Entertainment & Arts

Dancing dads get into the groove

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Media captionThe dads join their daughters for a routine to Whitney Houston's I Wanna Dance With Somebody

Anyone who has been to a family wedding will recognise this creature.

Limbs seemingly moving to different rhythms, awkward pointing, self-conscious stepping, uncoordinated clapping, all accompanied by ungainly wiggles and thrusts.

This is the dad, dancing.

Last month, this distinctive style was officially recognised when the phrase "dad dancing" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Its definition: "An awkward, unfashionable, or unrestrained style of dancing to pop music, as characteristically performed by middle-aged or older men."

But it does not have to be this way.

In a new performance titled Dad Dancing, a group of professional contemporary dancers have persuaded their fathers to join them on the dancefloor.

The three dancers, all aged 25, have trained their dads in the basics of contemporary dance, with fathers and daughters performing the new work together.

"At school, if I did anything approaching a dance, then people would laugh," says 52-year-old Adrian Heafford, one of the dads. "I was never the greatest mover."

Image caption David Hemsley and daughter Alexandrina perform together in Dad Dancing

A geologist by day, he admits that his only other previous dancefloor experience was "three or four lessons of LeRoc with my wife" and "the occasional barn dance when I was considerably younger".

Another dad, 54-year-old financial writer and trumpet player Andy Webb, says his movement was previously "of the quality normally associated with the phrase dad dancing", adding: "Also it would have been not just utterly crap, but self-consciously crap as well."

Along with 72-year-old marketing executive David Hemsley, the dads watched with a mixture of pride and good-humoured bafflement as their daughters performed during their training at the prestigious Trinity Laban dance school.

'Unique' style

"And all three of the dads had quite spectacular things to say about the work they'd seen," says Helena Webb. "Bits of advice about how things could be better or how they didn't understand things.

"Slowly, we realised that they've got so many opinions and so much interest in dance that maybe we can get them involved and get them moving."

Rosie Heafford chooses her words carefully when assessing her father's dancing. "He has a unique style," she decides. "Slightly uncoordinated with a fluidity that I'm not able to replicate. But also very beautiful."

The dads and daughters created their new work together - much of it abstract, although in tribute to the wedding disco, it does culminate in a routine choreographed to Whitney Houston's I Wanna Dance With Somebody.

Image caption The dancers are hoping to develop the show for a full tour next year

The next performance takes place at Yorkshire Dance in Leeds on Friday and they are hoping to take the show on a full tour next year. They are also holding workshops and hope to inspire more older men to get moving.

The dads embraced the idea, according to Rosie.

"The first moment I cried in this project was when we asked them to improvise and I watched my dad improvise to music, which is a really vulnerable and exposing thing to do," she says.

"I was aware that he was doing that because I'd asked him to, and that's a real show and a test of a relationship. It was very special."

Rosie's dad Adrian admits the improvisation was "quite frightening". He adds: "They gave us three pieces of music we'd never heard, and then to create something on the spot in front of people is really quite daunting.

"And then on the other hand, there are things which we've gone through to create together. Some of them are really quite personal."

Each father-daughter pair dances a duet together in which they lift, hold and support each other.

"For a lot of people, that would seem very frightening because after you get to about 12 you're not very tactile with your parents," Helena says. "There's no discussion about how embarrassing or awkward or it might be - we're dancing."

During Adrian and David's duets, both deliver narrations about their daughters' difficult pregnancies and births.

"Even now I get quite emotional about it," Adrian says. "We've not yet failed to have somebody in the audience crying about it. It's a very intense piece."

In another sequence, they all step forward to indicate their answers to questions like "how old were you when you left home?" and "how old were you when you first fell in love?"

"My dad fell in love with my mum when he was three," Helena reveals. "They met at primary school.

"So there are all sorts of sweet things that maybe I did know, but I thought were folklore of the family. But, actually, he does believe that he fell in love when he was three."

Using the creative process to explore family stories may have helped bring fathers and daughters closer together, but are some things better left unsaid?

"We thought, how far are we willing to push this?" Helena continues. "Are we willing to ask them about when they lost their virginity? Are we interested in that? Do we want to know whether they've ever taken drugs? Or is that not the point of this?"

Did they ask? "Drugs didn't come up but virginity did," she replies. "It's also a question of whether we're willing to say things about ourselves."

As for the dancing, all agree that the intention was never to turn the dads into a late-blooming generation of professional dancers. But how have the dads done?

"They've certainly developed in performance and they move in their way, which is what I'm most proud of," Rosie says.

"We've not taught them ballet and asked them to do a pas de deux with us. We are getting them to move how they move, and we're moving how we move.

"But we're moving together and I'm really proud of them."

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