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The Best of Salsa Classes, Salsa Clubs, Salsa Events
Co-Author with Alex Wilson "Find the Rhythm - The Dancer's Guide to Salsa Music

LONDON SALSA - IN CONVERSATION WITH STRICTLY's KEVIN & KAREN

Strictly Talking With Kevin & Karen

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Photo by
Mike Payne Photography 07734721983, with Salsa Lee (left), Kevin Clifton & Karen Hauer and Cressida Childs.

Strictly Come Dancing is back on BBC One for its 13th series, with Kevin Clifton & Karen Hauer
re-joining the professional line-up to compete for the coveted glitterball trophy. London Salsa Scene's Lee Knights caught up with them at Pontins' Pakefield holiday resort in Suffolk. 

"We really enjoy Strictly," says Kevin. "It's hard work but it's great fun. But when people start getting eliminated, it suddenly becomes a competition when before you were just having a laugh. Then, it gets serious."

Karen agrees. "It's so great to be back on Strictly. You have to give it everything you can. It makes you less selfish as a dancer, it's got to be all about your celebrity and you hope it's going to be enough."

We are talking at Pontins' Stardust ballroom, just before the evening bingo session. I've caught up with them after their rehearsal, watching them fly up and down the length of the ballroom effortlessly, laying out the bare bones of their shows, dressed in their civvies and performing to an empty room. Still, their connection shines out.

The couple first met on Burn the Floor, the launch pad for an array of Strictly careers. When they were put together for the first time, other cast members thought it would never work as their styles were worlds apart, Kevin recalls.

Born into a dancing family in Waltham, Lincolnshire, Kevin was taught by his parents, former World Latin Champions Keith and Judy Clifton. Later, he went on to become four-time British Latin Champion and win a raft of international titles. Karen grew up in Venezuela, dancing in bare feet on the beach to the beat of the drum. Moving to New York when she was 8, she trained at "The Fame School", and became World Mambo Champion in 2008.

Despite their apparent differences, the couple discovered they had a lot in common. "We were both interested in dance as story telling and our connection happened naturally," Kevin says.
 

Million Dollars

The chemistry was there from the start, eventually leading Kevin to propose on stage after a performance of the show in London's West End a couple of years ago. "Luckily she said yes," he says ruefully. The couple got married in July this year.
 
Strictly sets a particular challenge, Kevin explains. "In competitive dance, you perform in a certain way to impress particular people. On stage, you are free to express yourself, you can do what you want to. On Strictly, you have to project, think about the cameras, the atmosphere of the room, direct your energy to the cameras."

Karen continues: "All your energy has to go into your dance partner – they have to look a million dollars. You have show the character of your celebrity and put it into the choreography and the show." To bring out the personality of celebrity partner "Hairy Biker" Dave Myers (2013), Karen accented fun and comedy. In contrast, to get the best from partner Mark Wright (2014), Karen choreographies were "young and cool".

Making his debut on the show in 2013, Kevin and TV presenter Susann Reid scored an near perfect 39/40 with their paso doble, "Los Toreadors". "You have to find out who your celebrity is as a person and capture them in a routine. Susanna is a strong woman, a confident woman; one minute she was training for Strictly, the next interviewing the Prime Minister. She has to be on her game. We talked about those feelings, brought that power into the choreography."

To perform at their best, professional dancers too need to dig deep to find inner resources to overcome nerves and project out to audiences. Karen takes inspiration from powerful female entertainers, like Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, Beyoncé. "These women are not afraid to be themselves, they are fearless performers, they have showmanship and power on stage. There is only one dance I do when I'm not being Judy – and that is the rumba; then, I dance as myself."
 

Emotional Way

Inspiration also comes from sitting on the sofa together watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers on the telly. "We're like an old couple, watching the film and saying they don't dance like that any more," laughs Kevin.

Kevin and Karen have top tips for dancers who want to move to the next level. "Just enjoy it. Most dancers work so hard but the job is not to see the dance as technique. There's no such thing as perfecting a technique – it is how to connect with technique in an emotional way." For Karen, the key is making the technique your own: "Learning techniques is like learning ABC – but you have to create your own words. Something may not be technically right, but it will feel right to you."

Kevin's experience on Strictly has reinforced everything he believed in about dance, he says. "It's about entertainment and story telling, it's not a technical display as in competition. If it was, the public wouldn't be able to connect with it. Strictly is about entertainment."

It gave him a kick, Kevin says, when he got a tweet from a fan saying she had been inspired to dance by watching him and Saturdays' Frankie Bridge perform their "Wicked" routine last year. "This means much more to me than abusive messages saying the show wasn't a proper tango," he confides.
More on Kevin and Karen:
www.kevinandkarendance.com

LONDON SALSA - IN CONVERSATION WITH ARLENE PHILLIPS

 Arlene Philips Body & Sole

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"I've got the worst feet in the world," choreographer and former Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips confides. "My feet got destroyed doing ballet as a child, dancing contemporary in bare feet and forcing my feet into narrow, pointy high heels when I was performing with Hot Gossip."

It was a little surreal meeting Arlene Phillips for the first time and having a girlie chat about the state of her feet. But, as we were at the launch of Carnation Footcare's new product range, it seemed that feet had brought us together, and feet were what we were there to talk about, writes Lee Knights.

"I've been in agony most of my life because of my feet," says Arlene matter-of-factly. According to University College London Hospital (UCLH) consultant podiatrist and leading foot-care specialist Dr Tariq Khan, Arlene is typical of many dancers. "No dancer I've ever seen is happy with their feet. Dancing involves putting the foot in an unnatural position, exposing it to abnormal, prolonged stresses. You see the same pattern of injuries in dancers time and time again, and this holds true across different styles," Dr Khan explains.

This makes the dancer's foot instantly recognisable and, Dr Khan agrees, amounts to what might be dancer's foot syndrome.
Tellingly, men do not suffer in this way - it only affects female dancers. "Dancing isn't a problem of itself - it's what dancers put on their feet that matters. Women want to look elegant when they dance, they want to look sexy - and this means wearing narrow shoes with high heels," says Dr Khan. 

As soon as a dancer puts high heels on, the emphasis changes to the ball of the foot. In this position, the dancer becomes vulnerable to a range of unsightly and potentially painful afflictions, like painful heels and arches brought on by plantar faciitis; bunions on either side of the foot; claw toes; corns and hard skin; traumatic nail syndrome (from being stepped on on crowded dance floors); heel spurs and, over time, osteo-arthritis or stiffness in the big toe joints.    

Dr Khan is adamant about the best way dancers can protect their feet - wear dance trainers all the time. Giving proper support, cushioning and shock absorption, trainers are the first choice for most styles, from ballroom and latin, to salsa, ceroc, swing through to line dancing. For high impact styles like zumba, this matters even more, while tap dancers are best off in tap shoes, Dr Khan clarifies. 

For the typical ballroom and Latin or social dancer, the thought of swapping elegant, narrow, strappy, open-toed sandals for sensible shoes is a step too far. "Women want to look good, they want to look sexy when they're dancing and that means wearing high heels. To look after feet, I would recommend no dancer ever wears heels over 1½ inches," Dr Khan rules.

Ten Top Tips for Healthy Feet for Dancers
1. Wear dance trainers as much as possible. Choose dance trainers for practice, classes and rehearsals, swapping to heels only for social dancing or performances     

2. Never wear dance shoes with a heel higher than 1½ inches.

3. When wearing heels, use extra cushioning Carnation Footcare offers a range of foam dressings, padding and gel pads.
 
4 Choose dance shoes that fit snugly. The movement of the dance should correspond exactly to the line of the shoe to avoid friction and pressure. "I've had so many blisters from squeezing into shoes that are too small," says Arlene.

5. Stretch feet before and after dancing. Stand on kitchen paper, use your toes to screw and unscrew the paper repeatedly.

6. Rise up onto the balls of your feet and then lower your heels back down to the floor. It's a great way to boost circulation, perfect if you have been dancing all evening

7. After dancing, treat feet to a 10-minute anti-inflammatory and relaxing soak in salt water

8. Your feet work hard - look after them. Massage will help break down lactic acid, then moisturise.

9. See a podiatrist twice a year. Look after your feet the same way you would see a dentist

10. Know yourself! Flat footed dancers need to take greater care than women with perfectly arched feet.

Buy Carnation Footcare's Pediroller and soothing foot gel, price £9.99, hard skin remover pen, gel cushions and more available at selected Boots stores. More:
www.carnationfotcare.co.uk 

Contact Dr Tariq Khan, Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine, University College London Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust for private appointments on 0203 448 8873; for NHS referrals, contact your GP.

LONDON SALSA WITH STRICTLY'S BRENDAN COLE

Brendan Cole - My Hopes and Fears

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Brendan Cole with London Salsa's Lee Knights.
Picture:
Mike Payne Photography Call:
07734 72 1983

LOOKING FORWARD to the next series of Strictly Come Dancing, professional Brendan Cole told us it was more important to him to be partnered up with a celebrity he got on with rather than an potential winner.
"I won the first series, I've got nothing to prove. You work intensively with your celebrity 4-5 hours a day, 6-7 days a week until you get kicked out. If you and your celebrity don't get on, it can be hell. Yes, hell. So far, I've got a 50:50 record; 50 per cent hell, 50 per cent fantastic rapport."

LONDON SALSA - We Try Out Fitsteps & Talk to its Creators

Fitstepping Out with Strictly's Ian Waite

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London Salsa's Lee Knights on tippy-toes with Olympic gold medal swimmer Mark Foster and Strictly's Ian Waite

Strictly professionals Natalie Lowe, Ian Waite and former celebrity contestant and Olympic champion swimmer Mark Foster think they have come up with a way all of us can join in the Strictly experience, writes Lee Knights

Together Ian, Natalie and Mark head up Fitsteps, a dance fitness system that blends elegant ballroom with the up-tempo pace of Latin styles. Fitsteps is designed to lead dance into the gym and the fitness studio, and are looking for dancers and non-dancers to train as Fitsteps instructors.. 

I got stuck into a full on Fitsteps training day, ending up qualifying as a Fitsteps instructor. Expect to be put through your paces if you want to join their ranks; Fitsteps' Ian Parker and his team don't take prisoners. The training day is fast, furious and fun; starting at 8.30am and finishing at 5.30pm, training moves at the speed of light through a range of dance styles, alongside continuous assessment.

Fitsteps is based on real dances, genuine moves, allied to the latest fitness methods. On the training day, four dance styles were covered - jive, cha cha cha, waltz and quickstep, concentrating on four moves particular to the style. For instance, for waltz, the four core moves were: lunge; box; hover and waft.

From the outset, it's made clear that completing the training is not an automatic ticket to qualification. Dancers are constantly monitored through the day, with assessment culminating in candidates leading a group teaching assignment in one of the style taught.

The Fitsteps training course is exciting and fun and, especially for dancers new to ballroom styles, it's a challenging ride.
Find a Fitstepst class or train as a Fitsteps instructor: call 0845 649 2582; email:
info@fitsteps.co.uk visit: www.fitsteps.co.uk