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Best of the City Awards

The Victoria newspapers have an annual Best of the City competition and John de Pfyffer is regularly voted Best for Dance Lessons. The category was retired in 2013 after John won for 5 years in a row.

If you want to find out about John's classes, workshops and dances you can subscribe to his mailing list at

Article in Times Colonist

Dancer leads for 20 years
Inspired students pay tribute to teacher with weekend gala
By Grania Litwin, Times Colonist staff

One, two cha cha cha.

"I think we had better do that again," suggests John de Pfyffer, which is a polite way of saying the class wasn't paying attention.

"Well! I saw some minor variations that time," which means he saw a lot of people mess up.

"Let's all turn around and try it the other way." Translation: Everyone did it all right in this direction, but let's see what happens going the other way.

This is how enthusiastic Angus and Zuzanna Macknight jokingly describe the humorous and encouraging teaching methods of dancer John de Pfyffer.

It's so entertaining Angus tries never to miss a lesson, which is why one day, after slipping on his boat, he turned up at class with "stitches in my hand, my arm in a sling to support my right shoulder and a nasty abrasion on my jaw."

Such is the loyalty and attachment inspired by de Pfyffer, who has been tripping the light fantastic for 20 years in Victoria, teaching thousands to fox trot, tango, jive and more importantly enjoy cutting a swath on the dance floor.

"He's a real comedian," says Wayne Hodgson, a student of 12 years. "He makes all the lessons light and fun, yet is very professional and conscientious. Right at the start you are struck by his youthfulness, boundless positive energy and ability to focus on dancing."

Hodgson and others are so impressed they have created a book of testimonials and organized a 20th-anniversary celebration in their teacher's honour. They originally booked the Edelweiss Club, but it sold out in three days so the event has moved to S.J. Willis school auditorium. It features the Commodores Big Band and runs from 8 to 11 p.m. on Saturday; tickets are $20 by calling 418-5226.

Hodgson says de Pfyffer is extraordinary in many ways, but perhaps mostly because he has supported himself by dancing.

"I applaud and admire him for pursuing his dream in a place where it is not an easy financial undertaking. In Vancouver and Seattle there is a much bigger population. "But here's this guy who has supported his family by teaching ballroom dance in Victoria. That takes amazing dedication and commitment. Most other teachers here have had other careers -- been a chef, nurse, teacher, in the flooring industry -- and dancing was a hobby until they retired.

"John's been totally dedicated to dance."

Dressed in a crisp tangerine shirt and sharply pressed flannels, the 47-year-old de Pfyffer smiles at the accolades. "My philosophy is simply to get people up dancing and show them there's nothing to be afraid of," says the certified teacher in both ballroom and Latin dance, who is also a judge. He admits he always loved dancing and never worried about what others thought.

"One day in Grade 7 all we kids were lined up on opposite sides of the gym -- boys on one side, girls on the other -- and told to pick a partner. I ran across the floor and not another guy moved," he recalls with a laugh.

Years later, while studying biology at university, he decided to create a dance group. He formed the UVic Jive and Ballroom Dance Club in 1986 and it was soon the largest on campus, with 600 members.

"Sixty people turned up on the first day and only about four of us knew how to dance. Everyone pointed at me and said, 'You started the club. You teach us,' and so I did." He took lessons while volunteering with the club for six years, then became a founding member of the Victoria Ballroom Dance Society.

He still teaches at UVic and a few years ago when swing was huge, about 250 people showed up one night for lessons. "I had to stand on a table to teach and the energy in the room was amazing. I've always looked upon my job as an entertainer."

After university he worked as a scientist and then a hotel administrator briefly, but it wasn't his "cup of tea," and one day he decided to jump into dancing as a career. Since then he has built a studio in his home and taught at schools, at recreation centres, at street dances in Oak Bay ("your legs hurt for days after"), in curling rinks, in church halls and even on cruises to Alaska and Mexico with his wife, Carla MacGillivray.

"The best part is I've been able to make a living at it." He has been invited to lots of weddings because many of his students have married each other, has been asked to teach at weddings, and also travels round the province with bridal fairs, giving demonstrations.

"We've created a wonderful community of dance here and I'm still going full blast," admits Pfyffer, who teaches up to seven hours a day, seven days a week. How does he keep going?

"I take a lot of hot baths," he jokes, adding he has more than 1,200 people taking his classes and on his current mailing list.

He believes the popular craze is fuelled by television shows and the rise of Argentine tango, "But it's also because dancing makes you focus on the now. You slow down, think of the steps, enjoy the music and social interaction. It's a wonderful release, a kind of emotional and physical therapy."

The teacher is looking forward to the 20th-anniversary shindig.

"It'll be the first time I've gone out dancing just for pleasure in a long time." (© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2006, reprinted with permission)