Rock N Rollers - the best in NZ
Chris and Greg Sammons, residents of Whitianga, are New Zealand champions in Rock N Roll. They have been NZ champions for the last nine consecutive years, and they seem ready to go for more.
Their first beginner lesson was not until 2002 as Chris Simmons explains, “We were in our forties. I was brought up with young parents and they loved music, and they passed that love on to me. It was dance music and I can remember so many of the songs they loved. I had always wanted to dance, but the time just wasn’t right. We had been farming between Whangapoa and Matarangi from 1987. Our two girls went to Te Rerenga and then Mercury Bay Area School. We were busy parents and making a farm. We all left in 2000, as the girls had finished school and were off in their own directions, and we went travelling for a couple of years. It was soon after that we moved to Hamilton in 2002, that I saw an advertisement in the paper about Rock N Roll dance lessons. I persuaded Greg to go with me”. Greg says with a smile, “I liked my wife more than I liked dancing.” (This obviously meant, ‘I did what she wanted.’)
“It took us three lots of beginner lessons to get comfortable with the basic moves and dancing with each other. We went to all three lots of beginner lessons,” says Chris. “When we saw people dancing a move we liked, we would ask, “How do you do that?”
Finally, we became members of the Drifters Rock N Roll Club in Hamilton.
In 2005, three years after we joined, we entered a competition representing our Club. You must belong to an affiliated club to be in an official competition, and you must be assessed to be at a certain level to even enter. There is a national association of judges who do this. When we first entered in 2005, we didn’t even get out of the heats. There were 19 couples competing in our age group section.”
That proved to be a humbling experience for Chris and Greg, but by then, they were hooked.
Chris continues, “For a competition we carefully prepare routines for different songs. We don’t know what the actual song will be for the competition, but we are given a list of possible songs. With those, we prepare routines for fast songs and for slow songs. Once you are out on the floor, the announcement says; ‘Your first song will be….’ And then you are away. There is no time to think about the way you might start.”
How dance couples adapt to different speeds, tempos, and manage different song lengths are all part of the judging criteria. There are six judges at national level competitions. Two are judging timing, two - harmony between the two dancers, and two - variety of movement and routine.
“Our method of preparing has been to practise a lot of songs that have unusual beginnings. We need to choreograph the songs ourselves, and work out the transitions. This takes time and lots of rehearsing, says Chris. “We put our routines together six months out from a competition. Building up the routine and not copying from one routine to another is essential. We must let it build, though we do have signature moves that we use and that we are known for.”
The Senior Nationals are for 18 years and over, and within the Seniors division there are five categories, the Diamond one being for over 60 years. Chris and Greg have won the national Diamond category for three consecutive years and before that, when they were in the Master’s division, 50 and over, the couple won the national championship six years in a row. “You can actually compete against a younger age group, that is, you can dance down, but you cannot dance up a level,” says Greg.
Greg and Chris came back to Whitianga in 2009, as their two daughters had also returned, and they wanted to spend time with their daughters and their grandchildren.
Chris adds, “Our oldest granddaughter has competed in national competitions. We did try and start a club here in Whitianga. Kathleen Conaghan, a local champion of Rock N Roll and Ballroom dancing, organised a set of lessons, but it is difficult when you end up with 15 ladies and two men. Being able to work with mainly couples makes it so much better, and we hope we can encourage more men to come next year when we offer lessons.”
What keeps you in Rock N Roll? “We love it enough to drive to Hamilton very week.
We love the support, the atmosphere. It has given us fitness and health. Dancing is our sport, and it is our socialising, but the main thing is the friendships we have made; it feels like a family.”
Captions: Chris and Greg making one of their dance moves at the recent New Zealand championships.