SUE Jardim began a career in dancing at the age of three. First ballet, then modern and jazz, and by the age of 10 she was wiping the floor with her Latin American dance moves. In her twenties, she was at her peak, raising the tempo with her rhythmic expression and sensual movements. And then… she quit. Fast forward almost two decades, and at 40, this mother of two took the plunge and started all over again. Now the star of an exciting new dance show about to take to the stage, she talks about willpower, workouts and ageing gracefully.
We meet Sue at her gorgeous home in Cotswold Downs, where she is taking time out from rehearsals for Dance2Dance International’s For the Love of Dance 2019, a show that brings together top amateur and professional dancers in a spectacular shakedown of dance styles including Latin, ballroom, hip hop, salsa, ballet and contemporary dance. She’s wearing her favourite summer dress (she dresses for comfort), and is beautiful without any make-up at all. Her feet, among her most distinguished features – are tapered, with a naturally high arch and neatly tucked underneath her tiny frame. But even in clothes, it’s obvious how strong and worked-out her petit body is.
The house is quiet because the kids are at school, and we can tell by the glint in her eye and her modest smile that she’s enjoying her morning coffee as she glances over at the bed where she’s laid out some of her finest outfits to us to wade through. Each one holds a special memory, and she gushes about being a part of Rumba in the Jungle – the biggest dance festival ever held in Africa, and training in the UK with dance champions like Michael Wentink and Beata Onefater.
At 42, and a mom to Sianna (11) and Leáh (6), she certainly has the moves to rival other professional dancers, but there’s something that sets her apart. Marriage and motherhood maybe… a special kind of sacrifice… and breaking barriers to represent a different dancer entirely: an older woman without fear or shame, and with confidence in her abilities.
I am so happy to be dancing again. I wasn’t sure what I missed more: dancing, or the person I was back then I used to dance, but regardless, dancing makes me feel young again, and although older now, I still have the confidence in myself to be a better and more mature dancer.
Sue, who never really planned on giving up dancing, says her decision to give it all up wasn’t an easy one, but trying to manage work, kids and family life with a husband who travelled frequently, made it really difficult to find the time for anything else, and so she was left with no other choice but to sacrifice her passion for the sake of family.
“For years I danced and competed in all areas of the country. After a successful time spent in the UK improving on my Latin American dance training, I returned to South Africa and started working towards becoming a student teacher. By 25, I was working full time at the South African Jockey Academy as their Head of Finance & Support when I met the love of my life, Hugo, who I married three years later. With work commitments and a new baby in the picture, I never got back to dancing properly again. I resigned from my full time job to work for Hugo’s family-owned business which meant I could work from home with flexible hours and put my all into being the best mom I could be. When Sianna was four, I planned on returning to dancing, only to find out I was pregnant again. As excited as I was about having another baby, I felt as if something was missing within me, like my identity had been lost, and I yearned to go back to dancing.”
Sue says what she missed most about dancing was the excitement and fun she had when she danced, as well as the fact that it kept her in such good shape.
It gave me the confidence to be whatever I wanted to be, and the freedom to let myself go. I missed the social aspect of dancing – meeting new people and making new friends; I missed the glitz and glamour of dressing up for shows. But most of all, I just missed being able to dance.
But, as fate would have it, calling it quits on dancing for good just didn’t suit Sue.
“My body changed over time, especially after having children, but I managed to get back into shape shortly after having them. I joined Zumba dance classes at the local gym to keep fit, as this was the closest to what I loved doing. Then suddenly, doors began to open. When she was 10, Sianna said she wanted to try Latin American dancing, so we popped into Dance2Dance International in Kloof, who I was told offered day time classes for kids. As it turned out, the coach, Alain Rijnvis, was someone I used to compete against in dance sport competitions before I stopped dancing. He had continued with his dancing career and eventually opened his own studio with his dance partner and wife, Melloney. I so badly wanted to get back into dancing, so was thrilled when I learned they had a one-hour Open Advanced Latin American dance class at 5pm, which meant I could dance and still get home at a decent hour for my kids, who were now at an age where they were a bit more self-sufficient. Latin American has always been my favourite dance style because of the music, the rhythm and the way it allowed me to disappear into my own world.”
And so, with the loving support of Sue’s mom who helped out with the kids, Sue put her dancing shoes back on and warmed up for her first dance class in 15 years.
“It was daunting, I won’t lie. I wondered if I would be able to keep up with the younger and more energetic dancers. Also, because I joined the class towards the end of the year, I was at a disadvantage having to catch up with the various routines. It took a few months to get back into it again, but after a while it felt like I had never left. I did constantly ask myself whether I should be doing this again at my age, but with support and constant encouragement from Alain, who said we are never too old to dance, I gave it my all, and it just felt right. I felt as though I had a purpose again. I had put so much love and energy into my family and work over the years, that all I wanted was something for me to get lost in. Sure, there was an element of physical pain when I started, but I always persevered as these things were minor in comparison to the happiness it gave me, and I didn’t want to waste a day.”
And a waste it was not. From a 60-minute lesson to a dance class involving all types of lifts and show dance work, followed by some great persuasion, Sue began competing again, with Alain as her dance partner, in the Pro-Am Dance Competitions. A leading member of the cast of For the Love of Dance 2019, Sue says her daily workouts and practices are no easy feat, given that she is the oldest female taking to the stage, but she can’t wait to make her debut in the opening number – a mix of hip hop and modern dancing – alongside her fellow dancers.
“It has taken a lot of willpower and sacrifice, especially for the practice sessions leading up to the show, but my family have been very patient and supportive through it all. And girls, let me tell you, having a good beauty regime helps. I cleanse, tone and moisturise every morning and evening, and I apply a serum application under the moisturiser which helps treat ageing skin. Sun block is also a must. I treat myself once a month to a facial and pedicure at my favourite beauty salon, which keeps my face and skin feeling youthful and beautiful. It’s complete distress therapy and a real treat for me.”
Like most women over the age of 40, Sue says her body doesn’t function as it did when she was younger, so she keeps a close eye on her weight and what she eats, as any small change in diet can make a huge impact on her body.
“The body does whatever you want it to do. But you have to want it; the body doesn’t do it on its own, this is so true. What is expected of a dancer hasn’t changed much over the years. You’re still expected to put all your effort, energy and commitment into your dancing. If you don’t, someone better and stronger will come along and leave you in their dust. With dancing continuously growing and changing over the years, it does require you to challenge yourself more, every day, with new, different and dynamic moves to meet and compete against the expectations of today’s dancers and society. I do believe that having a strong mind, passion and perseverance will help you get your body to where you want it, even if it takes a little bit longer.”
Happily indulging in her life as an older dancer, Sue acknowledges that she is any hopeful dancer’s living reminder never to give up on their dreams.
“As moms, I think we are hardwired to give until there is almost nothing left. And I am okay with that, but I do think it’s important to remember what made us excited as children. You are never too old for anything! As long as you stay focused and committed, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, your dreams can and will come true. Today is the day, not tomorrow. I am hoping that in the near future, if time allows, I can start teaching and inspiring others to dance…who knows? But in the meantime, I am living, loving and dancing my life to the fullest! I cannot wait for the curtains to open and to run out, for the first time in a long time, in front of a live audience. Dancing frees me from the daily stresses of life. It is my happy place. If I could dance all day, every day, I would.”
For the Love of Dance 2019 opens at the Barnyard Theatre, Suncoast Casino on 1 April. Tickets cost R165 and are available from www.barnyardtheatre.co.za
Photos by: Tanya Taylor Art and Photography, 072 646 4771/ [email protected]/ Facebook: @tanyataylorartandphotography
Makeup by: Tayla Reid Gibson from Everything031/ Facebook: Everything031/ Instagram: everything_031
Dancing dress by: Leopard Strass, www.leopardstrass.co.za