From council estate to the global stage: the rise of Chloe McNiven
Chloe McNiven is a Scottish dancer, life coach and business woman. Her glittering career as a professional dancer has seen her perform all over the world in stage shows, on television and in movies thanks to her Trinity Level 6 Diploma in Professional Dance. She has starred in many high-profile music videos for artists including Elton John, Kylie and Take That.
But Chloe’s life has been far from easy. Growing up on a council estate in Glasgow, her childhood was one of fear and abuse, with no opportunities or encouragement to follow her dreams. However, through sheer determination, hard work and tenacity, she beat the odds to become a world-famous dancer sought after by the biggest artists, choreographers and agents in the industry.
“It was really tough for me growing up but that actually gave me an edge no-one else had. It’s given me tenacity, drive and passion.”
Living in a very deprived area in Glasgow, surrounded by drugs and abuse, young Chloe would escape her troubled family life by focusing on her passion - dance. From making up dances in the playground to performing in school shows, Chloe found that dance gave her a feeling of normality and a sense of self, grounding her and driving her focus.
“Looking back, dance was a form of escapism for me – because when you're dancing, in that moment nothing else matters. I loved being on the stage as it allowed me to get the attention I wasn’t getting at home.”
From a young age she knew she wanted to be a professional dancer. At 15 she left school with very few qualifications to pursue her goal, but her path to success was not clear. With no official training, Chloe realised that she was not at the technical level she needed to be at to gain entry to any professional dance schools.
After working as a cleaner on a building site, she attended Anniesland College in Glasgow on a three-year HND in Dance course which enabled her to develop technical skills through ballet lessons.
Not only were her financial status and lack of training huge barriers to her progression, she was heavily discouraged by her teachers due to her physical size. At just 5’2”, Chloe was told that she would struggle to have a career as a professional dancer, and she’d never gain entry to a dance school.
As usual, Chloe overcame the negativity and auditioned for a stream of dance schools in London. Finally, after resounding “no”s at every turn, she was offered a scholarship at the prestigious Urdang Academy to study Dance and gain her Trinity Level 6 Diploma in Professional Dance.
Life in London remained challenging for Chloe as she struggled financially and socially. Thankfully, being given the principal role in the end-of-term show in her first year, plus additional funding going into second year, she experienced a huge confidence boost and was able to focus on developing her skills and completing her training.
Chloe’s hard work and resilience were starting to pay off. At the end of her final year at Urdang Academy, she was offered her first professional job as a dancer in the Michael Jackson show, Thriller. From there, a video of her dance audition on Britain’s Got Talent went viral on iconic choreographer Brian Friedman’s social channels, resulting in a string of agencies who were desperate to work with her.
This is when her dance career really took off and she started to travel the world. A highlight of her career so far was being a lead role in the 2017 video of Elton John’s Bennie and The Jets.
“In this industry you need resilience. You are constantly told “no, no, no” or told that you don’t look good enough for TV – you’re constantly being judged. But it feels so powerful to rise up and focus on what you love doing and gain recognition.”
Chloe credits her time at Urdang Academy as giving her the discipline, focus and resilience needed for her career. The opportunities presented to her through scholarships and funding programmes not only gave her a pathway into the profession, but also allowed her to share experiences with a diverse group of people which really enriched her life.
She has now expanded her focus beyond the world of dance and has become a successful entrepreneur, running a coaching business where she helps others overcome obstacles in their lives and achieve their potential.
Chloe is a true inspiration who embodies the fact that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can achieve your dreams and create a better life for yourself.
“It wasn’t just that I wanted to be a dancer because I love to dance. It was life or death: it gave me a chance at life.”
“Dance was a form of escapism for me – because when you're dancing, in that moment nothing else matters.”