A Step In Time

While athlete Beatrice Faumuina shows her grace in Dancing With the Stars, who is the debonair-looking chap in her arms? RICHARD MAYS finds out.

Former Palmy people pop up all over the place, and that's one good reason why Beatrice Faumuina is a Dancing With the Stars frontrunner. Her dancing partner, teacher, trainer and choreographer is prominent ballroom dancer, Brian Jones. He first put his best foot forward in Palmerston North more than three decades ago.

Now firmly entrenched in Auckland, Jones has enjoyed a distinguished career in dance that started with his first lessons aged 13 under city dance instructor Pat Betley. Actually, for the 46-year-old, dance began quite a bit earlier than that.

“I was someone who always wanted to dance. As a kid, I used to dance around the room, and all the aunts and uncles used to say - you send that boy off to lessons.”

His story has resonances of British dance movie, Billy Elliot. Sister Lorraine, three years older, was a pupil of Betley's, and the dance instructor picked up on the boy’s enthusiasm. When a vacancy came up, Jones was offered the place, and with the blessing of his dad began learning ballroom and Latin American dance.

From dance lessons, it was a quickstep to theatre, and Jones remembers his first production: Sweet Charity at Little Theatre, directed by Bruce Harris. It was this production that began a life-long association with local dancer, teacher and choreographer, Val Bolter, who introduced him to jazz, modern, and ballet.

In the 1977 Palmerston North Operatic (now Abbey Musical Theatre) production of The Boyfriend, he was called to dance the tango with leading lady Alma Ramsey. The following year, Jones was cast as Buggins in Half A Sixpence with Rob Guest in the title role of Arthur Kipps.

“There are bound to be some scary historic photos of these shows with me in them.”

His last local performance was in the 1981 production of Hair in the Opera House. A last-minute defection had choreographer Bolter making an emergency call for the young dancer to learn three routines in two days.

Jones' vocation as a hairdresser called him briefly to Wellington then to Auckland, where he rediscovered ballroom dance, and took it up competitively. In 1984, he and his partner made the finals of the Asia Pacific Champs in Sydney. Turning professional, he partnered Candy Lane now co-host of Dancing With the Stars, and the pair represented New Zealand in the Australian professional ballroom champs.

“I worked alongside Candy for a long time. I taught at her Auckland dance studio, which was one of the biggest in Auckland. She also had a dance troupe, the Candy Lane Dancers, that came and performed in Palmerston North. After she moved to Australia, I opened a studio of my own.”

When the Auckland University of Technology was setting up its dance degree, Jones was sought out to help establish the qualification. He then taught jazz at the school and acted as a consultant. It was at AUT where he first meet Faumuina, albeit briefly, and was only too glad to renew the acquaintance when the Dancing With the Stars opportunity arose.

“She is a great person to work with, and willing to take on any challenge I give her. I just say we're going to rehearse this at such and such a time and she's there and willing to give it a go. We get on very well.”

Dancing with the Stars goes to air live. The pair will have flown to Wellington today for extensive rehearsals tomorrow, ready to give it another twirl tomorrow night.

"It's quite a long process with costumes, make-up and rehearsals, but as the time ticks down towards 8.30 we’ll be waiting in the wings ready and raring to go."

By Richard Mays

(Article published in The Manawatu Evening Standard, 2006)