Like dolls in a paper chain linked arm in arm, Tiller Girls are iconic dance troupes famed for sparkling, spinning and stunning audiences with their tap and kick routines.
An army of entertainment, each member of the company is identical in every respect. From costume size to choreography, the performance is so precise it’s like seeing double through a kaleidoscope.
Set up in every entertainment capital of the world, the ensembles quickly became permanent fixtures on Broadway, the West End and Vegas.
“We worked hard to play hard,” says expat Tiller Girl Sheena Cochrane, who now lives in Mijas Costa.
“We were always so hyper after the show and all the girls wanted to party. Being hungover on stage was a regular occurrence,” she says as she laughs nostalgically.
From cocktails with Lisa Minelli to dinner with Iranian royalty, Cochrane socialised with a smorgasbord of stars including John Wayne, Cary Grant, Jane Russell and The Monkeys.
“I was a bit starstruck by John Wayne,” remembers Cochrane.“But seeing stars became a part of everyday life…I even had a fling with Christopher Mitcham.”
But it wasn’t always parties and celebrity love affairs. Bouncing relentlessly to count for the entirety of their twelve shows each night, Tiller Girls weren’t airheads but powerful athletes putting their bodies to the test.
“We were more regimented than any other group because we kicked in line,” says Cochrane. “We had to have the same length hair and we wore uniforms even during rehearsal. It was like an army and I found that very hard. I wanted more versatility”.
With itchy feet and a passport burning a whole in her dressing room drawer, Cochrane set off to lead dance groups further afield and never worked in England again. From the Bahamas to Puerto Rico: jetsetting became a way of life.
But Cochrane was in for a surprise when the army lifestyle she left behind followed her to life on the road. “I saw fighting and army tanks in the streets of Ecuador during the military coups,” she says, “I was even one of the last British people to be evacuated from Beirut during the Six Day War in 1967. Every job had trials and tribulations.”
Yet it wasn’t fear or exhaustion that brought an end to Cochrane’s career: “I was 37 in Vegas and I knew they got rid of girls at a certain age. They’d never give any notice, it was just ‘you’re out’… so I left when I was still young enough to do something else,” she says without regret.
Like many ex performers, Cochrane came to Spain and was soon in the limelight again running excursions from Menorca to the Costa del Sol. “It was the periphery of show business,” says Cochrane, “I loved being on the microphone.”
Now 73 Cochrane, who still has the vim and vitality of someone who calls the stage home, has put pen to paper and divulged 20 years of anecdotes into a memoir.
Her stories have been shocking her friends and family for decades and, although she’s revealed countless tales in our brief but juicy chat, I suspect much more is waiting in the pages of Exit Stage Right.
Sheena’s book, Exit Stage Right is now available on Amazon as an e-book or paperback.