By Garth Johnstone
School can be a drag when you’re a youngster, right? The days can be long and not every class fills you with joy.
At Curry’s Post Primary, however, there’s one particular class each Wednesday that all the kids look forward to.
That’s when Phillip Gumede, 67, comes to the school to teach ballroom dancing, his great passion.
Phillip loves to pass on his skills and love for dancing, and to see the children having fun while learning a lifelong skill.
Smiles on faces
When I visited the school on a recent Wednesday, I couldn’t help but notice the smiles on the kids’ faces, who all very politely came to greet me before posing for pictures with great enthusiasm.
And when the dancing starts, Phillip takes charge, gently instructing and leading the children, but also maintaining firm discipline. And the respect the pupils have for him is clear.
The first group, ages six and seven, are still coming to terms with the steps, but a few of the pairs are already showing great potential. The 11 and 12-year-olds are far more confident and dynamic, some of them seeming to glide across the floor, adding the occasional flamboyant accent here and there. The confidence fairly oozes from their young frames.
Phillip’s love affair with ballroom dancing began when he was very young, about six or seven. He and a group of friends used to receive lessons from two professional dancers, who were from the Estcourt area.
“We started a dance club and I really grew up with dancing. I learnt to teach people how to dance in Mpophomeni,” says Phillip.
“My brothers used to take me to the local school hall when I was young. Back then we used the old gramophone and we used to wind it up and dance.” These days he has a fancy music system and speaker that blasts out the Michael Jackson and Elvis songs the children have grown to love.
“Back then the styles we danced were the jive, slow foxtrot and the waltz.”
Today, Phillip is affiliated with Dance Sport SA and teaches his young charges the waltz, quickstep, cha cha and jive. These, he says, open the doors for beginners to enter competitions.
The kids can compete from about the ages of six or seven. “At the moment there are no local competitions, but we are working on it,” he says.
Phillip works at a number of local schools. “Many schools call me, especially in the second term when the kids are preparing for their ball.”
Love for music
I ask him why he does it, what drives his passion to teach dancing.
“I love the music. The whole thing started with the music; that’s why I dance myself. It’s also a great de-stresser.
“I need the children to learn, especially when they are very young. Dance has got great discipline. I teach the boys how to be gentlemen, the girls to be ladies. Then I teach them that they do not dance alone, they dance together, how to interact with each other.
He continues: “The important things I can pass on are respect, discipline. The manners are very important. They must thank their partner when the dance is over. There is a correct way to ask for a dance.
“I think the other aspect is about effective communication. It’s such a good life lesson to pass on. It gives them great confidence.”
Phillip has competed in his age group most of his life, except since 2015, when he took a break. At the end of this year he aims to return to competition, when he plans to participate at the SA Championships in his age group.
All the moves
Watching him take the littlies through their paces it’s clear he’s still very fit and has got all the moves.
As I leave the school after our session, another group of youngsters opens the school gates for me, smiling and waving. I hit the road with the sounds of Jailhouse Rock still ringing in my ears after our dance session, my feet tapping the pedals.
Never mind that I can’t jive to save my life. What a blast!