The UAE may be on the cusp of having its first breakout tap-dancing star.
Suzanne Clandon, who teaches physical education at Deira International School (Dis), has stepped, tapped and leapt her way to the International Dance Organisation World Tap Dance Championships starting on Tuesday in Reisa, Germany.
This year will be the first time a UAE dancer will compete in the championships, which features 1,200 child and adult performers from around the world.
Ms Clandon will get to show off her fancy footwork on Thursday when she takes on 32 dancers in the solo female adult category. She admitted to some nerves, but said she had bigger aspirations than winning a trophy.
“I’m seeing this as an opportunity to put the UAE on the map,” Ms Clandon said.
Dis director Jeff Smith said his star teacher had already achieved this with her pupils.
“Suzanne has put Deira International School on the map in the area of dance,” said Mr Smith. “Her enthusiasm and talent have taken dance teaching and participation rates to a whole new level at Dis.
“Dis is very proud that Suzanne will represent the UAE in the forthcoming international tap-dancing competition, we wish her success.”
In her travels for tap dancing, Ms Clandon said she often meets people who are curious about the UAE, but were also misinformed about the country.
She sees the competition as a chance to act as a dance ambassador for the UAE, a place she has affectionately called home for six years.
“People are so fascinated about this area still and ask ‘what’s it like to be there’ and ‘what’s it like to be a woman there’ and ‘can you do this and can you do that’,” said Ms Clandon.
“I’m using it as way to kind of show people, yes, there are laws and we’ve got to abide by them but you can be yourself still.
“You don’t have to hide away. I think a lot of people have this mindset that women don’t do sports here, that women don’t compete in sports, women don’t dance here and there’s no dance here. No, very much the opposite. We have a great life.”
Ms Clandon said she was also hoping that her presence at the championships this week would inspire more Emirati families to get their children involved in dance and the performing arts.
Better yet, she said, would be if dance could be part of the school curriculum.
“I would like to see more dance in the schools here and not just as an after-school activity – I think the arts suffer,” said Ms Clandon, who also runs Dubai Desert Dance, an annual show involving about 500 pupils from 17 schools. She believes the Government and the Knowledge and Human Development Authority should “take that on board and support that a little bit more through their policy”.
Ms Clandon said she spends between five and 10 hours a week practising her routine, which she has choreographed to the Ed Sheeran song Sing.
She is also not averse to stepping on to the stage at the Jazz Pizza Express when the swing band Swing Revue performs on Wednesday evenings and she conducts after-school tap classes for her students.
Carolina Patricio, a Year 8 pupil at Dis, thinks her teacher will win in Germany. “We’re really excited because she doesn’t only do tap, she does loads of other dances,” said the 13-year-old.