Nov 08

Review: Memoirs of a Showgirl by Shay Stafford

I received this book for free from ARC received from publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Memoirs of a Showgirl by Shay StaffordMemoirs of a Showgirl by Bryce Corbett, Shay Stafford
Published by Hachette Australia on 2010
Genres: memoir, non-fiction
Pages: 405
Source: ARC received from publisher
Buy on Amazon

Shayleen Ann Stafford was the middle child sandwiched between two sporting brothers. Her dad was a former rugby player and a welder by trade, her Mum was a nurse. No one called her by her first name, to family and friends she was always Shay. Her early life was a combination of swimming, sport and backyard trampolining until she turned six and started ballet classes, but only for a year. The TV show 'Fame' inspired her to give dance another go. This time she was hooked and she devoted her teens to dance, performing at eisteddfods and shopping centres, never thinking that she could make a living as dancer. But at the end of Year Twelve she did, scoring a coveted dance role in a Brisbane cabaret show choreographed by Todd McKenney. She went on to dance in Japan and Malaysia and then found herself in the Moulin Rouge chorus line. Her hard work and high kicks were noticed and she went on to become a laeding dancer at the famous Lido.

I loved reading this memoir.  Shay Stafford is only a few years younger than me and her descriptions of growing up in Brisbane during the 70s brought to mind many scenes from my own childhood in Newcastle. By the time I was following Stafford stories onto the stages of Asian resorts and then the cabaret stages in Paris, I felt like we had something in common and I couldn’t wait to read about what happened next.

There is a kind of contagious enthusiasm in the way Stafford describes her experiences as a dancer, particularly during her years in Paris.  Her love of what she does, her respect for her fellow dancers and her excitement at living in the City of Light and embracing all the city has to offer were enjoyable to read. I was particularly impressed with the way Stafford described the lifestyle and routines of herself and other dancers without descending into backstage bitchiness or gossip. The book includes a selection of beautiful photos of Stafford in her Moulin Rouge and Lido costumes as well as some from her earlier dancing career and childhood and photos of her with her husband Bryce Corbett and their two young children. There are more photos available on Stafford’s website, many taken by talented photographer Carla Coulson.

Showgirls and cabaret dancers, particularly those in such renowned venues as the Moulin Rouge and Lido, have a kind of mystique about them that is intriguing even to uncoordinated people like myself. Memoirs of a Showgirl manages to shine a light on the hard work and incredible athleticism of the showgirls’ work while still maintaining a sense of the glamour and sparkle. There is a great mix of showgirl stories and personal reflections, some serious and others offered with a refreshingly Australian self-deprecating sense of humour.

For someone who has spent the last 12 years working to project an image of flawless glamour and beauty, Shay Stafford’s voice is engagingly real and down-to-earth. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Memoirs of a Showgirl and have already recommended it to friends. Definitely a book to add to the Christmas gift list for anyone who has an interest in dance, theatre, Paris or simply an inspiring story of someone living their dreams.

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