By : Chris James and Dave Legge
The route of the dinner dance was discovered more by chance than by design. In the early eighties a small group of under trained and somewhat ill disciplined Comrades aspirants comprising Dave Legge, Ian Russell and Chris James were looking for some variation from the usual slog along tarmac roads. The Empangeni airfield was a natural starting point being on the edge of town, with spacious parking, and a welcome watering hole for pilots and aircraft mechanics being readily accessible after a run - or possibly before it.
3 kilometers after running north towards the Khulu river we took an inviting downhill turn to the right across a wooded stream but were then startled by a deceptively steep climb heading east, with various false summits, which appropriately became known as the “three bitches”. We knew we were mounting the final crest when Dave suddenly broke from the exhausted pack and executed a Joggie Jansen tackle on a clump of sugar cane, followed by a cheer from the school children staying in Addison’s compound, who always thereafter readily and warmly welcomed us to their tap of cold water. Suitably refreshed we turned south for a further few k’s along farm roads when the drone of aircraft landing in the late evening suggested that it was time to turn right and run cross country down to the airfield. A few cold Castles with Boet Voges and Richard Dunning in the aircraft hanger, and the route was born.
As to the name, the first part came fairly easily. Friday evenings became a regular routine with more preparation being focused on the car park entertainment than the run itself. The hospitality of Boet and his team had to be reciprocated and before long many good hours were spent in that favourite Zululand pastime - men looking into the back of bakkies with a cooler box nearby. Then ladies started to join the run, Dave’s crash tackles became more spectacular, and white wine, snacks and eventually the odd full-blown braai developed. Hence the “dinner” portion of the name. The “dance” part is a little more complex.
On one particular Friday there was the unusual Empangeni event of a ball taking place at the City Hall. Steve Lovoipierre and his friend Gordon Forrest had been invited by their girlfriends to take part and from an early stage in the post run bakkie watching, kept anxiously looking at their watches saying that they had to leave shortly to prepare themselves for the ball. This clockwatching became less committed as the beer flowed and there were one or two messages via the hanger that a lady had phoned and that dressing preparations and dance practicing should now commence. These were ignored and then forgotten until two very irate girlfriends arrived fully dressed and made up, but with thinnish white lips, and a compromise was eventually reached after some heated discussion in the shadows. The girls left at high speed in their car and returned a moment later with dinner jackets, polished shoes and bow ties and after a hurried instant shower of under arm spray and a quick comb through the hair, the lads dressed in the car park, executed one or two unsteady pirouettes, and left in a cloud of dust, insisting graciously that the rest of us would be most welcome as soon as we were ready.
By about ten or ten thirty, when the fire had died down and the cooler box emptied, we remembered the very kind invitation to the ball, and the remaining group of us, still in sweaty running kit, arrived at the City Hall and confidently entered, expecting of course wonderfully warm and enthusiastic hospitality. Fred Astaire would have been impressed with what followed but this would be more the subject of a dance report rather than a running one, so elaboration is not necessary.
From then on the name “Dinner Dance” became entrenched.