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Some of Western Australia’s most experienced dance teachers of all styles share their stories of success, failure and overcoming adversity.

 

Todd has been teaching ballroom dancing to kids for thirty years now. He speaks about getting more men to dance, teaching reluctant students, and the Wiggles.


My name’s Todd Annetts. I work for the Humphrey’s Dance Studio, which is a ballroom and Latin dance studio. We also have a very strong schools program in which we teach other styles of dance as well, including things like salsa and merengue and some line dancing and all sorts of different things. But primarily, I’m a ballroom and Latin dance teacher.

Just at the moment the company is dealing with about a hundred schools a year, so our student count is probably somewhere around the 15,000 range. Personally, this year, I’ll go to about thirty-five different schools, reaching from Perth to north of the city up to Quinn’s Beach all the way to Kalgoorlie. I’ve been to Esperance this year, so we’ll essentially go anywhere in the State if a school is interested in our program. I’ve been to small towns like Lenster and Leonora, in the outer Goldfields areas. I have been teaching full-time for the last thirty years.

I actually started dancing in high school when the company I now work for came to my school to offer dance lessons.

A couple of my friends and I went to the dance demonstration class, just to see what it was about. My first course was in 1981 with Pam Humphreys, my now boss, as the teacher, and they came back again in ‘82 and we did another course then. At the end of that second year, I started doing one-on-one private lessons—one of my friends and I shared a lesson together. Unfortunately after about three months she dropped out, but I kept going. When I turned fifteen, back then there was always too many ladies in the classes, so they were after extra men whenever they could get us. They asked if I could help out in some of their adult classes. When the teacher was away one night, they asked me to take the class.

Challenges

I didn’t really struggle with anything too much. Ballroom dancing by its very nature has several avenues that you can follow. You can do it socially, just for fun, you can do examinations, which is what I did, where you present performances for an examiner and they grade you, you can do it competitively, and a lot of young people when they start go into the competitive side of things. But I’m not a particularly competitive person, so I don’t have the drive to do that.

If somebody gets out there and dances better than me, that’s fine, I don’t have a problem with that.

So I pursued the teaching side of things, which is why I started helping in-class at the age of fifteen, I got my first professional degree at the age of seventeen. So that was the only real difficulty I suppose, it’s finding where you want to be under that ballroom dancing umbrella. Because it really is accessible in so many different ways.

Obviously, you have problems along the way, when you don’t do things quite as well as you could have or you occasionally have a personal conflict with somebody you’re trying to teach, which of course can be difficult, because you still need to interact with these people in the dance studio.

If you can’t get it right the first time, that doesn’t mean that you’re not going to get it right. You just persist until you’ve improved, listen to your teachers and your coaches, let their knowledge help you get better. It’s just a thing that with practice, you will overcome.

 

Todd swings his leg forward and his arm up to demonstrate a dance move to Libby.
Todd demonstrates a dance step.

The Changing Ages

It used to be skewed a lot older, but with the advent of things like Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance, and a few of the other dance-related programs, it became a much more socially acceptable thing for that middle-range of sort of like twenty-five to forty-five (year old people to do).

With those dance programs, where you’ve got your footy stars, your cricket stars, your TV stars, all these men getting up there in their mid-twenties and mid-thirties and dancing and saying how much fun it is, and how much harder it was than they thought it was going to be, how much more physical it was than they thought it was going to be.

And I think that gave a lot of men of that era or that age permission to be able to have a go. As I mentioned earlier, when I first started, we would often have three or four ladies per man in class. The ratio was terrible. Now, we have classes where it’s fifty-fifty. We even have some classes where it’s more men than we have women, which when I started thirty years ago, was literally unheard of. It just didn’t happen.

But we’re also seeing a generation of men that grew up with Hi-Five, the Wiggles; men dancing.

Like, the Wiggles, there you had four middle-aged men getting up and dancing. If that doesn’t give everybody permission to have a go, I don’t know what does.

You know, really, it’s changed the way people look at dancing from my generation, where it was very much a girl’s thing to do, to now, where that stigma is very much less. I wouldn’t say it’s completely gone, but it is certainly nowhere near the issue that it used to be.

Achievements

As far as an achievement, I think I would look at something from my work career. When I started teaching in the schools program, we were in round-about seventeen to twenty schools, something like that. And over the last thirty years, I’ve seen that slowly grow and grow to being a hundred schools. And I know I’ve been part of that expansion; as I’ve gone from one school to the next, the teachers have seen the program at their school, and when they transfer to another school, they bring us with them.

And that sort of acceptance of our program, that recognition that the program has value and the way we do it is good, I would think of that as my greatest achievement. I’ve seen a business that started out thirty years ago, basically five times the size now than it was when I first started with it. And I feel like I’ve been part of that transition.

Teaching Kids

Oh look, it’s everything from kids that just flat-out refuse—to children that stand there waiting for you to arrive; they tell you what they’ve been practicing—they made their parents learn the steps as well when they’ve gone home—and there’s everything in-between. I tend to not worry too much about where they start, I try to think more about where we can get them to by the end. Those kids that were very resistant, if we get a smile out of them and they look like they’ve enjoyed themselves, even in once dance, or they’ve had a good time with one of their mates, then that’s an achievement.

The kids that love it already—they’re like sponges. Everything you throw at them they grab, and take, and learn, and they’re great to teach as well. But it’s those ones that are more resistant, if you can get them to sort of go, ‘well, I enjoyed that more than I thought I was going to, I‘m going to miss it now that we’re not doing lessons anymore.’

And that’s the thing, getting kids started young enough, it gives them the opportunity to, maybe, later in their lives go further afield, like, ‘okay, I don’t want to do ballroom dancing, but maybe I want to do Bollywood, or maybe I want to do bellydancing or I want to learn hip-hop or maybe I want to do something else’. And they’ve already got a positive memory. They’ve already gone, ‘yeah, I actually enjoyed that, I look forward to that, so now I’m an adult and I’m looking for something to do, it’s okay that I can try something else’.

Todd, a portly middle-aged man wearing all black, poses with his mature-age student Libby.
Todd with Libby, a student whom he has taught for over five years. Scroll down to watch a video of them dancing.

And as I said earlier, as long as people are dancing, I don’t care what it is. There’s been so many studies done in the last thirty years that link physical co-ordination with cognitive ability. The more physically co-ordinated you are, the better you learn. The endorphins that get released by your body when you dance are always positive, and they did a study—now this is just a stab in the dark here, because they did it a while ago—probably about fifteen years ago, where they proved that whenever you dance your body gets an endorphin rush. Even if it’s been a bad lesson or you’ve had a stinking great argument with your partner or things haven’t gone the way you want on the inside, your body is getting all the good stuff. So it’s good for you, even if you don’t know it.

Continuing His Journey

I’m actually working with a very, very dear friend of mine that I’ve known for twenty-odd years. She’s getting married in a couple of months, and she and her partner are having bridal dance lessons at the moment. So that’s really, really nice, to be able to help somebody that I know from a different walk of life and prepare them for something that’s coming up which is a very special day for them. So yeah, I’m really looking forward to that, and that’s something that’s maybe a little bit different.

You know, one day you’ll go to a school and might be doing junior primary, the next day you’ll be in a high school dealing with year tens and elevens, the next day you might be teaching in the studio, so I’m dealing with retirees, elderly people and it’s the variety from day to day, it’s the clientele that keeps it interesting.

Todd and Libby pause momentarily in their tango, arms slanted upwards and hands joined.

Why do I dance? That’s a very good question. For me, it was very much this random thing—I just found it by good luck. And now, all these years later, it’s still such a big part of my life. Something I still enjoy. Something I love to do. Watching somebody go from not being able to do something to being able to do it, and that sense of accomplishment and that look of pride that they get in themselves to go ‘hey, I couldn’t do that before; I can do that now’, and helping people on that journey—that is why I do this. What else would you want from your life?

I didn’t put twenty years of my life in to go ‘yeah, that’s enough of that’ and draw a line over that twenty years of my life.

I imagine, at some time in the future, maybe I won’t feel like that anymore and then maybe I will move away from dancing. But I can’t see it at this point, I really can’t. I can’t imagine doing anything other than what I do now.

It’s just so important that people try things. Because you never know where that thing that’s going to make your life fantastic – you never know where that’s going to come from. And if you don’t expose yourself to different things, you might miss that one thing that could transform your life. Don’t write it off before you’ve tried, because if I didn’t try, I don’t know where I’d be now. So always try.

Copyright © 2019 Todd Annetts
This story has been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story, please contact the Centre for Stories.


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