Living to dance has taken Ryan Jenkins around the world. ALEXIA EVRIPIDOU meets him on a recent trip to Cyprus
Met with beaming eyes, a wide smile and a Hollywood tan, Ryan Jenkins pours out his life narrative like I was a dear friend. It’s difficult not to succumb to Ryan’s charm, as I follow his roller coaster story, crying at his struggles and rejoicing in his successes. He is no stranger to either and I, generally, am not so readily moved.
He has a taste for fashion too, dressed dapperly in a tweed jacket sporting diamanté flamenco on his lapel, a Ralph Lauren pin-striped striped shirt with a mustard cravat hugging his neck, Ryan makes style and originality look effortless. His life reads like a Latino drama with British sophistication: he lost his brother to cancer when Ryan was merely 14 and his mother to alcoholism six years ago. He spent his formative years commuting from England to Australia, and embarked on an adventure with his love, dancing, at the age of 14.
About three weeks ago, Ryan received a call from Pineapple Performing Arts in London, where he’s based, from Alexia Pissarides and Christina Patsalides inviting him to Cyprus to teach children musical theatre at their Weekend Stage School. He jumped on a plane and came over for “working holiday” weekend. Now, he has been asked to become a patron of a dance school in Paphos and will be returning to Cyprus to collaborate with Alexia and Christina, rolling out a Contemporary Dance syllabus and a Teachers Teaching Programme that he and his team have devised.
“I just try to roll with things; I am here, where as three weeks ago I was doing something else. And now this has opened up a whole other door for me. I love change, everyday is a new opportunity,” says Ryan.
And his CV would seem to back that up. Ryan is a British professional West End dance performer and choreographer. His primary form of dancing is contemporary, though he’s also worked as a ballerina and other forms of dance. He’s Ambassador of Dance Challenge and Music Theatre for Youth and a dance teacher at Pineapple performing arts. The last year saw the creation of Dream Idols (dance performers), with Ryan as Creative director/director/choreographer. The group has worked with Mel C and Sinitta and Performed a Hit factory concert at the O2. Ryan also works lots for charity, as creative director for Prince Charming events for the Prince’s trust.
Since the age of 14, Ryan knew two things: he wanted to dance and he was good at it. At 16 he went to the prestigious dance school Bird College of Dance, Music & Theatre Performance in Kent.
His parents supported him fully and his builder dad is an avid supporter and critic. It was fiercely competitive “but you need that push, you need to want to have it”.
With a Welsh English father and an Irish English mother, it seems that Ryan has plenty of the Celtic passion running through his veins. “I have French in there as well, which adds a bit of style” he laughs. I notice something shimmering on his left hand pinky, his mother’s engagement ring. Keeping the memory of his passed loved ones alive, is imperative for Ryan.
His career has taken him around the world, as a performer, choreographer and director in all genres of the entertainment industry: musicals, music videos, concerts, adverts, cruise productions, theatre and TV shows. The list continues. As a self proclaimed energiser bunny, Ryan’s always on the go looking for new challenges and tireless in his pursuit of perfection. Insisting on feedback on what was wrong instead of right, he thrives on improvement; he’s a leach for learning. This could possibly have taken seed during his vigorous ballet training.
“My ballet mistress Town was ruthless. She once put a coffee cup on my leg, whilst I was holding it up in the air, it was full of coffee. She ordered me not to drop a drop. I gripped onto the ballet bar for life, I was determined; I would not drop that coffee. I was so s cared of her”. Ryan acknowledges he would not be where he is today was it not for her. He too, now pushes his students to achieve the best they can.
At 19 Ryan graduated from college and went straight into Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake world tour with all the dancing greats. There was no turning back from here, after tasting the best, he wanted more. He learnt how to struggle through unemployment, holding out for the good jobs. During the down times, he even became a spritzer boy at Selfridges, spraying perfumes on passersby; he worked in pubs and restaurants and accepted help from friends and family, always working towards his goals. At the end of one such down period after he’d held on tight for three months of unemployment three opportunities arrived on the same day, starting at the same time. He ensured that he took all three: Phantom of the Opera (film), Grease the musical and Alexander the Great with Colin Farrell. Pushing hard to achieve is innate in him. “Don’t just say it, do it. I go out and I find things and make them happen. If I want to do something, I make a call; I find a way to make things happen. There are so many people in the world who come from nothing to everything”.
Ryan certainly walks the talk. A zest for life is a grave understatement in describing him; some may see his tireless energy exhausting, his competitive nature excessive, but Ryan can’t seem to help loving life and wanting to achieve everything he can. He is focused, driven, hard working and incredibly creative. He also comes across as lovely and a lot of fun, an all round born entertainer. He loves showbiz. His life and career are as colourful as his character, splashed with bright and very dark shades.
The baby of three, Ryan was born in Sussex and brought up on the Isle of Wight. His parents met and fell in love when they were visiting Australia and couldn’t decide where to live, so commuted yearly between Australia and the UK over four years. Unfortunately at about 14, Ryan’s brother who was 20 at the time, passed away from cancer. It began with undiagnosed blindness in one eye that spread to his liver. Within a year he was gone and the family was left to pick up the pieces. His mum was already an alcoholic, which made it worse. His parents had divorced by then due to her alcoholism, “they never dated anybody else, as they still loved each other but they couldn’t be together because of her illness”. His father was distraught, so Ryan was left to bring himself up through that dark time.
Then about six years ago, Ryan had to say goodbye to his long suffering mother. When she passed “I stayed in the show for a few days, I needed a space not to think. I couldn’t stop crying, I think that’s why I try to be happy and push forward and fight, as you don’t get anything given to you in this world, you got to go out and get it”. Ryan explains that he has devised and will perform a piece he’s dedicating to his brother at Move It 2015 (the largest dance exhibition in Europe). “It’s my way to keep my brother’s memory alive, no one there will know, but I did it for him”.
Sensitive to the heaviness of the topic, he lightens the mood by joking how good he is at the sad dances. He isn’t a man to brush over emotions, he feels them, respects them and uses them in his art, nor is a man to dwell on negative emotions.
His hunger for a full life is ceaseless. However family and friends come first, always. While in Denmark, working on cruise ships, Ryan received a call informing him that he had been invited to perform on the BBC hit first series So You Think You Can Dance. He rejected the offer. It would have been his first mainstream big break but he was faced with a dilemma: a friend who he was working with in Denmark was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He decided to stay with his friend. “This was one of the easiest decisions I’ve made. I want the career but family and friendships come first. You can’t get time back with somebody,” he explains.
The BBC got back to him and invited him for series 2 in 2011 and he came in the top 20 live finalists. This helped catapult his career. Not someone to settle for stale, Ryan is always pushing the bar creatively, looking for new things that no one has ever done before “you got to be different to make a statement. I’m really competitive, I never lose at monopoly,” he laughs. His appetite for fun and life is contagious.
It seems his time here in Cyprus was not only successful on a career level but also personal. “I love working with kids”. The Stage School weekend consisted of approximately 70 children aged six to 25 with three professional UK teachers. Children of all levels of skills and abilities attended. “We only had two days to do a whole production number. They were worked hard and they really stepped up to the mark. The energy was insane and the audience was genuinely impressed with them”.
Ryan’s passion does not end here, or anywhere it seems, His goals are as big as his personality. He wants to revolutionise dance teaching in the UK, making UK the capital of dance, offering the best teachers. He’s spreading this professionalism over to Cyprus by launching a dance examination board in July for his Contemporary Dance Syllabus as well as the Teacher Training Programme, teaching dance teachers how to teach, for which he’s got support from many top colleges in the UK on these programmes. “I want kids to understand why they’re learning, not just because they’re told to do it.”
What does the future hold for Ryan? ”Life has thrown me many curve balls, so I’ve learnt that you can’t say what the future holds. I’m on the roller coaster and having a great time, there’s a few things I want to direct, see more of the world, go to space, sky dive and I want to have dinner with Liza Minnelli!” he laughs heartily. “I just want to wake up everyday and try to be smiley as, much as I can”.
The Weekend Stage School