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Monday, July 30, 2001

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Footloose and fat free!


IT'S A hot, sultry afternoon - the kind which slows down people. But it seems to put a pep into the steps of those who have joined Jeffrey Vardon's The Hot Shoe Dance Company. This is the weekend session of a group learning to do the six-step jive. The crowd is a mix of the young and the not so young. Doing a neat Latino swirl is a mother of two alongside a perfectly turned out model, her perspiring face framed in waterproof make-up. Sneakers, ballet shoes, socks and sometimes just bare feet swing in sync. A wall of mirrors enables the dancers to study their body language. There is some friendly banter but does not disturb the serious practice. The music is inspiring enough to ensure that those present could have danced all day.

The pre-session warm up appears to be a cool exercise. The class itself is 45 minutes of what Vardon calls "aero-dancing" - a combination of aerobics and dancing with Gloria Estefan exhorting "The Rhythm is Gonna Get You" in the background. The half-hour six-step jive session which follows is more structured dancing and the trained artistes move beautifully with the music.

The theme is principally Latino. Hoever, every three-month course covers a particular kind of dance routine. There are six different groups at the moment, learning six different sets of presentation. Each option lasts for some time after which the group moves on to the next routine. It looks a lot like jazz ballet and the personalised improvisation was first popularised by the likes of Shiamak Davar and broadly clubbed under the generic label of "Western dance".

Vardon learnt Russian ballet at the Soviet Cultural Centre for 14 years and moved on to be their lead instructor. He later left to study at the Victorian Dance Company of Melbourne, Australia. He set up The Hot Shoe (named after a Wayne Sleep show by the same name) five years ago, when he turned a full-time dance professional. He prefers not to advertise in order to retain the word-by-mouth publicity to get a genuine audience to understand "the serious nature of his classes".

His students range from jet-setting computer professionals and chartered accountants (who want to feel confident while partying) to kids. "If you have the time, you must learn classical dance which teaches you discipline, dedication and the ability to adapt to any style with agility", he says. Stage performances are held every month and Vardon is opening a new centre in Nungambakkam shortly. The six adult batches presently being taught cover cyclically the one-step and six-step jive, the Cuban rhumba, the Brazilian samba, the passo doble and the cha-cha. Vardon's recently concluded 'New Vogue' version incorporated Oriental elements by fusing tabla music to the tango and proved particularly popular with corporate executives.

Sitara, a student of MOP Vaishnav College, comes all the way from Ambattur for the class because "it is a lot more fun than exercise". For Anita, who has trained in ballet and a "very busy" mother of two, this is a "chance to do something I enjoy very much." Raj, on the other hand, is a doctor working 12-hour shifts at the Ramachandra Medical College. He has completed his arangetram in Bharatanatyam and joined Vardon's class because he wanted to learn something new. "The weekend classes are enough to keep me going through the week. I do just ten minutes of my dance work-out every morning and it keeps me fresh throughout the day." Model Sandhya Prakash finds this an exciting way to get rid of both weight and worries.

The Hot Shoe Dance Company has branches at Kotturpuram, Nungambakkam and Annanagar. Phone: 5550483.

LALITHA SRIDHAR

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