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SWDC exec’s ‘iconic’ Rock Lobster dance

Russell O’Leary hit prime time television last week in a Seven Sharp Dad Dancer competition. SCREENSHOTS/TVNZ

Wairarapa council workers have put on their dancing shoes to shake off the lockdown blues, including a prime-time television slot for one sprightly staffer.

South Wairarapa District Council manager Russell O’Leary was among the more than a thousand fleet-footed fathers vying for the crown of New Zealand’s top Dad Dancer on TVNZ’s Seven Sharp show last Wednesday.

Jay Coote of Invercargill won the competition, but O’Leary, 59, earned plaudits from the show for his ‘iconic’ dance to American new wave band, the B-52’s “Rock Lobster”.

Seven Sharp launched the dance-off on the back of the popularity of the Tik Tok social media app.

Users across the world have used the video sharing service to entertain with dances, comedy and performances during the global lockdown.

O’Leary, whose day job as head of SWDC’s planning and environment department does not often lend itself to the performing arts, was one of four ‘honourable mentions’.

The Wairarapa Times-Age spoke to Russell O’Leary, who is spending the lockdown with his family in Marton.

Times-Age: How did you get involved in the competition?

O’Leary: I didn’t really know of the Seven Sharp dad dancing competition until I got a text message from my old friend Brenda in Auckland, who challenged me to become a king of dad dancing. We and the family all share a similar love of music, crazy humour, and dance it up when we all catch up together. For the challenge I had to figure out what would be the best song to groove to. I went with the B-52’s Rock Lobster. The song came out in 1978 the year we left high school. My son Ed shot it, wife Janette queued the music, all I had to do was go freestyle to the beat. While waiting for the results I kept my fingers and claws crossed.

Times-Age: Have you always been a music, B-52’s and dancing fan?

O’Leary: I can definitely say yes to that. Music gets you tuned in, tuned up, and it makes you feel, move and respond. But it has got to be good stuff to really move you. My music collection is a pretty eclectic mixture, but is heavily anchored around the 1960s and 1980s, particular periods that I rate as super creative eras are 1965-1969 and 1977-1984. For dancing, you could say I learnt my best moves early in Hastings, the local nightclubs there were great vibrant places in their day.

Times-Age: Where are you spending lockdown, and how is your bubble getting on?

O’Leary: My little bubble clan are all tucked up in Marton, a rural megatropolis. I normally commute down to the wonderful South Wairarapa with all its special scenic character.

Times-Age: Are there any other talented folk at SWDC who could get involved?

O’Leary: I’m sure there are rich talents amid our pool of good folk doing fine stuff for South Wairarapa. Amidst our mix of staff and councillors there are singers, musicians, band members, quiz brains, poets and fellow dancers. It all just needs discovering of course.

Times-Age: It’s obviously good to keep your spirits up at a time like this. What advice do you have for others about how to spend the time?

O’Leary: Stay safe, keep calm and carry on. Be kind to yourself and others. Look out for family and fellow kiwis. Walk, garden, read top books, re-explore old movies, sleep well, catch up by phone or zoom. If still in any doubt – go bake, and even dance/shake it up.

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