Dancing Stars Tell Us How They Are Still Following Their Dream
3 October 2010
Julie Tomkins chats to Nicole and Matthew Cutler
JT – How old were you when you both started dancing and where?
NC – I was 12 years old and started dancing in Durban, South Africa.
MC – I started dancing when I was 18, in a local dance school in Southend.
JT – When and where did you start dancing together?
NC – We started dancing together in 1992 in London, UK.
MC – Nicole and I both practised in the same dance studio, Semley Dance Studio. We had just both broken up with our current dance partners and as we both admired each other’s dancing, we decided to have a try-out. As soon as we started dancing together, it just felt right and we knew we would be good together.
JT – What has been your biggest highlight in your career so far?
NC – Winning the Open British for the first time and winning the World Championships in Switzerland in 1999.
MC – As above. Winning the Open British and the World Championships was such an amazing experience; we had both worked so hard to get there. Hearing our names being called out as champions was a moment I will never forget.
JT – What’s your advice for young competitors?
NC – Follow your dream and never give up, even when other people tell you that it’s impossible.
MC – Work hard, find your own style and believe in it. Dancing and being a dancer is, in my opinion, about being new, different and to try to take dancing to the next level. Always try to bring something new to your dancing and performances.
JT – How different is the UK dance scene to South Africa’s?
NC – The weather affects the dancing in South Africa, as when it is mostly warm and sunny, you don’t often feel like going into the studio to practice! There also aren’t many ‘top’ dance teachers around that have been to the UK or travelled the world to keep up with the trends – especially not in Durban – so dancers in South Africa tend to watch a lot of DVDs of competitions, lectures, etc., to learn from them. The distance from South Africa to other areas of the dance world can make it difficult for couples to travel to the major competitions. However, despite these shortfalls, generally what South African dancers lack in technique, experience, etc., we make up for with a lot of hard work and determination plus a tremendous will to be the absolute best at what we do. I think that is just the South African way, as can be seen in most other sports, for example, cricket and rugby.
JT – What are your feelings on the dance scene now?
NC – I think dancing has lost its way a little and has become more an acrobatic sport rather than an artist sport. People seem to put more importance on how something looks rather than having a good understanding of how to dance correctly first. It seems to me that couples want to run before they can walk! I wish I could see more basic steps done well in competitions too. And timing seems to be completely forgotten about these days as everyone just wants to be as fast as they can. It isa shame that basic fundamentals are being lost.
MC – I agree with Nicole. Too much attention seems to be towards speed and power. I am all up for dancing changing with the times but when a couple are fantastic at trick steps and spins but can’t dance a basic samba walk, I find that worrying! Compared to the old days, there are not very many strong characters anymore and everyone looks similar.
JT – How do you think Strictly Come Dancing has affected dancing?
NC – I think, firstly, it has made dancing more popular with the general public. The programme has helped to get rid of the old fashioned perception that many people had of Ballroom dancing and I think it has gained huge respect in the public’s opinion, as they can now see how difficult dancing really is and how dedicated you have to be, to be good at it. Also, the fact that television has now included Ballroom/Latin dancing in other programmes like So You Think You Can Dance has also had a great positive impact on other dance styles’ opinions of our dance style. There is a greater appreciation for our dance style these days than there ever was before. I think generally, people didn’t take Ballroom/Latin as seriously and thought it was something older people did or that it was actually a very easy dance style, which, of course, is entirely untrue! I think people who perform other dance styles are quite surprised that they find it very difficult to dance Ballroom/Latin. The interesting thing is that our dancers generally can learn other dance styles more easily than they can learn ours!
TV Programmes like Strictly Come Dancing and So You Think You Can Dance have encouraged the general public to take up dancing because they see celebrities who cannot dance, but learn to dance in a matter of weeks or months – which is great for our ‘grass roots’ attempts to get Ballroom dancing back in the public domain. We always say “anyone can learn to dance” and finally we have a medium to prove that this is completely possible!
MC – I agree with Nicole in that Strictly has really shown the public the amount of hard work that goes into dancing at a high level, which has brought Latin and Ballroom much more respect. It amazes me every year when I dance with a different celebrity, at their surprise as to how difficult it is. They all thought it would be quite easy. When the public see the celebrities having difficulties and trying to perform the set routine of the week – sometimes badly – I think the public are more willing to try it, give it a go and have some fun with it. However, when the public come for a lesson, they are amazed at how difficult it is, even though they have been watching it on TV for years. You’d think they would know by now! It’s not easy!
JT – Who were your dancing heroes?
NC – I had a South African dancer as my dance hero when I lived in South Africa. Her name was Claudia Leoni and she danced with Bryan Watson for many, many years. My other hero was the amazing Cyd Charisse.
MC – It will have to be Donnie Burns and Gaynor Fairweather. I remember taping the UK Championships from the TV when I was young and literally wearing them out because I would watch them constantly. Donnie and Gaynor always seemed to be one–step ahead, the ‘cool kids’. They started the evolution of so many things, from costume to hip action and connection. This, I feel, paved the way for many amazing dancers since.
JT – Since you retired competitively, what are your new goals and ambitions?
NC – Matthew and I still do a lot of demonstrations all over the UK which we really enjoy, as we still love performing for our fans. We are both also involved in various dance tours which is great fun, hard work but lovely to dance for audiences in a theatre too. As well as this, I still and will always continue to teach couples to dance, be it competitors or beginners. We have opened a dance school in Norbury called Club Semley Dance Academy (together with Julie Tomkins) and we have Beginner classes through to Intermediate and Advanced classes, Medal Tests, kids classes, Salsa and Pole dancing classes there. So it is a new project for us and which we love being part of. Although our competitive career has come to an end, there is always another branch to the tree and this is our new adventure.
MC – I am still very busy with Strictly at the moment so I don’t really have much time to do much else. I don’t feel I have retired as such, as dancing, in some form, takes up most of my day, everyday. I am still in tight trousers and see–through lycra tops with sparkles on! I am not sure how long l can pull that off though!! So no, I haven’t retired. Once this amazing experience of Strictly comes to an end, I want to try to build up the new dance school. That will be a challenge and is definitely one of my goals.