Phil Sanders

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Are you looking for a great place to meet people and have a ball? Well then, this interview is for you. Phil Sandars talks about his dance group … and how he believes that if you can walk, you can dance.

What is the history of the Armidale Dance Group?

The Armidale Dance Group was formed three years ago to organise regular Saturday night dances in Armidale. Fortunately, we found good dance floors at the Uniting Church Youth Centre and the O’Connor Gymnasium, which were made available for us, so that together with venues in Guyra and Glen Innes, there is a dance every Saturday somewhere in the district.

Many people work tirelessly behind the scenes to make these events happen, including Ron and Maureen Smith, Bill and Judy Wicks, Len and Norma O’Connell, Hazel and Norm Charles and Graham MacKay, to mention only a few. Proceeds from the dances support various charities, including Can Assist and the Armidale Hospital.

As part of this dance community, and because we love ballroom dancing, when Lennie and Therese O’Riley (ballroom dancing teachers for many years in Armidale) reluctantly retired, we volunteered to continue their legacy.

Describe the type of dance you are currently teaching?

We teach sequence dancing, an activity based on standard ballroom and Latin dances, including Waltz, Quickstep, Foxtrot, Tango, Rumba and Cha Cha Cha. In this style of dancing, everyone dances the same 16 or 32 bar sequence together. As the dance steps are the same for everyone, it is easier to learn.

There are many dances to learn, so no-one gets bored. The music we use comes mainly from CDs made specifically for sequence dancing, using popular tunes.

How many students attend, and do you welcome more students?

We have 90 students across three classes.  Everyone is welcome, from 8 to 80 years old, singles, couples, families, teenagers and particularly male dancers.

You can join at any time, but it is best to start at the beginning of term. We follow the school term timetable, with breaks during school holidays. It costs $30 per person per term – that is about $1.50 per hour.

Where did you and Melanie meet?

Ah! Not on the dance floor! We crossed paths several times in the early years, firstly when Melanie was temporary bookkeeper for a business I worked for, and later when she bought fuel at the old BP service station where I was then working. However, it wasn’t until we each separated from our respective partners that we became good friends. We were married in 1993.

What is your dance history?

I became involved with ballroom dancing at age 17 when I lived at Muswellbrook. My younger brother was learning to dance. He asked me to come along, as they needed more male dancers. He also said there were lots of pretty girls. He was right!

Shortly after that, the teacher noticed how quickly I progressed and invited me to do competition ballroom for her studio in Singleton. From there I was invited to a Newcastle studio. After several years of travelling bi-weekly to Newcastle and to Sydney and Orange for competitions, it became too wearing, so I gave it up. When I met and married Melanie, I hadn’t danced for about 20 years.

What is Melanie’s dance history?

From as far back as she can remember, Melanie has always done some form of dancing. Classical Ballet (going firstly because her older brother was already learning), Square Dancing (with her entire family), Creative Dance (at school in England), Jazz Ballet (in her teenage years) and now New Vogue sequence ballroom dancing with me.

She is currently teaching Classical and Jazz Ballet at the Tutu, Tap and Turn Dance Studio, which she’s been associated with for many years.

What are the benefits of attending dance classes?

Learning New Vogue takes the dancer on an amazing journey, beginning from not knowing your left foot from your right to gliding around the floor to the rhythm of the music. There’s nothing quite like it!

Sequence dancing has much to offer the social dancer. It is a great form of exercise and fun as you master the steps. It is a challenge both mentally and physically as you try to remember dance sequences and step patterns.

In all our classes, every aspect of dancing is explained in detail – footwork, timing, rhythm, names of steps and style. In this way, a greater knowledge of specific dances is acquired, whether it be a smooth Waltz, zippy Quickstep, graceful Foxtrot, passionate Tango or seductive Rumba. Scripts of the dances taught are available for students to take home and practice.

Describe the kinship at your classes?

Because we love dancing, it affects the methods we use in teaching. We foster a relaxed atmosphere, which promotes a feeling of camaraderie as we all learn together.

We believe that if you can walk, you can dance, and it’s not how long the journey takes, but how much fun you had getting there. We are very patient teachers and encourage everyone to learn at their own pace and to their own ability. It gives us immense joy when we see our students doing their best to help others to enjoy dancing too!

Where and when are the classes?

All our classes are held at O’Connor Catholic College Gymnasium in Kirkwood St from 7pm to 9pm. Beginners classes are on Tuesday, Intermediate classes on Wednesday and Advanced are on Thursday. Private lessons are available on the weekends by arrangement.

We can also choreograph wedding dances.

Thank you Phil.

For further information, please contact Phil on 0402 971 798.

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