Arthur Murray’s Dance Studio stands at 286 5th Avenue, a mere pitching wedge away from the Hotel Chandler on East 31st Street. Arthur is the famed dance teacher/choreographer who led Yveta Lukosiute to her world titles. Last week Yveta was upstate, out of town, and Arthur’s classes clashed with an already heaving itinerary.
The DanceSport studio is at 22 East 34th Street, a mere nine iron away from the Hotel Chandler on East 31st Street. Last Friday night the studio hosted DJ EL Maestro’s Salsa birthday bash, an event I had the pleasure of attending along with the gifted Juddge Aggie. For a cupple of hours the dancing blurred with the perfection of the night until an untimely pulled calf muscle brought the event to a premature close.
So what of The Big Apple? Ground Zero was solemn, sad, sobering. The Statue of Liberty stood elegantly. The winds blew cold. Stevie Wonder was wonderful. The Rockettes rocked it. Macy’s paraded for the world to see. Black Friday started on Thursday. Junior’s cheesecake topped all polls. There were Knicks, Giants and Jets but no Sharks. The park was quite central. We had breakfast near Tiffany’s. I could give the city some tips. My Spanish wasn’t good enuff to talk to the locals. The Empire State Building watched wisely on the grids below, a reasonably simple approach to street names; let’s call this one 1st and that one 2nd. Let’s call that one 51st. And that one 52nd. You get the picture. New York was a fairy tale.
Back home there was controversy. No, nothing to do with government, the U-turn on tax credits, the peace loving world intent on self-destruction or bullying in the Tory party. No, it was the exit from Strictly of Jamelia having won the dance offf against Pop Video Pete at Blackpool. She was voated offf by a score of 3-1 but insiders say it was a dunn deal, that the decision had already been made. It is no shock. The producers can, and do, what they like. It is only a game show. For the ratios of boys to girls he had to stay. Didn’t he? Or was it an anti-ITV stance? Or was he just supposedly more popular with the viewers? In sane, I know. It could have been Insania.
Of course, if you want to be picky, and why not, you could argue that as license fee payers the GBP have a right to a fair contest. They have a right to see the voats cast (they are not publicly available). They, in the spirit of fair play, demand transparency. And of course they won’t get it. All you have to do is troll back through Strictly history to see further evidence. Remember Christopher Parker running around like Batman? In the final? Or the re-instatement of Tom Chambers having finished last in the quarter final only to go on and win? Or Ricky Whittle losing out when his average was four or five points higher than Chris Hollins. He asked to see the voats and was given short shrift. It was a shame to miss Blackpool but with the beauty of the iPlayer at least the dances were available across the pond. Three dances stood out. Katie sparkled in the master’s arms, Jay shined the Salsa floor, but Anita’s Paso was coruscating, the real deal.
Having bagged just the one ten at Blackpool, the girl forever undermarked, Anita came down to earth with a bang as her Rumba caused ructions, her score the lowest of the night, just 31, matched by Pete and his Smooth.
Anita danced to ‘Read All About It’, the Emeli Sandé classic, and they began standing in front of a giant twelve foot Kindle, the story in print ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen. She wore a white lace curtain, Anita not Jane, Gleb a matching shirt and black pants. The scene was set. What followed was a gently lustful exposé of contemporary dance, nice lines, plenty of drama, Anita the consummate actress. But there was also an illegal lift where she cycled a missing bike, a drag through his legs and Gleb preparing for a one-armed press up. Where, you have to ask, had the Rumba rumbled off to for it was nowhere to be seen? Glebby Glebby Glebby got it wrongy wrongy wrongy. If form runs true next week it could be her last.
It was the last for Pete, no further reprieve, his Smooth to ‘Sweetest Feeling’ set in a bakery, cupcakes and all, not the smartest choice in National Diabetes Week. In the last few weeks the men have been shorn of jackets, left as abandoned snooker players, and that cast this Smooth uncultured from the get go. There is a psychological rule: if you dress smart you act smart. So began the mutton dressed as mutton show. Lacking finesse they danced like a cupple at home in the kitchen, which, incidentally, is where he will be watching next week’s show. To cap it all off, Pete’s rise and fall now complete, he scored just one point in the ‘Quick Step – a – thon’, an attempt by the producers to fill time without being too challenging. All the dancers have danced a Quick Step already in the series.
In the dance offf again, much to her disdain – you are never not communicating – was Kellie, her Salsa to ‘I Want You Back’ (Jackson 5) scoring 34 points. This should have made her safe but her ‘QS – a – thon’ scored just two points and the GBP did the rest. So what of her Salsa? Would it have graced 34th Street?
Just about, yep, it would. As ever her placement and timing were spot on, the routine contained a reverse somersault and a lift to his left shoulder. But there was something missing. It started when she threw her wine over KFG. Rather than chase after her I would have changed the locks and gone back to the Salsa pally for a new girl but he was insistent. On the floor there was energy, strong isolations and plenty of aggression, another trait not welcome at Travolta Towers. It felt though that it was a little stiff, something linked to her super tuff core and body strength. It lacked warmth, empathy and rapport, hence the lead shown by the GBP.
Antony Smith of Bristol may be the Don of the Ballroom but he is an unlikely Don Juan so it is always funn watching him try and cope with dances that don’t normally fit into his repertoire. Try the Argentine Tango, where the ruffnecked dockers fight it out for the lady of the night. Antony wouldn’t be seen on the docks with a hussie. He would be at an ‘A’ list reception working the room for an escort given the current Mrs Smith’s blessing. Katie wouldn’t be on the docks either but what an escort she would be.
True to form he had no jacket but was wearing a tie; he even showers in his tie. As he shined glasses at the bar Katie sat provocatively alone, dressed in Lincoln Green, her stunning pins again on show. For the first half, danced to the funky ‘Libertango’, the producers having an uncommon rush of blood to the head, the ochos were smart, the mood sharp, crackling. Occasionally he made corrections. His block steps didn’t block but Katie followed. The displacements didn’t displace. But there was a watchability about this; who wouldn’t want to watch Katie? And the more they danced the better it became, the room fizzed to ganchos, a subtle roundabout and a gliding rondé. The audience even unexpectedly clapped because he managed to lift her off the floor. 32 points pushes them into December where their mettle will be truly tested.
The competition is hotting up and the three finalists are gently moving away from the pack. Georgia averages 32.1, Jay 32.5 and Helen 32.9, way below last year’s three key protagonists who at the same stage scored thus – Caroline Flack, 32.8, the eventual winner whose last four dances all scored 40, Frankie Bridge, 33.9, and Pixi Lott, 34.5. But December is the month where the cream rises to the top and where the dances themselves tend to do for the dancers. If you get a dance not suited now it’s curtains.
In 1982 Rolf Magnus Joakim Larsson wrote a pop song called ‘The Final Countdown’. He was just 19. In the years that followed he changed his name to Joey Tempest, formed a rock band called Europe and the song smashed the charts throughout the world in 1986. It featured heavily on a quiz show on Radio 1 in the same year. Little did he know that he had written a Paso Doble classic. Little did we know either.
For the first thirty seconds Gigi played the drums like a demented muppet as Georgia strutted on her own in the middle of the floor looking like a wicked witch, her hair tied back, her frock dark navy, shredded at the feet. When he realised that the audition to be the new John Bonham had failed, he even wore faux leather pants and waistcoat like a real rock star, Gigi joined her and the dance began, just a minute to fill. What followed was dramatic but tepid, harsh but wobbly, aggressive but messy. Oh, for a copy of Anita’s smash at Blackpool. With the audience short-changed the score edged to 33.
It was way back in Week Three when Jay scored his first, and only, ten, for his Jive. Since then he has cruised through each round like an Olympic athlete, striking hard, improving, using his pedigree, pushing his boundaries without showing all, doing enuff, you sense, building for a great crescendo. There is little that he can not do. Choreography comes easily to him, lifts are normal, his turns professional and sharp. Now, as the final beckons he has to add that final ingredient, a combination of belief and delivery. He has to take control and boss the dance, to let us know that he is the real McGuiness, sorry McCoy. As the only man left standing he owes that to half of the human race.
Accordingly his Tango to ‘When Doves Cry’ brought another cupple of tens in a score of 38 that topped his own leader board. Another without a jacket, this time in a soft scarlet combo, Aliona in a matching frock with a taunting lattice bodice, Jay bossed this dance from start to finish, his nearly clean shaven look proving that he is no Samson. He drove the dance, pushed his partner, led the flicks, the kicks and the dips; there was an intensity that we had yet to see from him.
Helen has been another threatening to deliver, she is a pro after all, but her highest score to date was 35 for an unremarkable Quick Step in Week Five. She had yet to ten, yet here they came in droves, a trio, for a Viennese Waltz to ‘At Last’, a slow and gentle accompaniment. Again this was unremarkable. Twee, yes. Good technique, yes. Nice, yes. But not stunning, like a designer frock without the label. 39 matches the best in show so far.
So how did it happen? Not sure really. They began as she was playing with a gramophone. They looked the part, Ali-Ash had no . . . you don’t need me to say ‘jacket’ . . . his gold waistcoat and cravat blending beautifully with her pastel azure frock flecked with hints of d’or. Looking the part helps. So too a lovely Fleckerl. But when he brought his left hand close to his left cheek, bringing her with him, about a dozen times, it got a bit sickly, so too the overuse of underarm turns. In a movie it would have fitted, the girl won, but I’m not sure you can score so highly just for looking nice.
So there you have it. Moves are being made, the jostling has begun. Jay stands tall, one man against five girls, my sort of numbers. If he can unlock some more Alpha male we are in for a treat. If he can’t I’ll be cheering for Anita and Katie, true amateurs. Can you imagine Antony Smith of Bristol in the final? Or even winning?
Now that would be a fairy tale.
December 3rd 2015