The inspiration for the Hollywood film Take the Lead, says "Dance can really break down barriers."
Raise Your Game: When did you first start dancing?
Pierre Dulaine: I took up dance when I was 14 years-old. I was very shy and timid, and had no confidence at all. I took up dancing and I liked it. Something stirred inside of me.
RYG: How soon did people recognise that you had a wonderful talent?
PD: Nobody recognised my talent. When I first started I was the worst dancer. I couldn't hear the music. I grew up with Arabic music. I'd never heard of European ballroom dancing. It was very elegant.
I said to myself 'I'm going to be a champion one day.' At that stage I wasn't good, but I was determined. If you want something bad enough, you can get it.
RYG: What was it like to be a professional dancer?
23 April 1944
- Americans for the Arts 'Arts in Education' award (2005)
- Dance Magazine award for excellence (1993)
- National Dance Council of America award (1992)
- Dance Educators of America award (1990)
- Winner - British Exhibition Championships (1977, 1978, 1979 and 1982)
- Winner - Duel of the Giants competition (1967 and 1969)
PD: I came to London when I was 20-years-old to take up dancing properly. It was hard. I didn't have any money, but that didn't matter because I was enjoying what I was doing.
Any money I had went on the rent and dance lessons. If I had any money left over we ate (laughs). I danced with a young lady from Cheshire in England, and her mother used to send us food packages.
RYG: What is your favourite dance?
PD: Unfortunately I don't dance for pleasure any more, but I used to like the Paso Doble. I like the Rumba, and the Waltz is a wonderful dance as well.
RYG: What have been the highlights of your dance career?
PD: I won the Duel of the Giants in England in 1967 and 1969. That was a very big success. I became quite well known at a young age in the professional world. I started teaching to earn some money doing what I wanted to do.
I became a Cruise Director and the chance came up for me to come to the United States. I came to New York for a two week holiday and I'm still here 37 years later.
I met my dance partner Yvonne Marceau in New York and we won the Blackpool exhibition section four times. That gave us a very big name. We travelled all over the world doing cabaret.
We came back to New York and started our own dance company, the American Ballroom Theatre Company. We toured the world with it. From there we were given the opportunity to dance on Broadway in a show called Grand Hotel. It was a big success so we were able to dance at the Dominion Theatre in London's West End. That was wonderful.
I got to an age where I wanted to give something back. I volunteered to teach ballroom dancing at a school. I thought 'There are so many troubled youngsters in this city, they need something.' I started volunteering in a school and it has taken off since.
Having the film Take the Lead made about my story was wonderful. I'm blessed that I have things coming up all the time, and I'm just looking forward to the future.
RYG: How hard is it to convince young people that they can dance?
PD: It's much easier now than 14 or 15 years ago when I started this whole programme. Since then there have been TV shows such as Strictly Come Dancing in Great Britain and Dancing with the Stars in the States. It's becoming increasingly accepted.
RYG: How popular is your dance programme?
PD: In the last school year we taught 30,000 children in New York City in 233 schools. We also teach in eight other cities around the country. The twentieth lesson is the culminating event where the parents are invited to watch their children perform what they've been learning. That's really incredible.
RYG: How did Take the Lead first come about?
PD: About seven years ago, CBS television contacted us for a Sunday morning news show. They came and filmed children in one of our schools for a six minute news segment. Diane Nabatoff, one of the producers of Take the Lead, happened to see it on the television. I got a call from her two weeks later and she told me she wanted to make a movie.
RYG: What was it like seeing the film for the very first time?
PD: It was very strange. I saw it with some friends in a plush screening room and I couldn't believe that my story was being told in a film. It made me realise that it really is possible to raise your game. If you work hard you can do whatever you want to do.
RYG: Can anybody learn to dance?
PD: Anyone can learn to dance. You don't have to be a champion to enjoy dancing. It's about having fun in a positive, respectful way with somebody else.
RYG: Is dance a good way to stay in shape?
PD: Dances like the jive and the salsa are a great way to burn calories in a fun way. Dancing regularly also improves your posture. You learn how to move with pride and confidence.
RYG: What can you learn from dance?
PD: Dance can teach you how to move to music. When you put two human beings so close to each other, the good feelings come out. We teach the youngsters how to come together in a respectful way.
We teach the boys how to hold the lady on her back - not like a bunch of bananas, that's not polite. You need to keep your fingers together and put your left hand on the outside of her right hand to protect it. The lady puts her hand on the upper arm, so that you're both dancing on your own balance.
You can move with each other as one, there's leading and following, but no-one is the boss. The most important thing is learning how to treat the people around you in a respectful way. Before I started dancing I was shy and timid. Now, because of dance, I'm a very proud and confident person.
Dance can really break down barriers. It's an opportunity for a black person to dance with a white person, or a Chinese person to dance with a black person or vice versa. Lots of different nationalities dance with each other and use dance as a common ground. It's a wonderful thing.
It's all about taking your life in your own hands and not being afraid to ask and try things.
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