THE LION’S SHARE
Francisco Lins, 35, can be a giraffe, a zebra and a gazelle — it’s all part of a day’s work for the West End dancer
West End dancer Francisco Lins is a roaring success in The Lion King
How long have you been part of The Lion King? I joined eight years ago. It’s my first West End show and my first musical. Before this, I was performing with a dance company. I’m from Brazil, which is where I did my training: in ballroom, ballet and contemporary. I worked on cruise ships, then came to London.
You’re the show’s dance captain, what does that involve and how long have you been doing it?
I became dance captain four years ago. When I started, I was a giraffe, then a gazelle, then I became swing [ understudy] and after that dance captain. As dance captain, when you come to the building, you don’t know what’s going to happen that day, so it’s always a challenge. If there’s an injury or illness, I may have to perform as a zebra or giraffe then run to do another thing. I also teach the audition routine to the boys. It’s never the same, and it keeps me excited. That’s why it doesn’t feel as if I’ve been here for eight years.
Do you perform in every show?
Well, as a swing, you just go on stage when someone is injured or on holidays. Sometimes an injury can happen during the show, or someone might lose their voice, so I might need to jump in wherever they finish. You need to know the whole show.
Well if you’ve done it for eight years, you probably know every second.
Yes, but a lot of things happen on the stage so we just need to make sure we are safe. That’s the priority. The Lion King
is celebrating 20 years in the the West
End. What’s the enduring appeal?
It’s amazing. You know, it’s a big theatre; sometimes you just wonder where all these people are coming from — every day, for 20 years. I’ve been here for eight of those years, but every day feels like a new show because we have different people coming to watch. In Brazil, where I’m from, we like theatre but we don’t have these kinds of shows, ones that have been running in the same place for so long.
Are there big celebrations planned for the 20th anniversary?
Yes. I mean, there are a lot of things that we don’t know yet but for the next few weeks, we have a lot of rehearsals, we have a few changes. Then, for the anniversary gala performance, we’re going to have some different things happening on the stage, a few dance numbers with all the dancers and the swings as well.
Can you work your way up any further within the show, or is dance captain kind of the top for you?
I’m very happy being dance captain because I can be on the stage and I get to dance, which is what I love. Right now, it’s good for me; you can go further here, but I’m very happy with my position.
“I wonder where all these people come from every day”
Do you think the new version of the movie added to the excitement around the stage show?
Watching the movie or the musical both make people more excited about the other. The musical tells the same story, just a little bit longer and told in a different, more creative way.
What does your typical week look like, in terms of training?
We get to know our schedule every Saturday. Normally, we have class on Thursdays — I think we are the only West End show to actually have a dance class, where different people come in to teach us. I don’t go to the gym because I started dancing when I was four, and that’s always kept me busy and fit. But I love to exercise, and we always stretch before the show. We have a vocal warm up every day, and after that, we sometimes go to the stage and keep stretching. We have to keep warm because London is a cold city! During the show, we’ll always wear trousers if we’re waiting backstage. But generally, we stretch a lot and do some pilates exercises, ballet and contemporary dance classes.
What’s your dance background?
I do everything. When I was 17, I was already a professional. I did ballroom dancing in Brazil, then I did my ballet and contemporary training. When I was 17, I said, “OK, I’m ready.” Then I did some Brazilian training as well, just to understand how to move my body in different ways. To be a dancer today, you need to be very versatile. You need to have good ballet technique, especially for this show because there are a lot of jumps and landings. It helps teach you how to use your body and how to look after yourself, without needing to go for physio every week.
When did you start dancing?
I used to go to baby ballet when I was four, in Brazil. We don’t just do ballet, we need to know how to move as well — do the samba. As I got older, my mum and dad encouraged me to carry on dancing and learning, and I set myself a goal of being fully trained by the age of 17.
So, your family was very supportive?
Yes. I’ve been dancing my whole life. I’ve never had a normal job, and they’ve encouraged that.
In some parts of the world, there might be a stigma about boys following a dance career — is that different in Brazil, because dance is such a big part of the national culture?
You need to work hard and you need to be lucky. You need to be in the right place and to be very focused because in Brazil it’s difficult to be a dancer. My ballet class was more than an hour away and I had t o wake up early to go to school. That’s why I was so glad when I came t o the UK, because being a professional dancer here is regarded as an actual job, and people
“I’ve never had a
normal job, I’ve
danced all my life”
respect me. Some people think we’re just having fun and going around the stage doing cartwheels, but it’s a proper job. It’s not nine to five, but it’s sometimes 10 until 10. In Brazil, you can’t just dance. Most people have to do other jobs alongside.
Has the dance world been accepting of you as a gay man; has your sexuality presented any issues?
No issues at all, especially since coming to London. When I started rehearsing in the show, I saw two guys in suits holding hands on the street. I thought: “Oh my God!” In Brazil if you did that, you’d get hit in the face. But here, I can be myself. Everyone in the show is like a big family because we spend a lot of time together and many of us aren’t from the UK so we are very supportive of each other.
Does performing put a big strain on your body, especially now that you’re in your mid- thirties?
Age is just a number. I actually think it’s easier in a way because I understand my body more now as a mature dancer. You just need to be smart about how you perform and keep yourself looking good and feeling good on the stage. But if you have no pain, you’re not doing the job properly!
Have you had any serious injuries?
No. I have tight muscles because of the strain performing has on my body, and if you don’t roll or stretch enough, they tighten. We have an in- house physio, so massage and acupuncture helps to release tension in the muscles and sometimes you need to have a break from performing for a few days to recover.
How important is nutrition and diet?
We have a lot of cardio in the show, so it is important to eat carbs. Twice a week we have two shows, so you have to refuel after the first one but you can’t just stuff your face. We just have to drink water, and eat and sleep well.
What do you like to indulge in on a day off or a cheat day?
I’m Brazilian, so I like my steak — and ice cream. All that kind of stuff. We are normal people sometimes.
Have you always been body confident?
No — I was very, very skinny. Of course, doing eight shows week, your body changes but at the same time you have to eat more. I’m so much happier now, although I still think I’m skinny.
The Lion King is at the Bristol Hippodrome until 23 November and continues at the Lyceum Theatre in London. thelionking. co. uk