Professional Dancer Charlie Mula from Hungerford Reflects on 2020

Charlie Mula, 21, from Hungerford is a professional dancer who, like many people in the arts, has had a challenging year. During the first lockdown, Charlie was working on the Costa Venezia cruise liner which was stranded in the Pacific Ocean between Nagasaki and Manila. Now back home, Charlie talks to us about this experience and how the pandemic has affected his career.

How did you get into dancing?

I wasn’t into dance at all when I was at Hungerford Primary – football was my thing and I did a bit of acting with the Hungerford Theatre Company, appearing in James and the Giant Peach and Fiddle on the Roof. At John O’Gaunt School, I was still into football and every week after training I had to pick my sister up from her dance classes at Hungerford Leisure Centre. While we were waiting for her class to end, my friends and I used to mess about at the back and the teacher got super annoyed. One day she stopped the class and said if we find it so funny why don’t we join in and see how hard it is?

So the next week I joined in and was surprised to discover I loved dancing. I joined the class and after about 7 months I had progressed so much I needed to move on. I got a place at the Italia Conti school in London so between 14 and 16 years old I got the train to London from Hungerford at 6.30am and returned at 7pm. We studied GCSEs in the morning and trained in all dance styles in the afternoon. After GCSEs I auditioned at the Wilkes Dance Academy and was lucky to get a place to study fulltime.

I was at Wilkes for 4 years because I had to take a year off to recover from a serious knee dislocation which damaged  my knee cap, ligament and tissue and required an operation. They think it happened because I was too fatigued and my supporting muscles gave way.

But thanks to lots of physio I fully recovered and technically graduated in September 2019 but I left college early because I got a role on the UK tour of an opera. The opera had four part ballets spillitting the show into 4 sections. Each split was me and 3 other male dancers performing a ballet piece. We had 6 weeks of reharsals in London before the show went on the road moving from venue to venue which was fun as I got to see places in the UK I’d not been to before.

When did you leave the UK and how did you end up in Japan?

My next job was performng on the Costa Venezia cruise ship. Mid-February I flew to Budapest for 6 weeks of rehearsals on an intense 9am – 5pm Mon-Sat schedule. Four and a half weeks in we were told that we would have to leave for Nagasaki, Japan, early due to Covid 19 closing down the borders.  We were given just a day’s notice to pack up and get to the airport. Due to boarders closing we had to take three aeroplanes.

We went from Budapest to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Tokyo and Tokyo to Nagasaki. I was picked up from the airport by the dance company and taken to a hotel for the night. In the morning I was picked up and taken to the cruise liner.

How did the cruise liner deal with the new Covid 19 restrictions?

When the other dancers and I got to the cruise liner we all had to stand in a circle and to be sprayed down completely along with all our bags with disinfectant spray. We then got all the paperwork done and given rooms each and then told we all had to isolate for 14 days and were told that we were not allowed to open our door at all unless we were told to. The doctor came every day to take my temperature and I had bloods taken a couple of times. I was given a number to call at mealtimes and had to place my food order, then a waiter came to my door in a hazmat suit with my meals. 

I coped by reading and working out a lot, watched the ocean, meditated/yoga. The wifi on board was very weak but it was just about enough for my best friend and my family to be able check in with me and give me some company.,

Did you finally get to dance?

After isolation we went into dance rehearsals. The ship had no passengers on board for the whole of my experience. We were then told that we were going to leave Nagasaki and sailed to Shenzhen. When we got to Shenzhen we could not get permission to dock so we then sailed back to Nagasaki where we were then told we could not dock again in Nagasaki as we had been to a different country. We set down anchor out at sea for a few weeks. We were then told we were going to leave Nagasaki and sail to Manila. 

We were told that we had to stop rehearsals as we now had to social distance on board due to the fact that food was coming on board from the mainland. This carried on for quite some time, and got worse by the day as we were now told only a couple of us were allowed together at one time. We all had to wear masks at all times and the temperatures were 43° outside.

How did you get home?

The UK crisis team emailed me and the other dancers with flight details as they had taken over and were getting us home due to many people on cruise ships becoming mentally unwell, and unfortunately due to people taking their own lives.

At the end of May within four days I was given flight details to get home. I was picked up and flown from Manila to Doha, Qatar, with an eight hour stay over, then Doha to Heathrow. The flight home from Doha to Heathrow was very hot and the air stewards had full hazmat suits on.


How has the rest of 2020 been for you?

Challenging! I’ve not been eligible for any government funding so have struggled financially and had to get a job working in construction which keeps me active but makes it difficult to keep up my training at the same time.

When you graduate from the academy you take every job available try build a good CV for future jobs  My plan is to save enough money to move to London and start working on bigger productions next year. 


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