Strictly 2018 Series 16 – Week 8

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On Saturday, for the first time in four years, the All Blacks came to town. One of the world’s greatest sporting teams of the last decade, proud, strong, defiant, carrying the heritage of a nation. In appalling conditions they edged a fierce contest.

It began with the Haka, a two hundred year old war dance, about hairy men fighting to the death, summoning the sun, making it shine, taking a step upward, and another, upward.

There is much debate about the Haka and its unfair advantage over the recipients. It is a challenge of brutality. To defy it is to be seen as disrespectful. So it is allowed, we all watch, cheer and say, ‘well, that’s traditional, it’s okay.’

And it’s not.

The defiance deserves defiance.

More than that, it demands it.

In times gone by teams have turned their backs. England once went nose to nose. Ireland fronted it in a collective V shape. Not once did anyone offer Vs in a reverse Churchill fashion, do a collective ‘moon’ or even a Morris dance.

The crowd at Twickenham had their own idea. They sang. Their anthem, our anthem. Loud, proud, equally defiant, somehow maintaining that respect for the occasion and a ferocious opponent. The Haka was drowned out. First blood to England.

By no little coincidence it was Remembrance Sunday the following day, one hundred years since the end of the war to end all wars. Well, that worked, didn’t it? The mood of the weekend was total respect, no more so than at Twickenham, a crowd bedecked with poppies and reminders, the pre-game silence held with love and awe.

The theme continued at Elstree where the dancers were under instruction to offer their best, as ever, and where the juddgies were guided towards increasing the scores at the bottom half of the Leader Board in a feel good, feet bad sort of way. It was Christmas and Valentine’s Day rolled into one. Can’t wait for another 20% escalation at Blackpool next week . . . the main beneficiaries being Swanny, Joe and Danny, one Salsa, two Sambas, DBS peering over the trenches ready for Sunday night.

DBS is the affectionate acronym assigned to two hard dances – they are all hard if you’ve never done them – Death by Salsa and Death by Samba. It’s like the one way ticket to Dignitas. What is your preferred method of exit, sir, lethal injection or a pestle full of narcotics? Watching Swanny in the dance off was really like that.

Let’s start his Salsa.

Have you ever felt stitched up?

You know, a bit like Brexit. You buy a £10 ticket to the lottery thinking there is a prize of £1m only to win and be told that the real prize is a fiver. That was Swanny’s Salsa.

He was dressed for an aerobics class, pastel shorts and vest revealing shaved underarms, no idea how his barber managed that, fluorescent headband and matching wrists. A la McEnroe, you couldn’t really take this seriously. We had a treadmill, power steps, Jumping Jacks and a defamation of the art. It was Jane Fonda meets the Kids from Fame. A specialist coach was brought in and it might as well have been to show Swanny how to bowl Googlies. Jenny Thomas specialises in Swing, Lindy, Jazz and Tap. Perfect for Salsa then. The routine was exhausting, technically limited, they did it twice, another dance off, but it was like taking a bath whilst someone sat on the loo next to you.

I must tell you a Jane Fonda story here. Last week she was paying tribute to Michael Douglas as he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

‘You know my dad was famous,’ she said, referring to Henry, the two time Oscar winner (12 Angry Men and On Golden Pond), ‘but can you imagine how hard it was for Michael when, every morning, he came down for breakfast and there, at the table, eating his Cheerios, was Spartacus . . .’

Swanny survived; Joe and Danny fought for the privilege of the dance off alongside him. Both tried hard, Joe dressed like the Son of Rambow (you need to check out the poster for the movie) with last week’s mascara still painting his visage, fading a little to grey. Reddo looked like a Mivvy. In a hyperbolic effort everything that Joe did was an overstatement, even playing the drums like Harry (Judd), surely the start and finish of every Samba routine. You’d find more soul in an empty corn beef tin. It looked like he needed a caipirinha or two, but as he’s only twelve he’s unlikely to have had that pleasure yet.

Danny wasn’t much better, emerging from the same house that Vick Hope used for her Salsa in Week 2. Don’t get me wrong, both of them, the feet were okay, but the Samba is about spirit, atmosphere and bounce, toe, heel, push. Danny was more staccato than a fire cracker and stiffer than a concrete boot, which, metaphorically, he is now wearing, at home, thinking about what could have been. Maybe he’s at an age when the knees and hips just don’t bend anymore? If only he’d been asked to do a wartime Jive on Armistice Day. Now there’s an idea.

Danny’s heritage is in Dominica, and he lives half the year in Grenada (West Indies), which is where he was last seen. He didn’t show for the exit interview on It Takes Two and the rumour is that he won’t be back for the Christmas finale. The process, it seems, has hurt Danny Gone-Jules in his bid to add to his legacy. Tantrums and Divas are common in the world of performance, sorry, the world, so this is no surprise. Not that it’s Danny but that statistically someone would get the hump; egos are so fragile. A bit like Will Young who did his Marlene Dietrich impression (‘I want to be alone’) in 2015. Do you remember Hottie Hauer travelling to Cornwall to train and Will was nowhere to be seen? She was fuming.

Not this week though, Hottie got her favourite dance, her best dance, arguably her only dance, the Charleston, and Charlie came to the party again (35) salvaging another week of exposure to this addictive art. Good on him. Where there is formality and genuine technique Charlie has struggled but given looseness and timing, hip hop, street, cool and funky, he has excelled. This week as Hottie impersonated ‘La Passione’, the much missed Flavia Cacarchase, the bobbed hair et al, Charlie sported the same sparkling vest that he wore in his Salsa in Week 4. One can only hope they washed it.

Two ladies glided through untroubled, Kate with a Quick Step and the Luton Lip with a Waltz. The pergola/band stand was back for Kate, another cheap trick from the design team, as ‘I Want You to Want Me’ reminded me of a bygone age full of angst and innocence. It wouldn’t have been most folk’s choice of tune but it was gentle and safe, the GBP buying into the admirable journey of the novice.

There was a time when I saw a cupple dancing Rock and Roll in the foyer of a five star hotel in London. Dressed to the nines, bow tie and glam frock, they were oblivious to anyone else as they moved easily to the touch of the piano man. A few moments later the male lead whispered to the pianist, ‘Moon River, please,’ and thus began a sumptuous Waltz, much to the delight of the other guests. Had there been a hat to pass round it would have filled quickly, notes only.

The story was the same for Stacey, taking the theme to Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I walked past it once in New York, and regaling us with double reverse spins, fallaways, one admittedly with a wooden leg, tumble turns flashing her main of red hair. She stood next to Neil Jones and Reddo (Diane Buswell) at the after show party. Could’ve been family though you’d pity the kids.

When the Head Juddge says that a dance needs a change of energy the dancer can be forgiven for thinking, ‘I didn’t write the song, and I didn’t choose it, give me a break!’ Poor Faye.

Of course she’s a pro, seven consecutive chaine (shenay) turns to the left don’t just magically appear – get Kate and Charlie to do them next week, they’d be stumbling to the floor like baby giraffes before you know it – but her Jive was a masterclass in technique and delivery, polished, almost immaculate. It is doubtful that there is a dance where she will stall so it’ll be ‘Lucky Pin, Lucky Pin’ come the Final.

The same applies to Ashley, three more 10s in a Contemporary Dance, another Cupple’s Choice, this really was Kate Bush meets Margot Fonteyn, no Slinky made of Lego in sight. If this dance was butter it would be the Lurpak of the dairy world. Height, grace, beautiful lines, she took flight in a flawless, almost floor-less exposé. It was as if she didn’t need the surface below her.

On Remembrance Weekend we were reminded of recent tragedies in the Roberts household. Whilst we have every sympathy for her, bereavement has no friend, as a voat winner it was, going back to Kate’s Quick Step, another Cheap Trick. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t suffered loss or who isn’t the victim, or doesn’t know a victim, of a chronic disease or two. Keeping your own counsel has its rightful place.

Talking of tragedy you may have heard about some people who have either lost limbs or were born without them. The great Ella Fitzgerald had two legs removed in 1993 because of diabetes, Waylon Jennings a foot in 2001. Michael Caines, Michelin starred chef lost his chopping arm in a motorbike accident, Rick Allen of Def Leppard his left arm in a car crash in Sheffield. He still drums does Rick, he’s quite handy, and Mike has retained his stars. Remarkable people.

Lauren was born with her physical situation. You remember my friend Pat, the barman with no left hand? I asked him what he thought of Lauren’s dancing, given their mirror image.

He rolled his eyes.

‘As if I watch dancing?’

I laughed. Pat, like Lauren, knows the score.

Had he watched her he would have seen a mighty fine Viennese Waltz to ‘You Are the Reason’ even though it was adorned with too many decorations and not enough cake, if you pardon the analogy.

Amir Jared’s choreography is forgiven because still there has been no sign of her prosthetic arm and his adaptation to what is in front of him has been, is, admirable. But not as admirable as her. A non-dancer, now lost in the world of art, really dancing as if no one is watching, with warmth and talent. The chemistry between this cupple is obvious, charming, and infectious.

Pat now knows about Lauren and he said unprompted, ‘I could give her a hug.’

We all could, Pat. We all could.

Dave Schofield

Bristol

November 16th 2018.