One day early in January when the temperature in Toronto dipped to -30 degrees Celsius and I had trouble thawing out my poor feet, it became evident that my husband Michael and I needed to find somewhere warm to hibernate for a while!! Looking through our photo albums we came across photos from the year we spent in Sydney, Australia fifteen years ago. Fond memories rushed to the surface, plane tickets were purchased and four weeks later we were wending our way "down-under".
You might well have heard people say that Sydney is an incredibly beautiful city; they did not exaggerate. From the spectacular Harbour Bridge towering behind the magnificent Opera House to the rugged Headlands at the entrance to the natural harbour, the place is breathtaking. Then follow the Pacific coast either north or south and every turning reveals another cliff flanked bay with a soft sand beach. To practice those spins, south of the city you could try surfing at Bondi Beach which is one of the most famous surf beaches in the world or waltz your way further down the coast to the more mellow beaches of Bronte or Coogee. On the other hand, there is nothing like a morning shuffle along the northern ocean surf beach of Manly keeping your eyes peeled for rainbow lorikeets, pink galahs, yellow tufted cockatoos or those noisy kookaburras. Add in the colorful tropical flowers and wonderful weather and Sydney is indeed a little bit of heaven.
But, of course, for line dancers heaven would not be complete without a corner in which to kick up their heels! Luckily Sydney has its fair share of those corners!! In fact it has terrific venues. There are numerous attractive sports clubs which house great wooden floors for dancing. They also often have betting facilities and other event halls in the same building and you can sometimes get a meal as well. Non-dancing spouses come along to have a drink, play the slots or shoot some pool. So it can be a family event. The only fly in the ointment is that some of the venues don't have air conditioning and the Sydney summers can get VERY hot! I was therefore most impressed to learn that even those dancers with just ceiling or floor fans to keep the air moving in time to the beat hit the boards all year round true dedication!!
The Greyhound Club was the first impressive venue I visited. The dance hall even has a stage where the centre portion slides out ... I guess for when Shania Twain appears! I was there for a workshop given by Michael Vera Lobos and Noel Bradey who taught dances they had discovered on their recent UK tour. Both dedicated and professional teachers, they were obviously much appreciated by their students who were delighted to have them back after a five week absence. Noel works full-time but fortunately still manages to fit in some classes and write dances while Michael now teaches full-time and is a prolific and talented choreographer known world wide. Michael told me he regularly tries every tactic he can think of to retain his dancers and one interesting approach I noticed was that, during the first four weeks of the teaching of a new dance, he only allowed variations at one side of the dance floor. Subsequently dancers could add their spins and turns whenever and wherever they wanted. It seems that Michael had noticed the frustration of some of his dancers who were intimidated and distracted by variations added by other dancers, particularly when they were trying to learn more advanced dances. This approach seemed to be a successful compromise. Seems like an idea worthy of international fame to me!!
Next on to a lawn bowling club to teach at a class given by well known full-time line dance teacher, Julie Talbot. A bright, outgoing personality, Julie also organizes a wide variety of dance events such as an upcoming Linedance Cruise on Sydney Harbour and for the second year running has been invited to teach a week of workshops in Singapore in September. While I was over she was in the process of coaching a dance team for a competition which was held at a transvestite club called 'The Taxi Club' in the red light district at midnight on a Sunday. Some of her senior line dancers were considering going along to support the team but I hope they still managed to get up for their Monday morning class!!
I also had the pleasure of teaching at a class led by Julie's son, Joshua who is just sixteen. Josh was the youngest ever individual to judge at the major Australian line dance competitions at Tamworth in January. A tall, mature, young man, very light on his feet, Josh is an excellent instructor and I was much impressed with the clarity of his teaching and his poise, as are his students. As well as running two classes a week, Josh has also started running his own monthly dance.
It was now time to travel a little further afield and I headed up to Hornsby to teach at popular instructor Carl Sullivan's class. Tall, long legged, with a wide, welcoming smile, Carl has a preference for country music although he does teach some non-country. Carl teaches full-time and has students who have danced with him for over eight years. He told me that he was looking forward to teaching at an event in the country about six hours from Sydney the following weekend. It seems that these country events are always well attended and often include activities in which the whole family can participate. Carl is also a well known choreographer and has written dances with Rosalie McKay whom I next met. Another full-time teacher, Rosalie regularly wins at Tamworth with her dances written to country music and her dancers are obviously extremely proud of their instructor's prodigious choreography abilities. A softly spoken, calm individual who looks most attractive in her western outfits, I joined Rosalie to teach in a Girl Guides' Hall with a kookaburra looking over our shoulders and the door opening onto beautiful French's Forest. As well as running monthly dances, Rosalie collaborates with other local instructors to run successful collective day workshops.
It was then time to head down the south coast to the Yallah Woolshed in Wollongong to teach at a class run by Denise Reynolds and David Hoyn, a young couple who I had the pleasure of meeting a few years ago when they visited Ontario. The Woolshed looked most unprepossessing from the outside like a disused tin shed but, to my astonishment, inside we were confronted by a massive rustic barn containing an authentic western bar with numerous tables and benches surrounding a huge wooden dance floor. On Saturdays the Woolshed delivers a night of high energy bush dancing, entertainment and lots of good food. I certainly think line dancers could manage "Heel & Toe Polka" or "The Gallopede" so check out www.yahhalwoolshed.com if you're heading that way. Also check out the Wednesday night line dance classes which Denise and David are in the process of building up. Their enthusiasm and good humour definitely rub off on their students who include some talented young dancers. It is worth the trip.
We had yet to discover the countryside so next stop was to teach at Kelvin Dale's class, a couple of hours inland in Austral. Wending our way past fields of cows and horses, we saw that many of the houses we passed had acres of beautiful English style gardens full of roses and perennials. I guess the manure helps!! An enthusiastic instructor with a colourful, lively personality, Kelvin is a primary school teacher who also used to host a country radio programme. He is a great supporter of the talented young dancers and choreographers in his class who include young Paul Snooke who won six titles at the 2003 Tamworth Line Dance Championships. I was also lucky to meet Leonie Smallwood that evening. She won the 2003 Advanced Female Champion Title at Tamworth. Both Paul and Leonie taught their latest dances which was a special treat.
However, there are only so many days in a holiday and our vacation was drawing to a close. My final line dance "down under" experience was attending a 'Social' run by Jenny and John, joining the friendly dancers who had made me feel so welcome at the various classes I attended, on the dance floor. Although they had only just learnt the dance, at the dancers' insistence we danced 'Wings' and I was encouraged to hear that people had enjoyed the other dances I had taught, 'Mustang Sally', 'Country Rhythm' and 'Step to the Rhythm'. At the same time I had the opportunity to say goodbye to Robyn Groot, a wonderful dancer and welcoming, friendly individual whom I met through the Linedancer Chat Line. Robyn helped make my line dance adventures extra special. She also introduced me to Martin Ritchie from the UK who was visiting at the same time and we were able to share our enthusiasm about the city and its line dance action.
Certainly the line dance scene is alive and well in and around Sydney. Gary Talbot and Marcia Ferris have compiled an excellent web site side called Country Goss - www.countrygoss.com.au - which gives information on dances and classes in Sydney and around Australia. You could also have a look at the website of the Line Dance Association of Australia which includes information on the Tamworth Line Dance Championships - www.linedance.org For THE web site for dances written by the talented Australian choreographers check out "Dancin' Down Under" at www.hotkey.net.au/~pilley/
My next visit (which I am already planning!) will most definitely incorporate the Tamworth Line Dance Championships. It's a major event in the lives of nearly all Australian line dancers and what could be more exciting than to be part of an event that, according to the LDAA, 9-12,000 line dancers from all over the country attend! So ... "No Worries Mate" to my Australian dance friends and until we meet again, "G'Day to Y'all"!