There was a time, a long time ago, when the big events that I used to look forward to the most were birthdays, Christmas, the Cup Final and the start of the crickit season, a chance to place willow to leather, the smell of freshly cut grass leading towards another Wimbledon Final win by Borg. Johnny Mac was not for this household.
And then something changed. Wednesdays became the focal point, the high of the university rugby match, this soon surpassed by weekends, much of the same. And again something changed. As dancing became intravenously dripped into the subconscious it was a weekend by the sea, hours of dance classes, frivolity and friendship. Dance nights were the same, a chance to release, to perform, to blow away the restrictions of everyday life and to replace them with that haze of glitterball bliss.
Following a brilliant summer of sporting success – did I mention the gargantuan Dave Weir and his haul of four gold medals? – October 5th was the date imprinted on the nations’ noticeboards, indelibly inked into the conscience. The return of Strictly, Series 10, even if it was past the watershed, many of the younger fans hoping that mum and dad could work the recorder, hard drive, S-plus, Tivo etc. I’ve got a video recorder. Does that count?
And so, as everyone rushed in frunnt of their tellies, we learnt that each cupple was safe for the first show but that the dreaded ‘Dance Off’ would be back next week, the two lowest scoring pairs facing each other and the juddgies. Not sure whether it worked before or if will work now.
The Knight of the realm, armed with a new under five’s joke compilation, led the way in his unique style, caring for nought as he introduced the juddgies, all relaxed, smiling and looking mighty fine, each bookend applying that aura of caricature as soon as you could say ‘Show Time’. In the red corner, nasty pastie, sneering, snarling, picky. In the blue corner the Jack-in-a box, exuberant, expressive, yet timid and shy.
And then to the middle, Lord Len with a twinkle in his eye, next to him the Australian actress and Oscar winner Nicole Kidley, beautiful, her dinky nose, glinting eyes and society deb persona, ‘yeah, yah, yes, yah, yeah.’ Turns out this was Darcey Bussell, easy mistake to make, yah, ‘at last a a juddge who knows what she’s talking about,’ added Bruce in a swipe at the departed Judgge Alice. At 84 years old he really has little to lose. If you were being forensic he is right but what a left hook to the beautiful jaw of the defector.
After the build up, the nerves and the waiting, the doors to Harrods opened and the dancing began, not the dancin’, Fern Britton having the dubious honour of launching the Cha Cha Cha to ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’, with a trepidatious 19 points. Like many people fresh to the art Fern was ‘furious that she couldn’t do it straight away,’ a naïve expectation; it takes more than a month to become the best in the world. Dance miles matter.
As is Artem, chest aplenty, sadly not the last view, hid her limitations well; he is a brilliant choreographer. The routine was limited, laboured, safe, nerves dominating but a solid foundation on which to build.
Victoria Pendleton looked amazing in her pink frock built from Bridlington rock, gorgeous even, as she Cha Cha-ed to Kylie, but there is no other way to describe this 16 points other than a bike crash, the velodrome for once silent, nerves, self-belief, memory, all hitting home for the wrong reasons. Steps went awry, her body contra to the routine, Brendan dancing in despair. ‘I’m useless today . . . aren’t I?’ she said on the VT. Self-fulfilling.
Colin ‘Double 0’ Salmon dwarfed Kristina, the new Bond girl, and we were all wary of what the big man was going to produce but we shouldn’t have been. In one of the most natural displays of the night he kept great tempo, a mature approach, his leopard skin top rippling. Here was a confident man, at ease with the role, the routine maybe needing a little more for him but a routine nonetheless undermarked with 23, especially when you see some of the later efforts. It was at this stage, live on Friday night, that the Beeb got behind schedule and Darcey’s chance to comment disappeared. Not good, yah?
At the more civilised hour of 6:30pm the Saturday show began with a buzzing display from the pros, adventurous, lift-tastic, like footy players chasing a new contract. The remaining – please note the ‘G’ – dancers had had another day to stew and it was Kimberley and Pasha who launched the night, doing the best Cha of the weekend, Yorksher’s finest putting out a very clear marker, very early on, once she’d broached the twenty seconds it took to get the dance started, that she is the one to beat. Remember you heard it here first. 28 points and 2 yahs.
One person who will be otherwise engaged long before Christmas is Johnny Ball whose 17 point Cha can best be described as Intermediate Level 4. Locals will know what I mean. Without the defending champion Aliona to coax him through – injured – up stepped British girl Iveta Lukosiute. Sorry. No Brits available, bring on a Yank, imported, a former – twice – winner of the World Ten Dance Championships. Game as Iveta was this was always going to be a tough ask, short notice never the performers’ friend. Johnny tried hard and had fun but sometimes the body isn’t as willing as the mind. That said, would he have been better forty years ago? Pigeon toes, arm blats, little fluidity except for his singing. Perhaps he got his shows and channels mixed up?
When I see crying on the telly, not at it, Holby, Tuesday nights, I often question its validity. When it is a singer who bleats in gratitude or one that misses out there needs to be perspective. If a cat is driven over and delivered through the mailbox there may be a point. But when a pro dancer – a pro – starts blubbing during the first week then you can not doubt that there will be trubble ahead.
Bring on Robin Windsor, dressed like a gay gladiator, doing a Cha to ‘Freedom’. At the end, after a bubbly routine with Lisa Riley, herself auditioning for the lead in ‘Hairspray’, he jumped into her arms, not her to his, hernia saved, he straddled her and he bounded with delight when the scores came in, safe in the knowledge that they had smashed it. 30, a slight overmark, ended being top of the leader board for the show and of course, he cried. For God’s sake.
To be fair to Lisa she is a smiley, sharp and savvy chick and she has ability, attitude and timing, mixing well with her natural aptitude for performance. She was relaxed, energised, unphased, comfortable in the domain. Why would we expect otherwise?
Two further Chas filled the night, Jerry with Anthony Smith and Louis with Flav. Jerry posed her way to 18 in a gutless, minimalist performance, posing more than moving, slow and wasteful. At least she got Anton to train in his shirt, polo or T. The tie was gone, the suit in the wardrobe, the Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit still in its box.
Juddge Lulu reported that Louis Smith had recently split with his girlfriend, probably for a boy. If that was the case there were at least two takers on Saturday night. Darcey Yah was up for it too, so much so that these three scored his performance based on how much they fancied him rather than his ability.
In his bid for martyrdom and voats we were told that Louis sacrificed much to get to the top. I think not. He made a life choice, nothing more. It was good to see an Olympic medallist out of his comfort zone and clearly struggling with the process, concentrating hard, mentally piecing the routine together in his head. He might have been chilled, comforted by the inclusion of a one-armed push from the floor and a splits, universal Cha Cha steps, but his dancing was as limited as the routine, Flavia taking centre stage. Yes, his hips moved but that was about it; it was almost as if his feet were too big for his legs . . . and they are long legs. 27 points and three drools, four points too many.
The Waltz is the singularly most beautiful dance in the world. If you want to woo or charm, forget the sauce of Salsa or the tingle of the Tango, the Waltz is the puller. Never easy with its rise, fall and sway, its precision and its aristocratic timing, there is one thing that can be said about the dance; you are not allowed to lift your partner from the floor.
Enter Hotty Hauer and Nicky Byrne stealing a song I thought I had the copyright on to Waltz to, ‘I Wonder Why’ by Curtis Stigers, sounds like tigers. Surprisingly Nicky didn’t quite feel the music, yeah, and the soft choreography was greeted with an equally soft top line. And then the new pro struck. Firstly a neck turn where both her feet barely skimmed the ground and then a true lift, punishable, banable, a point loser. Craig brought out the two paddle in a lacklustre 17. Karen tried to defend herself saying that it was, ‘anything to win’. A wee naïve. More flies are caught with sugar than vinegar. . . unless the fly is diabetic.
Vaughany scored three points more, a fast paced routine, too fast, a spoiler, the great crickiter almost biting on his tongue, posture a problem, grace and style lacking, something that his batting exuded. He could do worse than to compare notes with the noble art, the balance needed, the lines to extend to play straight, the dance down the wicket, known in the dance pally as a lock step.
Denise Kathleen Outen scored three sixes and a seven and had this been an over of crickit that would have been laudable, even a match winner. Instead it brought a gentle 25, her clad in the soft pastel yellow of Leeds United, a good thing, the song, that beautiful ballad, ‘With You I’m Born Again’ originally done by the late Mrs Stevie Wonder, Syreeta, and the invisible Beatle that was Billy Preston. Save one wobble on a standing turn this was graceful and nearly the real deal. Lord Len spotted a lack of heel leads. If you watch the iPlayer you can do the same.
Just by chance Dave Sutton (Ricky/Sid) was next and he tickled a point more. You might imagine that Sid was going to do the Lambeth Walk, not a good thing, or sing Chim Chimney, not much better, but knock me down with a feather, guvnor, out he came, a bit of repetition (standing turns and fallaway) but he was intense, moved greatly and he survived some soft choreography. Come on Ola, man up a bit! He is clearly capable of more and will be thereabouts come the end of November if the elocution lessons pay off. He has to go further than Bianca, dun’t he?
You’ll never believe what I am going to say next but Dani Harmer makes Vincent look like the Jolly Green Giant. No, you barnpots, not green! Big! Tall! She is truly diminutive and thankfully doesn’t have to dance with 00 Salmon; the journey would have been too much to bear. Her Waltz, full of wobbles and nerves bagged 21 points something that will improve week on week. It is impossible to add a points value to nerves but she was shaking so much that Vincent offered her the chance to put her hand in his pocket so not to waste it. Her face was tense, her technique breakable. Time to take a breath and relax.
This is very much what Richard did in the hands of the wonder of Boag even though they danced to the sad dirge, ‘You Don’t Bring Me Flowers’. Maybe you should buy your own luv? Or get him some chocolates. Always a bit one sided this. Richard was accused of having a smarmy smile, a boring face, of producing a dance without character and worse than that with lumpy transitions. Lord Len saw the light offering a 7 as the others fived, 22 for smart technique, great use of the floor and really tidy footwork. Lumpy transitions! In week one! Maybe we’re setting the bar a little high too early darling?
Richard’s technical application will be good for him as the show unwinds; much in life is based on technique and processes. Once he has internalised the dance, something expectedly missing with today’s crop, then we are in for a real treat, once the dancers mean it, once it means something to them.
That, I’m sure has whetted your appetites for the first week of eliminations, nearly two hours of sparkle and glitz and then the dance off. Thankfully the glitter ball will shine like a star until Christmas.
P.S. Many Happy Big Zero returns to Lady Sue of Richmond.
October 12th 2012