at Glitterbox @ Hï Ibiza
Avant-garde performance artist, Ibiza icon and the world’s tiniest drag queen
Performing for 20 years
Dances at Pikes Saturday and monthly for Guy Williams’ FLASH and Cosmic Pineapple. SAGA @ Heart and Cocoon
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