David and Irena Brooks are currently recognised as one of Australia’s top Master Ballroom Couples, having now competed and won at the elite level over the past three years. David and Irena have won a number of Open Australian DanceSport Championships, South Pacific Championships and numerous State Championships in both the Open New Vogue and Modern styles.
The dedication they show to their sport is admired by their many friends and fans – not only in and around Coffs Harbour, but throughout Australia. Both David and Irena say, “We dance because we love it, but when we are competing at a major championship like the Aussies, the thought of Coffs Harbour and the people behind us inspires to do our best; they are our strength.”
> You and your wife Irena have both enjoyed strong backgrounds as dancers?
Well really, that statement is only partly true. It is very true for Irena, as in her younger years she was a very successful ballet dancer, having danced with the Australian Ballet Company and also with the London Festival Ballet. She toured the world and included amongst her friends great names in dancing like Sir Robert Helpman and Dame Margot Fonteyn.
As for me, nothing could be further from the truth. I was brought up on football and in particular Rugby Union, having played for many years for St George when we lived in Sydney. My dancing prowess has really only been discovered over the past 13 years that we have been dancing, and that has only come from a lot of very hard work. I have always said, “Old rugby players never die, they just learn how to dance.”
> What is DanceSport?
DanceSport is what used to be referred to as competitive Ballroom Dancing. This glamorous and exciting leisure activity has been renamed to suit its modern image as a demanding sport.
Its characteristics consist of physical strength, agility, co-ordination, stamina, high level of fitness, discipline, teamwork, grace, style and musical interpretation. It is now recognised by the International Olympic Committee as a sport and is expected to eventually be included in the Olympic program. DanceSport provides opportunity for developing athletic discipline of body and mind, as well as artistic creativity through musical interpretation, costume design and choreographic programming.
> You have been dancing together since 1997. What prompted your decision to compete in DanceSport?
Initially our three children (Samuel, Jacob and Emily) were very much involved in dancing. Each week we would take them for lessons and we would both sit there for up to three hours at each session. One day I turned to Irena and said, “If I have to sit here for three hours every week, then we may as well be learning too.”
So we did, and it has sky rocketed since then. It has been fantastic; we had always been looking for something we could do together as a couple, and believe it or not we tried a few different things before dancing – pistol shooting, ten pin bowling, all sorts of things. But it was DanceSport that we fell in love with.
> What was your first competition like?
Our very first competition was the Danceland Titles, which was held at the Lismore Workers Club. Talk about nerve wracking, but at the same time so very exciting.
We are very lucky, as we still have the video of that competition … something that we watch from time to time, just to remind ourselves where we started and how far we have come in this wonderful journey we have travelled together to get where we are today. We have had a number of major set backs during the past 13 years, which should have prevented us from ever achieving success within our sport.
But I suppose that’s the beauty of this sport and being able to do it with your wife and partner. It is through our support of each other and sharing a common goal we have been able to work through the bad times to achieve our place as Australian Champions within our sport.
> What sort of training is involved?
There is lots and lots of training, and that’s to be expected. DanceSport is no different than any other sport; if you want to be good at what you do, then you need to put lots of time into perfecting it.
Training for us generally is three nights a week, for up to 2 hours a session, but this is increased when the major championships come around. To give you an idea, into the lead up to the Australian Championships, we trained five nights out of seven. This would include fitness training, as well as preparing mentally in order for us to be at our best.
Apart from training, we have specialised lessons from some of the best teachers Australia has to offer, including Mr Steven Galdona and Jody Quatmass, who is our permanent teacher based in Queensland.
We have lessons every 6 weeks or so and drive a six-hour round trip to get there and back and have a three hour lesson. The travelling gives us plenty of time to think about what we have achieved in our lessons.
> Tell us about the competitions you’ve been in over recent months.
We have been kept busy for most of the year, but to date we have competed in the Queensland State Championships held at Jupiter’s Casino, placing 1st in New Vogue and 2nd in Modern.
National Capital Dancesport Championships held at the Institute of Sport in Canberra; placed 1st in New Vogue and 1st in Modern.
NSW State Championships held at the NSW State Sport Centre Homebush, placing 1st in New Vogue and 2nd in Modern.
South Pacific DanceSport Championships held at Darling Harbour, Sydney, placing 1st in New Vogue and 3rd in Modern.
The East Coast National DanceSport Championships held at the Sydney Town Hall, where we were placed 1st in New Vogue, Modern and the Ten Dance event.
> You’ve been working towards winning the Australian DanceSport Championships for the third year running. How did it go?
We won! We were named the Australian Masters Open New Vogue Champions for 2010 and also came a very respectable 5th Place in the Open Modern.
It was a very tough event for us this year, as Irena developed a tear in her calf muscle and was in a lot of pain for most of the dancing.
The Championships were held on 10, 11 and 12 of December and saw around 680 couples competing in the various levels and age groups, with couples from all around the world – Russia, China, England and Germany, just to name a few.
To win such an event is not just a matter of walking out onto the floor and dancing once. With so many competitors, there are numerous knock out rounds danced over the day, with 13 judges at a time whittling down the couples until there are just six left; and it is those six who dance off in a final.
On the day, we performed 32 dances to take out Australian Championship for the Masters Open New Vogue, this being the third year in a row – a fantastic achievement, and we are over the moon.
As country competitors, it is always that much tougher to compete at such a high level, as we don’t have the resources available like they do in the cities. We have to travel great distances to compete and just to have lessons. So when we win, it is that much better.
I have to make very special mention of Etienne Lawyers of Sydney. As you can imagine, the monetary cost to us is great and generally keeps us very broke.
If it was not for the support of Steven and Suzanne Brown of Etienne Lawyers, this prestigious title would not have come back to Coffs Harbour.
> What are your plans for 2011?
We have big plans for next year. Apart from working harder than ever, we are planning to tackle the international stage. We have been invited to dance overseas in Asia, with the invitation including all costs while in the respective countries; although, we will still need to raise funds for air fares, new ball gowns for Irena, which are frightfully expensive, and lessons.
The Asian countries have a huge DanceSport following and are always very excited when international competitors come to their respective countries to compete. Our first competitions overseas are likely to be in Korea and the Philippines.
This is very exciting for us and something which will take lot of work, to ensure we perform well and to put Coffs Harbour on the international DanceSport stage. The trip is planned for the later part of 2011.
> Thank you David, and congratulations!