In this exclusive long-form interview I talk to World Ballroom Showdance Champion, Strictly Come Dancing Champion, musical theatre star and someone I’m proud to call a close friend, Joanne Clifton. She describes in compelling and sometimes shocking detail the journey she took to becoming world champion – the intense training regime, the extreme physical and psychological pressure she endured and the toll it took on her mental health. From having her ankles whipped in the training room to extreme emotional pressure and financial stress, this is an unforgettable story that has not been told previously in this depth and with such honesty and openness. This is a side of Joanne Clifton that you have likely never heard before. It brings new context to her extraordinary reserves of strength and fortitude and contains a powerful message about courage, resilience and self-worth.
Joanne Clifton 0:07
I think people have an image of a Russian dance teacher, how strict they could be. I mean she, yeah, she was lovely on the other hand, but she was very, very strict. And I knew that right from our first group practice, I’d had my first few lessons. And I did the practice. And she called me over. And she was like, If you’re not going to do the things that we worked on in the lesson, if you’re not going to listen to me, you can go back to England, because we don’t need you here. And that was like the biggest shock to me. For a second. I was like, she shouldn’t talk to me like that! But then the second later, I was like, Oh, my gosh, I’m in the right place. My Russian coach, she got me to stand barefoot on a marble floor, not even on the wooden sprung floor, on the hard marble cold floor for an hour and a half, with my heels off the floor, my knees slightly bent, and she was on the floor. And if I wobbled, or if a heel went down, she actually had a horsewhip, and would whip my ankles. And it didn’t matter if I was crying. It didn’t matter if I was cramping. She was not having any excuse. I had to stay there for an hour and a half. Yeah, I’m just going to be open and honest. It was a lot. It was a heck of a lot of pressure immediately put on me to get to his standard very quickly. You know, obviously a six-times world champion. He didn’t want to lose the seventh. It got tough. It did get tough. I needed therapy. Every morning I would go to therapy, which helped. I got eating disorders because, you know, I was suddenly expected to be a professional world champion. What does that mean? You’re the best in everything. So, you know, it just took my coach to say you need to lose a bit of weight for me to take that to the extreme. I took it to the absolute extreme and lived off 11 espressos a day and I had eating disorders. I mean, there’s a video on YouTube. And you can see that I’m not like, “Yay!” I’m not I’m not giving it like, “Oh my God, we won the World Championship!” After, at that point, what was it, 26 years of training, and everything that I’d gone through in the past few years. And also a few years before that training-wise and stuff. Like, you can see that I’m quite serious on the podium. And I think through my mind, I’m going, “Was that worth it?” And I’m also probably going, “Did I dance my best?” And then also in my mind, I’m going, “Okay, that’s that done. Next?” It was a weird day. So weird! I believe everything, I am one of them people who believes everything in life happens for a reason. And I was meant to go through all that. And I was meant to win the World Championship. So there was literally nothing that I would change about my past.
Gary Crotaz 3:19
My name’s Dr. Gary Crotaz. And I’m a coach and author of The IDEA Mindset, a book about how to figure out what you want, and how to get it. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity, when you suddenly know the right path ahead. When I’m in conversation with my coaching clients, these are the breakthroughs that are so profound that they remember vividly where they were, who they were with, what they were thinking when their Unlock Moment happened. In this podcast, I’ll be meeting and learning about people who have accomplished great things or brought about significant change in their life, and you’ll be meeting them with me. We’ll be finding out what inspired them, how they got through the hard times, and what they learned along the way that they can share with you. Thank you for joining me on this podcast to hear all about another Unlock Moment. Hello dear listener, and welcome to a very special edition of The Unlock Moment podcast. Today I am delighted to welcome World Ballroom Dancing Champion, Strictly Champion and musical theatre star Joanne Clifton to the podcast. You will probably know Joanne best for her appearances on the hit TV show Strictly Come Dancing, in the US and other countries that’s Dancing With The Stars. Between 2014 and 2016 she appeared as a professional dancer every week on the BBC show, winning the Christmas special with pop singer Harry Judd in 2015 and the iconic Strictly trophy with TV presenter Ore Oduba in 2016. Since then she has forged a successful career on stage, starring in shows as diverse as Thoroughly Modern Millie, Flashdance and The Rocky Horror Show. But the part of Joanne’s life that we don’t get to hear so much about is before her TV career. And it’s actually where I know her the best. Born and brought up in the fishing port town of Grimsby, she became one of the very best ballroom dancers the UK has ever produced. Joanne won the British Championship five times, the Italian Championship three times, the European Professional Championship, and finally the World Professional Showdance Championship in 2013. I’m absolutely fascinated to discover more about the mindset of that person who became the very best in the world, and The Unlock Moment that led to a radical career change. Joanne, it is my great pleasure to welcome you to The Unlock Moment.
Joanne Clifton 5:45
Well thank you for having me. I’m actually really excited to talk about it because I don’t actually talk about that part of my career that much. And just hearing you reading up on what I have actually achieved, it’s not that I’ve forgotten, but I don’t say it that much, or hear it that much, or talk about it. So it’s actually quite weird hearing you listing off all those achievements – I was like, Oh my gosh, yes, yeah!
Gary Crotaz 6:06
That person sounds really interesting! I’d like to be friends with them! So tell me a little bit about where your dancing career started. How old were you when you started dancing?
Joanne Clifton 6:11
Well, I’m from a dancing family. So Strictly fans will know that I have an older brother called Kevin who is also a dancer, but my parents were dancers, my auntie, my grandparents on my dad’s side. So it was basically nearly all of us were dancers. So I kind of… well the thing was, my parents didn’t want us to get into dancing as much since they’d been through it and knows the sacrifices and how much it was going to cost, and all of this. But they had a dance school up in Grimsby. And when my grandparents couldn’t look after us, we had to go to their classes as kids. So my brother started joining in. And because he’s the older one, I kind of just copied him and we kind of would join in with the dance classes and mum and dad would kind of like, Oh, well, they really enjoy it. So let’s go for it. And that’s how it all started. So I was like four and Kevin was five when we did our first competition, which we won, because we were the only ones in it!
Gary Crotaz 7:01
That’s the best way, that’s the easiest way to win a competition for sure! I was also four years old when I first started dancing actually, I went to classes that you weren’t allowed to start till you were five, but my older brothers also were in those classes. And I think they felt sorry for me and allowed me in when I was four years old. I didn’t do my first competition till I was about nine. How old were you when you first started competing?
Joanne Clifton 7:32
Oh, first one was I was four. I was in an Alice in Wonderland dress, from Disney. I was just in a little Alice in Wonderland dress. And my brother was in a little bow tie and a shirt and trousers. Yes, so we started competitions straight away. I guess mum and dad just threw us in the deep end.
Gary Crotaz 7:52
And were you competitive when you were little?
Joanne Clifton 7:55
I wasn’t competitive through… so I danced with my brother until we were about I’m going to say 13 and 14 or something like that. And I wasn’t competitive throughout that whole time. He was. He was like proper competitive. He would throw tantrums in the car if we hadn’t got the result that we wanted on the way home. I didn’t mind that much. I was just enjoying life. And just like going, copying him really. I wasn’t that bothered. So no, I wasn’t competitive at all really, as a kid. I mean, it’s so weird because now I’m a stage performer and we’ve kind of, me and my brother have kind of almost swapped personalities. He was really outgoing and really, really like facial expressions and all this. I was very shy. I never used to smile when I used to dance. Literally as a kid it was really hard for my dad to get any kind of performance out of me. I was just going along with the music, kind of thing. But now I’m the more outgoing one and Kevin’s the more introvert so it’s weird how we’ve swapped.
Gary Crotaz 8:58
There’s a very interesting story I think we’re going to talk through around these sort of mindset shifts through your life actually. So then you’ve got to your mid-teenage years, and at some point you decided you wanted to really take it seriously, and you ended up moving to Italy.
Joanne Clifton 9:14
In two minds really, I wanted to do musical theatre as well. I did have lessons in singing and acting as well and I loved it. But at that time actually, between going to Italy and dancing with my brother, I had to dance with someone else. And they split up with me, they split up dancing with me. They decided it. And for some reason that set off a little bit of a fire in me to kind of go, Well I’ll show you! So at that time, I saw a dancer in Blackpool, which is the main championships for ballroom dancers, and I really liked the style and it was this Italian dancer called Paolo Bosco. So we wrote to his coach and to him to see whether he would be open to looking for a new partner and dancing with someone from England and stuff like that. And he said, No. The coach said that they had someone else. So I went over to Bologna with my dad, and tried out with this other guy who was really lovely. And there was something so exciting to me about starting completely afresh, like in a different country, far away from my old dance partner in a club system. And doing just ballroom, which is what my family weren’t doing. They did ballroom but they were mainly Latin, my family. So I went and focused on the ballroom side, and there was something really exciting about that. So I chose to go down the ballroom dancing route, rather than going with musical theatre.
Gary Crotaz 10:47
So a fire was lit under you by a person saying they don’t want to dance with you any more. And the consequence of that was a girl from Grimsby, this fishing port town, that you decided to go and not just visit Bologna but move there.
Joanne Clifton 11:04
I ended up moving there at 16, I think I was turning 17, so … but yeah, with no family coming with me or anything, I lived in the dance school, in a little apartment attached to the side of it, which had a door into one of the practice halls, where the coach would come bang on the door actually and say, Come on, you need to practise! I moved there by myself, didn’t speak the language.
Gary Crotaz 11:30
I was going to say, how fluent was your Italian at the point that you moved?
Joanne Clifton 11:33
None, I didn’t know anything. Absolutely nothing. So I just learned when I was there. And it was weird because I did five years of German at school. And it was my best subject, I got an A* in my GCSEs. And I forgot all my German. But living in Italy, it must have taken me just about a year and a bit, I got fluent straightaway, because not many of them spoke in English at that time when I moved over. So I just was listening to Italian, Italian, Italian all the time so I had to learn quickly.
Gary Crotaz 12:02
And paint a picture of where this was, you know, where in Italy this was, what what the environment was like that you moved into. So it was a big city, a small town?
Joanne Clifton 12:11
It’s a small little village I would say, outside of Bologna, about 40 minutes outside Bologna actually, called Molinella. And basically the best way to describe this – it’s very flat, very hot and humid, lots and lots of mosquitoes. And I think the best way to describe it is you either walk along the road and seeing like old people on bicycles, or dancers dragging cases and bags. So it’s basically a little village that my coach had created. He was from that village anyway, but he created this little dance, almost a little dance village for competitors to go and live in and train there. And there was obviously the main studio, there was a second studio when I first moved over. Now I think there’s, you know, there’s a gym and there’s yet another studio. But at the time there was a gym quite close, there was a little swimming pool, lots and lots of bars and cafes and a pizzeria.
Gary Crotaz 13:11
It’s amazing. And people that have read my book, The IDEA Mindset. I’ve talked a little bit about this, because obviously, if people know I was also a ballroom dancer, and you taught me when my wife Mildred and I went over to Italy, we used to go there once a month.
Joanne Clifton 13:23
And we used to, and we did we did a stamina training together, didn’t we?
Gary Crotaz 13:27
We did! You and I danced together and I realised how completely unfit I was! I think you were the peak of your performance and I very much wasn’t! But no, it’s an amazing place because … I describe it to people who don’t know ballroom dancing, I say, imagine if you were a runner and you went to Kenya or Ethiopia to train with the athletes that are out there and you get there and you’d realise that they’re all so much better than you it’s not even funny. But at the same time, it’s this completely immersive environment. So the fact that it’s not in a big city, the fact that there are no distractions, it’s, as you say, old people on bicycles or dancers that’s, that’s what’s there. And that helped you to progress your dancing ability, to be immersed in that kind of environment?
Joanne Clifton 14:15
It was a totally different experience from training in England. I’m not putting down the training in England that I did, at all. But in England, you don’t have a club system, you kind of like dance with your dance partner and you guys make all your decisions, who you want to go for lessons with, and when, and how many, which competitions you do, what dress you’re going to wear. You make all those decisions. Whereas in Italy I found this massive difference straightaway because we had a coach and this coach made the decisions for you. You’re going to have lessons with this person, this person, this person, on this day, this day, this day, and you’re going to do that many hours. You’re going to practice this many hours. Otherwise I’m going to come knocking on the door. You’re going to go to the gym. You’re going to have a dress that suits you, like, I don’t know, if you’ve got a big bum like me, don’t put massive big feathers on the bum, do you know what I mean? Because you’re accentuating it even more! So they kind of knew you, studied you and did what was best for you and made decisions for you. And you had to follow what your coach said. So I felt immediately that this massive change and that it seemed much more serious and much more focused. And we were almost treated like, well we were, like athletes. And we even had to go sit on Wednesdays in Academy, which means we all sat at desks. So those of you who aren’t dancers, you think, Oh, if you train in dancing, you’re just training physically, all the time, but no, we had a Wednesday where you would just sit at desks and learn like sports psychology, sports nutrition, technique, and you’d be writing down notes on it all the time. So it’s very much like a university, I think, of dance.
I remember coming to those and we spoke no Italian at the time we were coming, you were completely fluent at that point. But they had simultaneous translation at the side of the room. So people that were coming in from around the world and people were coming, when we were there, people coming from Vancouver, people were coming from Vladivostok, you know, all around the world every month would come in and spend time in this environment. And one of the Italian dancers was at the side of the room translating and you all had an earpiece in. You felt like you were at the UN, it was crazy.
Yeah, well this is the thing, like, I think so many people from all over the world would come into this school and one of the reasons why I was going as well, one because it was different, the style of dance seemed different to me. More exciting somehow, more taking risks which I really liked. And two because it was churning out all these champions. So you want to go to the place that’s churning out all the world champions, don’t you? You want to go to that best place and that’s I think what drove me to go there on my own, having been quite a shy, introverted child beforehand. That drove me, seeing that all these world champions being from this one school and how they were dancing, that was the drive that was like, Do you know what, I want to be like that. So that’s why I went there.
And one of the things I always found fascinating about about the school was the influence of the two people that led the school. One was, the husband and wife couple, one was Italian, one was Russian. And I always felt like they brought something different from one another, with something of their influence. What did you take from that mix of Italian and Russian mindset in the way the school was run?
Yeah, well, the Russian definitely, if you imagine… I think people have an image of a Russian dance teacher, how strict they could be. I mean she, yeah she was lovely on the other hand, but she was very, very strict and I knew that right from our first group practice. I’d had my first few lessons, and I did the practice. And she called me over. And she was like, If you’re not going to do the things that we worked on in the lesson, if you’re not going to listen to me, you can go back to England, because we don’t need you here. And that was like the biggest shock to me, coming from a place where the teachers in England obviously, are amazing, but they’re very much like, Okay, that was a bit better. Let’s try it again. To, You can go back to where you came from. I was in so much shock. And I think I just realised, Oh my gosh, I’m in a completely different world here. So yeah, she was very, very strict with me from the word go.
Gary Crotaz 18:36
And when she said that to you, what did it make you think or do?
Joanne Clifton 18:42
I was, I was actually shocked – yes. For a second, I was like, She shouldn’t talk to me like that! But then the second later, I was like, Oh my gosh, I’m in the right place. Because I actually liked it. Having someone take complete control and give me direction of how to get where I wanted to be. And just be brutally honest. It was kind of refreshing in a way. So yeah, I was a bit hurt at first because I wasn’t used to it. But then I was like, I mean, I’m definitely in the right place. And straight away I toughened up, which is one thing that I will always thank them for. Toughening me up.
Gary Crotaz 19:22
Tell me about the intensity of the work compared with what you were doing back in England. Were you dancing longer hours when you were training? Were you doing more rounds, more dances? You know, what was that like?
Joanne Clifton 19:35
I mean from the word go, it was, you know, when we had… as I said, the coach would come and knock on the door if we slept in too long. You know, at 8:30 they’d come and bang on the door and knock and say, You need to be out there practising. So it was a lot tougher already. And we had all these extra things as well that we weren’t being told before. Like training in the gym for example. Yeah, we heard, Oh, we maybe we should be training in the gym, and things like that. But we didn’t really, we weren’t forced to do it. Whereas in Italy we were forced to do a certain amount of hours, or they told us we’d be thrown out the club. There was stamina training every week, stamina training where they’d get us to dance rounds and rounds and rounds and do lots of exercises and stuff, just to strengthen us in all these different ways technically, but then also to get our heart rates going. We were measured with our heart rates, we had all these machines on us all the time. Even when there was, let’s say, there was a competition in Singapore or something like that, they would work out the time difference so that we would be practising our finals at the same time as it would be in Singapore, when it got to the competition, for a few weeks beforehand. So we got ourselves into the time difference kind of thing a few weeks beforehand, so we might have been doing finals at 4am in the morning some weeks, because that would be the time that we’d be dancing when we go to Singapore. It was, yeah, it was a lot! We were in that studio from, I’m going to say about seven, half seven in the morning, till 11 at night with just say one hour break for lunch. And as you got better and better and progressed in your career, obviously, then you have to start teaching to then earn your money to get your lessons, to pay for your private lessons. So in that we also had to add the teaching as well. So sometimes we’d spend a whole day like practising in the morning, then stamina practice, then gym, technical practice, our own practice, then a lesson with one of our coaches, or a guest teacher, then a group practice, and then we’d have to teach after the group practice, because that’s the only time we could do it. So the days were absolutely filled with dance, and with anything to do with our dancing career, like every single day, and our coaches were so strict with us that we were taught, you know, we can’t have more than four days off a year. Which looking back, I go, Oh, we probably could have had, but it was very much like, you know, if we miss a day, if we’ve worked in such detail of how much to rotate our left side in degrees on the day before and then take a day off, it’s not going to be in our body anymore, our bodies might have changed a bit and our muscle memory of it has changed. So we were taught very much that you shouldn’t have too much time off.
Gary Crotaz 22:38
And so at a moment when you’re on the side of the floor, about to walk on to the floor in the final of some huge championship, what did that intensity of training do for your mindset in terms of how confident you felt about the performance you were about to deliver,
Joanne Clifton 22:54
I feel like I could dance a bit freer. We’ll talk about freedom later on, but like a bit freer, because you know that you’ve done the work, you know that you’ve done that in. So if you go to Blackpool, for example, and Blackpool is well known for its long music, like you have to dance for two, two and a half minutes nonstop. And then five dances in the semi-final and then five dances in the final. Beforehand I’d have been like, Oh, I hope I can get through this. Having been at the school in Italy, having known that I do that every week. More than that, sometimes we’d dance six minute dances and just have to keep going. Knowing that I’m able to dance and keep going with six minutes for five dances each time, it’s really calming to then go, Oh, well two minutes, or two and a half minutes, it’ll be easy then, it’ll just fly by. Same with the technical stuff, the hours that you do, the more hours you do on the technical stuff, the more that it’s in your body, the more that then you don’t have to think about it when you actually go out and do your performance. You’ve done the practice and your mind knows that you are able to do it.
Gary Crotaz 24:03
Tell me about the exercise called ‘tortura’.
Joanne Clifton 24:07
That’s the one on your toes, isn’t it? Is it? I can’t remember? Oh my gosh, yeah. ‘Tortura’, which obviously, it means torture. What was it, stand on your toes and not wobble for a certain amount of time? Now, yeah, we did that in group practices and group performance practices. But I think the one time that I do actually remember, that really stands out is that I… it was when I started dancing with Paolo, who was six-times world champion already. So I feel like I had to step up my game really quickly because I went from being sixth in the amateur category to dance with this six-times world champion, and so a lot of lessons were on me, obviously, but my Russian coach, she got me to stand barefoot on a marble floor, not even on the wooden sprung floor, on the hard marble cold floor for an hour and a half, with my heels off the floor, my knees slightly bent, and she was on the floor, and if I wobbled, or if a heel went down, she actually had a horsewhip, and would whip my ankles. And it didn’t matter if I was crying, it didn’t matter if I was cramping, she was not having any excuse, I had to stay there for an hour and a half. And that is why it’s called torture.
Gary Crotaz 25:31
And how did it feel being in that environment? When you think back to what it felt like at the time, what were you thinking?
Joanne Clifton 25:38
That was obviously the moment where things got tougher, dancing with someone who was that high level. It wasn’t pleasant, I’m not going to say it’s pleasant, but you kind of, the way that it had been installed in our brains through the years of being there and through the years of Academy, it just felt like this is what you have to do to become a champion. This is the stuff. This is me working hard. Looking back, yeah probably I wasn’t the happiest. But I was still determined. And I look at it as though, you know, if I hadn’t gone through these kinds of ‘tortura’, through this torture, and through this way of training, would I be where I am today? Probably not. If I hadn’t stayed there for the hour and a half with my ankles, would my ankles have been strong enough to do a perfect closing of the feet in a natural turn in the waltz in the World Championship? Maybe not, you know.
Gary Crotaz 26:36
Talk to me about, in this phase then, your spirit of competition. So you said when you were little, you weren’t a natural competitor. But at this stage when you were British champion, you’re working towards being European champion and World champion. How competitive were you, personally?
Joanne Clifton 26:53
I’m extremely competitive. Even now I’m extremely competitive. In anything. But I, yeah, that was… dancing with the six-times world champion, and being surrounded by as well in the school, all our rivals really – we had a lot of other world champions there, and our rivals, and just being against them all this time, for all these years, every single day, seeing how much they do, and how hard they’re working, and what results they’re getting, and what we’re getting, and who’s beating who, and who’s in a… oh my gosh, like I am a completely different person to how I was when I was a kid, like honestly, I would never have thought, looking how I used to be as a child, I would never have thought I would have turned into the person that I am today, competitive-wise, and also strength- and courage-wise, and confidence-wise as well. There was so much stuff that I went through in that school that people don’t realise and don’t know, like, I was speaking to my boyfriend’s parents last week, and we were talking about the fact that I, there was one time we went to Belgium to compete and we had no money after the competition to book a hotel, to stay in a hotel. So we had to go straight to the airport. It was snowing, the airport was closed, and it opened at 6am. This was after the competition. So we got there about 1am. We had to open up some cardboard boxes that were in this storeroom and huddle together to try and keep warm all through the night just to then get home because we didn’t have enough money to stay in a hotel. There’s things like me going to, going off to Canada by myself to teach, things like me taking myself off to Taiwan for a week to teach by myself, like my mum would never… even now I don’t think she even believes that I could ever be able to do that. Things like nearly missing a flight. So I needed to get, I needed a taxi. But there was no taxis, or I needed a bus and there was no buses. So I, just this guy just asked me, he was like, Do you need a lift? and I just hopped in the car with a random guy in America by myself to get from one airport to the other to catch a flight. And all of this stuff like has made me so strong now, and people who know me would, if they didn’t know this stuff, they probably wouldn’t believe that I am this kind of stronger person because I have been through all of this. And the way that I’ve been trained and everything like that, because I think sometimes I’m quite just the happy, jolly little person and they think I’m quite weak with it, or a little bit of a pushover.
Gary Crotaz 29:36
It’s really interesting because for people that don’t know the dance world, and they think, you know, somebody who was world champion in a professional sport, well, you know, you probably have a, you know, a chauffeur-driven car to pick you up at the airport or, you know, you probably have, you know, all sorts of the trappings that come with being a successful, probably reasonably wealthy, you know, professional competitor, if you were a tennis player or golfer or something like that. What does it look like to be, you know, a high-level professional competitive ballroom dancer in terms of the money?
Joanne Clifton 30:14
Oh, in terms of the money, well if you’re high, high level you can earn a lot of money through teaching. And through shows, when you do shows, you can earn quite a lot. But in terms of like prize money, I wouldn’t say that it’s anywhere, not even close to being near other high-level sportspeople in different sports. Like I think maximum, maximum that… I think we won a lot for the World Dancesport Games. Anything else, even like the World Championship, I don’t think it was even over 1000 Euro, ever. So… and that’s right at the top. So I think mainly, all these millions of dancers who are trying to get to the top are actually paying themselves to go and do competitions and get a result. So in terms of like competition money, nothing, really. But in terms, if you are a top-level dancer, you can earn a lot from teaching and shows.
Gary Crotaz 31:15
But then you also then have to pay out for the cost of your travel, your accommodation, your lessons, your outfits, all of that?
Joanne Clifton 31:22
Absolutely! And it’s so expensive. I’ll be honest, my mum and dad had to help me until I was about 26, 27. Because I couldn’t do it. Because I was in the school with, as we’ve said, so many… there’s kind of like a tier kind of way in the school. It’s too difficult to explain on the podcast, but you’ve got your your different levels of where you’re at. So until you’re right up in the second or the first level, you can’t really earn that much. And people don’t want to really come to you for lessons. If you’re in that school and that’s where you live and train, and they’ve got the possibility there to have lessons with our coaches, then on the second tier the lessons with the world champions. And then on the third tier maybe like lessons with people who are in the semi-final, when you’re in like the 48, no one’s going to… the top 48 in the world, no one’s going to book lessons with you. So you’re not earning anything. You don’t earn anything, when you’re down in those tiers over there, and you’re paying out so much for your weekly lessons. And you have to have at least probably four a week with the two coaches. And then you’ve got your technical lessons with the guy who… the main technique book guy, you’ve got your lessons with the personal trainer to pay out, you’ve got your Academy day to pay out, you’ve got your group sessions, you’ve got your stamina sessions, you’ve got all of this to pay out, and you’re not earning a single penny. I remember there was some times when me and my boyfriend at the time were living off like the crackers, just packets of crackers, because that’s all we could afford. Or there was definitely another week as well… another, well I say week, month, few months that I just lived off muesli because I couldn’t afford anything else. I’d just buy muesli and just have it three times a day because I couldn’t afford anything else. And you know, you feel bad. Of course your parents… if my parents knew that I was living off that they’d be like, no, no, no, have some money, but you feel bad constantly asking for your parents’ money. And there was also a time where my ex-boyfriend smoked as well. And we didn’t have any, literally zero money to get from where we lived to the dance studio. So he was, I remember him trying to sell his cigarettes to get just two euro to get us, like, well four euro, two euro each to get us to the studio, because we didn’t have any money. It’s mental.
Gary Crotaz 33:54
It’s so interesting to hear that story. So at that time, when you were living off crackers or muesli, and that’s what you could afford to eat, what were your results at that time, performance-wise?
Joanne Clifton 34:09
I mean, that must have been when we were getting to… around, I think, top 12 in the amateur category maybe, 24, 12, yeah?
Gary Crotaz 34:19
In the world? And in the British Championships?
Joanne Clifton 34:21
I think we won around that time. I don’t know. I can’t remember!
Gary Crotaz 34:26
But that brings it to life. So you’re probably British champion?
Joanne Clifton 34:29
Gary Crotaz 34:30
Like British national champion, and in the top 12 in the world, and you couldn’t afford to eat.
Joanne Clifton 34:34
No! The top 12 in the world in the amateur section. And that is why we had so many tiers above us, because there’s the professional category as well. And then you had the world champions in the amateur. And then, you know, that you go down, you go down, you go down. So nobody wanted lessons with us at that time. Plus being in Italy, being a British champion, people were like, well that doesn’t, you know, it’s not very appealing to the Italians, they want the Italian champion. Do you know what I mean? So we didn’t actually earn that much, even though we were getting good results.
Gary Crotaz 35:05
So when you look back to that time, and you think of the moment where you were not in your best, technically, but at your best in terms of feeling like, I really love what I’m doing right now, like, in your best self, in that part of your career, what do you think about?
Joanne Clifton 35:24
I was very happy at the beginning when I first went over, because everything was new obviously, and it felt great. The higher I got in terms of results, obviously things got harder. And it gave me more anxiety. And it was, yeah, things got hard. But if I think of when I’m, when I was happy, I had a really good relationship with my dance partner that I was dancing with at the time. And the fact that I was there, that’s right, it’s weird because I had this conversation with another girl, an English girl who moved to Italy as well. The fact that you’re there in a different country, away from the other people that you’ve competed against before, you feel like you’re doing something so different and it gives you this weird feeling. Not necessarily, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re better or anything like that, but you’re just away from that, you’ve decided to break out of that pack and go into this other place. And that’s how I felt the first few years there, being in this sunny Italy, living there, speaking another language, being around Italians and all these other people from around the world who would come in, who were coming to the school, and practising alongside other world champions and things like that. And I think you know, the first, up to about 20, up to my early 20s, that was my happiest time. And, actually, you know, toughest in terms of money, getting by, kind of thing. But happy. I was going and I was trained in a certain way and I just felt cool. Do you know what I mean?
Gary Crotaz 37:01
And you loved the competing bit? You loved the artistry of the dance? What was it about the dancing that you loved?
Joanne Clifton 37:08
Competing bit yeah. But the fact that I was dancing differently as well, I was dancing differently to how I’d ever done. And people were allowing me to. I was able to explore, we were able to explore with a coach how different styles of steps and taking risks and… everything that I’d seen that I wanted to do, I was doing. And I had a dance partner as well who, he didn’t practice as much as maybe we should have done but he let me dance how I wanted to dance. And that got us to a certain level as well. So like what, yeah, I had a nice dance partner.
Gary Crotaz 37:50
And did you want to be like somebody else? Did you aspire to be like another dancer? Or did you aspire to be something unique?
Joanne Clifton 38:00
I looked up to a woman who actually was a coach in another school actually called Alessandra Bucciarelli, she was my idol because they really, really, really thought out the box. As a female dancer, she really thought out the box and did different stuff that nobody would have ever done before. So I wanted to be not the same as her. I didn’t want to dance like her. But I wanted to do what she was doing. I wanted to take the risk as a female dancer and do different things which people could love or hate but at least they… I wanted to give people the feeling that I had watching her, which was, What is she going to do next? Like when she walks on the floor? Oh my gosh, what is she going to do? Because something fabulous is about to happen, and I don’t know when it’s going to be. That’s the feeling that I wanted to give other people.
Gary Crotaz 38:57
And do you remember the first time you achieved that?
Joanne Clifton 39:01
I don’t know about the first time. What I did love was coming back from Italy because I did represent England for a long time, even though I was dancing with an Italian. So coming back to dance the British Championship and seeing my competitors from before, and seeing the judges and the professionals that were sat around the floor, seeing them around there and coming out and dancing a slightly different style and taking risks, that gave me a real buzz. It’s either, You’re going to love it or hate it, but I’m going to make you watch me. And so coming back to England dancing differently, that I absolutely love but I can’t remember a specific first time.
Gary Crotaz 39:47
That’s interesting, that they’re going to love it or they’re going to hate it, because they didn’t all love it did they? They didn’t all love the new style?
Joanne Clifton 39:53
No, because I think some people are very traditionalist, some people seeing things that are new and risky… Sometimes you know, if it… anyway, but if they don’t understand how you’re doing it, themselves, if they don’t understand it, it’s probably they don’t particularly… Like, I’m going to put it like this, for example, I was on Strictly. And when I was on strictly there wasn’t the Couple’s Choice. Now there’s the Couple’s Choice. And I don’t particularly like it. I don’t particularly like it because in my opinion, it takes it away from the Showdance. But also, I don’t understand those styles of dance. If you ask me to do contemporary dance, or whatever, I can’t do it. I don’t understand it myself. So what do I say? That I don’t like it. And I think that’s how some people in England saw our style of dancing. We did stuff that they didn’t quite understand or know how to do themselves. So automatically it was like, I don’t like it. But I kind of liked the fact that they don’t like that, like didn’t like it. Isn’t, is that weird? I don’t know, I just liked to be different. And I liked to stand out. And don’t get me wrong, some of our risk-taking was wrong. It was rubbish. You know, oh, let’s try doing a step like this, with my neck like this? And it was probably too far. And it was a bit rubbish. Didn’t work. But the excitement of that was so much for me, it was… I buzzed off it, I absolutely loved it.
Gary Crotaz 41:29
Do you feel like you’re a rebel at heart?
Joanne Clifton 41:32
I wouldn’t say I’m a rebel?! I’d say I like to be different. I do like to stand out, I do. And maybe that’s a competitive thing, I don’t know. I just, I do like to be different. And I don’t know, I feel like I’ve always liked to be slightly different, because that’s why, partly why I’m going say, not fully why. But I also went the ballroom route rather than the Latin with, you know, I like to be different to what the rest of my family has done. Maybe that’s also to not be compared or whatever, but also, because I just do like to be different.
Gary Crotaz 42:06
For the longest time in this environment in Italy, with all of these people coaching you, the people that you were around, this environment that you were in, brought out the best in you, brought out your best dancing, brought out this ability to create something very special and different and new. And you were advancing yourself in many different ways. And then at some point you, you change partners, so you had this opportunity to dance with Paolo, who was the multiple-time world champion, and as you described before, you said that things changed at that point because the expectation was different. So talk to me a little bit about how that felt, how that shift felt, to start going for a much higher level of performance and a higher level of competition result.
Joanne Clifton 42:56
Yeah, I’m just going to be open and honest … it was a lot, it was a heck of a lot of pressure immediately put on me to get to his standard very quickly, you know, obviously a six-times world champion, he didn’t want to lose the seventh. And now he’s just taken someone on who was sixth in the amateur category, not the professional. So there was a lot of pressure. Training got harder. Even the way I was spoke to was tougher. We can say it’s tough love from coaches. You know, I was told on a regular basis, No, if he danced with that chair over there, it’d be the same thing. Things like that. And maybe it was tough love, maybe… because, you know, I had been with that school for so long, at that point, maybe they knew that I work off things like a fight. If they tell me I can’t do something, they know that I work that way, I’ll work harder to to prove them. Right, so you know, the way they spoke to me including dance partners, including the coaches, it was, it got tough, it did get tough. I needed therapy. Every morning, I would go to therapy, which helped. I got eating disorders because, you know, I was suddenly expected to be a professional world champion. What does that mean? You’re the best in everything. So, you know, it just took my coach to say, You need to lose a bit of weight, for me to take that to the extreme. I took it to the absolute extreme and lived off 11 espressos a day and I had eating disorders. But I kept going, kept going. It caused all sorts of problems. Like, we won’t go into that too much. But even with you know, practice. I wasn’t allowed really to speak because it was considered wasting time. So if if my dance partner felt that there was something wrong, him being the leader and the more experienced, would say it. And if I disagreed I wasn’t really allowed to say it back because it was… I couldn’t say anything back because it was considered wasting time if we argued. If we’re arguing, that’s wasting time whereas our rivals, whoever we’re competing against for being world champion, for the next World Championships, probably weren’t arguing, we were told. So they were practising. And they were getting ahead of us. So I wasn’t really allowed to speak. I remember one time having my mouth sellotaped. I had to do everything that Paolo said in terms of, you know, he could call me at 11 o’clock at night and say, You need to get up because we need to get into the studio and practise till 2am, because I’m not happy with the way you did this, that or the other. There was always something wrong, and not in a bad way. Well, it can be considered bad. There was always, you know, it could always be better. There was always, there was never really a moment where we were like, Oh, yeah, you did that really well. It was like, No, we need to improve on this, this, this, this and things were looked at and worked on in much more minute detail, to the nearest degree. And you know, whilst he was teaching, he’d say you need to go and do the torture exercise for example, for another hour and a half. And I would have to do it in front of the mirror so that he could see that I was doing it. Things like that. I also would then get more teaching opportunities, obviously, I’m dancing with a world champion, but his dance partner from before was still working together with him and she retired. So it was kind of three of us in this kind of teaching trio. But so then it was considered better and more organised if one person had the diary. And that was Paolo. So if he had the diary then he would sort out who’s teaching what, when, and stuff but also, you know, I had to be careful how I spoke or if I upset anybody, like, because I wasn’t in charge of the diary, I would find myself with no lessons the next day to teach if I had said something out of order or whatever. So I you know, I was on my tiptoes the whole time, walking on eggshells.
Gary Crotaz 47:22
Yeah, a real shift in the feeling of training, feeling of working with somebody, and… You know, a lot of people who would have heard like high performance podcasts and you listen to people who’ve become a world champion, often there is something a little bit obsessive about the way they think and the way they train because of course to become the best in the world, when everybody else who are, you know, the most talented are also working incredibly hard, it can be a bit nuts in a certain kind of way, in the way that, you know, there are many people who become very, very good, but still in a way that is just enjoyable in every way. There’s a lot of people who’ve gone through that experience of going, To reach my ultimate goal, I do find myself in a situation that is often not fun.
Joanne Clifton 48:18
Gary Crotaz 48:18
…in the way that it was before. But then you’re describing here some elements where, by the nature of you’re in a team of two, a particularly intense type of environment, it’s very, if you’re on your own, becoming a world champion, if you’re a sprinter or something, that’s one thing, or if you’re in a team of 11 or 15, that something. There’s something very intense about being just you and one other person?
Joanne Clifton 48:41
It was intense, it was very, very intense, especially because of the difference of level that we were at, at that time. And so I had to just go with whatever he said. Because he knew best, he was the six-time world champion. What was I going to say? Oh, no, you’re wrong. Do you know what I mean? So there’s a lot of times where I was so tired, so anxious from all eyes on me, all eyes on me, because why did he choose to dance with me? Do you know what I mean? Why? Let’s have a look. You know, there’s a lot jealously and stuff like that, but…
Gary Crotaz 49:14
And you mentioned that it started to impact your resilience, your mental health, in some ways with anxiety or, and you’ve talked about eating disorders and so on. So, you know, it had real impact on you in that period of time.
Joanne Clifton 49:28
Absolutely. And I think, it doesn’t make me sad. It just, it was so tough. When I say tough, I mean it was really, really tough. Physically, mentally, just everything at that time when I was trying to win a world championship, for me, you know, it wasn’t particularly like that I couldn’t go, Oh, yeah, it was so exciting. It’s so glamorous. It was so happy. Because it wasn’t. It was the opposite of that. It was such hard work. Such hard work. And draining. It was draining. And because I was dancing with someone who was so good, so good. And he knew what was right, more than me. And I just accepted it. But like, even when we we won the European Championship, I remember, I come off and he wasn’t happy with the way that I danced. So it wasn’t a happy day, you know, when we won, it wasn’t great, because he’d been unhappy with how I’d danced.
Gary Crotaz 50:28
And you’d just won the European Championship.
Joanne Clifton 50:30
Gary Crotaz 50:31
So take me into the day, I think December 2013. We were there. In Merano, in northern Italy.
Joanne Clifton 50:41
That’s the day we did win the World Championship, finally. I mean there’s a video on YouTube. And you can see that I’m not like, Yay!!! I’m not giving it like, Oh my God, we won the World Championship! After, at that point, what was it 26 years of training, and everything that I’d gone through in the past few years. And also a few years before that, training-wise and stuff. Like, you can see that I’m quite serious on the podium. And I think through my mind, I’m going, Was it worth it. And also, I was also probably going, Did I dance my best? And then also in my mind, I’m going, Okay, that’s that done. Next? It was a weird day. So weird. So flippin’ weird. Obviously, I’m so grateful and so happy that we won. Obviously. And afterwards, when when I saw my parents, stuff like that, celebrations, stuff like that. But that moment on the podium, you can watch it on YouTube, I am serious. Because I had so many things going through my mind.
Gary Crotaz 51:53
Do you wish you hadn’t? Do you wish you hadn’t had that journey? And do you wish you’d stopped before starting that partnership?
Joanne Clifton 52:01
No. I believe everything… I am one of them people who believes everything in life happens for a reason. And I was meant to go through all that. And I was meant to win the World Championship. That was my goal. I loved dancing, I loved performing. And once I’d moved to Italy, that was my goal, to become world champion. That was it. And however hard times were, if I’d have given up, or if I’d have answered back, or if I’d have done anything different, I wouldn’t be where I am today in terms of dancing, in terms of performance, in terms of work ethic. Because even now, like, in my musical theatre career, you know, I’m there, I won’t take a day off. Even if I’ve got the sniffles or anything like that, like, I have to be on death’s door. I popped a calf muscle on the second show of Flashdance and was told that I needed to be out of action for three weeks. And I was like, No, because I’ve trained with people in that school who’ve had a broken bone in their foot and carried on dancing for five years before they got it sorted. So if they can do that, then I can do this. So all of that, what I went through, has helped my work ethic. It’s made me appreciate things more, like working in happier environments and stuff like that. What else? Like strength and courage, courage to carry on, courage to pick myself up. It’s given me all of that. And I would not be the Joanne that I am today without my training there. I probably wouldn’t have got on to Strictly. I probably from Strictly, then it wouldn’t have helped me to bring, I wouldn’t have springboarded to musical theatre. So there is literally nothing that I would change about my past.
Gary Crotaz 53:57
So that moment of transition from one partnership to the next. So the transition into this partnership that became the one where you won the world championship. If you could port yourself back in time, and put your arm around the shoulder of that Joanne Clifton and say something to her. You said you wouldn’t change what you did. But what would you say to that Joanne Clifton?
Joanne Clifton 54:23
I’d put my arm around her and I’d say remember why you started this. And remember how much you love it. Because no matter what, however, like whatever’s happened before or after in the training room or not? Well, when I go on that floor, I love performing – performing is what I do. So the buzz of that, remember the buzz of the performance, close your eyes and imagine yourself winning that gold medal. And that gold medal which is now on my parents’ table in their house. And every time I look at it I’m like, I achieved that. Remember what that’s going to feel like, and just keep going. What got me through those times was remembering that, and also was my dad always telling me from a young age that I’m invincible. So I even at one point wanted to get a little tattoo saying Invincible on my arm. That. And also, it sounds really weird, but my granddad fought in the war and I always would bring my… in the tough times over there in Italy when I’d be like, gosh, if my granddad can get through a war, seeing his friends being shot down, and stuff like that, I can get through this. And it would give me the strength to carry on. And I also took any defeats or any bad words or any sentence that made me feel unappreciated, I took it as more of a challenge at that time working up to World Champion. I would take it as a, I’ll show you. The same as when the guy in England stopped dancing with me, that was the same attitude that I’ve had the whole time. Okay, you think I can’t do it, you think I’m the same as that sofa over there? I’ll show you. And I would go in an hour earlier by myself, to practise.
Gary Crotaz 56:17
Interesting. So something that I think is striking here is that we’ve talked about these incredible stories that most people will not know about you. And we haven’t yet come to The Unlock Moment. So this Unlock Moment is a moment, a real flash of remarkable clarity about the path ahead. And for you, your Unlock Moment happened after you’d won the World Championship. So talk us through a little bit about what was it that brought you this clarity, that helped you decide what happened next.
Joanne Clifton 56:53
Well, as I said before, there was a kind of tier system in the school. And we won’t go into the details, but it got like to about seven months later, now I’d had the offer for Strictly and Burn The Floor. So I knew I was going to go and do that. But I decided to stay at the school, and train and teach until I was going to go off and do that. But we were at this training camp and someone said something to me which basically put me back in a tier. Now bearing in mind this is after I’ve won a world championship, so I was the current world champion at this time. But I was put in a lower tier. Now whether that was a strategy to keep me at the school, and not go and do Strictly, or not. Whatever it was, I snapped. I had had enough of feeling undervalued, not respected. Yeah, just something inside me snapped. And that very day of being… having been told that information that made me snap, that very day I called my parents. I said, I’m coming home. I got my… because we had someone working for us, I got that secretary that… I said will you cancel all my teaching. Because I’m going. I went up to my coach and I said thank you for these 14 years of training and getting me to World Champion, but I’m letting you know that I’m leaving right now. I went, I got my pupils to drive me to the airport. And I sent a text to anybody I’d had any problems with and just was very honest with them. This is what really happened. Bla bla bla bla bla. I made peace with myself with that. Got on that plane. I got off the plane. The feeling of freedom, and that I could breathe, and this excitement of what was going to happen next, was, I can’t even describe it. I can’t describe it. But I just snapped. That was it. I’d had enough. I’d had enough. I’d won. I’d won. I had nothing else to prove to anybody. And I wasn’t going to have anybody else undervalue me, miss, you know, say, say anything bad to me. I was certainly never ever, and I swore to myself on that plane, never ever going to take, you know, be under control of somebody else, especially a man. I was going to take control of my own life, my own way now, that was going to take me forward. I was going to do what I want and I was going to be happy. And I am.
Gary Crotaz 59:43
Did you see that situation coming? Or was it out of the blue?
Joanne Clifton 59:48
The snap was out of the blue, because obviously I am so… I was and am still grateful to the school for what they, where they got me too. I knew I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t at my happiest. But I thought I would get through those months leading up to the change in my life and going on to Strictly and stuff like that. I thought I’d get through that, you know, and it’d be fine. But just rediscovering, still, still undervalued at a world champion level. No. I just, I just went, and I just got on the plane back to England. And that was that, never, I’ve never been back.
Gary Crotaz 1:00:32
You’ve never been back?
Joanne Clifton 1:00:34
I’ve never been back. I’m in touch with people from school, very good friends with actually one of my biggest rivals, Tjaša, who now I have my own podcast with, which is great. Like, I see her now, and she will come over and we’d do workshops together and catch up and stuff like that. And it’s wonderful. So I’m still friends with people there. But I haven’t stepped foot back in the training room. And I’ve never once spoken to my male coach. I’ve spoken to my Russian female coach, like, we’ll send messages every so often, happy birthdays, Happy Christmas, how are you getting on, kind of thing. Never once spoken to my male coach again.
Gary Crotaz 1:01:13
Unpack this freedom that you talked about. So you had this overwhelming sense of freedom from the plane.
Joanne Clifton 1:01:21
Because I felt like, without being big-headed, I just felt, I’ve done it. I don’t, I’m a world champion in my own right. He didn’t win it by himself. You know? I won it too, I’m a world champion. And that I had nothing to prove to anyone anymore, in the ballroom dancing world. Nothing. You know, all my life I’d probably felt that I had a little bit to prove, whether it was right from childhood, you know, Kevin was maybe slightly known as the more talented, outgoing one, and I needed more work or whatever, didn’t need to prove that anymore. Whether it was, Oh Paolo’s taken on an amateur girl to dance with, didn’t need to prove that anymore, I won. Any person that said, you know, there were people who said, Oh, she’s too much of a shy person or too much of a home bird. She’ll never last in Italy. 14 years, did that, didn’t need to prove that to anyone anymore. Oh, she’s too shy, too introvert, she will never have the courage to do this, that or the other, travel on her own or go teach and do lectures by herself, done that. Didn’t need to prove that anymore. And for some reason, I was just like, I’ve done it, I’ve done it. And now it’s a new chapter. And my life has opened up, I don’t need to depend on anybody. Because I’ve done it. And all that hard work, all the sweat, all the blood, all the tears, because there was blood, ha! And there was a lot of tears. All of that that I went through, I was like, I got through that. And I’ve done it. And that’s made me a strong person. And I feel like I can conquer the world now on my own. And that’s the freedom that I had when I got off the plane.
Gary Crotaz 1:03:00
And what did it do for your sense of anxiety?
Joanne Clifton 1:03:04
I, no, that was lifted. I wasn’t anxious at all. Obviously, I had Strictly to look forward to so I wasn’t anxious in terms of where’s my career going to go next, I’m completely without anything. I didn’t have pressure. There wasn’t, there wasn’t pressure coming, coming out of that school. Coming away from it, sorry, not out of it. Coming away from it. The pressure was lifted. I think, you know, it’s left me with good things. It’s left me with really good things. As I said before, work ethic, work ethic, strength, courage, stuff like that.
Gary Crotaz 1:03:46
What do you want people to take from your experience. And I know before we’ve talked about, you know, the impact you want to have on other women.
Joanne Clifton 1:03:58
Especially women. I want them to know that you can reach your goal and even if it gets hard, you can get through it. You can have the strength if you just have the right mindset. I mean, if you completely don’t love your passion anymore, and you just don’t like, you’ve fallen out of love with it, then that’s fine as well, walk away. But it’s the fact that you can. If you’ve got a goal you can get there, no matter how hard, no matter what things you can you have to go through and then have the courage to then, once you’ve done that, you don’t have to be stuck there. You don’t have to forever live under anyone. Once you’ve done what you personally want to achieve, not what other people want for you, from you. What you personally want to achieve. Once you’ve done that, if you still love it, have the courage to walk away if you’re not happy. Because then the opportunities are endless. And you’ve learned from, you can take all that you’ve been through and learn from it and turn it into something positive. Don’t always leave something, something that maybe, as I said to you, I wasn’t, I wasn’t the happiest that I’ve ever been. So I could just look back on that and think of it as a terrible time and just associate it with all the negative stuff. Or you switch it, and you can turn it into something positive. I had to go through that, to get where I am today, and I would not change a single thing.
Gary Crotaz 1:05:28
I think I hear you claiming it, claiming your own achievements, claiming your success from that time.
Joanne Clifton 1:05:36
Yeah. Oh, yeah. But I’m… it’s not just about the medals. Actually, the medals are probably the least thing here. I did, I did win. And that was my goal. And of course, you know, I didn’t want to give up before that. But my main achievements were with myself, learning to be strong, learning to be courageous, learning to be independent. Learning to just have the strength to get back up when you’re knocked down. And when you’re knocked down daily, confidence-wise, just because everybody’s eyes are on you. It’s hard.
Gary Crotaz 1:06:14
Tell us now on, when you’re on stage in a performance, how does that mindset that you developed in the ballroom world translate to being a musical theatre environment?
Joanne Clifton 1:06:27
Musical theatre is so different anyway because, for me, because we’re not just two of us dancing, and there isn’t that kind of pressure still of like, Oh, is my dance partner still thinking I’m dancing okay? Or am I disturbing him or her or vice versa, whatever. Musical theatre, what I love about it is that nobody’s bigger than the show itself. So we come together as a company, no matter what role that you’re in, whether you’re a lead, or whether you’re third tree from the left, but it has to be an amazing show. And I love the buzz of that coming together. And as a company, making the audience feel something and giving them you know, this escapism for two hours. Doesn’t mean that I’m still not competitive. Like, I know that musical theatre, it’s not a competition really. It’s just putting on a great show for the audience. But doesn’t mean I’m not competitive anymore. It doesn’t mean like, I’ve lost that at all. I am extremely competitive. But I’m competitive with myself. Which sounds really, you know, one of them bleurgh things to say, but I am, like, I there’s no way I can go on stage ever. Even if I’m feeling slightly under the weather, or if I’ve got an injury or whatever, and somebody tells me I’m, Just take it easy … there’s no way I can take it easy. Because I feel, I feel like I’m not, I’m not doing my best and I have to do my best every time. I need to better myself every performance and if I don’t, I get angry at myself.
Gary Crotaz 1:08:11
What’s the moment in your theatre career when you think back and you think that was a moment when it was just right? I was in the right place? Like it was, that was it, if I could bottle that, that would be what I bottle.
Joanne Clifton 1:08:28
There’s one moment that does stand out, but it’s not in the sense of, Oh, that was my best performance, because I tried to do that every night, or sometimes twice a day. And sometimes I’m happy, sometimes I’m not but there isn’t one in that sense. But in, in a certain sense there’s always my very first show in a UK tour. So this is, you know, I did fringe shows before that, smaller shows, got a role in Thoroughly Modern Millie, as Millie, in a UK tour. Now, I’d just come off of Strictly so the people in the audience knew me as a dancer, right? And I know that there’s a whole thing about whether people are stunt-casted, whether they’re trained or not trained, whether it’s right or wrong that you get the role if you’ve been on TV or not. What people don’t know is that I am trained. I just trained privately, I just haven’t got a big known theatre school on my CV. There’s a lot of people who were like, Ah, we know she can, whether it’s on Twitter, whatever, We know she can dance but she’s probably hired just because of Strictly, bet she can’t sing or act. And what Millie starts as is the doors open after the overture. I’ve got my back to the audience with two suitcases in my hand and I turn around, and I’m completely on the stage by myself. And I sing! Don’t dance. So, Millie, first big opening night, turning round and being able to just sing, and show people that I can act and sing, and I’m not just a dancer, then that was a really important moment for me. Really, really important moment. And that was kind of like a moment where when I realised I was in a proper big theatre that, yeah, I had made that big ol’ leap at 33, change of career, a change of career at 33. From being just a dancer.
Gary Crotaz 1:10:29
What do you want your legacy to be? What do you want people to remember you for?
Joanne Clifton 1:10:36
I want people to remember me for being a great performer, for my performances, but also being a nice person with it. Obviously performing because I’m a performer, all what we’ve talked about that, you know, that’s what I live for. And obviously, to be known, I have a great one, making the audience feel something raw, something real. That. But in terms of being a nice person, and it’s not so much like, because of me trying to be appreciated by other people, it’s not so much that. And whether this comes from, you know, my grandma always saying, remember where you came from, you come from Grimsby, or whether it was how I have been treated in the past, and I didn’t like it. And I wouldn’t like to be treated that again. Or to ever treat someone like that. Whether it’s that or that, I just fully believe that the energy that you have, whatever you put out, that’s what you’re going to get back. And I want to carry on living in my happy world. I consider myself a really happy person. Now don’t get me wrong, of course, you know, when there’s difficult times, especially now in the theatre world, I’m going to go through not having a job. I think there’s anxieties, of course there’s all of that. But I’m so happy, I’m just a happy person in general, like I’m, I’m taking, I’m taking me not working say right now not as a, Oh my gosh, you know I’m a failure! I’m taking it as, Oh my gosh, this is really exciting, what’s going to come next?! And I feel like, because I’m like that, then something nice is going to come. So that’s why I want to be remembered as nice as well, because I think the energy that you can put out, you get back.
Gary Crotaz 1:12:29
I know you’re an inspiration to so many people, a lot of young women, a lot of young girls coming into the dance world, coming into the acting world as well. The Unlock Moment is that flash of remarkable clarity when you suddenly know the right path ahead. For World Champion dancer Joanne Clifton, it was recognising that the only validation that mattered was how she felt about herself. And that gave her the courage and the spirit to forge her own path and craft a new career that led her to where she is today. A much loved TV and theatre star. Joanne as ever it has been a delight to spend time in your company. Thank you so much for joining me today on The Unlock Moment.
Joanne Clifton 1:13:08
Thanks for having me!
Gary Crotaz 1:13:13
This has been The Unlock Moment, a podcast with me, Dr. Gary Crotaz. Thank you for listening in. You can find out more about how to figure out what you want and how to get it in my book, The IDEA Mindset, available in physical book, ebook and audiobook format. Follow me on Instagram and subscribe to this podcast to get notified about future episodes. Join me again soon!