Rob Shield came to Leeds to study philosophy and started to learn swing dancing as a hobby. He tells Sheena Hastings how it became a career.
IN my first week at Leeds University I tried a taster class in swing dancing and liked it so much that I went back and took to it so well that in my second year I was president of the Swing Dance Society and teaching others.
Also known as Lindy Hop, swing dancing is partnered dancing to swing jazz music that goes back to the 1930s in the US. It’s high-energy, involving throws or ‘air steps’, where the woman is swung around in the air, sometimes even upside down.
People have become more aware of swing dancing or Lindy Hop since it was shown in the later stages of Strictly Come Dancing. There’s nothing at all prim about it, and swing dancing embraces dances such as Jive, Balboa and Charleston, which can be danced both alone or with a partner.
Dance teaching and performance have been my full-time job for the last two-and-a-half years since I started Swing Dance Leeds, and apart from classes and events around Leeds and the rest of Yorkshire like Lindy “Fridays at The Carriageworks, I have danced and provided other dancers for TV, including the upcoming BBC period drama Peaky Blinders.
I have stayed in Leeds because of the great people and the fantastic dance scene.
There are dances in Leeds, Sheffield, Hull and Manchester that many people travel around to, but I live in Holbeck and go back and forth from there. I often buy food from Leeds market because I so love the very friendly experience.
“My first job after university was as a sales rep for an orthopaedic equipment company. It involved learning how to use the tools and items like replacement hips, plates and screws, so that I could show the surgeons how to use them in the operating theatre.
“The best piece of advice I’ve had and one I’ve followed is always to have a plan, even if you don’t accomplish it. It gives you a direction to start out with, and even if you change from that path it gives you a place to begin and stops you from sitting around doing nothing. I got that from my dad.
“My guilty pleasure is computer games, and my favourite is Company of Heroes, an in-depth World War II strategy game which involves a lot of skill if you are to beat your opponent.
You need to be quick and reactive. I don’t spend all night at it – the maximum time I would spend at once is about 45 minutes, but I get a lot of satisfaction out of being good at it.
I suppose my pet hate is people saying ‘I can’t dance, I have two left feet’. It happens maybe when someone comes along under pressure from their partner. I see them as a challenge and want to prove them wrong.
Dancing is about relaxing, giving it a go and having fun. Strictly made it more acceptable for men.
“I can’t live without my wife Tina. She is completely awesome. She’s American and works as a regional manager for a promotional staffing company. But she also teaches and performs with me, and is passionate about theatre and stage management.
“We met through dancing three and a half years ago, when she was here from Seattle doing a masters degree.
She walked into the room and started dancing and a friend said to me: “You’ve got to get her teaching”. We got married in June this year.
“If I could meet anyone, I’d want to meet (again) Frankie Manning, who I was introduced to a few years ago when he was 93. He was one of the original lindy hoppers from Harlem and the original ‘ambassador for Lindy Hop’.
“I met him at a month-long dance camp in Sweden in 2007, and he signed a copy of his autobiography for me.
“Having studied philosophy I guess you’d expect me to have a philosophy on life, and it goes back to having a direction in mind. In my studies I specialised in logic and reasoning, simplifying complex concepts.
“I am very good at breaking down an activity or problem into parts, and use that in a practical sense by explaining in concise, simple terms the techniques involved in dance.
“When it comes to comedy my kind of thing is more the ‘improvised’ style of Eddie Izzard and Bill Bailey, but here are a couple of simple, silly jokes that I quite like: Why did the mushroom go to the party? Because he was a fun guy. Why didn’t the skeleton go to the party? Because he had no body to go with.
“People are sometimes surprised to find out that I am teetotal. It’s not for religious reasons or because of a bad experience in the past.
When I was 12 or 13 and was offered alcohol I just always said no, and when I did try it I didn’t like the taste.
People used to try and force me to drink, but now most people’s reaction is ‘Oh, I wish I could be like that.’ Maybe one day I will enjoy a drink.
“I dance or teach around 20 hours a week and do proper studio training sessions three times a week for at least two hours. But I also love kebabs and other takeaways.
“My childhood was happy. I was born and grew up with my parents and brother Jeff in North Wales. We had lots of great opportunities, including rugby and surfing and many memorable, fun holidays.
“My first love was rugby. Being quite a small guy, people didn’t think I’d be any good but I took big guys down all the time, and in my time played most positions – wing, centre, scrum half, prop and flanker, which was my favourite.”
To find out about swing dance events, classes and to hire dancers for a function go to: www.swingdanceleeds.com