A life-long jiving expert, Gerard Butler has never been as busy as he is now teaching the must-know dance steps. And he’s also noticed a revolution in who’s turning up for classes lately - it’s now as popular with young fellas. Indeed, the award-winning dancer insists that young fellas have even out-numbered the lassies on occasion.
It’s a far cry from what Gerard knew in his youth, growing up in the Roscommon side of Carrick-on-Shannon he was reared in a house where dancing was the norm. His father taught ceili dancing, while both of his parents combined their talents to teach social dancing. While it may have been the norm amongst Gerard’s family, it’s not hard to guess his friends’ reactions in the 1980s.
“We got a lot of slagging from friends because we danced,” he recalls with a laugh. “When we hit teenage years, instead of going to discos in Carrick on Shannon, we’d be going to the likes of Declan Nerney, Big Tom and stuff like that.”
Those shows were probably good craic though, the Celt offers.
“It was, but you’d have a hard job trying to meet a woman! You were dancing with your mother’s friends,” he says laughing.
The Celt observes Gerard was born 20 years too early for his own good - he’d be in his element if he were a young fella now.
“I’d never settle,” he jokes. “I kinda was [born too early] but I’m making a living from it now, so I can’t complain.”
Up until Nathan Carter arrived on these shores with his Wagon Wheel, Gerard insists there was always and audience for social dancing, jiving and waltzing - but accepts that it was “always seen as something your parents, or granny did”.
With Carter bringing a “fresh, young look” to country a young female audience took an interest.
“When they started going to dances, they realised it’s not as much about the act as much as the dancing - so women decided it’s time to learn to dance. I, at that stage, noticed there was a lift in the number of young females coming to the classes,” says Gerard who has nine All-Ireland dancing titles and 20 years’ experience teaching dancing.
Prior to the Nathan Carter phenomenon, which has been backed up by a new-wave of country stars such as Derek Ryan and Lisa McHugh, many of Gerard’s students would have been older than him, and almost all of them women. But with the younger women getting bitten by the dancing bug, the fellas weren’t far behind.
“Guys started realising that this was where the women were going, so they started going and they realised that standing at the bar with a pint glass isn’t working for them, so if I want to communicate with these women it’s on the floor I have to do it, so I need to learn to dance. Therefore the guys started coming to classes.
“Maybe eight years ago, if I had 100 people at my classes, there would have been one or two men. Whereas now if I have 100 in the class it’s a fifty-fifty type of operation. One night in Cavan in the Country Club I had 17 spare men!”
While Gerard’s happy to stress the fitness benefits of dancing, he cautions, that gym gear isn’t conducive to jiving.
“It is a big thing for fitness too - you’ll see that definitely in the month of January - I get people who come to classes in tracksuits and runners - tracksuits and runners don’t work for dancing.”
So heel’s work?
“Heels are perfect for women because when they turn in the jive, it’s an awful lot easier to turn in a high heel than a low.”
Can you teach anyone to dance?
“It’s possible to teach anyone to dance, but whether they become a dancer or not is completely down to their natural ability.
“I could ask Mike Denver or Nathan Carter to teach me to sing - now they could teach me a song, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll become a singer, or that I’ll have a quality voice - it’s the very same thing.
“The system I teach, if someone has it, they will definitely be able to jive after three or four weeks - now there’s a lot of practice, too, of course.”
Gerard runs four week courses for €40, or €12 each night. Classes get underway on Wednesday, March 23.