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Bringing ballroom to the hills

Jul 4, 2019 | Features, Performance

Dancing with the stars is a reality for Wendy and Christopher Ward, with that sparkling canopy above their Maleny home each night!  Their passion for dance and music is also their favourite way of sharing creativity with the community. 

by Jacqui Hensel

For Christopher and Wendy Ward, the hills really are alive with the sound of music as they bring their talents to the hinterland. This all-singing, all-dancing duo are finding their groove and ways to give back to the community that has welcomed them so warmly.

Knowing that they wanted more of a country lifestyle once they had finished their professional careers in Brisbane, Christopher Ward and Wendy Merefield-Ward looked to the hinterland to find their paradise. 

In 2003 the journey began by building a cabin for themselves. Christopher and Wendy loved escaping from the city and getting to know Maleny.

“We were enjoying more and more weekends at the cabin, and we finally left Brisbane for good in 2009.  Then we spent a few years establishing our new home and garden,” said Wendy.

Wendy and Chris Ward at home

They then began looking for ways to be more involved and active participants in the community. It wasn’t long before they found the Maleny Singers.

With their long history in the Brisbane-based Ignatians Musical Society, Christopher and Wendy were keen to revive their involvement in musical theatre. 

They now appear regularly with the Maleny Singers including in last year’s production of Iolanthe and this year’s production of the classic Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Gondoliers.

However, when they are not working on the property or rehearsing, Christopher and Wendy are bringing the joy of dance to others. 

They have extended their musical interests to teaching beginner ballroom dancing every Thursday night in the Presbyterian Church Hall, showing their students the basics of the Modern Waltz, Jive, Cha Cha Cha and the Quickstep.

“We began teaching ballroom very informally at the old BDifferent studio. To start with it was just teaching a few friends. It was more of a social outing,” Wendy mused. 

 “It’s also a nice thing to do together as a couple. Although some wives might be dragging their husbands along at the beginning, they usually end up enjoying it,” chuckled Wendy. “Dancing is one of the best things for our bodies and our brains.”

“I was a teacher-librarian before I retired,” continued Wendy, “but it is lovely to be teaching something I really enjoy. It’s very different from classroom teaching.”

“It’s a pleasure to pass on the skill of dancing,” Christopher said. “We like to see people’s confidence grow each week. Students in our class are progressing really well.” 

Christopher was initially drawn to dancing through his on-stage performances in musical theatre – even learning to tap dance for a show. He introduced Wendy to ballroom dancing after they met.

“I started at Orchards Dance Studio in the (Fortitude) Valley in the 1980s and really enjoyed learning new dances and variations as well as the social side, of course. It was so much fun and, happily, Wendy thought so too!

“We just loved it and as we improved and became more experienced, we were asked to go on staff to help instruct new students,”  Christopher explained.

“From there we progressed to ballroom competition, but it was very nerve-wracking. There would be six judges all around the floor watching everything, from your hand gestures to your foot placement,” said Christopher.

“Of course, we watched all the Ginger Rogers, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire movies and loved the dancing in those films,” said Wendy with a smile.

“Neither of us did dance as children and even though we were heavily involved in musical theatre in Brisbane, we always looked forward to going dancing.”

 

Ballroom dance began as an elite, invitation-only, social event in the 17th Century as portrayed in the novels of Austen and Tolstoy. Originally it was named after the enormous halls in which it was held. It was restricted to the upper classes as balls were expensive to host.

The Waltz was originally frowned upon as indecent and not fit for polite society when it was first introduced around the 1850s. It was made popular by Queen Victoria who was a keen ballroom dancer and especially loved the Waltz. 

The Waltz continues its popularity today and has two main forms the Modern Waltz with a ¾ time and the Viennese (Quick) Waltz.

Ballroom dancing became a collection of partnered dances that grew from Waltzes to include the Fox Trot and Quick Step and now also incorporates the Latin suite of Cha Cha Cha, Rumba and Jive. 

With the popularity of the dancing shows recently on our TV screens, it is no wonder that ballroom dancing is having a revival.

Maintaining the all-important practice each week can be tricky, however social dances are held weekly or monthly down on the coast at Woombye, Maroochydore, Kawana and Buderim. 

Anyone interested in Beginner Ballroom Classes can contact The Dance Academy at info@thedanceacademy.com.au

“Everyone is welcome!” smiled Wendy, “From beginners to those with previous dancing experience – anyone can come and dance with us.”

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