Proud to Boogie Woogie.
The first time I danced to “Proud Mary” I was ten years old. It was with my sister in the lounge room of my parents house. Twenty years later, I danced the same routine on stage in the the cast of Burn the Floor and the whole time all I’m thinking is how bloody excited my ten year old self is… ‘I’m doing Proud Mary!’ … she screams. “Ready…this is the best bit!” my sister screams “dunna nah nah!”.
If I’m honest, as a child I was not very interested in committing my life to being a ballroom dancer. I was quite taken by the idea of being an elite athlete and at one point of my childhood, I was being groomed to be a heptathlete. I think my Dad was fairly disappointed when I swapped my childhood hero from an Aboriginal track star to a Russian/American Latin dancer with the last name the same as a top shelf vodka (ok not top shelf but Smirnoff is better than most). I started dancing when my mother opened her own studio in my home town of Ballarat thedancestudioballarat.com.au (shameless plug). As it turns out, I was pretty good at it so it wasn’t long before I fell in love with it. I watched dancing videos endlessly, especially any footage of my dancing. I was banned from saying “Does anyone want to watch me?” and sometimes, I would stay up way too late for a school night, wait until everyone else had gone to bed and then sneakily put the volume on low so no one would whinge about me watching dancing on the only telly in the house. My brother once taped over a whole year of my competitions with the Sunday night movie “Free Willy”… Let’s just say he never did that again. I became obsessed and I worked hard at it because I wanted to be really good, no, I wanted to be the best. It was all I wanted to do, forever. I begged my parents to let me leave school at seventeen, they refused, and I finished my final year of school doing my assignments in the eight minute form assembly we had to attend before classes every morning (Melbourne Uni did not, however, find it amusing when I applied for Engineering/Law just for a LOL). When I was nineteen I suffered my first and only heartbreak. It wasn’t at all of the romantic kind, but the kind of heartbreak where you see no other option, no other remedy and no other love. My love was dancing, and a huge opportunity was given to me and then taken away before I could say Botafogo. I’ve never fully recovered and I spent the next ten years chasing a dream and making bad decisions to justify to myself that this opportunity was taken away from me because I wasn’t quite; skinny enough, wealthy enough (Russian enough!) or just plain good enough. I just coasted along waiting for things to happen or for people to make decisions for me, avoiding all responsibility, because let’s face it, it’s just easier that way isn’t it? Then, when I finally make the choice to move away from my one true love; dancing, I find myself gravitating back to it, like I can’t get away, like it’s not finished with me yet.
By the new year 2014 I’m in Bremerhaven, Germany with Burn the Floor. It was either travel half-way across the world and keep dancing or stay at home with a half eaten bag of Samboy chips (the other half would mostly be found in my un-brushed hair) trying to figure things out. So Ballroom dancing stage show it is.
It’s frightfully bloody freezing in Germany, the inter-web is rubbish and I’ve started speaking in broken English and hand gestures as my new room mate is Italian …and she’s so gorgeous. The amount of choreography I have to learn is overwhelming and on my three week break between rehearsals and my first show, I practice every day with my stand in partner – Milko (Sally Fletcher’s imaginary friend on Home and Away). I remember the first show the same way I remember the first time I drove a car by myself. I knew the choreography, I knew where to be on stage, I knew which Italian not to run into but as soon as you take that first step on to the stage, it evaporates from your brain. The same way you can’t remember which is the break and which is the accelerator the first time you get behind the wheel without your Mum sitting beside you (and she’s beside herself). But some great self made endorphin flows through your body and you get through it, you make it up as your go and no one really cares if you use your indicator or not, just make sure you steer clear of the traffic and don’t crash. Most of the time my brain hurts and my body hurts but I don’t care because that feeling you get in your tummy when you fancy someone has returned, and it’s been so long long since I’ve fancied the Samba (the Jive… not so much).
I’m pretty sure that my sister was gifted the Burn the Floor – 1999 Original Show on video for her birthday one year and she loved that video more than she loved watching Mary Poppins. I too, loved watching it and our absolute favourite number was ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ which we would always get up and dance along with simultaneously. I was always Kym Johnson. I now get to perform that same number and I still pretend I’m Kym Johnson. I still love it and I’m still “Buzzing like a buzzing bee”. But the thing I love most is being able to transport myself back to my childhood when I first fell in love with dancing… not Kym Johnson. For those few minutes while the song plays or while the strings of bugle beads on my Proud Mary dress swing to the chicken head rhythm (dunnah nah nah, dunnah nah nah, dununa da da dun nah nah nah nah). I don’t think about all the things I’ve learnt or all the things I’ve missed out on or that big heartbreak that made me lose my love, I just dance. Sometimes I catch myself backstage or in the wings just as I’m about to go on and I’m almost overwhelmed with emotion because I’m so proud, excited and honoured to be a part of this great company. A company that not only has given me a job and countless British boys with guitars to entertain me, but an outlet to be the dancer I always knew I could be, the dancer that I was afraid to be and the dancer I always should have been.