World champion dancer joins forces with the Kerrs

Royston swings into the skating world

Robert Royston and his wife Nicola are enjoying helping Sinead Kerr and John Kerr with their original dance routine.
Robert Royston and his wife Nicola are enjoying helping Sinead Kerr and John Kerr with their original dance routine. (courtesy of Robert Royston)


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By Lois Elfman, special to
(09/17/2009) - U.S. open swing dance champion, world country-dance champion Robert Royston makes something clear: "I'm a huge fan of ice skating. I always have been.

He and his wife/dance partner Nicola performed on stage at the Olympic Village during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City and the only events they actually paid to attend were ice dancing and figure skating.

So, Royston was pretty pleased when he received a phone call a few years ago from two-time Olympic ice dance gold medalist Evgeny Platov asking him to give some dance lessons to Israeli ice dance champions Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovsky. After those lessons years passed before Royston heard from Platov again.

One day, a man named Neil Crosby, a strength and conditioning coach affiliated with the Scottish Institute of Sport who is also an avid swing dancer, approached Royston at a West Coast Swing event.

"It was completely random that this Scottish guy would ask me about this Russian skating coach at a dance competition," Royston recalls. "He said, 'I'm a strength and conditioning coach for some athletes he works with and he's trying to get a hold of you.'"

The athletes, of course, were British ice dance champions Sinead Kerr and John Kerr, and Platov wanted Royston's input into their 2008-09 original dance, which involved swing music.

"They came to Nyack [where Royston lives] and we worked. We hit it off and clicked big-time," he says. "What was supposed to be four hours just to give them some stuff turned into more. They said, 'Why don't you come and see what we're doing on the ice.' I went to the rink.

"We had this fantastic working relationship," he adds. "They seemed to really get me and my style of teaching and choreography. Then they said, 'Will you watch our free dance?' Now I'm on the ice with them a lot-once or twice a week sometimes."

Although best known for swing dancing-he's a member of the California Swing Dance Hall of Fame and teaches eight different styles of swing at a master level -- Royston is also trained in the ballroom dance competitive styles of American smooth and American rhythm as well as country dancing. He was in the Broadway musical Swing and served as assistant choreographer for the national tour. He choreographed platinum selling recording artist Taylor Swift's Love Story music video as well as her current tour. He even choreographed a dance/movement sequence in the recently released film Gamer.

"I hate being pigeon-holed as the swing dance guy," Royston says. "My bachelor's degree is in dance. I'm a member of the International Association of Dance Medicine & Science."

He began working with the Kerrs on presentation value and the attachment to music. He also started working with them on aspects of technique, such as proper turn technique. His imprint was obvious in last season's original dance. He tinkered a bit with their free dance, but as it was already set before he began working with them he didn't want to do too much. This season he's worked on both their original dance and free dance from inception.

The original dance, which the Kerrs have already performed to enthusiastic audience response, is a country theme set to a Johnny Cash song.

"It's a real hand clapping program," Royston says. "When they demo'd it, the crowd starts clapping and doesn't stop basically throughout the whole piece. It's super high energy. I've put some clogging elements in it and some country shuffle elements. Clogging is Appalachian folk dance. The shuffle is hoedown."

Royston declines to discuss the Kerrs free dance, but does say he's been involved in making sure they perform even the smallest details.

"One of the things I feel is missing sometimes in ice dancing -- especially because of the elements they have to do-is attachment to the music," he notes. "Most of the time, even at the highest level, I feel like there's no attachment to the music while doing the required elements. That's a real missing emotional key that as a dancer I would love to see more of in ice dancing.

"In the couples dance world, be it country, swing, salsa, hustle, theatre arts, that's what I'm known for most is my musical attachment. I teach master classes in musicality all over the world.

"For Sinead and John's free dance, we worked long and hard on every specific beat. Where they are going to take their edge. How it is going to happen. So that at no point do you think, 'There's an element. There's the choreography. There's an element. There's the choreography.' It became a seamless transition."

Nicola Royston, whose background is musical theatre, also consults on details such as facial expressions.

As of now, Royston is planning to accompany Platov and the Kerrs to the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver.

To learn more about Robert Royston, you can check out his Web site at