Dancing with our alumni
Simon Chan (Fitzwilliam 2002) and Danielle Ainsworth-Patrick (Fitzwilliam 2007) are Collegiate Shag teachers with Cambridge Swing Dance. We spoke with them to find out about life after graduation and how they discovered dance.
Someone asked me to dance. I said to her ‘I don’t do this! I only play the music’ and she said ‘I can show you.’
Can you tell us what you did after graduating?
Danielle: I decided to stay in Cambridge because I wanted to stay with my friends who were doing four year courses. I worked as a Conference Coordinator at Churchill College for a bit and, while I was there, I went to a recruitment fair at the CompSci Lab and got my first tech job in Cambridge.
Simon: I didn’t actually stay [in Cambridge] after I graduated. Before doing my finals I went to a careers fair where I filled in an application for a job – just for practice I thought – but I ended up with an interview and then a job offer! The job was in London but I thought ‘well I’ll try it and if I don’t like it then I’ll just quit and move back to Cambridge’ - I then stayed there for seven years. But for the last six years I’ve been working in the tech industry in Cambridge.
How did you discover dancing?
Danielle: I discovered dancing at Parker’s Piece during the Big Weekend in 2014. There was a band that I really wanted to see but my friend wanted to go to the Lindy Hop taster and I was convinced to go. I thought ‘it’s fine, I’ll just go and take some photos’ but then I was further persuaded to actually do the class and I fell in love with it and went dancing four more times that week!
Simon: It happened literally just after I came back from London. A street piano project had come to Cambridge and I decided I was going to try and play all the pianos around the city. I was going towards one that was along the river when I came across a hubbub of people. As I got closer I realised there were jazz musicians playing and people dancing. Initially I just watched in awe but then I found myself playing the piano! After playing, I was watching from the side when someone asked me to dance. I said to her ‘I don’t do this! I only play the music’ and she said ‘I can show you’ - the rest is history!
So you had both started dancing - how did you meet each other?
Danielle: We met at the Collegiate Shag taster a month after I’d started dancing. I started talking to Simon after the lesson because I noticed he was putting a Fitzwilliam scarf on and I said ‘Hey! You went to Fitzwilliam!’
Simon: I think it was the other way round actually. You had your Fitzwilliam scarf on.
Danielle: Possibly. One of us had our Fitzwilliam scarf on. Then we discovered we had done the same course and that we had both absolutely loved the taster. After that I took some lessons in St Neots, Simon went to London, we taught each other what we’d learned and just carried on dancing with each other all the time. All the time.
Now that you’ve been dancing several years, do you have a favourite memory?
Simon: That’s a tough one.
Danielle: That is a tough one. I think for me it was the first time I won a competition. That was pretty cool.
Simon: I was going to say the same for me.
Danielle: But is it my favourite? Another thing that was also really cool was the first time we taught a Shag taster and we had forty people all dancing shag - or filming a new ident for the BBC. It's still a bit surreal to see myself on TV occasionally
Simon: One for me is introducing Shag to Taipei. I was travelling while on a gap year and, as any swing dancer would, I asked about the swing dance scene. They said they had Lindy Hop, a bit of Blues and Balboa, but no Shag. I found myself teaching some classes with one of the local community leaders and together we filmed a YouTube video ‘I Shag Taipei’ to raise awareness of the dance in Taiwan. It was amazing seeing the dance come alive in a new place and hopefully we have seeded the growth of Shag in Asia!
What is it about Collegiate Shag that you love?
Danielle: I can’t dance it without a smile.
Simon: Just the sheer joy and happiness that you get, it’s a very happy dance.
Finally, what is your advice to people about trying new things?
Danielle: Throw yourself into it and give it a go. If it goes wrong you never have to go again, but on the other hand you might love it – just give it a go. Maybe even give it two goes (your first time doesn’t count!)
Simon: The stakes might feel high but is anything terminal going to happen? No, so do it. You never know what opportunities and adventures may lie ahead.
Simon Chan is a software engineer for a small start-up business in Cambridge. Danielle Ainsworth-Patrick has worked mostly as a software tester, but is currently taking a break following her wedding and honeymoon. Together they teach Shag College as part of Cambridge Swing Dance.