Bruce Hopkins has had a varied career. He has been a cray fisherman, teacher, coffee roaster and actor. In and around all of these careers, Hopkins was also a professional dancer for 8 years. While many start dance training as a child, Hopkins began dance classes at 22 years old and within 7 months was a full time professional dancer.
Hopkins was travelling around New Zealand with his American brother from an AFS student exchange after the crayfish season in 1978 where they visited a friend from PE school at Otago University called Mary Duncan who danced in Impulse Dance Theatre. “Impulse Dance Theatre was NZs first full time contemporary dance company founded by Jamie Bull. I watched them rehearse for an hour and was gob smacked that they did this as a job. I asked how someone might get into it. Following Jamie’s advice I went back to Wellington a few weeks later to do a week long dance workshop. I subsequently moved to Wellington and did three dance classes every day for seven months.”
A hard trainer and worker he attended classes with the NZ Ballet School under Anne Rouse in the mornings and washed dishes at the St George Hotel in the evenings. “This was astounding as I was dancing as a 22 year old total beginner with New Zealand’s finest young ballet dancers.”
Before long Hopkins auditioned for the role of new male dancer at Impulse and got the role which led to a 3 month long combined tour with Impulse Dance Theatre and the NZ Ballet working with Jon and Jacqui Trimmer, doing Carmina Burana, directed by Jane Campion’s dad, Richard Campion.
After 3 years with Impulse, Hopkins auditioned for and got in to Human Veins which is a Canberra based dance theatre before moving to Sydney and freelancing “dancing in one-off pick up companies for festivals.” While discussing joining Sydney Dance Company, Hopkins received a call from Mary Jane O’Reilly asking if he would join Limbs Dance Company in Auckland replacing Douglas Wright. While with Limbs, Hopkins toured to Papua New Guinea, New York and Mexico. “I loved Limbs, so jumped at the opportunity. I stopped dancing when my partner Felicity Molloy, who was also in Limbs became pregnant with the first of our three children.”
While dancers need to tour to generate income, Hopkins decided to stop when he became a Dad. This however did not stop Hopkins from performing. “Raymond Hawthorne happened to ask me to perform in his ground breaking production of West Side Story at the Mercury Theatre, which was a huge success, after which Raymond offered me a contract as a full time actor at the Mercury Theatre, so I switched to acting and once again learned on the job.”
Hopkins has acted in numerous productions over the years including The Lord of the Rings, Dear Murderer, Macbeth (Theatre) and various voice credits, Hopkins does still have a love for dance. “I got asked by Neil Ieremia to dance with Black Grace Dance Company for a month long national tour when I was 42 years of age. I had literally not danced for 12 years, not even doing casual classes. During the month of rehearsals dancing with people like Tairoa Royale and Taane Mete, my body was shattered, but I had the most amazing understanding of how blessed I was to have been able to be a full time dancer for eight years.”
Hopkins understands he has been fortunate to have had the opportunities he had. “I feel so blessed to have been able to step into the dance world for eight years from no background at all. Now it is hugely competitive for people to break through in the performing arts and the brutal reality is that about 97% of actors and probably 99% of dancers cannot make a living out of their chosen career/passion.” Hopkins understands just how competitive this can be and as a result started a temp agency called ActionActors (which just won a tender with Auckland Transport) in 2011 which helps performers pay the bills between jobs through both their performance and professional skills.