We talked to Darren Hammond and Kylee Brown, the winners of the Under 21 Latin at the Blackpool Dance Festival, the day after their success. They were supposed to continue dancing the Amateur Rising Star Latin after completing two days of qualifying rounds but had to withdraw due to Kylee's injury. Darren and Kylee come from South Africa and dance the Latin style. See their profile page.
In dancing it matters how you can make somebody else feel. It is down to how you can make another human being feel about your performance
Let me congratulate you, well done! Winning Blackpool is a great success so I am sure you are happy. Can you please tell us how and where you started dancing?
[Kylee] I started dancing when I was six. My parents were looking for a gymnastics school in Pretoria and they could not find one. So I actually started with freestyle disco and then carried on into the Latin. I was about ten years old then.
[Darren] My Mum owns a dance school Beverley Hammond Dance School in Pretoria so I basically grew up in the studio. I was dancing since I can remember. I also started with freestyle disco like Kylee. Also, I did some rock'n'roll and hustle and we did all kind of styles first. I started Latin when I was about eight years old and just fell in love with it. And I've been doing it ever since.
How did you meet? How did you decide to dance together?
[Darren] We've known each other for a long time because we always were dancing in the same studio. Couple of Blackpools ago we've just decided that we needed to do it together.
So you had other partners before?
[Darren] Kylee had a Juvenile partner and they danced the Blackpool Junior before. I did two years with another girl. When Kylee turned fourteen or so, we started dancing together.
So why her?
[Darren] (laughing) I definitely thought she was one with the most potential to achieve what we just achieved. It was always a long term goal. Yes, I really wanted to dance with her.
So Kylee, why him?
[Kylee] I always wanted to dance with him. He always had other partners. And I was in a stage when I did not have a partner. I always wanted to dance with Darren and when he asked me I just had to say: yes! No way, I was saying no.
Are you still in school?
[Kylee] Yes... unfortunately. It is a last year so it is good.
[Darren] I finished school in 2009. I currently manage a Roman Pizza restaurant (laughing). I pay my duties!
Dancing is quite expensive. How do you manage financially? Do your partners help?
[Darren] Yes, our parents support us a lot! We try fundraisers before the major competitions. Also, I work as well which pay for it a little bit. We also have small sponsors which help us out. But normally it is just parents. Parents are the main sponsors!
I guess you parents were very happy yesterday when you won the Under21 Latin.
[Kylee] Yes. Very, very happy
[Darren] My Dad was happy to see the money is going into the right place (laughing)
What can you say about your partner? What is his/hers strongest point?
[Kylee] He is very dedicated and motivated. He knows what he wants and he goes for it. I think this is a very good quality.
[Darren] She is super strong. She had this knee injury and then she got sick and then she had school exams. She was under mega amount of stress. And never once she said: oh, I don't feel like dancing today. She never said: leave me alone. She was at practise and pushing through. Even last night, through that pain, she pulled through right to the end.
I understand you had an injury at the early rounds?
[Kylee] It is actually an old injury...
[Darren] But in the quarterfinal she got hurt again.
But I though you withdrew from the Rising Stars because of injury
[Darren] About a month ago she injured herself and while we were doing the Under21 Latin yesterday she got re-injured. So we did dance the Rising Star Thursday and Friday but had to withdraw today. We were planning to dance it but we needed to see how this injury was today. But after last night it was too much.
So even with a injured knee you managed to win the Under21?
[Darren] Yes, exactly!
What annoys you the most in your partner?
[Darren] What annoys me the most? How much tape you have left?? (laughing)
Fortunately it is all digital so you can carry on as long as you want!
[Darren] Nothing to do with the dancing and nothing which cannot be fixed. So this is the most important part. Sometimes she is lazy with dressing and sometimes she doesn't want to practise wearing correct practice gear every day. The hair may be hitting me in the face and sometime a little bit of a bubble gum... small things like that. But nothing else, everything else is great! (laughing)
[Kylee] Sometimes he can be quite hard when he wants something done. He doesn't give leeway. Otherwise, it is all good.
That's not a lot!
[Darren] Come on, don't be shy if you want to say something! We could communicate more, I suppose, with each other.
Are you a couple in private life as well?
What do you do with your free time?
[Darren] We have free time between 1 o'clock in the morning and 7 o'clock in the morning! So we sleep
[Kylee] (laughing) yes!
[Darren] It is all our free time. Not much
So the rest of the time is dancing?
[Darren] Dancing and gym. That's it.
[Kylee] For me, it is school and dancing. Homework as well...
Do you plan to continue school after this year?
[Kylee] I am planning to study something but dancing comes definitely first. So I am not too sure yet what I am going to do.
What are you other interest than dancing?
[Darren] Both of us, because we come from South Africa, are very passionate about wildlife. Any chance we get, a day off sometimes, we try to go into the African savannah. So whenever we can we drive there. We both love wildlife.
[Kylee] No, no!
[Darren] We are both vegetarian. And we do not kill! (laughing)
Do you travel a lot?
[Darren] No, not a lot. About three times a year. We do three international competitions.
[Darren] Normally the Dutch Open in Assen, the Disney in Paris and then Blackpool.
What about South Africa? Do you dance competitions there?
[Darren] There are some competitions around the country but really most of the are in our province so not much traveling.
Have you ever thought of what you would be doing if you could not dance?
[Darren] I would be a game ranger working in a nature reserve. Definitely it is my second passion.
[Kylee] I would be probably working with children. Maybe a pediatrician, something like that.
[Darren] Hmmm... McDonald's or Nandos! This is a treat week after Blackpool.
Hmmm... and this is vegetarian talking...
[Kylee] No, no. We will have veggie-burger!
[Darren] Actually we are both very health conscious. And we eat very healthily.
[Kylee] He eats extremely healthy normally
[Darren] This is like a treat for me. After a major competition or after a certain period of time I allow myself a couple of weeks off when I eat what I say normal people eat. Like McDonald's... or I drink coke and coffee.
Normally you don't drink coke?
[Darren] No caffeine, no sweets, no sugar, no oil, no bread. No alcohol.
[Kylee] For me the same, but except sweets
[Darren] She just eats sweets
I guess no smoking...
[Darren] No smoking, no drink, no drugs!
Being vegetarian, is this the health reasons? Or "my body is my temple" thing?
[Darren] Well, all of these reasons. A bit of research that I've done has shown how important the diet can be. Especially with the other top sports in the world. Many athletes swear by it. They say even 85% of their success comes from the nutrition. So, that's how important it is what you put in your body it is what you get out of it. Also, I would not mind living to 105 years old!
The other sportsmen are not necessarily vegetarian though?
[Darren] Being vegetarian is healthy as well but it is also for the love of animals and not wanting to kill any living creature. Being vegetarian is my philosophy, eating healthily is for the dancing, fitness and longevity of the body.
[Kylee] For me, it is the same thing. Except, I am not as health conscious as he is!
You were talking about your diet... Any strange food you've ever eaten?
[Darren] When I was younger I had mopane once...
[Kylee] It is disgusting
[Darren] It is a traditional South African treat. They squeeze the insides of this worm or a caterpillar and let it dry so it becomes like a chip. I had one of those, before I was a vegetarian. I also had one in tequila as well. That was cool! I tried these things. I was normal before I turned fourteen (laughing)!
Hold on (laughing)! You were drinking tequila before you were fourteen!
[Darren] Yeah! I have a brother and sister who are much older than me. My brother is 12 years older and my sister is 9 years older. So I was always ahead of my time with things which needed to be experimented with! (laughing)
Why did you choose Latin not Ballroom?
[Darren] I don't know. When I was little it was quite a struggle for my Mom to make me do Latin. Because I just did the disco, freestyle and hip-hop. She convinced me when my brother was doing Latin and he had these cool shoes with heels. She bought me a pair of these. And I was like: Ok, I'll dance Latin. It was because I just wanted to copy my brother. The Ballroom never took off. I regret that actually, a bit of Ballroom would have been nice. Apparently I have a bit of potential in Ballroom. Kylee used to do that.
[Kylee] Yes. I danced Ballroom when I was younger.
Perhaps it is time for you to pick it up now? Nothing more to achieve in Under 21 Latin!
[Kylee] We actually are moving into Amateur now.
[Darren] I think we will stick with our Latin! (laughing)
Which dances do you like most?
[Kylee] I quite enjoy the Rumba. The timing and the way you can move...
[Darren] Yeah, actually basic Rumba is my favourite. The competition routine for our Samba is a lot of fun for me.
What about Ballroom styles? Which ones do you like to watch?
[Darren] Here in Blackpool definitely Foxtrot. And the Waltz. The first Waltz of the Professional final is something magical.
[Kylee] I quite like the Tango. The passion in it!
How much of the quality of your dance is talent, how much is your passion or hard work?
[Darren] We are both naturally talented, especially Kylee. She often does something really amazing, just like that. And I ask her: what did you just do? And she says: don't know... So that's just pure talent. But we do work extremely hard. I like to think it is 50-50 really. I like to think we are both naturally talented but we work very, very hard. So there has to be that balance. Hard work will always overtake talent.
Is dancing for you more of a sport or more of an art?
[Darren] Definitely an art. Nothing to do with sport in my opinion.
[Kylee] Sport part maybe the fitness. But it is mostly an art.
[Darren] Purely because of the passion, charisma and everything which goes into it. That's why I think it has nothing to do with sport.
[Kylee] You create an art when dancing
So how do you treat competitions?
[Darren] We come to compare our passion with their passion. Not how fast we are or how slow we are. That's the difference. There is no charisma, no personal flavour in how fast you can run. In dancing it matters how you can make somebody else feel. That's how the judges are, they are also human beings. So what you are doing is making them to have a feeling and they are judging you on that. It is always a personal choice for them. So it is down to how you can make another human being feel about your performance.
How important is technique for you?
[Kylee] Extremely important. The foundations and basic are very important.
[Darren] What I just said about making other people feel about you – this is not possible without grounding. This is what the lectures were all about today. They were about the fundamental basics and that kind of stuff. They are so important; there can be no growth without the foundations.
Did you ever come to the UK Open?
[Darren] We are thinking of doing it next year. It is in January and it is always difficult for South African couples because this is when we take our summer break. We have that break from December to January. So the competition is right then. We don't have time to practise.
And a bit of a weather shock for you!
[Darren] Yeah! But we are thinking of doing it next year.
If you come in January to Bournemouth you can have a break and visit New Forrest. It is a nature reserve, very close nearby. Of course, there are no lions... But it is very pretty if you like nature. South Africa is quite far away and not normally frequented by all the Professionals so where do you get all your knowledge and training from?
[Darren] We have a number of very experienced and good trainers in our country. They developed their own, unique, take on things. That's where we got our unique style from. This is a good thing that we are stuck at the end of the world because we don't look like everybody else. It is important to get all the new information and that's why we come here early and have lessons with Graham Oswick and Goran and Nicola. Klaus Kongsdal comes to South Africa very often so we are exposed to the international training but we try to keep our uniqueness from South Africa as much as possible. So it is an advantage for us.
So how many local teachers have you got?
[Kylee] We have three
[Darren] Each of them takes a look at very different aspect of our dancing. We have one which I had my whole life, Dave Campbell. I've had him since I was seven years old. I had a lesson every Tuesday every week with him. That one is very mechanical. We have Rafick Hussain, the crazy guy sitting here with us. He is about the metaphysical, the feelings, the energy flow and these kind of things. So we have a good balance. My sister is also one of our trainers. She is about fitness.
[Kylee] And the "lady" aspect of things
[Darren] Yes, we have a good balance of things.
Thank you very much for your time.
All photos by Peter Suba