Couturing catches up with Nathan Thorneycroft, artistic director of the Melbourne Dance Hub, and Victorian State Salsa Champion, to discuss how enjoyable and rewarding it can be to test physical and mental boundaries within the mirrored confines of the dance studio.
1. Here at Couturing, we’re excited to be dedicating a week entirely to men and to promote men’s health and well-being. Can you give our male-readers a run-down of your 4-Week Salsa Class?
Sure thing, we work on musicality, timing, body movement and dancing solo with a bit more confidence. I thought that if I offered a course in an environment where the guys felt a bit more comfortable and weren’t comparing themselves to the ladies and how they looked dancing, they would feel more confident about asking questions, trying new things and learning at a more tailored pace.
2. Salsa is quite physically intensive. What kinds of exercise to you partake in to sustain you for longer in the dance studio?
(Laughs) There’s actually a little bit of a contradiction in my training. Besides dance training four to five times per week I am getting into Pilates with my partner who is also an instructor to develop more flexibility and core strength. On the other end of the scale I work out in a mixed martial arts gym and train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu which I also have found helps dexterity, strength and conditioning. So I go from the delicate and calm to the extreme and fierce.
3. I’ve known many men who are too terrified to break onto the dance floor. Do you think men are typically less inclined to dancing? Or is it just fear holding them back?
I was one of those guys. There still is the male ego, and some stereotypes involved with men who dance. This does make it harder initially for some men to let go of inhibitions and just be creative. There is a fear of being judged, looking silly and just not being able to do it. I think we all need a good life balance, and whilst dance is physical it also gives us a chance to access the creative parts of our brains, which, unless we are artists or work in a creative field, we typically don’t use as much. It’s a great outlet and if we can move beyond our own insecurities and fears, anyone can dance.
4. In the 4-Week Men’s Salsa course, does the no-female environment help male students come out of their shell?
Yep, the guys felt free to look silly, ask a million questions, have a laugh and learn a lot. There was still the initial, ‘I feel stupid’, but it dissipated when they started to feel the rhythm, move to it and realize no one is really focusing on them. In a class people are there to improve their own skills and learn something themselves. So when guys in the course started to feel like they could try out things that the others were doing, and when they realized that no one was looking at them or judging them because they couldn’t do something, they really start to let loose and dance.
5. Do you find that after 4 weeks you have a class full of Swayze’s on your hands?
(Laughs). I think a lot of women secretly pine after a Johnny from Dirty dancing! Let’s just say these guys are on their way.
6. What are some of the reasons you get for students signing up to the salsa classes? Impressing partners? Or personal well being?
I get, ‘my girlfriend dragged me down’ a bit. Strangely enough when they find they can actually do it they still come back! I also have students who dance to help their confidence, some that want some moves besides the two-step, some use it as an outlet from stressful jobs and some are looking to compete and take part in performances around Australia with us.
Also, I think the male psyche is quite universal in regard to being unsatisfied with failure. Lots of guys, if they can’t do something well they want to work on changing that as quickly as possible, to avoid looking stupid in a public scenario. The dance floor is one of the most public stages you can get, and that may contribute to the reasons behind beginners signing up.
7. You have been performing and teaching Salsa, Bachata, Reggaeton & Hip Hop for over six years. How does your heavy involvement with dance instruct your everyday life, (mentally and physically?).
I found dance by accident and once I started, my own stubbornness and inability to accept how bad I was initially, led me down a path that changed my life! I can put emotions, that a lot of guys don’t talk about or share, into my choreography. I can express whatever I feel in that moment through dance.
8. Do you have a favourite discipline (in dance)?
It’s hard to pick a style I like best. When watching dance, I always admire contemporary dancers; their technique and interpretation. Hip hop crews are always engaging and innovative in their choreography. When I’m dancing, definitely Salsa, or more specifically, Mambo. There are different styles within the Salsa itself. It can be as easy or as technical as you make it. Also, the opportunities that this style offers across the world is huge! You can find a Latin or Salsa club just about anywhere in the world which means you can dance with anyone, anywhere, around the world! The Latin community in Melbourne itself is, while somewhat underground, once you break into it, extremely vast.
9. You were placed 2nd in the 2011 Australian Salsa Classic, Congratulations! What are your goals for the development of your own dancing?
My development is more focused on my coaching and teaching at the moment. I recently sat down with one of our development teams and we are focusing on their goals for the future. I believe that creating a new generation of passionate dancers is essential for the growth of the community and industry.
10. How do you source your choreography and lesson plans? As an instructor, do you find there is still so much more to learn in the world of dance?
I learn every time I step into the studio, watch someone dance or simply through talking to colleagues. Dancers never stop learning, we’re always looking to push the boundaries or entertain with something a little different. I am surrounded by very clever and creative directors at Melbourne Dance Hub who make it easy for that creativity to become infectious. I draw inspiration from various things, the beat in a song, the lyrics in a catchy tune, the students in classes, even from answering these questions! So when are you going to take a dance class?
Very soon Nathan. The expanse, echoic studio is somewhat intimidating, especially when I see my reflection silently mocking me from the mirrored wall, but after talking to Nathan, I can see that pressure of performance is no factor here. There is none of that showy self-importance in him sometimes associated with professional performers. Nathan is as much the passionate teacher as high-level competitor and the environment surrounding him here at Melbourne Dance Hub breeds only healthy optimism. So put a dimmer on that figurative spotlight and… just dance!
Guys, click here to find out more, and register to salsa!