Ben Hardwick’s Journey To Becoming A Pro Dancer
Burn The Floor is the latest international dance show to hit South Africa, with performances in Durban, Johannesburg and Cape Town. It’s lived up to the hype and is visually striking, with the choreography effortlessly performed. It makes sense that most of the cast grew up performing, training and touring with the show, which include world renowned locations such as London’s West End and the Sydney Opera House.
But growing up dancing means growing up fit, and dancing professionally comes with its own challenges and sacrifices. So, we spoke to the show’s frontman, internationally renowned Ben Hardwick to see what it takes to become a pro, and what he’s learnt dancing for the last 22 years.
Getting Into Dancing Professionally
The British dancer grew up in Hull and started dancing at the age of 10. “Dance has and will always be my passion, ever since I was a young boy, I loved listening to music and loved the feeling of using music to dance,” he says. Ben was inspired by pop greats Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, and today not much has changed.
But it was the support from home that got him onto the world stage. “My mother was the one that actually used to teach me at home when I was young,” he says. “But it wasn’t until I was 10 years old, when I went to my first dance class. At primary school I always used to perform in the school plays [and was approached] to join a dance school. It was then that I began to take dance seriously.”
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But this came with financial sacrifices for his family, “In Hull there isn’t much opportunity to dance. Dance was a hobby but was also a chance for me to think bigger than the small UK town,” says the 32-year-old. “I come from a working-class family so when I decided to really take my dancing seriously it was a big financial investment for my family. I had to fully dedicate myself to it, which meant socialising, and normal childhood activities were often missed in order to focus as much as I could on dancing.”
Dance needs to be looked at as a professional sport from the get-go Ben says. “It requires all the same things every other professional sport needs to be successful, such as dedication, hard work, passion, drive, focus.
“Coming from a middle class working family with not much money, I knew I had to work harder than everyone else [and] gym, diet, mental health were all things I had to be on top of in order for this to happen.”
“I was 15 when I decided I wanted to dance professionally,” Ben says. “A dance teacher told me that I needed to lose weight in order for the industry to take me seriously, so it was then that I decided my image was also vital to my success. I joined a gym, managed my diet and created a physical image for myself that represented the best of me and just how hard I worked.”
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And he says dance and fitness go hand in hand. “[Being fit] also allowed me to improve not only my aesthetic but my stamina, strength dance ability, flexibility… the list goes on. This was a very vital point in my career where I understood the importance of a fitness routine and the discipline that it requires.”
Training takes education and understanding, and over the years this has helped Ben train better and smarter. “Through the years I have learnt so much about fitness, strength, and agility. Back when I was 15 I used to just do exercises that I thought worked, or that I saw other people doing in the gym,” he says.
“Since then I have invested in a routine and have consciously learnt so much about the body, our muscles and what best responds to the activity I need to do in my dancing.”
But the understanding came with practice and sometimes wasted time at the gym for the dancer. “I used to remember going to the gym for hours on end just doing cardio thinking this is what I needed to do to make my dancing and body better,” he says. “I used to be scared to use weights, thinking it would shorten my muscles and [affect] my dancing, but since then I have learnt that this is so not the case as long as you manage it and mix it up with the right amount of exercises, stretches etc. My dancing has really benefited because of my all-round approach to my fitness and body.”
A Performer’s Routine
This year already, Ben has performed in an estimated 60 cities around the globe in six countries over the last six months, so it’s fair to say, he travels A LOT. And prioritising his fitness comes with a strict routine, despite travelling daily, weekly or monthly.
“A general day on tour would be waking up and going to the gym for about 1-2 hours, then relaxing before rehearsing for approximately two hours, we then go into a full cast workout to get us ready for the show. This involves practising our technique, warming our bodies up through an intense stretch session focusing on all muscles of the body, as well as a core workout [to engage the abs],” he says.
“We then go into an hour of hair and makeup before performing our two hour show. The show is incredibly intense on the body, we do not stop for two hours so we have to be both physically and mentally prepared.”
After the show most people cool down their muscles before heading home some by stretching others by taking ice baths, this also helps with preparing for the next day of shows in order for our bodies to not be overly tired.”
The cool-down is important when it comes to avoiding body burnout, Ben says. “After months of touring your body tends to get weaker and more prone to injury.” And it’s where it becomes a mental game, he adds. “It is so important that the physical pain does not overtake your mental state: if you become weak mentally, everything will become harder and feel impossible.”
His advice for overcoming a mental slump? Keep strong relationships with your cast. “Some of my best friends are constantly here with me and it helps to stay positive when you have positive relationships around you.”
Performing In South Africa
It’s Ben’s second time performing in South Africa. “I can truly say the SA audience is always warm, kind and enthusiastic crowd. They are always so receptive and supportive of the dancers and performers, it is not everywhere you find that and that is so special here.”
And if you’re interested in joining the international dance scene, take Ben’s advice. “Firstly, mentally prepare yourself, it won’t all be positive,” he says. “Have the dedication, motivation and passion always.. never let that go. I found myself always doubting my ability but always had the passion and love for the sport to push me through those doubts and in turn make me successful.”
And lastly, “always work hard and believe in what you do, put yourself out there as it just takes one audition, one meeting, one day for an opportunity to arise and if it does, grab it and dive head first.”