Sunday, 24 July 2011

Strictly Dancing

23 Jul, 2011 04:00 AM

From dancing with the stars to spangly sequinned bras: Sarah Harris steps out into those syncopated suburbs and gets a case of the cha cha chas.

TALK about a statement pregnant with possibilities. “Belly dancing saved my life,” Debra Ford says, “it’s as simple as that.”

Flashback to May 2006. “It was a head-on collision at 200km/h impact, because we were both doing 100.

“It flipped my car three and half times and it skidded on its roof God knows how far down the road. I was hanging from the roof with a broken neck, which they had to piece that together with a wedge out of my hip, two screws and a plate.

“I also suffered a C2 fracture, L5 fracture, three pelvic fractures, a broken wrist and totally smashed ankle, which got pinned under the accelerator and the brake.

“They kept me in emergency for 17 hours because they were convinced I had major internal injuries. It was only after my husband told them I was a belly dance teacher they moved me on to a ward.”

There are few better qualified to talk about the rehabilitative power of dance than the woman behind Mystical Rose Belly Dance. Students attending her Woodend and Darley classes range from an 83-year-old who can still touch her toes to a serving police officer.

Senior Constable Karen Turner would certainly stop traffic in her dance costume.

“Not all my colleagues know,’’ she says.

‘‘But I have been belly dancing for 10 years. It is great exercise and it’s fun. Sometimes exercise gets a bit monotonous, but this is more interesting. Because we do troupe every couple of weeks, we learn a new dance and it keeps the brain active.”

Cynthia Sherwell describes belly dancing as liberating. “ I have two teenage boys and one day I looked in my wardrobe and everything was black. I had this real need to get back to being a girl, and I have found since doing this that my overall confidence has increased.”

Setting foot on the dance floor for the very first time can be daunting, especially when you are not even three, but Hayley Armstrong, principal of Werribbee’s DanceMax School says they key is to make it fun.

“We start classes from two-and-a-half. The babies are gorgeous, so adorable, and they can do a lot more than you might think. They end up being leaps and bounds ahead of other kids their age because of having that motor development a little bit earlier.

“We do some competitions, but for us it is more about the kids enjoying their classes and getting a feel for the music.

“We do all styles, but we like to keep it fresh and current. Our hip-hop classes are booked out and we have about 25 boys at our school, which is sort of unheard of.”

Boys in hoodies and skinny low jeans are a far cry from the classic image of a ballerina en pointe.

Genevieve Projkoska, director of Point Cook Performing Arts, says that in spite of the popularity of other dance styles, most professional dancers begin at the barre rather than breakdancing.

“Ballet is really the starting point for anything. That’s true even if you have a more theatrical kind of child who wants to do jazz and tap and that kind of thing, because all those styles have techniques that come from ballet.

‘‘I think that is why ballet will always be important to any dancer.”

But ballet it is not just twirling prettily.

“I think people are looking for traditional values, especially with young children. Ballet builds confidence and friendships. It teaches children that if you put effort in you get results, and the a lesson applies to all areas of life.

Courtesy and discipline is part of ballet training that will help them later on — maybe not being prima ballerinas but being nice people in business and not afraid to work hard.”

American-style cheerleading might seem a million miles from Swan Lake, but as the fastest-growing dance sport in Australia it also offers valuable life lessons in building teamwork and trust.

“It is a sport that requires lots of energy, increases your fitness and confidence, develops discipline and introduces you to lots of new friends,” Sonia Roarty, Cheer Factor head coach and director, says.

Cheer Factor’s brand new Tullamarine gym complete with nine-metre tumble trampoline and fully sprung matted floor is a measure of how the sport is growing, driven by the Bring It On movies and more recently the Hellcats TV series.

But it was the recent appearance of KLD X-Treme Air Force on Australia’s Got Talent that had the phones ringing.

The combination of dance, gymnastics and weight-lifting is attracting a growing number of boys.

“Many people don’t realise that boys were the original cheerleaders, the girls only stepped in when the lads went off to war,” Sonia says.

“The co-ed squads in the US have more boys than girls, and they are big strong boys. They are not there shaking pom poms, they are doing all the lifting and the power tumbling.”

Fit is an understatement when describing the professional dancers working for Victoria Petrolo’s company Dance City Productions.

The Craigieburn mother started dancing when she was five and had a career that took her overseas.

Then she started her own company, which specialises in Latin American entertainment and offers choreographed shows as varied as Moulin Rouge, Chicago and Studio 54 Disco.

Dance City Productions provides the shimmy and shake for a host of corporate clients including Telstra, Foxtel and the AFL.

For the past six years Dance City’s Elegua Latin Spectacular groups have been the resident floorshow at the Copacabana in Fitzroy.

Last year Victoria booked 639 dancers including her equally talented sister Belinda, who in 2005 took out the Salsa Tropicana national professional competition with dance partner Alex Espinosa.

Cuban-born Alex, also a Hume resident, is a well-regarded and sought-after Latin teacher and dancer whose talent has taken him around the world.

He is one of the few who make a living as a dancer, appearing in stage shows including The Bar at Buena Vista across three states in the past month.

Many others still have to work day jobs to pay the rent.

“I have so many people come to me who think they can dance,” Victoria says.

‘‘But I won’t have anyone on my books who hasn’t had dance training since they were young.

“A talented, properly trained dancer makes it look easy, but a lot of people don’t understand how many years of work have gone into making it look effortless.

“I used to train six days a week and teach on top of that.

“I would say to young dancers you can definitely make a career of it but you have to be 100 per cent dedicated. The work doesn’t come to you, you have to chase the work. If you get a musical job you are doing it six nights a week. You have to go to the gym, you have to practise, you have to eat properly.”

But the rewards are great. “I am one of the lucky people on this earth — getting paid to do what I love best,” Alex says. “For me dancing is like breathing or eating. Dancing is life.”

Source: Wyndham Weekly