Dance: Your Way into My Heart

by | May 1, 2007

At the Features Desk of gsport, we’ve been aware that a piece on Dance Sport is long-overdue, and we’re delighted it’s arrival coincides with the May issue’s Retreat theme. 

South African champion dancer Hayley Hammond and her Strictly Come Dancing Partner, 'Die Nutman's Riaan Venter show their winning talent. 

Dance really, all lovers will tell you, is about a journey which gets closer to yourself, the more you dance. As much as dance is an activity mostly performed in public, its expression is in our souls.

gsport Features Desk speaks to national dancing icon Hayley Hammond, (the newly-formed) South African Dance Foundation’s 1st Vice-Chair Brian Schmidt, and gsport’s May Style Star, the very likeable Michelle Garforth to find this out, and more!

Why Dance?

“What I learned from Strictly Come Dancing,” gushes the competition’s popular finalist Michelle Garforth, “Is that the girl is the princess, and the boy is the knight in shining armour. What a wonderful zone to escape to.

“The garments, the muscles in the back, the shoulders, the angle of chin, the way you look at each other. It’s completely enticing, completely attractive and I think everyone should learn how to dance. It really is an awesome experience,” says Michelle.

And what does Hayley Hammond reckon? “It does feel good, to dance to this music, you can use your body, and you feel kind of pretty. It’s much more exciting and enjoyable, than any other sport,” says Hayley.

“Everyone who dances has got this glow in their face. You can’t dance, and not be happy. I think this is a huge thing that attracts the kids. Dancing comes from inside, and you can be passionate from a very young age, and naturally, everybody loves to move to music.”

South African champion dancer Hayley Hammond and her Strictly Come Dancing Partner, 'Die Nutman's Riaan Venter show their winning talent.

“I think it’s important for anyone to learn how to dance,” says Michelle, “Because it’s the greatest gift you can give your relationship with your special partner.”

“The confidence one gains is absolutely fantastic,” agrees Brian Schmidt. It’s probably the most glamorous of sports, where people get the opportunity to dress up and look their best.

“From a recreational point of view, of course, absolutely fantastic! A lot of hard work, and from a health point of view, extremely healthy, because of the vertical movements that one has in Ballroom and Latin.”

But is it a Sport?

“Absolutely,” believes Brian. “I would say that dance is very much a top sport. South Africa does compete internationally, and we are sending many couples to the biggest championship in the world, the British Open in Blackpool at the end of May.

“We have our national championships every year, which are held in Johannesburg, and we also have a provincial championship in each of the provinces, where dancers are selected to dance in the South African Closed Championship.

“And we also have an Open Championship, where any couple from across the country can dance,” says Brian.

An unbeaten South African champion for the past 12 years, Hayley Hammond has represented South Africa internationally, and is currently a full time Latin American and Ballroom teacher.

“I did Ballet when I was very young, (which) was a good grounding for the rest of my dancing career, says Hayley. “I would definitely recommend Ballet to a young girl, it’s a strong base for any dancing career. You can use your qualities (gained in) Ballet in all different dance forms.”

Michelle Garforth strikes a dramatic pose in the arms of Harold van Buuren, during the wildly popular Strictly Come Dancing competition. And what is a good age to start dancing at?

“Really, anyone can start, says Hayley. “So many mothers say their kids have low co-ordination. This is why they come into a dance class, so that they can learn co-ordination and concentration.

“Well,” continues Brian, “The younger they start, the better, I would recommend from about 6-7 years of age. Of course, a lot of girls start in their teens, which is also a reasonably good age to start.

“For girls younger than five who really want to start to dance, then Ballet is the place to start,” agrees Hayley. “You can start from a very young age, with basic little things like skipping and hopping, and stuff like that, to work on your muscles and co-ordination.

“For Freestyle, we start our kids at five. That’s a little bit more energetic and vibey, the music is fast and it does have a certain amount of acrobatics in it.

“They can carry on with the Ballet and the Freestyle, the two combined work very well together,” Hayley said. “The Latin American and Ballroom, you can start from as young as seven, not much earlier than that, because it’s quite technically-involved.”

What is Dance in the Spotlight Like?

“It was the most unbelievable experience I could ever have hoped for,” exclaims Michelle. “The fact that I was asked was incredible, and when Duncan Irvine and his wife (producers of the show) came down to my office, and asked me, without a blink of an eye, I said: Yes please!”

“When I met (Die Nutsman and her Strictly Come Dancing Partner) Riaan (Venter),” Hayley told gsport, “I thought: Oh my word, what am I going to do with this guy? (laughs). But from our very first practice, we laughed from beginning to end. He’s just got this personality that I’ve never seen, ever!”

“Of course,” says Brian, “From another side, the discipline that one has to have is very important, which is a great asset, and reward. (But) dance is also very rewarding in terms of enjoying the music, and it creates a tremendous amount of travel opportunity, and mixing with the various cultures of the countries abroad.”

“Little did I realise what I signed on for,” continues Michelle. “It was very hard. You saw what we achieved (Michelle and her partner made it to the finals). When I started that production I was seven kilograms heavier, and I lost that weight.

“It was seven months worth of intensity. (Trainer) Harold (van Buuren) is difficult, but he is talented and is brilliant at what he does,” says Michelle. “I think because I was internally strong, I was able to handle the pressure and I just stepped up to the mark every time he asked of me. I so enjoyed the experience.

“We had such a great time,” sighs Hayley, “And as much as it was really hard work, and stressful, we did enjoy every minute of it!

“After we got through two very difficult weeks, I thought we could do anything! Our last two dances just came together perfectly, and it just went great (laughs)!

“I was so proud, it was really awesome,” purrs Hayley. “Because he did struggle at the beginning, he really did. And there was just a massive difference in his dancing, in his confidence, from the first week to the last week.”


Do you have to have a partner?

“It depends what style of dancing you’re involved in,” continues Hayley. “In Freestyle you start off alone, and there are couple sessions, and there are group sessions, but you do start alone, working on technique.

“Depending on the different studios, in Latin and Ballroom, a lot of studios teach only single people, where the pupil dances with the teacher.

“Other studios only take couples, and some studios only do group classes. In our studio, we do a teenage social class  where you don’t need a partner, for ages from 13 to 21.

“If you do have a partner, that’s ideal,” concludes Hayley, “Because you can go much further if you have a partner. If you want to do competitions, and you want to do it seriously, having a partner is the ideal thing.”

What should a dance lesson cost?

Your average dance lesson is about R150 for 45 minutes, but should not cost more than R500 (We’d hope so!).

Some interesting Dance Web Links
The Dance Directory.
FNB Dance Umbrella Festival.
Department of Arts & Culture.

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