Dancing is the best therapy

Dance instructor John Morrison.

For dance instructor John Morrison, the city centre is one big party.

“It’s perfect for hosting dance parties. It’s exciting – there are so many things happening in town, and there’s a social vibe that fits with my vibe.”

John grew up in Mowbray, but moved around a lot as his parents travelled all the time.

He attended boarding school in Somerset West, and since then, has been on his own. Straight from school, John decided to take up a job in sales but needed something more stable, so he studied computer programming.

He started dance classes at Fred Astaire Dance Studio, taking ballroom and Latin classes.

“My inspiration for dancing came from movies such as Dirty Dancing and Grease – Patrick Swayze and John Travolta were amazing dancers.”

At the time, the owner of the studio needed teachers, so John did his apprenticeship and got classes for free. He moved to London, where he was introduced to salsa and tango, but love brought him back to Cape Town.

“My relationship started in London, and then we moved to Cape Town, I decided to stay.

“In the daytime, I was a computer programmer, and at night I was a dance teacher.”

Going to dance competitions was exciting for John and prompted him to open his own studio. While doing research, the advice he received from others was not to open another ballroom and Latin studio, because there were already so many.

“I enjoyed going to dance competitions, but there was a sort of pettiness in competing, and that wasn’t where my heart was. I decided to dance socially, and provide a space for people to come for different reasons – not just for competing. Dancing was the best therapy and it felt good for me to help people to fulfil themselves socially.”

At the time, hip hop and salsa was the biggest form of dance in the world.

“It kept growing. It has the best energy and inclusion and the music is addictive. It makes you just want to move your body.”

John then decided to incorporate these dances and Argentinian tango, salsa, swing and lindy hop as forms of dance he taught. “Argentine tango is more intimate than ballroom tango. I also teach a lot of salsa, bachata, which is medium pace, kizomba, which is slow and sensual (SBK).

“No one can handle fast-paced music all night, so I try to mix it up in order for people to relax and enjoy themselves.”

John held classes at the then Bossa Nova in Green Point, and soon more and more people joined, so he had to expand, and in 2004, opened Que Pasa in Bree Street.

After Bossa Nova closed their doors, the students joined him in Bree Street, and opened Que Pasa as a nightclub, with the dance studio operating in the daytime. “We opened on the same day my daughter was born, and Que Pasa also became one of my babies.”

Que Pasa on Bree Street closed in 2008 because John needed a bigger space for his nightclub and classes – he first headed to The Underground, then to Caledon Street opposite Charly’s Bakery.

“After the double recession hit in 2012, I had to close the Caledon Street studio and nightclub moved to a smaller space in Burg Street.

“I then got a call from Artscape and they said they have some space available. The Artscape was an arts and culture space that had a focus on dance. I wasn’t involved in the nightclub scene for a long time after I moved to the Artscape.”

Two years ago, John noticed that within a month, everyone stopped doing dance parties. “I decided to try to get dancers to pick it up again but no one did, so I picked it up and started having SBK parties in Loop Street.”

He said the good thing about SBK is that you can do classes in the week and then attend dance parties on the weekend.

“I had my first SBK party in Loop Street, and it became so busy, so I moved to La Parada in Bree Street, where I now host Friday dance nights.”

John hosts a beginner class earlier in the evening for people who have never danced SBK before. “I focus on hosting these parties in the city centre because people don’t like to travel. If people go to the city, it’s like an outing – everyone joins in. I love the hustle and bustle of the city, but a good time for me is to ride my scooter at 3am, when the city quietens down.”

John has also moved to the city, which is near to his workplace at the Artscape and keeps him out of traffic to the suburbs. He said there was always a need for SBK to grow. “Those genres don’t exclude anyone. It breaks down barriers and encourages men to be leaders on the dance floor, and women to embrace their sexy side.”