Today we’d like to introduce you to Zoey Black.
Zoey, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I was just a little girl from a local area with big dreams. Growing up on the Northern Beaches in Sydney, Australia, where I lived a pretty normal life. I used to watch my sister dance as a hobby after school and when I watched her classes, I knew I wanted to be in them too. I’ve been dancing since the age of five years old but at first, only in the technical categories. I’ve always been competitive and always wanted to be good, the best, the one in the middle in the front row.
I studied at the same local school until I was 15 and after a sequence of reoccurring thoughts, realising that I couldn’t go any further with my school, I decided to leave to continue my studies elsewhere. I started extra ballet training at a prestigious school where they would train ballerinas. Even though I knew I wasn’t going to be a ballet dancer, my family and I knew that this was the best training I could get that would help me as a dancer overall.
The other school I transferred to was the best performing arts school in the country. Providing all styles of dance and a wide range of industry professionals as teachers who could show us a pathway into the professional industry first hand. At first I found myself at the bottom, but this fuelled my passion to fight to be the best again because all of the other dancers were so good. I didn’t come from a family of wealth, and my parents made it clear that I could only pursue one hobby and when I chose dance over everything, they worked incredibly hard and tirelessly to provide for my sister and I. That decision to make it a career came when I was 18.
After my completion at school, I did a year of full time performing arts courses at the same school that I was training at. Throughout the year, I was fortunate enough to have been taught by Australia’s leading choreographers who had already started to hire me on outside work. At the end of the year, I had already started working professionally and then my working career in Sydney continued consistently until 2014.
By this time, I was one of a small group of dancers that was living solely off dance work. I had worked on music videos, commercials, television, tours industrials, everything that came through, I was working on it. I had established my career in Australia and was thankful for my life and consistency, but I never lost sight of my bigger dream.
Ever since I can remember, I would look on YouTube or the television and watch music videos and performances with the worldly recognized artists. I remember always feeling a surge of excitement when I would think about how that would feel performing to thousands next to the artist, travelling around the world and seeing everyone’s faces out in the audience. America was where I needed and wanted to be. That was always my dream to make that my own reality.
So cut back to me in Australia, I was dancing and working, but I wanted more. I set off to Los Angeles full of excitement and hunger to experience the community, and I was mesmerised. I knew that was where my path would take me next. What I experienced in those two months of travels gave me a new reason to come home and fight again.
After returning to Sydney, I auditioned for the television show “So You Think You Can Dance” where after a gruelling audition process, became fortunate to become one of the top 20 contestants. An experience like no other that I’ll never forget. I placed top 10 and when the show ended, I packed my bags and went straight back to America to find an agent and help within in the dance community to get approved for a visa. It all happened so quickly and in October of 2014, I was on the plane embarking on my new journey in the US.
Of course, like everything new, uncomfortably. Unlike what I had experienced in the past, I was truly alone with no family or anyone familiar close by, so overall, it was no walk in the park finding my place. Thousands of dancers from around the globe come to this one place to hopefully be seen and I knew that I had to do something different to stand out. Another hurdle of moving on a visa was the limitation to work in anything else besides dance. I couldn’t get a side job to help me financially, so everything I saved. I had to use it wisely to survive. I would say that it took me an honest two years of living there to truly understand this new way of life and also who I truly was, not only as a dancer but as a person. This move made me fight more than I ever had in my life.
After some of the toughest months of my life in the beginning and throughout all of this understanding time, I did manage to book jobs and enough work to keep me going despite the many unsuccessful attempts of changing my appearance and personality trying to mold into what I thought would get me work. I really started paving my own path and forming connections with people on a level on a more personal level instead of wanting something from someone.
In 2016 I started working as a Personal Assistant to the legendary and iconic lady herself, Paula Abdul. We connected well after she was a judge on the show that I was on in Australia, “SYTYCD” and we formed a very nice relationship. At the time I was working on a job with her and she was also looking for a temporary assistant. I immediately volunteered to be on board as I have very good computer and organising skills, and I knew that we would be a great team. After working with her, I went back to the hustle and grind of the industry. By this point towards the end of 2016, I had fortunately worked with several artists such as Nick Jonas, Alicia Keys, Demi Lovato, Janelle Monae and Kendrick Lamar.
Going forward to 2017 and feeling more and more established within myself and the community with each passing day, I was praying for the next big job. It came… I booked the Paula Abdul total package tour and that journey kept me busy with her for the next six months travelling around the US and performing at sold-out arenas. Out of all of the jobs that I do, performing on stage is my absolute favourite and the most fulfilling moments of my life, so to tour around the US was a huge stepping stone in seeing my vision coming to life.
There was talk that Katy Perry was going on tour coming up, so I did a video submission before one of our shows just so I could be seen and show that I was interested. I heard back from the choreographers that there was an audition coming up. On one of my days off with Paula, I flew back to LA and auditioned for Katy Perry’s upcoming tour to then return back to wherever I was to continue shows with Paula. It had been about two weeks since the audition and by this time, I was back in LA and they still hadn’t solidified dancers for Katy.
It must have been 2 or 3 days of being back when I was asked to go for a private audition with about 200 girls. I made it to the end.. And then that night I got a call from my agent saying that I booked it. I remember crying and feeling so much happiness and joy. I was living in my purpose and doing what I always wanted to do. I made it happen. My entire experience through the tour changed my career and myself as a person. I travelled the world for a year with a great group of people dancing on stages to thousands and matured more as an independent woman in every way. I could write a novel about my adventures but we’ll just say that it was my favourite moment to date in my life, the best experience of my life with the most life lessons learnt.
In the final two months of the tour, I was suffering with a shoulder injury but I pushed on and didn’t let it affect me. When the tour concluded it was advised that I took a three-month break to heal properly but of course as a dancer, we tend to feel lost when we aren’t moving our bodies, especially at that time coming off touring for almost two years. You could say that I went into a little slight depression and uncertainty. My shoulder movement was so restricted and painful at that point. I had so much doubt about what would come. It needed to strengthen.
After getting through that period and refocusing my energy and thoughts on getting back on the stage, I booked Britney Spears’s new show called Domination. It was going to be her next Las Vegas residency contracted for three years. After a gruelling two months of rehearsals and our opening night in near sight, devastation hit us all when she was forced to cancel the show. Although our show never surfaced, the experience and feeling of being in the room with the megastar herself was a completely different feeling and experience like no other. Australia was in full summer swing at this point, so I returned for six weeks for a well earned holiday with my family.
2019 would have been my hardest year personally. Coming off tour and consistency, they have said in the past that you can deal with tour/travel depression. Travelling the world and performing is my addiction. I crave it everyday and I want it so badly. So to go from one extreme to nothing, this allowed a lot of self-doubts to enter my life. Though I was still working, it would be about one job a month, sometimes 2. For me, that just wasn’t enough, even though I was so grateful to have work in the first place and knew fully well how lucky I was to have it, I still yearned for more. And that addicted feeling I have towards performing and working was my struggle that I had to learn more about and get through it accordingly.
May of 2019, I booked a tour with artist Ava Max. That brought spark back into my life again but in a much more mature and calm manner which we traveled through the US and Europe for a while. I was very grateful to have that come up and help get me through the lessons funk. Another reason why I love to travel is because it clears my mind and cleanses all self-doubt and insecurities. I get a broad perspective of life and I’m very interested in seeing different parts of the world, taking in their cultures, learning about their way of living and the different landscapes the world provides. After touring for three months, I had some one-off jobs with other artists and also some one-off jobs with Katy, which the last ones with her taking me to India and Dubai to conclude the year.
As for 2020, I spent a month back home over the Christmas/new year holiday with my family, which I love to be in the water swimming, snorkelling, or bike riding and playing with my nieces and nephew. Then I worked on the Oscars in February, and since COVID – 19 was first spoken about lightly in LA, I’ve been back in Australia riding this wave out. My family lives five minutes from the beaches, so I’m very lucky to spend every day by the water meditating and keeping my mind calm, positive and focused on continuing to grow. I’ve found that I’ve grown up a tremendous amount over the past two years since Katy and I hope to only continue growing into a better human being than I was yesterday.
It is my destiny to be performing and I know this moment is only temporary, like every downtime moment and I’ll be back performing on my life’s path soon. I am a strong believer in whatever is meant to be will be. You just have to trust your craft and who you are, and believe that you can make your dreams come true.
We’d love to hear more about your work. What do you do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
From a young dancer, I was always told to adapt to whatever choreographer I have. Have my own style, but be able to do everything so that you’re hireable. Be a versatile dancer. My art as a dancer/performer has always concentrated on being what the choreographer is looking for. If they’re making a certain line or shape, do exactly what they’re doing. If they’re looking for a certain style, I want to be able to say I can do that. I’ve always been a petite body shape so I’ve always had in the back of my mind to dance bigger. If someone next to me who is taller and steps to the side, I’ve got to make sure that I’m stepping further to make all my movements bigger to stand out over her. Make the judging panel look at you because you’re standing out in the right reasons.
In terms of stage presence and performance quality, I remember watching old movies and artist performances and repeatedly watch how they were able to captivate an audience through just one look. So as my own performer, I believe that eye contact and focus towards the audience is the key. Your energy should project out and past the front row to reach those seats up in the highest of the marshals. All of these elements make up the form of art I am as a dancer.
I hope that people can see all of those qualities in me when they see me perform and can relate to any of the mentioned above. I know that I’m not the only one who thought my height let’s take that as an example, would be a disadvantage, but I never let that get in the way. I’ve managed to work surrounded by long-legged, tall women and then there’s little me, but I made it on the job and that’s all that matters. We, as artists are constantly working on who we are and what we can improve on, the lessons never stop if we truly care about our art and passion. Freestyling and exploring your own choreography is another valuable way for us to explore our own movement and I can honestly say how much it’s helped me.
How can artists connect with other artists?
Moving halfway across the world I definitely found myself to be very lonely at times, but the one thing that I realised about LA, is that most people are in the same boat as you are. As artists, we are always going to either classes, auditions or friends gatherings, so there are countless of opportunities to make new friends. I can now comfortably sit down at a coffee shop and say hi to someone new every time because that forces me to continually feel more secure within myself. We just have to get over our insecurities and force ourselves to get out and socialise. Everyone feels the same way that we do and we have to remember that one wants to feel lonely. So get to know people, don’t get caught up in your head and sit alone in your apartment thinking that you don’t have any friends. You have to get out there and make it happen.
Once you find your circle of friends, keep them close, because they’ll be there for you 100%. There are thousands of artists who are thinking the same thing that we are, the only difference is that some of them act and some don’t.
Do you have any events or exhibitions coming up? Where would one go to see more of your work? How can people support you and your artwork?
All of my work can be seen on YouTube haha. I don’t have my own personal website yet but I’m working on getting that up and running so that people can.
Trish Badger photography