UK Congress 2013

An audience with Donnie Burns & Gaynor Fariwheather

Two of the MBEs in dance

Text by Jack Reavely

Donnie Burns & Gaynor Fairwheather

Donnie Burns & Gaynor Fairwheather

I remember so well, when Donnie was a wee boy dancing in Scotland and his posterior was no bigger than one of my shirt buttons … But boy, could he dance … I’ll say, and there was an ‘aura’ surrounding him, coupled of course to many mischievous moments in time. Our Donnie, in fact, at some of the competitions in Scotland used to disappear, in the company of my own son, and when I eventually managed to find them, they always seemed to be surrounded by admiring girls … and they were Juveniles at that time. Donnie had a self imposed sense of utter discipline within dance, and his quest to be the best of the best was added to by his wonderful inquisitiveness, as he wished to learn and learn and learn. His utter enthusiasm used to burst out as if a strong ray of sunshine, within an overcast sky.

Yes sirree, it is ‘Dolce and Gabbana’ ‘D and G’ … Donnie and Gaynor on stage today and John Kimmins and Greg Smith had the great job of allowing the interview to swing along like a song … and they did so unobtrusively and beautifully … It is nice also for me to be able to thank John for his support towards the BDFI Congress yearly, which is, I can assure him, most appreciated.

Gaynor wears tan shoes which are an exact match to her dress colour and the soles of the shoes are red … showing her passion for dance which has never diminished to this day, and will not in the years to come.

Gaynor tells us that she had around eight partners before Donnie and she was unable to say that she was utterly kind to them during the time they danced … of course she blushed instantly at the time she said this, as undoubtedly she went back in time within her memory as she talked … Donnie said that at first he didn’t think that he needed a partner at all until his teacher, Harry Rollins, told him that he had to, so he did. Donnie was also reminiscing within his mind the times when Harry and his wife, Helen, guided him onwards, and were his mentors every inch of the way within dance. Donnie says that he had four partners prior to Gaynor.

How did they get together? Sammy Stopford had advised Gaynor not to tell the whole truth if that question was asked but she did … She was dancing with Robbie Gray, a young man who had terrific potential as a ballroom exponent in London, but she decided to go back to Manchester and Sammy said “I have a good boy” … it was The Don … Sam then told Don that he had a great girl for him … When he saw her, she instantly impressed him … He was then told he would have to move to Manchester … so it was all down to and thanks to the great Sammy … he will be blushing when he reads this … he doesn’t like people to know that he is really gentle and kind … the secret is out Sam … play it again … The Bob Dale Studio in Manchester … a home of dance … with Bob himself being perhaps one if the best dancers of Old Time I have ever seen and when he danced with Rita Pover it was simply stunning … He was also an expert in Ballroom and Latin, so the Don and Gaynor were under strict supervision. 

The studio was alive to dance … including such personalities and wondrous dancers such as Marcus Hilton with Janet Wild and then subsequently with Karen … Sammy Stopford with Lyn Aspen, then with Shirley and then with Barbara … Gosh he knew how to pick them did Sam … wondrous ladies of Latin indeed that they were … and still are.

Marcus and Donnie were persuaded, at the end of a gun, to join Bob’s Formation Team … you’ll never guess … they lasted two weeks … by design of course … naughty young lads that they were … Perhaps the ladies in the Latin team, sighed, either with relief or disappointment … we will never know and Marcus and Donnie will never tell … They were ‘asked’ to leave … I wouldn’t even speculate as to why … would you? … Donnie and Gaynor found that Bob seemed somewhat depressive and they needed Sammy who was always winding them up, and causing uproarious laughter… so they found that they all balanced each other and became a so happy band of ‘Bobs’ … Bob used to actually encourage our Donnie to get on a bus and go back to the jungle in Scotland, where he came from … The affection for him was tremendous, and to this day so many remember Bob as a friend and mentor.

Off they went to London and to the great Nina Hunt for lessons … According to Donnie and Gaynor she was a vampire, spending from 8am to 10pm daily teaching for fourteen hours … She ate chocolate bars and consumed coffee and she told them they would have to wait for two years before making the finals and then told Donnie that he simply had to get a haircut … perhaps that’s why we never know these days, exactly what style he will be wearing next time we see him … shades of David Beckham eeh? … Nina produced them into much more efficient engines, but somehow the relationship did not produce the finality that Donnie and Gaynor craved beyond all else.

Then they found the famed Espen Salberg and Walter Laird and Michael Stylianos and a transformation was created to Gaynor … even although, at that time, she felt that she was the weak link. Gaynor said that Espen for example, gave her wonderful jingles to assist and Michael Stylianos did the same. Then John Delroy became a great influence on them and they considered him, especially in Paso, to be a genius. Donnie wished fervently to dance a cape number … John said “Okay, let’s do 7.30am on Sunday … I have the capes”. Then he said “That was the good news” … “But I have some bad news” … “I can’t get the studio as it’s booked but don’t worry, we can use the park” … “After all, it is a big space, so you’ll get mega inspiration there” … Off they went and guess what, the capes were the curtains from John’s bedroom and the hooks were still in them … Can you see them in the park? … The birds were swooping around them, probably wondering if three eagles had landed in their space.

Then the tale re the ultra famed Bobby Short’s trips overseas … an entire book could easily be written regarding these … Bobby’s fervour for dance was never diminished throughout his entire life … Switzerland included a Ballroom competition during a week of competitions there … Quickstep music filled the ears and The Don and Gaynor were flashing round, and they were delightedly sur-prised to hear their number being called out vociferously, by almost the entire crowd … They beamed with sheer pleasure and added even more what they fondly imagined was charisma to their performance of the dance. The crowd went even wilder … yelling their names and number … They thought they had cracked it and were in dance heaven … The music stopped, and they decided to take a bow … Horror of horrors … there had been a large plant with cactus style leaves, attached to the back of Gaynor’s dress, for the whole dance and the crowd were thrilled at the somewhat unusual spectacle and that is why they yelled for more … the bubble in their minds burst … wouldn’t yours too? … They had thought that they had perfected split beat tipple chasses in their Quickstep so wondrously that the crowd were really appreciative … so they had given them more and more input .. Walter Laird … in a lesson on a tiny floor … first time … “So, what do you want from me”, said the great man … They produced a list which contained many aspects that they wished Wally to consider and sort out for them … “Let’s forget all that” said Wally … “I’ll just teach you to dance”. Wally adored Gaynor and he was very much into leading … he said that “You’ll never be a champion until you learn to lead your girl properly … it is vital”.

After their first win Donnie and Gaynor were never beaten again and with fourteen World Champion-ships, eleven Internationals, for example, as well as Blackpool titles galore … gosh.

They retired for two years and decided they would like to come back for the World Professional Championship in South Africa, but when they danced a routine they felt awful and they thought it was a much bigger task than they had imagined … They were men-tally whirring … So they phoned Espen Salberg, and he flew instantly from Italy to see them … They explained that their plan was horrendous in the routines usage, so he asked to see it all … After contemplation Espen then said “If you can hold that, go … if you cannot then don’t go” … They went and won and the rest is History.

Clips of them dancing were shown of course, and there was one from Blackpool of Gaynor dancing with David Adamson in the Ballroom event and then Donnie and Gaynor dancing in Denmark full dances, and showing much talent in that idiom too …

Prestigious awards galore … including the very special MBE’s which utterly delighted them … The Queen told them “Mama loves to dance the Reel”. When they were practising at the Semley the telephone rang … June McReady said that there was a call for them … Donnie answered and it was a girl with a cockney accent … “This is 10 Downing Street” … She asked why they had not replied to a letter re receiving MBE’s … Donnie thought it was Ron Gunn joking with him … and replied “I never answer important letters from 10 Downing Street” … The lady asked him to call back … he did … and it was No. 10 … He almost died.

The legend will continue, through Donnie and Gaynor’s presence and their coaching abilities … It has been a privilege and a happy one indeed to be able to attend and to report upon a small part of their lives in dance.

The Lectures:

Klaus Kongsdal

Klaus Kongsdal

Klaus says that partnering is very personal and different for every couple as they are indivi-dualists and the physical, mental and then emotional levels are so necessary. We must be connected ‘in’ our individual body … It seems to me that this young man of dance has studied the psychology of the mind. Klaus then asked a young man called Sam, who showed a press up position and then lowered and still retained the body position through muscular control and, without losing the balanced body structure. Counter balance was then shown, being the production of forward body weight from each other, by going towards each other, and still not being heavy. As this lecture continued, it became clear that Klaus has attempted to create new pathways to create a con-trolled body weight, backwards or forwards.

A young lady called Irena assisted both Klaus and Sam, perhaps she thought she was in Casablanca and said “Dance It Again Sam” … “Time after Time”. So ‘Santa’ Klaus had so evidently given lovely presents to them.

Lucidity was so evident as Klaus explained rotational speed in Rumba. The silence of the lambs was evident, both in audience interest and also in the silent foot placements being used, to illustrate dance. Silent feet are good feet is an old principle of such merit, and it was portrayed today. It was a sudden release of a whiplash motion … mesmerisingly so.

The development of funda-mental understanding of motion is an ‘absolute’ and it is utterly apparent that Klaus has used his entire life in Latin dance to gain knowledge of ‘How’ to produce dance action which instantly transmitted expertise.

“What do you want to feel?” … “How about mental affinity on and off the floor” … Gosh it is so nice that Klaus is a member of the club of dance fervour. “It’s OK, don’t worry” Klaus tells his lady, but not a word is spoken … It is all through the contact of one hand to her. He is like a violin virtuosa in the music of dance.

Klaus then danced with both Sam and Irena at the same time and it was fascinatingly wondrous. Thank you ‘Santa’ … You have given us the gift of ferocious fervour, coupled to fearless fundamental understanding created by your thought application on many aspects. Klaus concluded by saying “If it is difficult, should I just give up?” … “Of course not, I must ‘acquire'” … He talked today as if he was ‘a choir’ of dance angels … Do you think I enjoyed it all? … I sure did.

Loraine Barry

Loraine Barry

Those who think it is easy to acquire the so many aspects of dance production quickly, soon find out that there are no short cuts and that the production of top level dance is acquired over many years.

Loraine shows how exercises can be used to prepare the body for the production of dance at the highest level of the capability of your individual body. Domen Krapez and Monica Nigro were the fabulous assisters for Loraine.

You must know and under-stand your body, the technique, the balance and the mechanics of motion” … “Join them all up and you can create artistic expression as an ‘individual’” says Loraine and she wishes to see more indivi-dualism, but also maintaining of course, the technical aspects which are vital.

As she continues there is a glow coming from that stage … it is as if we are seeing a rainbow, cascading its colours towards us and ending on stage, as it sur-rounds Loraine with its ambience.

Your feet, yes those at the end of your body to the floor … You must be very aware of them … they should pull or push the floor boards under your feet. If you wish to go sideways then the right foot pushes you to the left and you step to the left and you are moving and using the floor all the time … I hope your eyes are wide open when you read these aspects … just imagine, you are receiving a free lesson from one of the top ladies in the world of dance, who is simply steeped in the production of expertise of move-ment and artistic enhancement too. Loraine tells everyone that the men are lucky because the shape and design of their shoes makes it easier for them to dance than is the case for a lady … The ball of a foot is vital to be used as are also the toes … You should push down into your feet if you wish to rise up and push up to go downwards … Gosh it is as if we are at a high society wedding, and confetti is floating in the air, with each small piece covered with information of how to dance better.

Exercises galore were shown to enable you to develop your understanding and also our capability, to be able to dance better … For example you should warm up the top of your spine before dancing, by turning it and as you do so, it will then be alert and able to assist your dance prowess. You must prepare all of your body joints so that you can dance without stress and strain being evident … We all have two shoulders and you cannot move both of them in one space, so ensure that you shape them and you will lubricate your dances. Practice standing still and allow one shoulder to go back and the other one to go forward this of course is counter rotation, the same as you use naturally when you walk … practice it however, so that it becomes natural when you dance.

Loraine tells everyone that she has studied anatomy … as if it wasn’t utterly apparent as she talks eeh? … Then eyes open wide, ears too and minds glisten with fervour, because Loraine talks about the ladies’ stances …  A lady must produce curve and a beautiful one is what is an essential to create. These days Loraine reckons that so many ladies attempting to obtain a big shape are taking away from the beauty. The lady’s upper spine must support her head she must have active feet and she has to produce a forward frontal plane for her spine.

Sway … ask yourself how much you can do … then once you decide this and you attempt it, you have to realise that there is of course a boundary, and this is the maintenance of balance … absolutely vital.

Loraine continues and at the BIC in Bournemouth today, it as if we are in a cave, illuminated by only one light with low output … Suddenly, a shaft of sunlight illuminates, and we see a sparklingly fizzy golden pile of sovereigns … ten feet deep and fifty feet long … We marvel at the scene … Our eyes gleam as we realise we have found a treasure beyond price … You are first of all in awe, then you would find yourself flying towards the bullion, you would pick some up and allow them to cascade to the floor through your fingers. Then you would laugh uproariously and you would thank the purveyor of such treasures … as I thank Loraine, because she shared a treasure trove with everyone … It was as if we had sipped from a glass of pink champers, allowed its delicacy to flavour our tongues and then to refresh our inner feelings … The Champagne of Dance indeed, fizzing and sizzling, within a beautifully cut crystal glass, whose facets had been cut impeccably by a craftswoman like Loraine …

It was so lovely, that both lecturers today concentrated on facets necessary to dance enhancement, and did not attempt merely to portray self indulgence and gratification, without the impartation of some of the deep knowledge so necessary … I commend them so much and look forward to hearing them again in the future.


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