A YOUNG dancer from East Lancashire who has achieved career success in New York has opened up about the highs and lows of the "cut-throat" industry.

Orla Baxendale, from Helmshore in Rossendale, moved to New York aged 19 and has since gone on to feature in Vogue and star as the lead dancer in productions.

Orla, 23, said she always dreamed of performing in New York and hopes to remain in the Big Apple for the foreseeable future.


(Photo: Instagram/ Brian Dowling)

The former St Veronica's primary school pupil said: “I have always wanted to come to New York.

“It was a place I really wanted to go on holiday and I also really want to be on Broadway.

"I had to beg mum and dad to let me audition here. I moved in 2018 and I haven’t looked back since.”

While she was nervous and “excited” about the long-haul flight, her worries soon dissolved as she began to carve out a successful career as a dancer, performer and occasional model.

She was awarded a scholarship to prestigious New York university, The Ailey School of American Dance Theatre.

After graduating in May 2021, she went on to be a dancer and model in New York Fashion Week, featuring in Vogue Magazine's September 2021 edition.

She has also taken part in The Choreographers Carnival, which is described as 'the hottest dance show by top choreographers and dancers in the music, film and video industries'.

Orla, a former Irish dancer with Phoenix Academy of Irish Dancing, said: “One of my proudest achievements was getting a contract with an agency.

"To be scouted by them was one of the proudest achievements since I have been out here."

Orla has also been cast as the lead principle dancer, Juliet, in a production of Romeo and Juliet - The Choice.

Lancashire Telegraph: Orla (middle) with her sisters, Niamh and Ciara on Brooklyn BridgeOrla (middle) with her sisters, Niamh and Ciara on Brooklyn Bridge

She will also star in a production called English with an Accent, which premieres on April 1, 2022, in Washington D.C. and will tour around the USA.

Orla said: “What I really want to do is perform on stage so landing English with an Accent and Romeo and Juliet - The Choice is such a big deal for me.

“It means I have been able to get involved in a really big production with an original cast and also star as a lead principle dancer.”

While Orla has enjoyed a successful and adventurous career so far, she has also braved some pitfalls associated with the pandemic and knock-backs about her appearance.

She said: “Lockdown was really hard. There were complications with my visa which meant I couldn’t leave the country and wasn’t able to go home.

“All my friends left and went back to their states and countries. I was completely by myself and I had find a way to survive through it.”

She said there have also been countless “disheartening” auditions.

“There is one failed audition that stood out to me,” she said, “I travelled for an hour and a half to a different state.

“They didn’t give me much of their time and didn’t choose me because they didn’t want a red head - but they invited me to the audition even after seeing my headshot.

“They allowed me to pay all that money and come all that way when they knew they weren’t going to take me in the first place.

“It isn’t about how you dance sometimes. You can be the best dancer in the room but if you don’t have the right look then they will say no.

“However, you can get 1,000 rejections but it’s only the one ‘yes’ that matters.”

While she says it has improved over the years, Orla says there is also a certain pressure to have a “certain body shape” in the dance industry.

She said: “While learning ballet in the UK I was told that my muscles and limbs were a little bit ‘on the big side’ and that I needed to slim down – and I was only 16-years-old.

“There is a certain pressure to look a certain way but I do think it has gotten better over the years.

“But there is still an expectation that you have to be small and tiny to be a successful dancer, especially with ballet.

“However, it’s not so much US, especially with more commercial work, as there is a lot of variety over here.”

Lancashire Telegraph: Orla Baxendale as an Irish dancerOrla Baxendale as an Irish dancer

While she does miss Lancashire, Orla has big hopes for her future in New York and hopes to venture more into the world of acting and advertisements.

She said: “I miss Lancashire. I haven’t been home since 2019. I miss looking outside and seeing all of the greenery.

“However, I am super excited for my future in America. I am hoping to stay out here and have some auditions lined up. It’s like a second home to me now.”