Interview With Rod McRae- Nothing Can Stop This Man From Dancing

Rod McRae and Melissa “Birdie Bird” Patterson- Hallowe’en Party

How long have you been dancing?

My first reaction is to be a little circumspect regarding my age. However, one look in the mirror decided my answer: 70 years on and off.

Wow! That’s amazing. I hope I get to say taht one day! I say flaunt it, rather than hide it.

You started dancing at an early age in public school, right? How did that come about?

Well, I am from Saskatchewan. And physical exercise in a Saskatchewan winter wasn’t easily done. Plus, the little three-room school I attended did not have any such thing as a gymnasium. So, a few desks were pushed back and our teacher, Miss Broadfoot, began teaching us the basic dances of the time: Foxtrot, Two-step, Polka, Waltz, Schottische, and some Square Dance.

I am so jealous! Maybe I would have actually liked P.E in school if I had had that kind of class and teacher.  

Well, the community where I was in Saskatchewan was so small it didn’t qualify as a town or village, but as a hamlet. And the community dances drew from the farms in the district.

That’s such a great reminder- how the community we are around influences the kinds of cultural and artistic activities we are exposed to.  

I’m curious if there was any stigma around dancing as a boy at that time.

Well, when these dances occurred, mostly during warmer weather, my ability to do a bit of dancing stood me in good stead, as many of the men usually visited together outside having a drink, leaving their wives/daughters/girlfriends in the townhall for me to dance with.

Haha. They had no idea what they were missing. And how perfect for you!

Did you start taking more formal dance classes after that?

After public school, I took no formal lessons until after I was 50.

Really? I would never have guessed. And again, how inspiring that you decided to re- START, rather than END your dancing at 50, which is what most people would think they’d have to do. People assume we don’t have a choice, as if the older you get, the less you are able or should do these types of activities. But here you are proving that all wrong. I LOVE that! I think we all need this reframe.

Did you find it hard to get started with dancing again after so many years?

I had many instructors, all of whom gave me something to add to my dance skills as it were.

When I think of you and your dancing, the first words that come to mind are smooth and classy, no matter what dance it is.

I can’t imagine you going through the awkward, fumbling kind of stages that a lot of us dancers go through. What’s your secret? 😉

I’m not particularly an outgoing type, and I do, and did, go through those stages. It took me months before I felt confident enough to ask salseras from my dance classes to dance, and I’m still cautious about tango.

I do remember once having my mother give me some tips on dancing, how to place my hands, how I should balance myself. I can only assume that stayed with me to some degree.

A lot of my early learning was via watching and analyzing others. TV wasn’t really around until I was almost a teenager. But when it arrived in our home, I taught myself how to do what was then called “jive”, or “hand-jive”, watching TV. 

That’s dedication. I think we take for granted how much easier it is for us to access lessons in dance studios and online now. But you were kind of figuring it out for yourself through observation. Must have been challenging.

I think I was born with a fairly good sense of rhythm which really helped me “see” what was happening on the dance floor. Even today, I spend more time watching than dancing because there is always something to learn to do, or not to do.

I’m not sure where the “smooth” comes from, but I do find myself reminding myself once in a while to – “keep it smooth” when I dance. My partners aren’t there to be jerked around the dance floor, so paying attention to their movement is important. And smooth is better than forcing moves.

I wish all the leads thought like that. It’s so important, not just for the follow’s comfort, but also for the lead’s comfort and the overall enjoyment of the dance for both of them.

Photo by Ron Lach on

I know you dance a few different dances. Do you have a favourite?

I have some understanding of most dances that I call street dances (paso doble being a big exception), as opposed to ballroom dances. I did take some ballroom dance lessons. But I found the stress was placed too much on the positioning of the body or the posing, rather than on letting the feel of the music go to work. As for my favorites, it would be Argentine Tango tied with Salsa.

Interesting. What makes them stand out to you?

Those two dances, especially tango, pretty much allow you to dance to any music genre. Both allow you room for expression. Tango adds another dimension when connection is made. By connection, I mean two people totally dancing as one person, in close embrace.

There is a bit of that in salsa, but you are at a distance usually, not quite so intimately connected as you can be in tango. I know that a lot of music gets to me, and I react to it completely. I’m sure my dancing changes as a result.

That’s great that you really connect to the music, and that you have an awareness of how its effect on you can shape your dancing.

Dance Me Free is about the power of dance to heal. I’m curious about other ways dance has impacted your life physically, emotionally or spiritually.

Dancing can be emotionally exhilarating when you have that “connection”, particularly with tango. There is a physical connection where the movements are meshed perfectly, and there is an emotional connection that can be made at times as well. That occurs when you know your partner is feeling the music the same as you. Hard to describe actually.

But Dance has given me more empathy or awareness in that I pay a lot of attention to what my partners are telling me through their movements and reactions to what I’m asking of them.  I was once told that my objective in dancing is to make my partner look and feel good, and this is a rule I try to follow.

I think you described this really well actually.

That connection is something that dancers really miss during the pandemic time. But you actually attended the Valentango Festival in Portland recently, right?

What was it like during the pandemic?

The Valentango Tango Festival was my first dance festival since Covid 19 began. I did find that for me, the masks detracted from the experience a great deal. I wasn’t able to recognize people easily. Because of that, I missed a few potential repeat dances with new partners I seemed to connect with.

Also, I felt my balance wasn’t what I thought it should be after two years away from dancing in that close embrace. 

Well, to be fair to you and the other dancers, I personally feel that my balance can be off just in WALKING with a mask on let alone dancing with one. I can see how that could be tough. But how great that people still found ways to get past that.

Was the attendance still as diverse as usual?

Valentango is almost an institution now and you can meet people from across North America there, even some from abroad. There are people who travel the world just to attend tango festivals – sort of like a hobby.

But because of the restrictions, or perhaps the economy, the hotel gave no real opportunity for the patrons to fraternize at the bar after a class or an event, as their open hours were few.

This year, the Vancouver area didn’t have as big of a representation there as usual, probably due to the Covid test requirement.

Well, I love how the Covid craziness didn’t stop you from travelling to dance tango. That’s a sign of a die hard dancer.

We in BC are sadly lacking a venue that could provide a similarly successful tango event. Dance festivals are a great way to see what others are doing and also meet people if you want. Always a friendly crowd. So yes, I was happy to go.

I love how you don’t let anything- age, time, a pandemic- stop you from getting back to dancing. It’s a great reminder for all of us to do the same. And another testament to the power of dance to truly enhance our lives!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s