Aaron Renfree helps youths find light in a dark place
A FORMER British child star who has proven his resilience after being targeted by the UK's tabloid media is teaching Aussie children confidence one dance move at a time.
Aaron Renfree got his one-way ticket out of a small-town childhood in the United Kingdom at the age of just 13. He was among the first generation of teens to reach singing stardom thanks to reality television as a member of S Club 8, which was formed in 2001. The band, an offshoot of the adult S Club 7 group, was little known in Australia but tours around the UK were sold out and Renfree spent his teen years growing up on television.
Renfree, 28, is no longer a kid, and S Club 8 has long since given way to newer reality television behemoths like One Direction. His love of a good performance hasn't gone anywhere, though, and has put him on stage with some of the biggest names of the past decade. Renfree turned his early experience to use to study musical theatre before becoming a commercial choreographer.
He has twice danced for Taylor Swift for the UK launch of her singles We're Never Ever Getting Back Together and 2014's defining pop song, Shake It Off.
"She was just really lovely," Renfree said.
A major part of life now is passing on his skills to the next generation, and it was that which brought him to Australia last month to share his love of dance with young Queenslanders. Renfree is an ambassador for the school MF Dance, and spent much of November leading classes in its south-east Queensland schools with his choreography.
His experience of dance is a little different to the kids he teaches, but he said life in S Club 8 gave him lessons that he's passing on to his students. He said the school adopted a philosophy of learning life skills as well as performing.
"Dance is a form of self-expression," he said.
"I think that's what a lot of kids see."
MF Dance Australian owner Vix Cousins said the children looked up to Renfree throughout his two-week period last month of conducting workshops with the dance school.
"He shows the kids that it's possible to make a living out of dance," she said.
"Our whole program is about instilling confidence and getting them ready for adulthood. And (Renfree) knows about that because of his career in the UK."
Renfree, who is active on social media and has been a target for the tabloids in the UK, said dance was often a place where teenagers who didn't fit in could find a level of comfort.
"I've been where they are," he said.
"They're learning about growing up."
Renfree had no professional experience or training before he was plucked out of obscurity as a teenager. He had been copying dance routines and singing around the house since he was a toddler, but there was little hint about where that would take him. It was actually an invitation from a friend that got him to go along to the S Club 8 audition.
Renfree got the gig. His friend missed out.
"I always knew I wanted to do this for a living," he said.
"I didn't really know what I was auditioning for at the time. It just kind of changed my life."