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Clara Morna Freitas: Dancing Around the World

Clara Morna Freitas, an alumna of the Academy of Dance Arts (ADA), has transformed her passion for dance into a vibrant lifestyle, traveling around the world to pursue her dream. We recently had the opportunity to catch up with her and hear about her inspiring journey and the experiences she's had on her path to success.


What inspired you to pursue a career in dance, and how did that journey lead you to perform on cruise ships?

I began dancing at the Academy of Dance Arts at age 2. By the time I was 5, I was deeply in love with dance and telling my family I would be a professional dancer. I spent my entire training at ADA with opportunities to attend intensives at Boston Conservatory and Juilliard. At age 19, I was pursuing a major in dance at a well-known university and I felt stuck. I wasn’t sure what my performance career would be yet, but I knew I couldn’t wait 4 years to get into the industry. I became an apprentice within the next six months and quickly began to audition for cruise ships. I never would have worked on cruise ships if I hadn’t stepped back from the “noise” and pressure of the dance industry. Everyone around you has an opinion on what success looks like, which is relatable in any industry. I wasn’t feeling fulfilled working as a contemporary dancer in Chicago, and I was certainly too young to burn out on my lifelong dream. Since I wasn’t ready to give up on dance or performing, I took a moment to reflect on what part of the dance industry was burning me out and what I loved. At 19, I loved travel, I wanted to save money and I needed to dance. Put those three things together you get cruise ships.  


Can you share some insights into the unique experience of performing on cruise ships compared to traditional stage performances? 

To start with the obvious, performing on a cruise ship you have to deal with a moving stage and the motion of the ocean. The seas have a mind of their own we can’t control. Safety, trust and your health are so important as cruise performers. Another reality people do not realize is that we are on our own out there. 6 to 8 months at a time we have one cast, one set of costumes, one version of props, one version of each shoe, everything. You build an incredible bond with your cast because we do not have swings or understudies. Illness and injury are part of life and we have to be able to adapt an entire show sometimes in a matter of hours. The show must go on even when you snap your La Duca strap and completely break your shoe within the first 30 seconds of a show…..yeah, that happened. 


What are the challenges and rewards of performing in a constantly changing environment such as a cruise ship? 

The challenges and rewards of performing at sea are intertwined. You travel the world, but you are away from home for months on end. You perform often and for long contracts, but you do not have the same resources as other performers, such as chiropractors, directors, studios to take dance classes etc. If you are looking to work on ships you have to be able to accept the reality of the challenges. It was so worth all the hard days in my opinion!


Could you describe a particularly memorable performance or moment from your time on a cruise ship? 

I’ll never forget my first or last time performing on a ship. Cool story: I opened and closed my career with the same show, which was incredible to reflect on. The moment it all clicked for me, when I was most grateful for my job was in December of 2021. Broadway and the West End went dark AGAIN after trying to reopen from the 2020 pandemic. It was the holidays and the biggest shows in the world were being shut down. Cut to cruise ships, we were still performing every show and putting talent on stage every night. I remember feeling so honored to be representing live theater during a historically difficult time for the industry. On a personal level, I was so grateful to be receiving a paycheck for all the same reasons!


What are some of the most unexpected or surprising aspects of life as a dancer on a cruise ship? 

There is so much behind the scenes but the biggest one people do not realize is that in my experience, we are full crew members. This means we are STCW certified and participate in mandatory safety drills and are responsible for the safety and well-being of guests on board. We do not spend our downtime living like a guest on a cruise ship. We are actually part of the crew, and we wear many hats.


How has performing on cruise ships contributed to your growth and development as a dancer?

My first contract was overwhelming and challenging because ballroom was a huge part of all the shows. I learned many styles of dance growing up but ballroom was never a focus. I thought I was versatile and that partnering was a strength of mine until I had to learn a tango, cha cha, and quick step in one day. Cue the tears! But, that was a challenge I agreed to take on, because I knew I focused my training in ballet, contemporary and jazz growing up thinking I would be in a concert dance company. I knew there would uncharted territory for me switching to cruise ships. But I mastered the choreography and was able to enjoy the challenge. The company cast me in roles that allowed me to show off my strengths in ballet, contemporary and jazz.


What advice would you give to aspiring dancers who are interested in pursuing opportunities to perform on cruise ships? 

Do your research because every cruise line looks for different “types” of dancers. On the same note, be prepared and show up to the audition as if you already have the job. Fake it until you make it. Dance for yourself and show your joy. We do this because we love it, show THAT!

 

How has your training and education in dance prepared you for performing with Norwegian Cruise Lines? 

My training at The Academy of Dance Arts gave me a significant leg up in my career. My training was well-rounded and focused not on winning trophies or titles but, on how to take the technique learned in class and apply it to what was being asked of you by a director or choreographer in a rehearsal setting. So, while ballroom dance was not in my wheelhouse, I could listen and quickly learn ballroom choreography in an audition room. I learned how to be a smart dancer at ADA. The university I spent one semester with produces a lot of talent and over time I watched many of my peers who stayed in school for 4 years graduate and get hired by the same company that hired me at 20 years old. I realized that leaving school was the right thing for me.


Can you share some highlights about dancing on a cruise line or about your travels?

Of course, the highlight of the job is the travel. My total number of countries visited is 43 but 39 of them are from cruise ships alone. A few standouts are Antarctica, St. Petersburg Russia in 2019, and the Norwegian Fjords.


The bonus highlight is the people. You meet the most incredible people Working in an international environment. With a cast of 12 typically 3 to 5 different nationalities are represented. On top of that being part of 750 crew members from over 40 nationalities is just your daily reality. During my career, you could count the number of Americans on board on two hands. Diverse working environments give you a worldly perspective and open your heart and mind to different cultures, languages, and ways of life. It reminds me that we are all the same and had a huge influence on what I’m doing next in life.


What advice would you give to aspiring dancers who aspire to perform internationally?  

The opportunity is out there! Dance is a universal language and if another country is calling your name, go! Do not let anyone limit your goals or expectations. Do not let anyone tell you what is best for you, only you can know what will make you happy. If you see it you can achieve it. Trust that feeling in your gut.


Could you describe a particularly memorable or impactful moment from one of your international performances?  

Having my parents in the audience while we traveled through Greece and Turkey. Knowing they are the reason I got to live my dream. They sacrificed a lot for my passion, and they are why I got to be onstage living my dream. To dance for them, live, in that moment I knew I made it, that was priceless to me.




Photo Credits:

Top Left: Production Credit to Oceania Cruises

Top Right: Rome, Italy 

Bottom Left: Morna Freitas Photography/Miguel Morna Freitas Location: Ponta De São Lourenço, Madeira, Portugal 

Bottom Right: Morna Freitas Photography/Miguel Morna Freitas Location: Funchal, Madeira, Portugal

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