Julia McCracken

Dancing her way to Le Moulin Rouge

by Gill Sherry

I start our FaceTime conversation with a cheery “Bonjour!” and hope I’m not met with a fluent French response. “Hi,” says Julia McCracken, much to my relief.

Although Scottish, Julia is currently living in Paris, having recently signed her first professional dance contract with the world-famous Moulin Rouge. Thankfully, her grasp of the French language is on a par with my own.

“My French is awful,” she admits. “I know a few basic phrases but I can’t really string a fluent sentence together.”

Julia does hope to take lessons to gain a better understanding of the language but for the time being, she’s still getting used to a new hectic schedule.

“We’re eight shows in now,” she tells me. “I’m waking up really late in the day, about 1pm, then I have the afternoon to myself. Dancers start to arrive to work from 7.30pm but I’ve been going in at 6.30pm so I can relax and enjoy the process of getting ready for the show.”

Julia does two shows, six days a week, the first at 9pm and the second at 11.30pm, finally getting back to her neighbouring apartment just before 2am.

“It’s such a big adaptation and it seems so surreal, but I’m enjoying every single minute.”

Having spent her first three weeks rehearsing and learning the choreography, she is now fully immersed in the shows, sharing the adventure with other newcomers of varying nationalities, the new friendships and different cultures adding to the already amazing experience.

Originally from Kilmarnock and a student at Grange Academy, Julia first attended dance classes at the age of nine.

“I really enjoyed it but it was more like a hobby. Then, when I was 14, I thought… I really enjoy dance, so I think I’ll just go ahead and make it a career.”

At 16, she applied to join Dance Studio Scotland in Glasgow, following this with a year at Addict Dance Academy in Leicester, the result of which saw her earn her degree in dance.

The opportunity to audition for Le Moulin Rouge came unexpectedly out of the blue.

“The audition was in London. I don’t think they do auditions in the UK that often so I was on the phone booking flights, looking for hotels. It was very last minute but I thought… I’d better just go for it!”

A few weeks later she received an email asking if she’d be interesting in joining Le Moulin Rouge. Having decided to pursue a career in dance and with a preference for show girl work, it really was a dream come true for Julia.

“It’s very glam,” she says, “the costumes are all feathers and sparkles.”

But it’s not just the costumes that are glamorous, the district of Monmartre is equally flamboyant. The iconic red mill of Le Moulin Rouge attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. It sits in the heart of the city’s red light district, itself a tourist attraction, and is the world’s most famous cabaret.

No wonder, then, that dancing at Le Moulin Rouge was Julia’s ultimate goal.

“The rehearsal period was obviously really hard but it was worth it. I’m enjoying being on stage and I’m really enjoying Paris. It’s so surreal that this is my job and that I’m doing this every day.”

She may have already achieved her ambition but there is ample opportunity to progress, perhaps to soloist or principal. For now, though, Julia is more than happy to continue performing with the other high-kicking, can-can dancers of Le Moulin Rouge.

“I’m just going to see where it goes.”