A number of Croatians have moved abroad in pursuit of success in their chosen field, one of those is London-based professional dancer and model Petra Hajduk.
Petra, who was born and raised in the Croatian capital Zagreb, last week shared a stage with Robbie Williams at the 2017 Brit Awards in London, where she was one of the dancers for his medley performance.
So how did she get from the small city of Zagreb to the bright lights of London. We caught up with her to find out how it all started.
“I was born and raised in Zagreb where I also started my training in dance at a young age. I finished contemporary dance school at “Ana Maletic” and worked with choreographers such as Tihana Skrinjaric, Larisa Navojec and Igor Barberic. In 2008 I moved to London to continue my dance education at Laban. The original plan was to stay for a year and get my Diploma in Dance Studies but I fell in love with the city and the opportunities it offered”, Petra tells us.
In her first few years in London, Petra focused on training in various styles of dance which she did not have much experience, she also focused on meeting people in the industry in the hope that doors would open.
“I joined a dance company which later opened the dance studio known as Studio 68 where I started working as a teacher. I slowly started joining dance agencies and that was when various opportunities started to flourish, as you need to be a part of a dance agency to be sent to the majority of auditions.”
And the auditions did come and finally a door would open. Petra landed her first big gig when she was selected to star in Franz Ferdinand’s music video ‘Love Illumination’.
“Not long after that I had cut my hair short and left Studio 68 to dedicate more time for auditions, and these decisions helped my journey a lot. As soon as I changed my image I started being noticed more and as well as dance work I got offered a lot of modelling work – I did various shoots for hair salons and did a few adverts. This is why I always tell people about how important your image is, you need to have something that will make you stand out.”
After that initial break Petra went on to land a number of other gigs in theatre, on TV, and in music videos. She has worked with the likes of Cheryl Cole, Dita Von Teese and Adam Lambert, and danced in commercials for Lady Gaga, Tony Bennett, H&M, and Jay Z.
So what is it she loves most about being a professional dancer?
“It might sound cheesy but what I love most about being a professional dancer is that you get to do what you love, and that it can get really exciting at times since you don’t know where your next job is going to take you and who you are going to meet and work with!”
On the flip side, Petra says that is can be a stressful job being a freelancer and uncertainty in not knowing when your next job might be in a city like London can leave you anxious.
“The other thing that people don’t realise is that all the time and effort we put into our training and staying fit, they think our job is really easy. A lot of the times we won’t get treated as well as some of the other freelancers in the industry, but that is when you have to stay professional and try to do your job to the best of your ability.”
“When it comes to castings you need to be thick skinned. Usually you will arrive at the location of the casting, warm up, learn a routine from the choreographer in a really short space of time and then perform it in small groups. Depending on how big the casting is, there will be cuts made throughout the day and at the end you might not even find out if you booked the job so you go home hoping for that call,” she says.
Handling rejection becomes part and parcel of the job and it can be the most minor thing which separates one from landing a job.
“A lot of the times you get cut because you are, for example, too short or you don’t have long enough hair. Sometimes you can feel like these castings are quite harsh knowing you have done well dance wise but been turned down because of your physical appearance. So you never really know if it’s going to be an easy one or a difficult one to book, all you can do is try your best and go home knowing you gave your all.”
Whilst she has shared the stage with some famous names in the entertainment industry, they do not share the same paycheck.
“Whenever dancers talk about the earnings in the dance industry, we say “don’t be a dancer if you want to be rich”! There is definitely truth in this, only a tiny percentage can make a good living out of dance and that’s why a lot of dancers have part time jobs. I have been lucky enough to be able to work just as a freelancer, especially because of my modelling work! You can usually make a good living if you book a world tour or keep dancing for artists on a constant basis.”
Petra says he is lucky that she has worked with few different artists who she says have been ‘absolutely wonderful’.
“All of them came to say hello to dancers and I had a normal chat with most of them. It is true when they say that celebrities are just normal people like us. I’m sure there are some of them who can be difficult but haven’t come across artists like that yet. Dita Von Teese was a dream to work with, she was really simple and did her hair and make up on her own. She also gave me notes on what I had to do during her performance and made a CD for me to get familiar with the music and know my cues. I still have those notes and the CD! The Franz Ferdinand guys were lovely too, one of them gave me his email and said to let him know if I want to come to one of their gigs which I did, it was great to see them live.”
Performing at the Brit Awards last week goes down as one of Petra’s career highlights to date.
“The Brit Awards were on my wish list for a while so you can imagine how happy I was when I got booked it. I got a straight booking like the majority of Brit Awards dancers. Once you have worked with certain people you start getting invited to private auditions and get straight bookings for artists if you have the look they want. For me this started after attending my first X Factor audition 3 years ago when I worked with Brian Friedman for Cheryl Cole’s performance.”
So how does she relax away from her ‘day job’.
“When I’m not working or training I try to stay away from dance, I believe it’s important to have other interests as well. I love going to cinema, watching TV series, playing Xbox, reading comic books (especially Marvel!) and when the weather is nice going around London and discovering cool places to eat.
I love East London, I’m sure it’s no surprise since it’s full of creatives. I prefer quiet places so if the weather is nice I will find a nice spot to sit down and read a book or listen to music, otherwise I will be in Box Park where my favourite food place is.”
After living away from her hometown Zagreb for nearly 9 years, Petra says she misses a few things from home.
“The only things I miss about Croatia are food and weather. Summer weather, definitely not winter weather, it gets too cold for my liking! I speak to my family and friends on a weekly basis and I go to see my family every few months so I don’t find it too difficult being away from them. They are my biggest supporters so they always know what I’m up to job wise and always try to catch my performances on the TV.”
After working on the Brits and shooting a couple of adverts, Petra says a couple of campaigns now await.
“I will do work for Huawei which is planned to be shown in Eastern Europe so hopefully you will be able to catch me on TV in Croatia. I am also planning to come to Croatia this summer for a dance project which will include sun, sea and dance, which is a perfect combination. Apart from that I never really know what is waiting for me around the corner, a lot of the times when I think I will have an easy week it suddenly turns into a hectic one!”
So what advice does she have for anyone looking to get into professional dancing in London?
“I always tell dancers who are new to London to be patient, you need a bit of time to meet the right people and show them who you are.”
You can follow Petra’s journey on her Instagram – @petrahajduk.
Second try as Instagram decided to stop playing it. Some photography action from last weekend ??? _____________________________________ Photographer: @thetogbrianharris MUA: @kk_glamovers _____________________________________ #model #shoot #photoshoot #photography #photographer #tog #dancer #posing #modelling #modelslife #agencymodel #blonde #slickedhair #leatherjacket #redlips #smokyeye #igvideo #camera #lights