Strictly makes dancing look too easy, says Northern Ireland ballroom champion

Angela and John Jeffers in action
Angela and John Jeffers in action

GRAEME COUSINS finds out more about a pair of ballroom dancing champions from Northern Ireland and their dedication to the dancefloor

A Randalstown couple have explained how they balance their work commitments with their passion for ballroom dancing – a pursuit which involves them travelling to England almost every weekend.

Angela and John with some of the trophies

Angela and John with some of the trophies

Angela Jeffers, 51, a technology and design technician at Hazelwood Integrated College, and her husband John, 60, operations trainer at Belfast International Airport, started as casual dancers but in the past few years have stepped up to competition level.

This summer they were the sole representatives from NI to take part in the Dance Promoters Association’s showpiece in Bournemouth where they were crowned Closed UK Champions in the Over 35 Beginners category. They also picked up third place in the Over 35s Novice bracket.

Angela, who is originally from Ashton-under-Lyne near Manchester, said: “We’re both kept very busy with our jobs but we’ve our weekends free to devote to dancing. We fly over to Liverpool on a Friday night for a lesson for two hours, have a competition on the Sunday and then fly home on Monday morning and go straight back into work.”

Along with her husband John who comes from Crumlin, they have picked up an impressive haul of trophies with the prizes they received at the Bournemouth Summer Festival taking pride of place.

Angela and John Jeffers in action

Angela and John Jeffers in action

“We were up against so many good dancers,” said Angela. “We were astounded to finish with a first and a third place.”

She added: “We started dancing lessons just after we got married, so that’s about 11 years ago, but the competitions we’ve been doing for less than three years.

“It never even occurred to us to take lessons before we got married for the first dance. We got married in a very small castle hotel near Edinburgh. We didn’t have a disco anyway, we had a magician instead.”

Asked if the dance competitions the pair took part in looked in any way like Strictly Come Dancing, Angela said: “I always worry that all people see of dancing is Strictly. That’s more like show dancing.

Angela and John Jeffers

Angela and John Jeffers

“Competition dancing is not like Strictly whatsover. Our routines are based on trying to get the footwork correct, the timing, the posture.

“People think they’re going to see us throwing each other around over our heads. What we do is proper dancing.

“For example, to go through the steps of the foxtrot is not difficult, it’s making it look like a foxtrot that is the skill. If someone is dancing and you’re watching them through a window, would you know what dance they are doing? Most times it just looks like they’re walking around the room.”

She added: “In Strictly when you see the smoke on the floor, they’re hiding their feet. The amount of time they spend out of hold, floating about wasting time, that wouldn’t happen in a proper competition.

John and Angela dressed for their appearance in Lost City of Z

John and Angela dressed for their appearance in Lost City of Z

“I think people who watch Strictly will end up having an unrealistic expectation about dancing. They think you can learn to dance in a week. If we all had a professional training us for 10 hours a day maybe we could.

“It takes a lot longer when you’re only doing one lesson a week which is closer to the norm because of time and money. We go three times a week, maybe spend about five or six hours practising, but that’s because we’re in competitions.”

Detailing how they began dancing, Angela said: “It was something that I always wanted to do. We saw this advertisement in a shop in Randalstown for Bob Lindsay’s social dancing class.

“My husband started as a reluctant dancer, he really only did it for me. Although he does enjoy it a lot more now.”

The pair moved on to Clarke’s Dance Studios in Belfast before getting tuition from Paul Taylor, a professional dancer from Liverpool.

Angela said: “I remember being a bag of nerves before our first competition in England. But as we stepped up our lessons our technique, footwork and timing improved. As we did more competitions we started getting a few firsts.

“Sadly there aren’t really any competitions in Northern Ireland so mostly we go to England or down to Ireland.

“You don’t really do it for the prizes, it’s for personal achievement. We’re all in it together. You get quite friendly with the people you’re dancing against. It can be emotionally draining.”

More than being just a hobby that fills their weekends, the couple’s dancing has proved important for John’s health.

Angela said: “John had life saving heart surgery seven years ago. He had an aortic aneurism and calcified aortic valve.

“He had both replaced in a seven hour operation, at the Royal and was back dancing – gently – after four weeks.

“He used the dancing to help rebuild his strength and fitness.”

On October 30, Angela and John will be reunited with their first dance teacher Bob Lindsay for a demonstration in Ballyclare Town Hall.

Through their dancing the couple ended up in the feature film ‘Lost City of Z’ in a ballroom scene.

John has also appeared on television in an episode of Countryfile looking at the hare population at Belfast International Airport where he works.