Trip the light fantastic.
In the first of our sport and arts series, we meet Jai Sheffield. Jai is a professional Latin Dancer from the Gold Coast Australia. He is a multi-Australian champion in Salsa, Bachata and Cha Cha and a finalist at the World Latin Dance Cup. Jai placed 3rd in Cha Cha at the World Salsa Summit and won the El Sol Warsaw Stargate soloist competition.
Aside from dancing Jai is certified by the World Salsa Summit to judge Latin competitions as well as being a Salsanama trainer. The passion for his art, has provided many opportunities. In recent years, he has traveled and taught in over 35 different countries including the Pacific Islands, Asia, Africa, Europe, the UK, Mexico, and Russia.
Jai was trained in Australia by Csaba Szirmai and later by Fernando Sosa and the Antonio and Jasmina Berardi in Italy, where he still spend a lot of his time.
Jai is also a passionate vegan and in this episode we talk about how he found dance and how veganism has impacted his life and his career.
We’ve been mutual fans of each other for a while now, but can you tell everyone how your career started and how you became a dancer?
I started dancing 9 years ago while I was at university. I went professional in 2017 and started working as a dancer full time.
What is about Salsa that you love?
I love everything about Salsa! Initially I was drawn to how addictive dancing was. It wasn’t until later that I started to learn more about the music, history and cultural significance of salsa and Latin dancing that I really fell in love with it. I feel a very deep connection to the music and when I dance it with someone it’s magical.
How long have you been vegan and what made you switch?
I’ve been vegan for 5 years. I was made aware of the impact eating animal products had on the environment and I wanted to reduce my impact and going vegan was a viable option. The moral implications associated with procuring animal products was also something that I didn’t want to be supporting.
Do you think a plant-based diet has helped you in your professional life?
Absolutely! I definitely noticed a boost in energy and endurance by going plant based. I can dance for hours over many days and still function and not feel fatigue. I don’t feel heavy or lethargic like I used to from eating a diet high in meat and dairy.
Lively and flirtatious, the cha-cha is full of passion and energy.
A dancer’s physical life is tough – describe your typical daily regime (workout/ training)
A typical day for me involves a coffee and going to the beach in the morning. I live next to the beach and try to get in the water every day. After that I train and stretch in the gym before I start private lessons and then I teach classes in the evening. Typically I teach for 5-8 hours a day and socially dance in the evening either after classes or at socials.
And how do you relax?
For me it’s being in the water. There is something special about the ocean, I have been obsessed with it since I was a teenager. I find it one of the most relaxing things in my life and it is the best way to start the day. I go to the beach and drink my coffee, sit in the sun, and then surf or swim.
What is the highlight of your career so far?
There are definitely a few stand out moments for me, like placing 3rd in the world in Professional Cha Cha, or the solo competition I won in Europe, but honestly the highlight so far is being able to do what I love every day. I get to teach dance and create amazing dancers, it’s the best job I’ve ever had.
How popular is veganism in the world of dance?
It’s not as uncommon as you might think, but I’m definitely a minority. There are a few influential dancers in the world that are vegan or vegetarian. When organisers or other dancers learn that I am plant based it’s not a surprise.
If you could dance with anyone (dead or alive), who would it be?
If I could dance with anyone….I would dance with my friend Gessica in Italy. We only get to dance together when I’m in Europe and we have a beautiful dance connection.
Do you think talent shows such as Strictly Come Dancing have had a positive effect in terms of changing people’s perception of ballroom dance?
Sure, anything media related is great if it is spreading a positive message about dance. I dance street Latin styles, which are primarily social and not competition focused. If people knew about the social aspect of partner dancing, I think it would be even better!
The pandemic has affected all industries and the arts, how have you kept yourself motivated?
Fortunately, in Australia we have escaped relatively unscathed, my city in particular was not affected very much at all by Covid-19, the biggest downside is that I can’t travel Internationally at the moment, so I have been throwing myself into teaching which is hugely rewarding and a great way to learn.
What’s next for you this year?
This year I’m part of a couple of big showcases in my city, my team and I have multiple student teams and choreographs which will be put on stage and performed, I’m really looking forward to giving dancers new and exciting opportunities and helping them become the best dancer that they can be.
Inspired to try Salsa?
You can find out more and get involved in local social dance classes and social meets by checking out your local Salsa school online. They will be able to provide you with information on classes local to you and details of how you can get involved.
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