The Wellington lawyer who became a dance teacher

Virginia’s youthful passion for kicking up her heels has turned into a career.
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It’s 1988 and a youthful looking Lloyd Scott, feather-trimmed pirate hat perched on his head, is rarking up a live audience as part of the 24-hour telethon.

“Please welcome the Levin Aerobics Team!” The crowd whistles and hollers, then there she is – an 18-year-old Virginia Keast is centre stage in a fist-pumping, leg-kicking routine to Billy Idol’s version of the 1968 hit Mony, Mony.

Fast forward to 2017, Whitireia Performance Centre, Wellington. Orange and red disco lights throw colour and shadow across 40-plus dancers as they whoop it up to Madonna’s hit Liquid Love. And there’s Virginia, once again centre stage leading the troops.

Now 44, the mum-of-two laughs as she reminisces about the morning she drove from her hometown of Levin to the “big city” in her little Vauxhall Viva, a somewhat naïve teen with one thing on her mind – to dance.

‘The classes are full of people of all ages, shapes, sizes and fitness levels’

“It was my last year at college. I’d done a lot of jazz dancing in my teens and I loved it. In the late ‘80s, I started going to aerobics and I loved that as well. The woman who ran the class asked if I wanted to train to be an instructor, so I did and started teaching classes.”

Life, however, intervened and it was only last year – 26 years after her star turn on Telethon – that Virginia was able to put her long-held dream into practice with the launch of Never Stop Dancing, dance and fitness classes for women “and the occasional brave male” who love to dance.

Yes, she nods, it’s a long way from the corporate law career she set out on after finishing a degree at Victoria University “but it was an itch I had to scratch”.

While Virginia continued to teach during her six years at university, dancing was put on the back-burner once she started working. A late “gap year”, travelling around Europe with husband Giles in 2003 was followed by children – Ollie (now 12), and Maia (9).

Virginia being admitted to the bar.

A desire to get in shape post-babies saw Virginia sign up to her local Zumba class in Kilbirnie, Wellington. Again she took to it – “plus classes fitted in with kindy and school” – and eventually became an instructor.

By 2013 she was running her own classes, having made the decision to quit her part-time law job that New Year’s Eve.

“Starting Zumba brought it all back and, from then on, I couldn’t let it go. I couldn’t put it back in the box,” she explains. “But there was something missing. Zumba came out of Miami. The music and dance moves are very Latin, and I’m not. I much prefer to dance to the songs I grew up with, which I can sing along to, so I started introducing more of that into my classes.”

As the music became more eclectic, Virginia realised she could no longer pitch the classes as Zumba.

Never Stop Dancing kicked off in September last year.

Virginia and Giles met and fell in love at Victoria University.

A mix of disco, ’80s jazzercise, hip-hop, swing fusion and almost everything in between, classes are held throughout the week at various venues around the Wellington CBD.

Students range in age from teens through to 70-year-olds. There are mums, dads, businesswomen and nurses. Giles (44) sometimes goes along, as do Maia and Ollie, though “they usually sit stoically on the side because it’s Mum’s class”.

“I guess it’s a bit like a dance tasting platter – there’s a whole range of styles in one class, but they’re very easy to pick up.”

Fran Rigby, a lawyer and part-time environmental studies student, has been attending two or three classes a week with a friend since mid-last year, after having what she describes as a “motivational crisis with physical activity”.

The energetic mum with husband Giles and children Maia and Ollie.

“My busy lifestyle had left me with low physical energy,” the 41-year-old says. “I was tired, stressed and run down.

“I did ballet until I was a teen, then karate, yoga and salsa classes. I flirted with the gym and boot camp, but I found it repetitive and isolating.”

Virginia’s inclusive style of teaching was an added attraction.

“The classes are full of people of all ages, shapes, sizes and fitness levels – there is never any expectation or competition element. Some people choose to add jumping to just about every move for a high-impact workout, while others are more chilled out.”

Virginia, meanwhile, laughs as she tells how her former boss rings her “every now and then to ask whether I’m done with it yet and whether I’m coming back to work”.

The answer is surely obvious. As the energetic mum hits the stage, spotlight blazing, music pumping, this dancing queen is in her element.

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