This piece was first published in Dance Today in September 2013 with the title ‘Boyce Wonder’. Since then, Glenn has won several other major competitions and has a total of 26 world titles to his credit at the time of this post. He now dances with Caroly Janes (seen in the video above), and is the reigning Youth World 10-Dance Champion.
Halfway down a one-way street in Bournemouth two miles from the town centre, between a line of red-bricked residential flats and a sprawling Methodist church, there stands a 106-year-old three-storey building with a double flight of stairs leading up to its main entrance. The off-white building looks a bit like its Christian neighbour, its triangular roof and imposing structure giving it the faint air of a place of worship; and the double flight of stairs connecting the pavement to the second storey is usually deserted except on three occasions every week.
On these occasions, some 30 young ballroom dancers descend upon the building for 90 minutes at a time, packing themselves into the largest of its four studios. They belong to the Nice ‘n Easy Elite Squad, a ballroom and Latin club for youngsters, formed expressly to “raise the profile of UK dancing internationally”. The training is offered by ballroom professionals Warren and Kristi Boyce, who preside over the no-nonsense sessions from behind a music station in the far end of the studio, and there is always an audience of appreciative parents watching as the dancers go through a series of intense drills for technique, fitness, and choreography. Mostly, though, all eyes are drawn to the Boyces’ son, a slender 11-year-old who dances with a level of assurance far beyond his years, and it is this boy that everyone is watching this Saturday morning.
“Glenn,” says Kristi. “That’s not right.”
The boy acknowledges her feedback with a quick look. Still maintaining an impeccable topline with his partner, he attempts the same group of figures again to achieve the musical clarity he has been striving for so very hard all that morning.
Kristi switches off the music. She explains what she wants of him.
“Try again,” she says.
Glenn takes hold. When he finishes the choreography he had attempted before, Kristi says, “Now you are dancing like a champion!”
Glenn smiles a huge smile.
THERE is nothing Glenn Richard Boyce likes more than being a champion. It is the core of his being, and except for a very brief period when he seriously entertained notions of becoming a dinosaur, it is what he has wanted all his life. And for much of his competitive life, he has been one.
Glenn’s list of accolades, which his father Warren has meticulously put together on www.glennboyce.com, is 11 screens long. Starting with his debut as a six-year-old in Tallinn in December 2007, it documents six seasons of his dancing career, working its way up to a summary of his 2013 achievements. So far Glenn has 14 major world Ballroom, Latin and 10 Dance titles to his name. He has been the British Open Juvenile Champion on all five days of the 2013 Junior Festival; the World Open Juvenile Champion five times; the European Juvenile Champion four times; and the World Junior Champion once.
With his current partner Kayleigh Andrews, an exceptionally hardworking 11-year-old from Yeovil, he is the reigning World, European, International, British National, and British Open juvenile champion in both ballroom and Latin. They are also the only couple to ever win the under-14 World Junior Championship in Paris while still in the juvenile age group (under 12). They topped it all off at the Junior Blackpool Dance Festival in April this year, winning the World Juvenile Ballroom Championships in a way it has never been done before — with a first in every dance from every adjudicator.
In his five years of dancing, Glenn has danced 212 competitions. Last year alone he entered 57 competitions; in 2011, it was 41, and in 2010, again 41. So far this year, he has competed 32 times. He has notched up 77 demonstrations from 2008 and been written about in the media 159 times. His passport bears the immigration stamps of 16 countries.
“Sometimes my dancing takes me to places where I get just to perform,” Glenn said at a recent event for children, where he was invited to speak about his life. “My partner Kayleigh and I were asked if we would demonstrate in Singapore to help raise money for an important children’s cancer research charity [the Singapore-based Children’s Cancer Foundation] and we ended up presenting a cheque for $300,000, which was raised on that one single night.”
ONE way to explain Glenn’s remarkable achievements is to attribute it all to ‘talent’. But that wouldn’t begin to do him justice.
“He is such a hard worker,” Warren says. “Like most children of his age, he had to work hard at music when he began. I always thought I was born with rhythm. But now I realise my parents trained it into me. And that’s what we did with Glenn. He really worked hard at it.”
Even in a family of dancers who celebrate hard work, Glenn’s efforts stand out. Anecdotes abound amongst those who train with him of the gruelling exercises he puts himself through — outside his structured sessions, by himself — to improve his dancing. One is of him and Kayleigh standing in the garden on a hot sunny day, on their toes, their arms up in perfect hold, sweat pouring off their faces, to strengthen their posture. On another occasion, he danced the Viennese Waltz to an inordinately lengthy full track, just to show it could be done. That was his way of motivating his parents, who were doing a ‘final’, and had complained about the length of the track he was playing for them.
Kristi spoke about Glenn’s schedule one evening last month. “When he doesn’t get up mega-early and drag us to the studio, which he sometimes does, then — ”
“ — sometimes he will take us to the studio before school,” Warren said. “But that’s him!”
“He would get into our bed at 6 o’clock in the morning — in school uniform — and say, ‘I really need to practice this-this routine from start to finish. Can you please come to the studio now?’”
“That was after the Asian tour,” Warren said. “By the time we got back, he wanted to train with us so badly… When he wants it himself, we can’t say no…”
“However tired me and Warren feel, we get up and do it.”
Most days Glenn is home from school before 3:30 pm. He tackles his homework quickly, and is at the Nice ‘n Easy studios, which his family owns, by 5:30 pm.
“He trains from 5:30pm to 8:30pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday,” Kristi said. “And on most Fridays, Kayleigh comes to us at 5:30pm and either we train through the weekend — do a show on Saturday, a competition on Sunday — or we go abroad on Friday and come back on Monday straight to the training again. They will always have one day off.”
Being part of a dancing family has certainly been key to Glenn’s development. Glenn’s role models are his parents, who are the reigning British National Professional Ballroom Champions. His grandparents Lynette and Glenn (who he has been named after) held several national, European and world titles during their career. His uncle and two aunts — Andres, Liis and Katrin — are established dancers at the international level, and his maternal grandmother Eve End runs the successful Team Leevi Dance Club in Tallinn.
Also crucial to Glenn’s success is the Elite Squad, which allows its member to learn together, from each other. The idea, Warren said at a lecture in Blackpool, was to provide youngsters an environment which makes it easy for them to learn, where they can “pick up on what they see, what they hear”.
“That’s very much the reason why much of Glenn’s teaching is in group lessons, with other kids,” Warren expanded later. “It’s that social learning, the environmental learning — doing it all as a group. And it is not as if Glenn is doing all these competitions by himself — he is competing with his friends.”
Lynette added on another occasion, “He has had such a happy childhood, and has been brought up in such a happy environment. He is constantly surrounded by music, and teachers chanting rhythm — and he is absorbing it subconsciously. He absolutely lives dancing.”
Do you ever feel tired of so much dancing, Glenn was asked.
“No,” he said. He thought for a moment, then added, “I feel there is no point doing something if you don’t do it well.”
SITTING in his spacious, colourful bedroom, Glenn is showing another dancer his awards. Of the scores he has won, three trophies from the International Championships have found a place on his windowsill, next to a white cupboard full of Glenn’s precious Lego and Pokemon collection.
This is Glenn’s space, his very own world, where much of his creative and academic pursuits take place: he is an excellent student attending the St James’ Primary School in Boscombe, a budding poet (one of his poems has been selected for publication by the Young Writers), and a good artist, who loves sketching and 3D sculpting. But right now, he is telling his guest about the three trophies he prizes most.
“These are all from the Internationals,” he says. “They mean the most to me.”
“Do you remember the first time you danced Internationals?”
“Like when I was really little? Yes. I didn’t get a recall. I was the last.”
“Were you disappointed?”
“I didn’t mind too much — because I danced the best I had ever danced. Most of the competitions I had done till then were in England pretty much — all with three rounds at the most. So it didn’t feel that different to only do one round…
“But it was very exciting to go out and win it… These trophies — I like to keep them as memory.”
The conversation moves to Glenn’s training. “So who do you like taking lessons from?” the dancer asks. “Your mother or father?”
“Out of those two, I think — “ Glenn ponders for many moments, then gives up. “Aw — I don’t know!”
Some days later, Glenn is with the same dancer in the studio. He is trying to help the dancer with his tango.
“Show me that group again,” Glenn says. He knows he has to leave the studio soon — he can see his father packing — but he watches intently. Then he asks the dancer to repeat.
“You are bouncing like this as you push off your leg,” he says. Putting down the Capri-Sun he is holding, he demonstrates. “Do it like this. Flat.”
The dancer tries again. “That’s better.” Glenn says. “Now leave the back foot more on the floor.”
“Glenn, let’s go,” says Warren.
“Like this,” says Glenn, again demonstrating.
“Glenn!” Warren calls from the door.
“Yes, that’s better! Sorry, gotta go!”
Then grabbing his soft drink and switching from champion to child, Glenn runs out after his father and is gone.