Hello! Could you please introduce yourself? Hi! My name’s Dani Blair, I’m 25 years old and I’m a professional dancer, model and Muay Thai kickboxer. Last year I set up a youth performing arts school ‘Gravity Performing Arts’, teaching street dance and musical theatre in Stratford, Walthamstow and Leytonstone.
Let’s start with the performing arts school - where did the idea for that come about? I’ve always said I wanted my own dance school; it’s been an ambition since I first trained as a dancer. I was really shy as a kid - mum says I used to cling to her as a child - so she took me to dance classes in the hope it would bring me out of my shell. And it did! So much so that both my sister and I are professional dancers now. Because of that, I know how important it is for kids to have a creative outlet, something that helps them build their confidence and communication skills.
Do you see the difference in the kids you teach? Definitely. I teach a really wide range of ages and every age is different. The three-year-olds in the ‘Tiny Tots’ class are really cute. With that age group, it’s mainly about getting them moving and making them confident. That’s a crucial part with the younger kids - many seize up without their parents at first, but after a little while they forget all about them! Although parents are always welcome to come to watch, they usually respect what I’m trying to achieve and leave their kids to it.
What about the older kids? Again it’s helping to build their confidence, but in a slightly different way; their personalities are more developed but they can still be a little shy and self-conscious. So it’s great for them to break out of that through dance and accentuate their personality in a way they wouldn’t necessarily in a bigger group. That’s a big reason my classes are fairly small. I never have more than 15 kids in a class, as it’s so important that they don’t feel lost - especially when they’re taking dance more seriously, like my Elite group (from 7 to 15 years old). Capping the numbers allows me to give each person the proper attention they deserve, so they can leave the class feeling like they’ve learnt a lot and enjoyed themselves too.
It must be very different from your kickboxing! Tell me a bit about that… So I’ve been practising Muy Thai for a little under three years now. My boyfriend and I did a taster session whilst we were on holiday in Thailand - he never did it again, but I went back to the class every single day of the holiday. I was hooked! When we came back, I found the nearest gym that practises, which happens to be Bloodline Gym on Lower Clapton Road. I have a coach, Paul Marut, who trains me five to six days a week, and I now compete in fights across the UK!
How did your background in dance prepare you for life in the ring? Erm, it didn’t! Obviously, I’ve always been fit. I’ve danced pretty much my whole life and I’ve been dancing professionally for around seven years now. Although I love the dance world, it can sometimes be a bit superficial as there’s level of expectation to look a certain way. But with kickboxing, you can turn up wearing almost anything you like, with no make-up on, and get super sweaty by training really hard. It’s so liberating! I also love the focus and regime. If I’m training for a match, I have to do certain things, such as lose weight or eat healthier, and I like the balance that restores in my life.
What’s the vibe like at Bloodline Gym? It’s amazing! The quality of kickboxing and Muay Thai there is extremely high. We have a handful of highly respected fighters in the UK fight scene, many who compete professionally. It’s great to be around renowned talent, but it’s also like a big family, everyone supports each other. I can honestly say there’s no other gym like it out there! Although I’m not yet at the highest level, I do have big ambitions to take it pro. One day…
After all this training, where can we expect to find you hanging out? As a team we often go to My Neighbours the Dumplings for a dim sum after training sessions - it’s amazing there! And we run all over Clapton too as a warm-up. I love it here; it’s a really culturally rich neighbourhood. Hackney, in general, is buzzing, especially at this time of year!
Will you be spending Christmas here? Yes. My family are coming down from Scotland (I’m from Glasgow originally) and they’re all staying with me. We’re going to watch my sister in her West End show, hang out, chill and eat lots! I try and let go of my typical fitness routine at Christmas - it’s important to relax a little! I’m super excited about it!
Bloodline Gym: www.bloodlinegym.com
Bloodline gym has classes every day of the week for all levels from complete beginners to experienced fighters as well as kids’ classes. Not to forget the popular weekend circuit classes run by the amazing Tim Campbell. The first class is free and you can find the timetable on the website.
More fitness stories from issue 8: