Caterina Mete gives Susan Bendall the wobble on a being a wiggle.
Not all dancers are fortunate enough to make a long-term career doing what they love. For Caterina Mete, a six-month stint in a suit led to an ongoing role with the iconic Wiggles.
Mete has been with the Wiggles for 17 years. Her main role is as a choreographer, but she also dances in the shows and looks after the costumes.
What part of your dance training prepared you for this role?
I started dancing at seven. I wanted to sing and dance. I started with tap and jazz and also did ballroom. I started ballet quite late – at about 11. Then I did a full-time year at Dance Factory (Melbourne). Early jobs included the Tivoli Theatre Restaurant and cheerleading for Melbourne Storm. I think that doing a variety of training and being willing to try anything was really great preparation. My teacher Michelle Saunders told us to go for every audition, even if the job’s not for you.
Was it design or serendipity that led you to this role?
They used to have a Dorothy the Dinosaur show that was separate from the Wiggles. I just went to the audition and had to learn a dance and then they asked me back and I had to go into the Dorothy suit. I didn’t think I could do it, but they wanted me to, and I thought, “well, I can’t turn it down!”
So I went home and started practising. I went into my parents’ lounge-room, shut the door and turned the heating up really high and put layers of clothes on because that’s how it felt in the suit. I would practise the dances in that environment, so I knew how I had to breathe. It sounds bizarre, but I think it helped me and then it made me not panic when I was in a suit.
I did that for about six months and then the Wiggles asked, “Can we borrow the girl who’s doing Dorothy for a DVD?”.
I was flown to Sydney and we filmed a DVD and then they asked me, “Can you come out of the suit and do a cowboy dance?” I have been with them ever since!
How do you prepare for a show?
I always do a ballet barre before a performance to warm up. In Australia, our first shows are usually at 10am so you have to get up at six.
I usually have my hair and make-up done in the hotel. I get to the theatre and have the costumes laid out, look at the stage, see if there are any issues – make sure it's safe to dance on. I do some stretching and get myself ready. Usually between shows I do yoga – even though the show’s active, I’m not into cardio – it’s not my thing. I like cycling so when we go on big tours a few of us take folding bikes. Riding our bikes to the venue is a really good warm-up.
We can do up to four one-hour shows a day, especially in Victoria. In places like Canada there are usually two to three shows a day and a lot of travelling. The hard part for me is the changes, not the show – especially in and out of the suits. You have to be flexible, too. Everybody else is on stage you have to do yourself up!’
Before COVID, we would tour for about eight months of the year and perform before audiences of between 5,000 and 30,000.
There’s a saying in showbiz – never work with children or animals (even in suits) – what special energies do you need to bring to your work?
The audience itself gives me energy. The audience is wonderful. It puts a smile on your face, so it’s hard not to be happy doing a Wiggles show. You’re there to perform and entertain, not to bring your own baggage. When you get on stage you forget about whatever’s happening in the other world of yours.
Sometimes you do get emotional. Meeting audience members with special needs puts your problems into perspective.
I have to stay true to the dance style while making it accessible for the audience. We have
to make sure they are dances that children can do and that they can be done in a small space, since sometimes huge auditoriums have tiny stages.
Also, when working to camera – it’s usually a no-go to turn your back. So dances are choreographed front on. Non-dancers often think that if two dancers are mirroring each other, one is doing it wrong! And they are quite adamant! So my choreography tends to have dancers moving in the same direction.
What are your tips for longevity in the children’s entertainment industry?
Look after yourself! Many performers get injured and don’t do anything about it. As soon as I get a niggle, I’m off to see a chiro or a physio.
What are some of the highlights of your time with the Wiggles?
My dream growing up was to be a performer on Broadway. I may not have been in a show but I have performed in theatres on Broadway. Performing at Madison Square Gardens was an absolute thrill. We had all these celebrities in the crowd. Also playing Fox Theatre in Detroit – Elvis and the Temptations played in that theatre – it’s pretty special!
This article first appeared in the Sep/Oct/Nov issue of Dance Australia. Stay up to date! Subscribe here.
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