Dance Savoir Faire Andrew Cuerdan

Personal Story

I was born in Africa; Zimbabwe to be exact.  Life was simple, yet full of adventure and excitement, as you might expect living in Africa.  My father was a British ex-pat, who moved to Africa to join the highly regarded British South African Police Force, where he met my mother.  My mother was a fantastic multi-talented, caring woman who was not afraid of anything and could do just about everything, from building to baking and administration to teaching piano, as well as looking after a family of 4.

As a family we enjoyed a very happy and comfortable life style in Zimbabwe until I was 5 when we had to leave everything behind and move to South Africa to start from scratch.

Although my parents never had much money they were rich in culture and high values, which I have always appreciated.  They both worked very hard to support us and devoted their lives to us kids.  As a result our childhoods were very happy and contented. My early childhood “pre-dancing” was spent, like most South African kids, happily playing in the bush, swimming in rivers, climbing trees, riding bicycles, playing rugby and getting under my brother’s feet!  However my love of music and dance stems from my mother and sister who were both music fanatics.  My mother played the piano beautifully and sang in a Philharmonic choir whilst my sister sang in a band.  Hence I was brought up with all different types of music and musicals, from Mozart to Grease and everything in between.  We used to have wonderful family singing sessions around the piano after dinner.  Not that I can claim to be any good at singing, but I enjoyed joining in.  My life was never without music, whether it was going to sleep whilst listening to mom playing on the piano or being abruptly woken up by my sister blasting ABBA from her record player!  So it was during these years that I found my love of music and dance.

I will never forget the first time I stepped onto a dance floor!  It was my sister’s 21st Birthday party and I was 8.  As a child I was painfully shy and self-conscious and would not talk to anyone.  I was bullied for being fat and shy.  So when it came to dancing, wild horses could not have pulled me onto the dance floor, even though my feet could not stop tapping underneath the table.  But then along came the party animal of the family, my sister, to drag me kicking and screaming on to the dance floor in front of everyone!  Well, she proceeded to give me my first informal dance lesson, which I can remember to this day.  Needless to say, I then proceeded to ask everyone at the party to dance and did not stop until 3am!  A sign of things to come I am sure!!

2 years later, at the age of 10, “Dirty Dancing” hit the screens and like Strictly Come Dancing now, it got thousands of people into dance lessons.  But in South Africa dancing for boys was not really the done thing.  Even though Mr Swayze had made it look so cool and macho!   Anyhow, some boys in my school were brave enough, or forced into, starting Ballroom and Latin American Dancing so I took a deep breath and asked my mother if I could go. I think she almost fainted!

Well, once I had been to my first class and seen the ratio of girls to boys, the decision was quite easy really!  Girls where just starting to become rather interesting, as well as annoying, and as I was being bullied anyway, it could not get any worse.

Since then, I never looked back. My early teen years were probably the hardest time of my childhood, due to the bullying and being a young teenage boy dancing in South Africa.    However, as the years went by and I continued to take part in other sports such as swimming, rugby etc., I made good friends and my love of dancing grew stronger.  I did not care what other people thought.  In my later teens, it proved very useful as my girlfriends used to come and watch my rugby matches on Saturdays and all my team mates soon got jealous that I was getting the girlfriends and they weren’t.  My later teenage years were great. Although I was becoming much more serious about my dancing, I still had a great social life of pool parties, braais (barbecues) clubbing, girlfriends etc. I got quite fit as I used to walk to school, play rugby or swim afterwardsl until 5pm and then run to dancing, dance for an hour (or 4) and then walk home. In the final years of school I decided that my dancing was more important to me than rugby and that if I wanted to see my 21st birthday not in a wheelchair, I should give up rugby.

I competed for 7 years in South Africa, dancing both Ballroom and Latin and made the top 12 in the country. My dance teacher used to get friends in England to record the original “Come Dancing” and “UK Championships” from their TV and it was from these tapes that we used to get our choreographical ideas.  Every year we used to look forward with such excitement to a professional couple coming over from England to demonstrate, to judge and to teach us.  It was these overseas couples’ shows that gave me the inspiration to continue my dancing career and finally come to England once I left school.

At the age of 20 I arrived in England on the 26th October 1996 with £500, a travelcard, and a week’s accommodation.  Since then, I suppose I have made a lot of good decisions and some bad ones but overall, I think, I have done OK.  Through my first dance partner I was lucky enough to get work at DSI-LONDON.  They very kindly sponsored my competitive clothing during my 7 years employment with them. However the demands of trying to hold down a full-time responsible job and pursue my dancing career made me decide that it would be fairer on everyone, including myself, if I were to get a part-time job and truly pursue the career of my choice.

I was fortunate to get a job as assistant manager of the famous Semley Dance studios in Norbury, South London, assisting the manager Lydia Ungaretti and owner Mr. Peter Maxwell with the daily operations of running the studio.  This was a fantastic opportunity to be surrounded by many of the world’s best dancers on a daily basis from which I made some great friends and learnt a lot.

My amateur career culminated with reaching 4th place in the English rankings with professional partner Hanna Haarala from Finland. After turning professional in February 2005, and representing Finland, we were extremely lucky to get some fantastic opportunities which included being chosen as two of the professional dancers on the new BBC programme “Strictly Come Dancing”.  I danced with a woman called Jaye Jacobs but sadly we only lasted 2 weeks. However, during the show I got to meet the man who inspired me to start dancing, Mr Patrick Swayze, and this for me was the highlight.

Being a part of Strictly Come Dancing was a great honour and learning curve.  It opened up many wonderful opportunities and experiences that I may never otherwise have experienced.  But most importantly, it has given me an opportunity to turn my passion into my career.

As a professional dancer I am continuously striving to dance better than I did before. My aim is to explore the endless world that is dance and gain as much experience and knowledge as I possibly can, so that I may share and inspire others to pursue the wonderful and challenging life of a dancer.

I am incredibly passionate and driven to be the best I can be, and make the world a better place in the process.  As a result, I love to help and work with those who have the goals and work ethic to make their dreams come true.