By Andrea Rowe Photos Yanni
Robert Neal reckons the dance floor in the 100-year-old Moorooduc Red Brick Hall is as perfect as it gets.
The Peninsula Line Dancer’s founder has seen his fair share of dance floors and says: “They don’t make them like this anymore, the old-fashioned wooden dance floor that just feels so good under your knees and feet”. Several times a week this historic wooden dance floor welcomes the pivots, steps and heel digs of beginner to experienced line dancers from across the Mornington Peninsula.
They’re heel-toeing as the Peninsula Line Dancers, a social dance class for all abilities, accompanied by great company, fun-loving banter, and endless encouragement by Robert.
Peninsula Line Dancers started with local stalwarts June Hulcombe and Barb Willshire stepping back from 20 years of running full classes with Montana Line Dancers. As an active social dancer in the group, Robert quickly step-kicked into teaching and transformed the club through expanded classes and social events.
A storeman by day at the Sommerville Egg Farm, Robert moves effortlessly between his day job to his dance passion. But while he’s became an accidental dance teacher, he brings an impressive pedigree. Growing up in the Latrobe Valley, Robert was born with dancing shoes on his feet. His started out as a nine-year-old in ballroom dancing, and made it all the way through to the Junior Australian championships before declining a chance to represent Australia in the UK.
It was a sideways shuffle into line dancing 28 years ago that firmly swept him off his feet towards teaching steps, and sharing the tunes, line dancing language and good old-fashioned fun with others. You can tell instantly from their Facebook Page posts with silly jokes, social invites, and messages of care, that the group has a relaxed and welcoming vibe, with six-years-olds and upwards enjoying the atmosphere.
“Line dancing has such a community vibe,” beams Robert. “Everyone looks out for each other, has fun and stays active. No matter what age we are, we’re enjoying the socialising as much as the dancing. We’ve become firm friends and family.”
Robert is joined by partner, Gavin McPherson who manages bookings, COVID marshalling and student information, as well as keeping up with his endless banter during dance steps which has class attendees in stitches. In their slipstream, a hall of energetic dancers of all abilities shuffle and stomp, their laughter and calling accompanying catchy dance tracks and greeting you as you step into the hall.
“So many people think line dancing is all old ladies, hats, boots, and buckles, but it’s not at all. There’s so much diversity in line dancing – we can go from country to jazz to a waltz – that’s why it’s so stimulating. People come through the doors as beginners looking for something new.”
Robert assigns newcomers to the front row to help them follow along more easily, while regulars help them to settle in too. Since COVID lockdown line dancing has proved a perfect antidote for safe exercise, as well as being good company.
“They’re searching to keep fit and keep safe. There’s no bodily contact with line dancing; it’s good for their health and really great for heart and brains too.”
Peninsula Line Dancers have welcomed people living with health challenges who are seeking ways to stay active and engaged.
Research reports that line dancing improves cardiovascular and brain function. In 2003 the Albert Einstein College of Medicine/ National Institute of Aging reported that line dancing with memorised sequences reduced the risk of dementia in participants by 76%.
“Line dancing is a form of steps and combinations; you train your mind to learn new dances and put forms and lines together.”
“I teach a couple of older ladies with MS and Parkinsons. They’re doing so well, and they’re so grateful for this experience. They tell me how dancing is keeping them moving. I’m just so proud to see them here.”
Peninsula Line Dancers is big on building bonds and social connections, while encouraging self-confidence through mastering dance steps.
“Everyone is so pleased to get together and dance again. We’re not restricted with touching, so we enjoy movement while feeling safe. We pick each other up in hard times; there’s a true sense of community and we are all encouraging each other.”
Speaking of support, Robert is somewhat of a line dancing legend, visiting other Victorian clubs and travelling across Australia for line dancing events.
He is a past choreography judge at Tamworth Music Festival line dancing competitions, Australian Line Dancing Championships, and Melbourne’s The Big One. But he’s more interested in telling you about how wonderful everyone else is in the line dancing world.
“We have had workshops involving Crystal Boot award winners Darren Mitchell and Stephen Patterson. Up to 150 people come to the region at a time, they’re staying and spending money here too. I love that line dancing really embraces the community spirit and it has done so since the late 1970’s across Australia.”
Now they are back in action heel-twisting together, Robert familiarises himself with weekly dances from the Line Dancing Association and assigns them to each of his 12 classes to match abilities, sharing set sheets on the Facebook page and regular updates in preparation.
They also host regular social dances while raising funds for charities such as the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday appeal and Moorooduc Community Hall Committee.
And, while Robert loves the Moorooduc dance floor, he’s hosting additional lessons at Cranbourne’s Masonic Hall and new classes for beginners in Tyabb. The community spirit of Peninsula Line Dancers continues to fall into step.
Bookings, Robert: 0439 901 229
Classes are held at Moorooduc Hall: Cnr Bentons & Derril Rd, Moorooduc
Monday 7.00pm – 10.00pm Easy Intermediate – Intermediate
Thursday 6:30pm – 7:30pm: Beginners
7:30pm – 9:30pm: Easy Intermediate – Intermediate
Classes held at Masonic Hall 24 Childers St, Cranbourne:
Tuesday 9.30am – 10.30am: Beginners
10.30am – 12.30am: Easy Intermediate to Intermediate
Thursday 10.00am – 12.00pm: Mixed Easy to Intermediate