It was an inspiring talk from Australian Dance Champion Ren Lexander to the Pattaya City Expats Club meeting on March 5. PCEC member Ren used his dance experience for his talk on “The Dance of Leadership.” Ren took the audience on a ‘brilliant’ waltz through some of his journey in dance, treating the audience to videos of four of his competition-winning routines.
It started in 1994 with Ren looking at his life and deciding that he wanted to have more joy. He had always loved dance so he went on a search for partner dancing. This search took him through classes at a South American restaurant, a course in Latin and Ballroom dancing and eventually to Ceroc which he described as ‘free-form partner dancing’. It originally evolved in France and back then was called ‘Leroc’ as in ‘le rock’n’roll’.
When he first started doing Ceroc classes, he was still doing Aikido but he asked himself: ‘What do I want to do? Be thrown around the mat by ugly guys or dance with beautiful women?’ So, after completing his black belt in Aikido, he dropped away from the martial art to concentrate on Ceroc dancing, never suspecting social dancing would lead him to teach, choreograph and lead teams to winning national-level championships.
After years of classes and social dancing, in 1998 Ren went to a contemporary dance performance and was spellbound by the track ‘Kashmir’ from the album No Quarter by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. He developed a passionate vision to turn its blend of pumping Led Zeppelin rock and Arabic street music into a Ceroc routine. His opportunity came two years later when a Canberra dancer, Vicki Thompson, moved to Sydney. At the time, routines tended to be ‘happy happy’ so Kashmir was a radical departure. “We psyched ourselves that we’re going to do this routine and people could sit there in stunned silence and at the end go, ‘What the hell was that!? What the hell was that about?!’”
But the audience didn’t sit there in stunned silence. They applauded. Amazingly, despite Ren slipping on the glassy floor, ‘Kashmir’ won the 2000 Ceroc Australia Championships. This was to be the start of a journey of choreography for him which was to make him the most successful ever choreographer in Ceroc competitions in Australia – at least until he moved to Thailand.
His next major routine came about by accident. A dancer came up to him in class and asked him if he would dance with her at her friend’s wedding. “Sure,” he said thinking that Enza Burgio just meant improvised freestyle. Instead she wanted to do a routine. “Okay.” He put on Santana’s “Smooth” to warm up and she said, “I love this song.” So, they started throwing moves together. This ‘accidental routine’ would go on to win the 2001 Australasian Ceroc Championships.
The next year, Ren would again break Ceroc stereotypes by putting together a four-couple teams routine to ‘Crush’ by the pop group Garbage. Again, up until that time team routines in championships had been “happy, happy” routines but Ren and Burgio put together ‘Obsession’, a routine that starts with an orgasm and ends with a murder-suicide.
Despite its radical nature, it came second in the Ceroc Australia championships. The premier judge in the competition tracked him down and phoned him up the next day to say how disappointed she was that they didn’t win the championships. Another judge said, “I gave you the highest marks I’ve ever given for originality but I marked you down for not being Ceroc.” However, after going away and thinking about it, he said, “You know I was wrong to mark you down for not being Ceroc.”
This routine would go on to win the Le Bop Championships in Melbourne, then reflecting its ground-breaking and challenging nature, it placed last in a third competition.
Finally, Ren took the audience through the final Dance Showcase (one couple) routine he did: ‘Jealousy’ to ‘El Tango de Roxanne’ from the film Moulin Rouge. He described it as “the apotheosis of what I feel is possible with partner dancing.” He told of how grown men report getting tears in their eyes while watching and re-watching this routine and at least one male member in the audience confessed to having that same blurry-eyed experience.
Ren completed his PhD in Philosophy at age 26 and is the author of several books. He mentioned that his experience in choreography provided some insights and principles on how to conduct yourself as a leader and to lead teams, which he shared with his audience. Principles like: Powerful people are the people out there doing what they don’t quite know how to do; You never know what might happen when you say “yes”; Leaders step up to the plate; Leaders will do for a team beyond what they would ever do just for themselves; and The primary duty of leaders is to raise up more leaders.
Emphasizing that Ceroc is ultimately just about having fun doing improvised dancing, Ren closed his presentation by asking a woman he didn’t know to come up and dance with him. He singled out a lady who said she had never done any dance. To the tune of Doris Day singing ‘Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps’, he and Arnica danced a charming improvised partner dance.
More than one audience member asked when he was going to teach. “Watch this space.” He said he is also in the market for a 45 kg (or less) athletic (female) dance partner so if that describes you and you have a background in dance or gymnastics, you may want to contact [email protected] You can see some of his routines at www.renlexander.com/ren-lexander/dance or search for Ren Lexander on YouTube.
Upon conclusion of Ren’s presentation, MC Roy Albiston brought everyone up to date on club activities and was followed by the Open Forum, where questions are asked and answered or comments made about Expat living in Pattaya.
For more information about the PCEC, visit their website at www.pcecclub.org.