Romy Jo Swales is proof that pursuing your passion pays off – the 28-year-dancer from Rondebosch has travelled the world and now she’s preparing for her latest production in Türkiye this weekend.
Swales returned to Cape Town in December after completing a four-year contract with The Lion King, the international touring musical, that saw her perform in 14 cities across eight countries.
“I was part of the dance ensemble and played multiple roles throughout the production changing a minimum of 14 times. We performed the two-and-a-half-hour show eight times a week.
“Prior to that I had the opportunity to study in New York for about six months and to close off the semester, I had the immense honour of not only performing on the Manhattan Movement and Arts Centre stage, but also choreographing and showcasing a piece of my own work for which I was invited back for.
“In South Africa, I have performed in a number of local stage works as well as choreographed and creatively directed my own live stage and digital works.”
Deciding on the arts, says Swales, was a natural choice for her as she grew up in a household where the arts had always been celebrated and encouraged.
“My father is a professional opera singer, my brother is a professional jazz musician, and my mother, even though by profession is a chartered accountant, has always loved the arts.”
From a young age, Wales visited the Eon Group in Athlone to watch her father perform in operas, supported her brother’s concerts and regularly watched shows at the Artscape.
“The arts had always been part of my life and integral to my formative years, but it was when my mother put me in my first dance class at age 3 that I realised that it was my first love.”
She attended Rosebank Junior School and Westerford High School, where she took dance as an extracurricular activity. She started at The Dance Project dance school and in Grade 10 moved to the Waterfront Theatre College, part-time where she eventually ended up doing close to 15 hours of dance/musical theatre classes per week.
Ms Swales also played the piano for eight years, was in a marimba band in primary school and the choir all through her primary and high school years.
After matriculating, she studied musical theatre in 2013 and majored in dance at Waterfront Theatre College while also training with Rudi Smit’s Untimitive crew.
“I realised in my matric year that if I did not try to pursue a career in the arts, that I would regret it. I really wanted to spend my early years pursuing something that would fulfil me holistically, and I knew that that would involve movement and the arts. Somehow at the age of 18, I knew that I would find more meaning in pursuing a freelance career of short projects that I loved, rather than a sedentary nine to five.”
Since returning to Cape Town, Swales has been rehearsing for a new production which will be touring to Antalya, Türkiye. She has also danced for a number of corporate functions this year as well as shooting for two commercials.
The key to a successful career in the arts, she says, is to diversify as much as possible and remain open to all types of work.
“I am a firm believer in personal growth and development throughout one’s career. I have had so many opportunities and while I am still young I want to continue on that path of growth. I feel it’s important to learn new skills to carry me through my industry and to take advantage of creative opportunities that might not be as available to me here in South Africa so that I might return to help build up our industry and share my knowledge with aspiring performers.”