Shay Stafford is a Brisbane native who has spent the past twelve years dancing in Paris.
She started dancing at age 6, taking ballet, jazz and tap classes in a dusty church hall in suburban Brisbane. Inspired by the 80s TV show Fame, she dedicated every waking moment of her childhood and early teens to dance.
As she writes in the book: “I would tap up the concrete stairs from the backyard to the dining room table. I would forward slap down the cereal aisle at Woolworths. Even when sitting in the pew at church during Sunday morning Mass, my feet would silently tap out a combination on the stone floor.
“For a period of almost two years, there was hardly a smooth, hard surface in the whole of Brisbane that was spared the frantic, compulsive tapping of my perpetually moving feet.”
Never imagining it would be possible to make a career out of her love of performing, she buckled down and continued her studies – squeezing in school between classes, rehearsals, end-of-year recitals and school holiday performances on the centre stage of her local Westfield Shoppingtown. Eisteddfod judges would regularly comment on her height and physique, urging her to consider becoming a “Bluebell at the Lido.” She had no idea what they were talking about. The Lido, the Champs Elysees on which it sat and the beautiful city of Paris in which it was a renowned venue were a million miles from suburban Brisbane.
It was a dance workshop with Australian dancer Todd McKenney that made her realise her passion could also become her livelihood. Dance jobs at Brisbane’s Tivoli theatre and the Gold Coast’s Jupiter’s Casino (where Shay famously danced as a bunch of bananas) ensued. She got a taste for the life of a performer, understood what it was to be transported every time she stepped out on stage, and was smitten.
While dancing in an Elvis revival show at a Japanese resort, she decided to try her luck at the Moulin Rouge, with a one way ticket to Paris and only the vaguest promise of an audition once she got there.
At the age of 23, she became a Doriss Girl at the Moulin Rouge – joining the chorus line of the world’s most famous cabaret. It was a dream come true.
Shay danced at the Moulin for three years, rising through the ranks to become the dance captain and a regular soloist performer.
Determined to round out her Paris experience with a stint at the Lido, she accepted an offer to move across town to the renowned venue on the Champs Elysees – becoming a Bluebell.
Shay danced at the Lido for nine years. By 2009, when she took her last curtain call, she was one of the cabaret’s shining stars. She had more than 12 years of dancing at the Moulin Rouge and Lido, plus and husband and two small children under her sequinned belt. It was time to hang up the heels.
Together with her husband, Australian author Bryce Corbett, and in between wrangling two babies, she sat down to write Memoirs Of A Showgirl, to offer up a glimpse on the fascinating world behind the red curtain of Paris cabaret.
She now lives in Sydney with her family.