Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Sadly, it doesn’t mean that we’ve decided to swan off to the Costa Del Sol and spend the rest of our time sunbathing at our hillside villa. No. It is with deep sadness that we announce our retirement from competitive dancing….
The ‘early’ bit is pretty relevant, as we could definitely keep going for a few more years yet as Kelly is still in her twenties (you don’t disclose a woman’s age) and I’m only 33. It’s quite typical for high level professional competitors to go on until their late thirties, although there are obviously exceptions to this. I can think of a couple of good examples off the top of my head; Ernie Chatt, with his wife Myra, won the World Amateur Championships and then promptly turned professional – already in his 40’s! At the other end of the scale, Lynn Harman was a Professional World Champion in the late seventies and then retired, still in her early twenties. I guess it’s different for every single person, but eventually the time is right to retire and that time for us, is now. That last bit almost makes me want to break out into a song….
I’m sure you would like to know why?
It’s not as easy as one specific reason or event that has brought about our decision, more a succession of events and developments that have ultimately made the decision for us. So where do I start? To begin with, the biggest reason and often the reason a lot of dancers in our position walk away from it all, is money. Isn’t it always about money? Practising, keeping fit and eating well are 3 of the most important aspects of high level competition in any activity and conveniently pretty much the cheapest elements too. Ballroom dancing however, requires a multitude of other things that aren’t cheap. Kelly’s dresses for example, can be up to £2000 a time and in any competition year, she can easily get through 5 (which I will say is nothing compared to some dancers. One of our friends spent £50000 in just one year on dresses. Bonkers). We’ve been very lucky to get a small sponsorship from Leena Teperi (Kelly’s excellent and eccentric Finnish dressmaker!) which has helped immensely, but once the dresses have been worn a few times they are no longer vogue enough for the next competition and get relegated to the ‘dance wardrobe’ which now has some 10 dresses hanging up, looking for new owners. (Anyone interested? Let us know…)
Next up, the most contentious issue – lessons. An average dance lesson for us costs £100 an hour, and it’s not unheard of for us to be driving around the outskirts of London (most of the ‘top’ coaches live there) from teacher to teacher, paying up to and sometimes over £400 a week, especially before the major events. The more I sit back and think about all that expense, the more I realise it’s been such a waste of money. I can honestly say that I’ve heard little to nothing new in the last 10 years and I can count on one hand the number of lessons that have really meant something and not just been an elaborate and expensive supervised practice. The majority of our development has come in our own practice time, where for no cost at all, we’ve worked things out for ourselves. If only I could have booked ME for a lesson!
You would think that deciding to get your head down and practising really hard, developing your dancing in your own time, would reap the rewards it deserves. However, you would be wrong. The very same people that we and our competitors have lessons with are also those that judge and officiate at all of the competitions held through-out the world. It is quite well known and generally accepted, that the more lessons you have the more successful you’ll be – especially if those more lessons are with different teachers. Let me give you a scenario. Most of the major events have around 300 odd couples in each category, which means that until you get to the last 24 couples (usually the 5th round) there are a lot of couples on the dance floor at any given time. I am now a judge myself and I know how difficult it is to judge correctly when you’ve got so many dancers flying around in front of you at a million miles an hour (that’s another issue – but perhaps for another blog). You have approximately 3 to 4 seconds to make a decision on whether or not to mark a particular couple through – a job that can be made much much easier if you happen to take them for lessons. Not only will you recognise them amongst a crowd of similar looking dancers, but you’ll also know their ability from having potentially taken them for a lesson just a few days before. A much more straightforward job for the judge, and pretty beneficial for the couple! Much better than having to concentrate and assess an unknown dancer or give a mark to someone that you don’t ‘teach’. So, such is the norm for the couples to take on many different coaches and cram in as many lessons as they can.
We have a couple of issues with this, the main one being “Where do they get all the money from??” I’ll give you another example. In January of every year, the UK Open Championships are held in Bournemouth and it is the first ‘Major’ event of the calendar. A competitor of ours from Asia arrived in the country 16 days before the competition and proceeded to have 80, yes, EIGHTY lessons in 16 days. That’s £6000! (Competition lessons with ‘top’ coaches are 45 minutes long – that again, is another topic of discussion!) Despite not winning the competition (I’d expect to win and have an open top bus parade for that amount of expense) they did get a pretty respectable position despite being relatively average dancers. Over the last couple of years they have consistently placed higher than us, irrelevant of the fact that they are nowhere near as good. Money talks you see, and whilst this is quite an extreme example of the money that gets thrown about, I’m sure they aren’t the only ones doing it.
It happens on a smaller scale domestically too, and I know that I’m right when I say that we have consistently spent less time and money having lessons than any of our closest competitors. The writing was on the wall for us at our last National championships, when we made the decision to stop taking lessons simply because of the expense. When we then danced an absolute blinder, much to the admiration of many of our peers, we were hammered and got placed 6th, when we were hoping for a much higher position. There is only so much you can take and we both realised then that we were fighting a losing battle.
I am, and always have been a bit of a fighter. I’m confident that if you put me and all of my British competitors in a ring, I’d be the last one standing. These ‘Rocky’ moments have long been part of my mental training and one that has always spurred me on and ensured that I would never give up! But, I’m just getting tired of fighting against the tide, time and time again, and now think it best to hang up the gloves. I have always firmly believed that style has been of the utmost importance, with quality of movement and musicality being King, but a lot of the successful dancing of today appears to ignore this and replaces quality with speed and musicality with gimmicks. Not necessarily a bad thing used sparingly, but a whole performance based solely on these aspects is not what we have ever, or will ever, try to do. I suppose you could say that I’m just an artist that has been misunderstood… One day they’ll all get it. In more ways than one!
So what now? Well, as you all know the building blocks of the Dizzyfeet Dancing Empire are well underway, and it’s inevitable that this will soon take up a whole host of our time. We never intend to stop dancing, and now that the shackles of the competitive dance circuit have been removed, we can begin to express our dancing and develop it in such a way where we won’t be criticised or judged. We’ve got some big plans for 2013, with a dance show and competition events of our very own so we do still plan to shape the future of dance in our very own, Dizzyfeet way!
Finally, I’d like to say thank you to everyone that has influenced my dance career, be it good or bad! They have made me the person I am today, and it has ultimately led to my wonderful wife, Kelly. We are very lucky to have each other, and in a business where a great deal of partnerships fail and hearts are broken, we are fortunate to still have a very strong and special partnership that will still continue once the dancing has gone. My parents of course have been instrumental in my entire career, and I definitely couldn’t have achieved all that I have, without their unquestioning support and love. Also our sponsors, Ray Rose, have been excellent for the past 4 years and we hope to continue our fantastic relationship with them into the new Dizzyfeet Dancing Empire! And I would like to thank some dance teachers too, although from what I’ve said above you wouldn’t think it! Ray & Audrey Davies who were my first ever teachers, and first got me into competitions. Robert & Linda Bellinger, who got me through my informative dance years (Linda was like a second mum for quite some time!), Frank & Linda Venables for their blatant realism and honesty, Johnathan Crossley & Lyn Marriner for believing in us and finally, Alan & Donna Shingler for almost everything I’ve ever learnt and most importantly, for finding me Kelly!
I think I’m done now…
Read More »