Erika Oliveira, Catwalk Coach: Inside Elite Model Look

Erika Oliveira teaches the Finalists to catwalk at the Elite Model Look World Final ahead of the Final Show, when the models are seen by the industry for the very first time. A former model, she now lives in New York. She understands the dynamics of a show, the psychology of modelling and how to explain the craft of the catwalk. We catch up with her at this year’s World Final.

You will teach the Finalists to catwalk during the World Final. How will you do this?

I usually start by making the Finalists aware of how their own body moves while walking at their own pace. We all learn how to walk so early in our lives that we no longer realize it's actually an amazing skill; just like breathing. Only after, they become fully aware of the shape and rhythm of their own bodies will I teach them the technical part, which goes way beyond putting one foot in front of the other; instead, it requires them to acknowledge a multitude of parts of their bodies (their head, neck, shoulders, back, arms, hands, legs, feet...) as they will all play a big part on achieving that perfect walk. 

How long can it take to learn to walk?

I wish I were able to give you a close estimate but the truth is that it depends solely on each and every one of the Finalists. Like in any kind of learning process, the more dedicated the student is, the better results he or she will get. And in this particular case, we’re talking about a skill that demands practice in order to become effortless, as it should be. Every year we witness girls and boys who are willing to go the extra mile, the girls who keep rehearsing in high heels though they're exhausted from hours of practice, who are constantly practicing in front of the mirror, asking us to evaluate their development throughout the days… Although it is impossible to estimate the length of time it will take them to master it, it certainly puts them a step ahead and closer to the finish line.

Does being a model yourself help when you teach the Finalists to walk?

Definitely! And I’m not only talking about the experience I have gathered throughout the years from all the times I’ve been on a catwalk, but mostly because I know exactly what they are going through. I understand their state of mind, their insecurities, the will to succeed and to make it in the business. I too had flown to a new country, away from my family and surrounded by people I have never met before, all that while being challenged and evaluated. It may be overwhelming sometimes. And, as a coach, I need to be able to read between the lines when it comes to the emotional state of mind of the finalists, so that I can assist them in a better way and steer them in the right direction. 

Do you do any other catwalk coaching throughout the rest of the year?

I used to do it more often in the past but nowadays I coach mostly the finalists of EML World Final and occasionally a few EML National Finals. 

Apart from the Final Show, or perhaps as well as that, what is your favourite moment of the Elite Model Look World Final each year?

I’m not sure this may be called “a moment” as it is not something that we plan or anticipate but the “moment” you see that the kids are no longer mere strangers that have been asked to share the same room but are now building relationships by telling stories from “back home”, when you see them using Google to translate what they want to say in a language they never even heard before or when you hear them making plans of meeting each other again after the World Final… It’s basically the moment they stop seeing each other as competitors and start becoming friends who share the same passion for this business.

Who taught you to catwalk?

Unlike these (super lucky!) kids, I had too little time to learn how to walk from the moment I’ve been spotted by a scout in the street, to my first fashion show. Until that day, I had never even tried standing on high heels! My stepmom got me a pair of shoes so I could practise at home, and I basically spent the first days grabbing onto each piece of furniture, trying not to fall and it took me a while until I finally took my first steps. But I just knew I had no time before I was on a real catwalk so I basically practiced non-stop, day and night, until I felt confident enough to face the runway. 

These days you’ve been making furniture. Tell us about that!

Yes! It happened a year after we moved to New York; this city makes you feel like you can do pretty much anything! And I’ve always been into tools, taking things apart only to understand how they worked, creating new shapes or transforming old ones. So I turned to woodworking and started apprenticing with Reed Hansuld, a Canadian designer and fine furniture builder who basically taught me everything I know. I’m now starting to design my own pieces so maybe next year I might be the one at the Elite Model Look World Final building the whole stage!

What’s your advice to the Finalists?

They should definitely try to take everything they can out of this experience. A lot of professional models aren’t lucky enough to have the kind of support that Elite Model Look World Final provides, especially at such an early stage of their careers, when everything is a challenge. Here, at the Bootcamp, the Finalists are surrounded by the best professional in the business, people who have decades of experience and who know exactly how to make a top model. I believe that, once they become aware of this, of the impact the Bootcamp can have on their lives, they will be ready to work hard and find their place in this amazing journey.

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