All the right moves
Dubai, prepare to be taken by storm. It's time to put your dancing shoes on!
C+C Music Factory's American hit single (clue: it's our title) was released in the late 90s, but it might as well be the city's anthem song now. Dubai has been a hotspot for the arts of late - with every form of movement cropping up around town (no, twerking doesn't count) - and dancers of every genre looking to develop some serious talent in the country.
wknd. spoke to a few of these wonderfully rhythmic folks and all of them had the same sentiment to share: there's so much more that can be done in the emirate - and they intend to make it happen. It's time to put your dancing shoes on!
Gunning for No 1
Watching a video of Greta Lorainitye and her partner, Dusan Dragovic, gracefully traverse the ballroom with a spring in their step, she in a fancy gown, he in coattails, it doesn't look like a very difficult dance form. "Ah, but that's the trick," Greta laughs. "The easier it looks, the harder it actually is!" (Rated among the top six ballroom dancing couples in the world - having just finished second in the UK Open Championships this year - we're willing to take her word for it!)
The 23-year-old Lithuanian started dancing when she was six, as a way to listen to music and have fun. But as she went on to win dance contests and started getting offers from professional coaches - at 12 - she got serious about dancing. "I was studying at the time, so I had to balance education and dancing," says Greta, who has a degree in law. "I had to be very precise with my time. I knew my schedules and competition dates in advance so I used to prepare two months in advance for assignments or study on flights. It was either that or I'd fail!"
Her priorities were very different from her peers - but they helped her prevent wasting time on trivial pursuits. "Dance requires discipline and determination. The results are not immediate and, sometimes, even if you do well, you will not win first place. You learn to develop a thick skin and mature both mentally and physically."
Greta and her partner - currently preparing to snag the No 1 title at the World Championships in October - opened the Crystal Dance Center in Jumeirah Lake Towers earlier this month. "I got acquainted with the Middle East ballroom dancing industry recently, when we had a stopover in Dubai. We realised the quality offered here is nowhere close to what it could be. Dubai is all about being the best... we're looking forward to deliver it here."
Step up and socialise
James Castro first started salsa dancing 15 years back when he was brand new to the city and yearning to meet new people. "I couldn't really socialise with my colleagues," he admits. Salsa was his ticket out - and how he met current dance partner, Alex de Smet. It's one of the best things about the dance form, says the 37-year-old, enthusiastically. "There's a very predominant social aspect to it all."
The two are probably some of the most recognisable names associated with salsa in the city today, having started a studio based in Dubai Media City to teach other enthusiasts and even performing together internationally. "In the Middle East, Dubai has one of the strongest salsa scenes," says James. "But it doesn't really compare internationally yet. Dubai's still relatively new but it's going in the right direction. You have a lot of salsa nights out here and people are very active on the salsa scene."
Fancy footwork, stamina and agility are all part of the routine - but no need to be intimidated. You won't need them so much if you're just out for a fun evening. "Those things matter if you're a professional performer," James clarifies. "But one thing Alex and I always emphasise is that anyone can salsa. With many other dance forms, it can take years to get to a certain level. But, with salsa, you can become a pretty decent dancer within a year or two."
There's no real limit to age either, he adds [which is easy to believe if you saw 79-year-old Paddy Jones kill it with a jaw-dropping salsa routine on the Britain's Got Talent stage in April last year]. "I've seen 60- and 80-year-olds dancing to salsa," puts in James. "And the older you get, the more mobile it can keep you going."
From a life lesson point of view too, James feels there is a lot to learn from the dance form. "My posture used to be terrible before I started. My confidence too was average and I wasn't very comfortable in large groups of people. All of that has changed now. This is a dance form that can really raise your confidence levels. And it's great for teaching you to work together with your partner, and connect with whoever he/she is."
Taking a twirl
At the after-school ballet practice that Lara Cadenhouse-Beaty is conducting during a weekday in Jumeirah, there is a lot of chatty laughter that rings out in the hall, as the trained ballerina leads half a dozen pre-adolescent kids through a variety of routines. Dressed in leotards and tights, the girls are the picture of grace and poise. Heads held high and arms positioned just so, they step, leap and pirouette in time to the music, following Lara's instructions that almost sound like a foreign language - but are only ballet terminologies.
The relaxed, friendly atmosphere is something Lara says she consciously strives for to encourage more kids to take up the classical dance form - although it is at complete odds with how things were when she was learning to dance en pointe at The Royal Ballet School in England.
"It was very strict at the school," recalls the 34-year-old, who started learning ballet at the age of three and was accepted into the prestigious school by age eight, where she trained to become a professional ballerina.
"We wouldn't dare to whisper or make eye contact with friends for the entire duration of the class. I was forced to wear a leather belt around my ribs to correct my posture, and if the teacher could get her little finger in there, she'd tighten it some more. It did better my posture, though I'm not sure it was the right way to go about it! I'd certainly never dream of doing that today," she says.
Currently a teacher with UAE-based dance school Turning Pointe, which teaches 2,000 students across four emirates, Lara performed across Europe for 12 years in productions such as Phantom of the Opera and Cats, prior to moving to Dubai in 2008, and is now looking to pass on her passion to the youngsters here.
"There is a lot of demand for children wanting to study ballet in the country - although not on a professional level. Unfortunately, the country hasn't expanded to that stage within the arts as yet." But it's definitely a dance form that you can try, even if you're well past the age of three, she asserts. "One of the greatest dancers of our time, Darcey Bussell, only started at the age of nine. It just goes to show that if your body's got it - it's got it! You even have adult ballet classes available now."
Ballet is a beautiful art form, Lara says. "It gives you self-discipline, poise and coordination, and sets you up physically for the future. When people ask me 'why ballet?', I ask them: 'why not?'"
Rhythm of the feet
If you're a millennial, chances are you've never seen or heard of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, one of Hollywood's most-lovable, nimble-footed, on-screen pairings. Those two made tap dance look like a sweet breeze. For that matter, so did Mumble from Happy Feet (ah, there's one you recognise!). However, Dubai-based school dance coordinator and PE teacher Suzanne Clandon believes tap goes far beyond that stereotype. And to prove her point, she brought critically acclaimed female tap dance band The Syncopated Ladies down to Dubai for a fired-up show of their own last month.
"There are different styles of tap - much of it restricted to lower body rhythm," Suzanne explains. "When it comes to tap dance, you're not just a dancer: you're a musician too; you're making music with your feet. What I love about these ladies is how they fuse their style with hip-hop, afro funk and a lot of 'whole-body movement'. So, it's not just an auditory performance - it's a visual one too."
The 32-year-old Briton started tap dancing when she was four, teaching herself by the age of 15, after her teacher was diagnosed with cancer and couldn't teach anymore. When she moved to Dubai about seven years back, she noted outlets for the dance form were severely limited. "Tap was pretty underrepresented then and it still is. But I believe if any dance form could make it out here and break some boundaries, it could be tap."
For someone who likes to stay fit with "all forms of exercise", that's saying something, but Suzanne insists there's nothing that can make her work up a sweat like tap dance can. "Tap dancing requires a lot of stamina and strength on the lower half of your body. It's very demanding on your legs and joints because you're literally hammering your body on a wooden floor. It's a very cardiovascular workout and requires a lot of core strength."
Last year, Suzanne tapped her way into the International Dance Organisation World Tap Dance Championships in Germany - the first time a UAE dancer competed in the show. "It was the first time that I was ever entering a competition, actually," she says. "But I did it so I could put Dubai on the map for tap dance, which hasn't really been done before. The arts are not as celebrated here as they are in other countries. Students don't really see it as a career path... I'm trying to show them otherwise."
Having recently won a Fulbright scholarship, the dancer will be leaving to New York this summer, with the aim to "study and broaden [her] horizons" - but she says she'll be back. "Dubai has far too much scope for dance to leave and not come back," she assures.
A return to roots
Indian expat Shereen Saif has had a long-standing affair with the classical dance forms that her native country is known for - and her love for them means she can "go on about them for hours". Her enthusiasm for the subject is certainly the first impression that strikes you, as she talks about her journey. The 35-year-old started out with Bharatanatyam at the age of 10, then took a break in college ("because that's the time you want to break away and try new things") and finally, returned to classical dance gradually in her final year - this time "for herself".
Since then, she's been "furiously" pursuing it, studying for the love of the art, more than anything else. "As a child, you take up the study of these dances for the applause - but classical dance has an underlying spiritual nature and temperament to it that you don't really appreciate as a child. You only get the nuances once you get older and realise how transformative it is."
A PR consultant by day, a few years back, Shereen branched out and began studying Mohiniyattam - travelling regularly to Madras or Kerala to train under her guru, Dr Neena Prasad - and Kathak as well. "Other dance forms are usually social dances," she explains. "Just one or more people enjoying music. But in these dances, it's about storytelling and the spiritual theme that runs through them. There's a lot of acting involved and you learn to find beauty in meditative movement."
She believes more people should try their hand at the classical dance forms as opposed to the latest Bollywood moves. "It's true that if you're getting into it, you must prepare to be in it for the long-term. There are no shortcuts if you want to learn Indian classical dance properly. Having said that, it's a form of dance will elevate you. It's not just about entertainment and consuming popular art. You develop a certain grace and understanding of your culture - the music, history, and stories of the past. Most of this generation are global citizens, so there's definite value in going back to our country's traditional dances. It's a great way to connect to your roots."