Sambaing in Sandton
By Nantie Steyn
The couples had separated and formed a big circle, ready to move in an Anti-Clockwise direction. Dave was explaining and demonstrating... slowly.
"Step, lock, step. Back on the right. Step lock step. Back on the left..." He paused.
"Now" he continued. "I see a lot of you doing this..." He stepped forward, heel first. "We never use the heel." He paused.
He looked around for emphasis. And then he carried on in what could arguably be called a very odd language. It sound like English, but really, he was speaking Latin.
"Step replace, back lock step, and ladies do forward lock step, cha-cha-cha, cha-cha-cha. That is what Latin sounds like. It makes sense to some, and its better to music.
On Dave Campbells CV, the word "champion" features so often that one reaches for the thesaurus to find out if there isnt a satisfactory synonym. Not so. Dave began dancing in his early 20s because his girlfriend at the time was into it. He became a top amateur and represented South Africa throughout Europe and the US. He and his partner were 2nd in the World Championships in 1968, and grand finalists in the British Open. Dave turned pro in his late 20s and went on to become the four-time undefeated Latin & Ballroom professional champion. In 1979 he started teaching, doing only championship work. So hes been at it for about 30 years, and in that time, has coached dancers who became both SA and international champions. If you want someone to teach your body to do things it is simply not used to, I think you want someone with that kind of experience.
I suspect that kind of experience is what it takes to teach. And a helluva lot a patience. I looked around the dance floor, while trying not to lose count (slow... slow... quick quick... slow...) Every now and then there was still some crunching of toes and some bumping into people (hover... hover...), some blushing and apologising before everybody moved right along. Mostly, when we make mistakes, we laugh. There is no pressure to get things right immediately, so having an enormously good time is inevitable.
In the beginning you feel quite gauche: as if your body is a sack of potatoes and you either have too many or not enough legs. I am a type-A personality who likes to lead. Michael my partner is also a type-A personality, except that in this case, being, like, the guy, he should lead. I dont think of myself as feminist, but the guy leading as a matter of course does not come naturally to me. As a result, Mike has to work extra hard, but my mother has always said that its not pretty being easy. Michael is doing much better now.
It would make sense if Dave found it frustrating to teach us artless shufflers when he has spent most of his life working with and coaching pros, but he does not. "Most of the new competitors come from the social classes," he said, "You really have a chance to develop new dancers". He speaks of teaching with passion, apparently undiluted after 15 years of teaching socially.
We are a class of all ages, shapes and sizes, and all creeds and colours. If there were any future amateur champs amongst us, I could not spot them. But it was surprising to discover that grace is not determined by body type, and that the most unlikely endomorph can turn into a lithe, weightless sprite when the music starts. Everybody knows that it is often difficult to make things look easy, but to Dave, turning rhinos into gazelles seems 2nd nature.
Few have Fred and Gingers quick feet, and fewer Shakiras hips but mostly the bunch of us, awkward and clumsy when we started, were beginning to resemble something akin to dancing couples. This in itself is an achievement: a human body is not necessarily designed for the "Turkish Towel" and the "American Spin" in the jive, so when you get it, which you will under Dave, Joe and Paulas careful step-by-step coaching, you have ample reason to feel pleased with yourself.
We do the Cha Cha, the Slow Foxtot, the Waltz, the Jive, the Hustle, the Rumba, Samba and believe it or not, the Sakkie. The Sakkie is not just famers and tannies in kappies grinding hips to the sound of an accordion and a drum kit, I promise. When Dave grabs Paula and they start moving, even Steve Hoffmeyr sounds like he should be invited into homes further afield than Benoni.
Dave is perhaps currently most well-known as one of the judges on "Strictly Come Dancing" on SABC2. (He is an internationally esteemed adjudicator, and has worked on judging panels both in the US and the UK). It is not the only reality TV show with Latin and ballroom dancing as a backdrop, so theres got to be a reason for that. And films such as Dirty Dancing, Strictly Ballroom and Dance with Me seem to inspire many to acquire a pair of heels and a dancing partner.
I asked if he finds that the size of his classes swell whenever a new season of a dance show hits the airwaves and it is so, indeed. But these days it seems that people are staying for longer. "People really want to learn to dance," he says.
This is uncontested. I have heard the phrase "I have always wanted to do that" many, many times when the subject of dancing has come up. As one of these people, I investigated the possibilities from time to time. The bigger schools normally give you a free private lesson, and then try and sell you a package equivalent to small countrys GDP. For the paltry sum of R200 per month, you can come to George Lea Park in Sandton once a week and learn to shake your booty in ways you only every dreamed of, under the guidance of experts.
Its obscene amounts of fun, and if have always wanted to dance, there is no reason to put it off any longer. A new beginner class starts in September. Call Dave on 083 250 7069 or on 011 462 2270.
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