On a Sunday evening in December 2014 I received a text message on my phone from someone asking me to join them as their dance partner for charity. It was from a dancing friend I have known for some years, as we both dance modern jive, as a dance medium. She explained the background of the charity, in fact a hospice. Nottinghamshire Hospice. When she explained what they do, how much it costs to run, together with the important detail that we would have to learn the Samba and the Waltz as part of the process I said I’d check with my wife (Joanne) first, however I was initially tempted.
The goal set for each couple (the Hospice aimed for 10 couples to join) was to raise at least £700 (£350 each), which would include tickets sales for a ‘Grand Final’ strictly come Dancing style somewhere in Nottingham.
A few days tumbled by, with any thoughts of the strictly text somewhere in my distant memory, it returned with me following it up by replying to the message saying yes, whilst qualifying what the process and schedule would be;
- Weekly lesson every Saturday for 10 weeks starting on January 10th, 2015
- Lessons will be 90 minutes long – divided in essence into two parts; one half Samba, the other Waltz
- Lessons would be delivered by Dawn Harrison at the Wollaton School of Dancing
- Each dance would last 1 minute 20 seconds with Dawn providing with the steps to cover that time period
- Then on March 21st they would be a big final with all the couples strutting their Samba and Waltz stuff to the paying public, friends and family (all tickets sales donated to the Hospice)
- We all had to complete an application form, stating our reasons for enrolling, full name, contact details, and there was some historical information on the hospice, what is does and how the costs were to keep it running and offer more services to those with debilitating illnesses.
- Select our own music for each dance type and build a routine from the subsequent steps that we would be taught.
So once I agreed, no panic set in immediately, as didn’t realise fully what I had let myself in for. Having started some dancing late in life and neither of us had ever done any ballroom at any level, it slowly began to dawn on me what I had signed up for. Pushing that aside the focus became the reason for doing this. To attempt to raise any amount to support the massive £3 million cost of running the hospice. That number blew me away. My now dance partner had knowledge of their work from personal experience, and I had some from my mother who had used such facilities.
With that focus in our minds I set up our Just Giving Page and used social media to start spreading the word about our event, goals, targets and the reason we needed their money. So that’s me (the H = Horace and the A = Angela). This is our Strictly journey, in bite sized chunks, week by week.
Week 1 – January 10th, 2015
I arrived at address in Chilwell, Nottingham where the Wollaton School of Dancing was located at around 920am. Angela had already warned me that she couldn’t make the first lesson, so I was going solo. By 935am the hall, located upstairs above a hosiery/textiles shop, had several of the budding, innocent couples pensively awaiting our first lesson. Luckily, although Angela wasn’t there her aunt (Donna Price) was there, so I had a readymade partner and someone I already knew, which made the first lesson somewhat easier.
Dawn introduced herself to everyone and we met the head of Marketing from the Nottinghamshire Hospice Tina McTighe who handed out stickers so we could write our names on and stick on ourselves! It felt like a quiz show. Anyway by 945am Dawn called us all together and explained what the format would be, offering initial advice on footwear that we could purchase for the upcoming lessons and the Grand Final.
Dawn began with some basic box steps for the Waltz, separating the Men’s steps from the women’s. The men would follow what Dawn would teach. We would repeat several times then stand out, whilst the women did their bit. Once we have built up a bit of confidence, if you can call it that, Dawn asked us to join up with our partners. I joined up with Donna (who was still awaiting confirmation of her partner).
My first tentative steps moved me across the floor, although as expected, I lost my accuracy with the footwork, treading on Donna’s delicate toes..oops. We laughed it off and carried on nonetheless. As we practiced (with so many subtleties to recall and in the right order), I believed I managed to get a little better, with help from Donna. Watching Strictly Come Dancing on television and see the men leading in the Ballroom dance, made me realise right then and there what a difficult job it is, and more so to get it right. I wasn’t worried so much, as it was only my first ever Waltz lesson. I had to stay positive.
Not working us to the bone during the 90 minutes, we did have a break halfway through when we swapped from learning the Waltz to the Samba. This gave us all the opportunity to talk, meet the couples, catch our breath and refuel with coffee or water.
Once we had all done a bit of Waltzing, and following our intermission, Dawn turned our attention to the tricky ‘double bounce’ Samba. I’d seen so many difficult Samba performances on Strictly which did made me wander if I’d ever get it. Nevertheless, Dawn took her time and showed us slowly, with a few tips on making the correct action with carrying out the Samba steps. I found this harder than the Waltz, even so, Donna and I had a laugh, battling our way through the few steps Dawn had displayed for us to copy. With everyone struggling in kind, we all said how difficult both dances were for very different reasons. Thoroughly enjoyable, hard work, yet worth the effort we were already putting in after our first lesson.
We said our goodbyes and thanks to Dawn and to Tina and everyone said they would come back the following week, so dropouts after week 1. However they wanted a few more couples to enrol, so Tina asked all of us if we knew if any men we knew who would be willing to join up, as she had a couple of ‘spare’ ladies who wanted to dance, yet couldn’t find a male partner. There was one all-female couple in the first week, so all was not lost if the men ‘chickened’ out…
Week 2 – January 17th, 2015
So here we are again. In Chilwell Nottingham for 930 ish, at the dance school. Arriving about ten minutes early and parking across the road to the venue. In the intervening week, I have communicated with Angela about our first lesson and passed on as best I could what we had been taught. I texted Angela as I had arrived to check if she could find the location and whether she may need any assistance in finding it. All was well.
Donna was still looking, searching for a partner in week two. Two other potential couples who were going to take part decided against it for various personal reasons, still leaving the ‘group’ short, yet the hunt for more men continued unabated. Whilst we changed into our ‘dance’ footwear Angela had her first taste of the Strictly learning atmosphere, which she seemed to cope with well.
Angela made a few introductions to the other couples and to our teacher Dawn, who hopefully still remembered our names, so for week two we still wore name badges to help her.
Week two began as week one, with more steps being added to the Waltz, which we started with first. Again practising men’s steps first in ‘solo’ mode, followed by the women, then we joined up in an attempt to nourish our learning capabilities, that Dawn had fed us on. It worked some of the time, as Angela got up to speed with the ‘closed change’ and some of the fundamental yet basic steps that the Waltz requires. After many tries at putting the correct leg forward (for me) and Angela putting the correct leg back, we eventually began to get the flow of the dance, every now and then. It only took a moment’s lapse in concentration to it all to come crashing down (not literally thank goodness!). We laughed it off and tried repeatedly, each time trying to ascertain where the fault was in our steps or technique to remedy what was going wrong. We were getting there, slowly.
Donna danced with another man, whose female partner was missing, she managed to keep her foot in (sorry!).
During our usual well timed break, Angela and I ran through some more of the steps, whilst coffee and water was on offer just outside the dance room in the upstairs corridor.
Then Dawn called us back in for the second week of Samba. More steps added once we had repeated last week’s steps to help us remember and give any newcomers a sample of what has been taught. From the Samba ‘basic’ steps we added the ‘whisk’ to our burgeoning Samba repertoire. Nerves seemed to dissipate as we threw ourselves into learning this party dance. In the back of my mind I approached with some trepidation, as I felt this could be the ‘disaster dance’ as I heard Craig Revel-Horwood utter so many times in his infamous chair on Strictly Come Dancing. Unperturbed Angela and I pushed any such thoughts aside and plundered on picking up the steps and following to the best of our ability, what we were being taught.
Energetic as Samba is, left us panting a little, yet it made us aware of what standard of fitness was required, never mind skill level in learning, then performing these two dances in front of a hopeful partisan audience. I also had some concerns over my knees and the pressure the bounce action would have, as I would probably need to wear ‘cuban’ dance shoes that have an approximate 1.5’ heel for a bloke! That was something to worry about later. For now Angela and I were happy with our week two lesson (her first) as the lesson closed off with Dawn putting on some steady Samba music for us to practice to. She did the same with the Waltz, which allowed to foster the steps we’d learnt and maybe get us into the mood of that dance, plus allow to focus on what song choice we were going to make. From week one we were asked to select our two tracks and send the names into Tina at the Hospice. We were also advised to run the songs by Dawn to check if they were danceable to fit a Waltz or a Samba.
During the following week, I made some suggestions for our songs to Angela. She did the same in return.
As we left to go our separate ways at just gone 11am on this second Saturday, Angela and I began to discuss where we could meet to start to practice outside our Saturday lessons. We realised the once a week assistance wouldn’t be enough to do the dances justice, ourselves and the many people that we had already asked to sponsor us.
Week 3 – January 24th, 2015
A new couple arrived on the scene at the start of the lessons for week three. They on as we seemed like professionals having 2 weeks advantage. We were not, however perception works differently when you come to the party later on. Nevertheless Donna found a partner in Lynne Pearson, someone that Angela and I also knew. Angela convinced Lynne it would be a great opportunity to learn two new ballroom dances and raise the £700 to a very worthy cause.
We helped Lynne through the initial period of teaching to help her ‘catch up’ as Dawn pressed on, as she informed us she wanted to try and get the steps/basic routine for our timed 1 minute 20 seconds completed by week 7, allowing us to have some ‘free’ practiced sessions to pull our routines together, polish them in readiness for the big night come March 21st, at the East Midlands Conference Centre, in Nottingham.
After another wash up of steps from weeks one and two, Dawn continued to add further complexity to our routines, starting with the Waltz. Adding a natural turn to the mix, throwing us off balance (not literally), with the new couple, trying to keep up the pace and Lynne helped by Donna managing to grasp some of what was going on. Angela and I kept going, piecing together week one to three building on our ‘closed change’ and gliding into our ‘natural turn’, whilst remembering the ‘rise and fall’ that the Waltz is famous for.
We worked on our angles which corner we should be facing when turning, that allows the Waltz dancing couple to literally rotate themselves in an anti-clockwise effortless motion around any dancefloor. Checking with Dawn, we rehearsed to some calming music that we could continually repeat our steps to, once Dawn had joined us together after the now familiar men/women separation teaching method employed.
Taking our break for fluids and discussing our music options, Angela and I agreed on our choice and let Dawn know what our two songs we would be dancing to. Firstly for our Waltz we selected See the Day (we opted for the Girls Allowed Version of the many that we on offer). Then for the Samba we chose a classic – Bambeleo. This was fast, which worried me later on, as most of the practice Samba music was far slower. Again another small hurdle to leap over further down the line.
Additional steps to the Samba teach that followed included ‘bota fogo’s’, which threw another dimensions into the already tricky footwork. The action of ‘stepping on a pencil’ from the tip downwards, looked easy when Dawn it, yet my steps appeared as though a small horse or pony was dancing, leaping in gay abandon…umm. Anyway, Angela seemed to get the hang of this much better than me, so she helped me with a few tips.
We also needed to get our hips moving as party of this party dance. The balance as always was to keep your feet moving correctly whilst controlling your upper body, but moving your hips in time and rhythmically to the Samba beat. Impossible. Well its certainly takes some work, effort and repeated, dedicated practising.
Angela asked me how I felt it was going, and told her where I wasn’t sure and she did the same so we could come together and iron out each other foibles as it were. We were ably supported by Dawn and by Donna and her new partner Lynne.
As week 3 ended, Angela and I agreed that we would start having some extra practice sessions and organise when and where this would happen, now that we had selected our two songs. By now the full extent of the performance in seven weeks’ time started to hit home, as Tina and Dawn released further information about the location, the date and tickets that would be for sale. Money also began to tot up on our joint just giving site, with friends, family and employees on both side contributing to our pot of money. Week 4 beckoned and the strictly bug, began to bite.
Week 4 – January 31st, 2015
Nearly half way through this dance experience I tried to keep the focus on the dancing and making people aware of what I was doing to raise the as much we could for the Nottinghamshire Hospice.
Arriving in the car park opposite, I arrived in sync with Angela and Lynne as we entered the building and climbed those now infamous stairs to the dance floor above awaiting another lesson.
As we met the other couples and regaled about our last 3 weeks, we swopped our outdoor footwear for our chosen dance shoes. Then as expected Dawn kicked off with a recap of the last few weeks, then we began learning additional steps for our Waltz, that included the ‘natural spin turn’ which allowed you to navigate around the corners of the dancefloor along with the ‘reverse turn’. This rotational dance step meant you could dance down one side of the hall ‘into the corners’ then rotate your way out and across the bottom of the floor then up the other side moving in the standard anti-clockwise motion.
Our first attempts lacked poise and purpose. Yet that would come in time. In fact this step threw most of us, confusing angles and where to start and where to finish. Calculating where the audience would be and the judges, so we could orientate ourselves correctly around the room. Damn this sounded and felt scientific. I did well at maths, but this was a whole other equation. Angela and I counted our steps up the point where we needed to put these new turns, then took the necessary action to perfect, or at the very least copy what Dawn had so ably shown us.
By the break we had got a bit more sense out of our legs, brains and memory, to put together several decent attempts, as Lynne and Donna also followed suit with similar difficulties and measures of success if you can call it that.
Watered, refreshed after a ten minute interlude, we moved forward with the Samba. Once we have revised the last weeks work, Dawn pressed on adding ‘Volta’s’ to the ‘Boto Fogo’s’ we learnt last week.
A cross step action, with the subsequent Samba bounce, repeated back and forth whilst holding onto your partner. Tricky indeed. Initially my Volta steps were too big, causing me to lag behind in fully synchronising my body movements with Angela’s. So much to understand and deliver in the time that remained.
Nevertheless, Angela helped me again with the steps, whilst we practiced to some steady Samba sounds that Dawn put on for us. It helped a lot more once the music started, I could feel the rhythm that was required, plus move my feet in time to the steps, in the correct manner. As we all struggled, it brought smiles and some laughter, relieving any tension and nerves that may have existed. Lynne and Donna seemed to enjoy the Samba and so did Angela, I however preferred the Waltz.
As the lesson came to an end Angela and I tied up some final details about meeting in the week, especially to go over the Samba steps, and work on our Waltz. Once we had done this we would begin editing or trying to, our 2 musical choices so a plan of our actual routine could commence. We decided to share our training sessions with Lynne and Donna and also help Lynne catch up, which she did very well.
I was left in charge of the music and review where we could get inspiration from for our routine. During the following week Angela and I conversed by text and other social media mediums to show each other potential dance steps and likely choreography we could employ. The pressure was starting to genuinely build.
Week 5 – February 7th, 2015
Halfway point achieved and still in the fight. Angela and I had a good first practice/rehearsal session along with Donna and Lynne, although they still hadn’t made a final decision on their songs.
We were straight into our lesson, as everyone now comfortable and familiar with Dawn’s routine, we made quick headway into a refresher session of the last for weeks starting as always with the Waltz.
This enabled Angela and I to hone certain steps, areas of things like the ‘spin turn’ and getting out of the corner of the room, whilst seemingly gliding like a gazelle across the floor, feet perfect. The refresher session helped, without having to cover new ground to add on top. I began to master the initial steps and the spin turns, became more natural. Now I had to work on my angles, which way we should be facing after 3 steps.
1st step – This is lead with the left leg first which is in effect a straight step forward, the right leg moves the partnership to the right side, then you close your left leg to your right. (that’s the 1-2-3 of a Waltz)
The second step rotates you, as you step forward with your right leg, turning me and Angela at least halfway from where we had started (maybe a bit more).
The third step is backward on my left leg with some rotation so we end up facing the same corner we started (a full 360 degrees)
It was all finally sinking in and feeling a bit more normal that it did 4 weeks ago. We tried to run through a whole mini session, which was to go around the floor without an error and I think before we had usual half time break I believe we managed it at least once (maybe a fluke…but we didn’t care – we felt good, and we had achieved some mini landmark).
By the time Dawn called us to restart our Samba, the muscle memory of the Boto Fogo’s and Volta’s came flooding back, thankfully. This happened even more so once the Samba music kicked in, allowing us time to practice our taught steps as well as hard wire the flow of the routine that intrinsically was being built, developed over the last month. Angela and I were beginning to see shoots of mild enjoyment at finally understand the subtle complexities that comes with learning a professional dance style.
Mastering the step on to the toes with one foot lifting of quickly with the other then replacing the first foot again, all within a matter of seconds, gave you that ‘bounce action’. The trick however to making it effortless was not easy to achieve, whilst remembering what your arms should be doing, (as a male leading your partner). Then conquering the ‘whisk’, which required stepping to the left side whilst your right foot ‘whisked’ behind your left and augmenting the bounce action as you did this. Then repeat it. Move to the right with your left foot doing the ‘whisking’.
Gladly all this became somewhat easier as the music guided you into the mood and the movement of the Samba. Somehow it made the steps, valid, real. Angela continued to smile throughout the Samba, I tried to do the same, projecting that air of confidence in knowing what I was doing, displaying a party aura, which I hope would be infectious for the watching audience, in five weeks-time.
Week 6 – February 14th, 2015
After another brief practice session in the week my confidence edged up a notch, yet it needed to. Angela had a prior engagement this weekend, so I was on my own for the class.
Lynne had other plans to, so once again Donna and I teamed up, with a view to relay what we had learned back to our respective partners.
The lesson made much more sense, now that we were further down the learning road. The Waltz, continued to flow, as I picked up my footwork, making fewer errors, whilst dancing it through with Donna. The music as always helped massively and with some handy tips from Dawn, I began to feel (just a little bit) like a ballroom dancer. Maybe for a few minutes anyway, until my brain froze and so did my feet (poor Donna). However, we continued to refresh our steps and Dawn taught us the last few parts that we would need, it looked like after today’s lesson she had given us enough material for our allotted one minute twenty seconds. So following from week 7, we would be able to edit and create our routine.
Dawn offered us via rota slots where we could use her expertise of designing a routine as well as sharpening our steps that we had been taught.
Donna and I continued to rehearse, checking with Dawn and with some of our other couples, where we might be going wrong or helping them with some of their steps.
As time wore on, the Samba rehearsal also began to take shape, as I found a better method to create the right bounce action, keeping it smoother and not so ‘horse or pony-like’. Donna asked If was getting nervous, thinking about the main event on March 21st. I said I thought about it, yet it was too far away and so much practice was still needed. I mentioned I would contact the EMCC to get a visit so I could get a ‘feel’ of the room, we would dance the final in. We talked about going after one of our lessons, if possible, as the Conference Centre would be a short drive from the Wollaton School of Dancing.
Finishing at 11am as normal and the children’s class that came in afterward, Donna and I agreed to contact Lynne and Angela and arrange some extra practice time and sort out the visit to the EMCC. We said we both felt better dance wise with what we had accomplished thus far and the extra practice sessions, would drive our individual routines to our chosen songs. For me I had transferred and downloaded the songs Angela and I would dance to my phone, that way we both had the music where ever we rehearsed. I had also done some basic editing of the elements I wanted to include up to the one minute twenty seconds. I sent that to Angela for her to review and get her feedback.
In the back ground Angela and I worked on what our outfits would be. I looked laboriously at so many websites for male ballroom clothing, with very little in the offing. Angela Lynne and Donna found a site for which they used to order their outfits, which had a four to five week lead time. They placed the order in week two I believe. I eventually found some tails to wear for the Waltz and already had a shirt which needed to be ‘blinged up’ for the Samba. Fortunately I know of a seamstress who lived near me, who would create a cummerbund and a bow tie to match Angela Waltz dress, and then add some pink sparkles to my white stretchy Latin shirt , the pink to match Angela tasselled outfit.
To say learning a dance became a full time job, managing all the elements that would eventually come together like a four course menu, with not a plate or cutlery in sight….
Week 7 – February 21st, 2015
More tickets were available and Angela did a great selling job, asking for more tickets as we exceeded our limit of 50 tickets per couple. Relatives, friends work colleagues requested the £12 tickets, with the contributions allocated against our just giving fund raising total once the Strictly Learn to Dance event (for the Nottinghamshire Hospice) had finished.
Tina asked all the couples to let her know how many extra tickets we might need so she could bring them along. All had to be paid for up front in cash. Once that was sorted, it was back to the polishing of our routine, no more strict learning or teaching as such. Dawn played Waltz style music for the first half of the lesson as we each rehearsed the steps she had taught plus and other similar steps we wanted to put into our final performance.
Angela and I pulled our Waltz routine together and rehearsed this in time allotted. We curiously watched the others go through their paces, although we had to concentrate on ourselves. We had seen a little bit of Lynne and Donna, earlier in the week and they looked very good indeed.
Dawn as ever was on hand for some final tips and advice on the moves, music and choreography. She offered private lessons which some of the couples utilised to help bring them on. Everyone had the grasp of the Waltz with men driving the lead and their partners around the floor, using the spin turns and reverse turns when necessary.
The same applied to the Samba. The music always helped push into the right mood and supported me delivering our steps as Angela and I put some of the new steps into practice time we had during the group lesson. We repeated our mini routine, covering areas we needed to fine tune. Mentally the process, the routines were making sense. There was light at the end of the tunnel, which was satisfying for both of us, with many extras hours we had put in, plus these Saturday mornings.
However the tension became further heightened for us all, as Tina and Dawn put all of our names in a hat to find out who would dance in what order on the night on March 21st. Once the slips of paper were out into the hat, Tina shook it around and Dawn dipped in and pulled out the first name. We exhaled with a sigh of relief. On the third pull, my name and Angela’s name were out of the hat, with our first dance being the Samba. Each couple had to dance an alternate dance, so the first couple, would dance Samba, the second, Waltz (who were Lynne and Donna by the way), then us Samba and so on. Now we knew what order we would be dancing and what dance would be first.
Additionally to this it helped earlier in the week when Angela and I arranged to get inside the EMCC room that the grand final would take place. It would serve as giving us the ‘feel’ of the room. The large lecture theatre tiered back, many many rows, holding some 450 seats that swept from left to right, in slight semi-circle shape.
I videoed the room from below and above on my mobile phone, as we posited where we would enter, roughly where the dance floor would be laid on that Saturday morning, how big it would be, (roughly the size of the Dawn’s dance floor that we had spent so much on) as so forth. All the experience did was frighten us so much more, yet seeing prior to our performance would help in a few weeks’ time.
We completed another lesson with a few more to go, then the big night. Angela would be absent next week on a prior engagement, so we planned another mid-week training session to fill that gap. We had finalised as best as possible our music choices and sent the versions to Dawn to check for editing so we would have the music we wanted for the correct length of time. The amalgamation of these small things, like our outfits, the music the steps to learn, the routine to deliver kept a focus for both of us, coupled with our otherwise busy lives.
Week 8 – February 28th, 2015
This week I was Robinson Crusoe, alone in my dancing.
Not to fear, I travelled across the dancefloor to some exquisite Waltz tunes emanating from the small speakers Dawn had in the room. Rising and falling spin turning and mimicking an invisible partner, as the other couples focussed on their dancing, their routines for the upcoming ‘feature’ night in two weeks’ time.
I asked Dawn for a couple of tips on a few things that I needed clarification on which I would then pass onto Angela when we met the following week. She helped me restructure a few steps for our Waltz so it would be in keeping with the dance. The other couples seemed fully concentrated with their goal in mind. Again this ‘free time’ helped to fine tune the routines that we had all put together and converse with each other at the break about our fears, our progress, our outfits and about our friends and family who were helping us all raise a huge sum of money for the Nottinghamshire Hospice.
Similarly when the mood switched to the party dance of the Samba, I ‘bounced’ around the room, avoiding and evading the other couples finalising their Samba moves. Another valuable allotment of time spent focussing me for our routine, dancing on my own, gave me some freedom and watching others, so I could take this back for my practice time with Angela.
We said our goodbyes and eleven a.m. came around as quickly as it always seem to, as Tina from the Hospice mentioned that final tickets numbers needed to be known as no ticket would mean no entry. All monies had to be paid up front and the night looked like it was going to be a sell-out.
Week 9 & 10 – March 7 & 14th, 2015
Strangely I missed the last weeks of rehearsals at the Dance school. Other matters caused my absence, however the routines and our practice sessions in mid-week, seem to be keeping us in good form as far as we could tell; the real test was yet to come.
I did however forgo the additional tips and the formal process that would be required for the big night. Angela explained it to me in our own practice rehearsals. How we were to walk on to the Strictly music in a specific way, all in our dance order, that had been selected.
As we would walk on, the men had to have the right arm tucked behind their back, the women would enter the stage with their left arm out. Whilst we rehearsed with Lynne and Donna, we did a ‘mock’ walk on’ for my benefit. Then the walk off, to the strictly music as Dangerous Dave from Gem 106, completed his introductions and final well wishing to the audience.
It made the whole process became even more real, more strictly like, as I have seen so many times on the television. Using that as my inspiration, we practiced for the first time in our actual outfits. For the Waltz I had my bow tie and cummerbund to match Angela’s flower influenced dress, then my tails (had some trouble getting a decent pair). Dancing in them felt good, and put me in the Waltzing mood, as it did for Lynne and Donna.
Then we changed after several run-through’s to our Samba. Angela wore a pink tasselled outfit of trousers and a top that I tried to match by adding some bling to my white Latin shirt. That felt ok to once we had taken the Samba routine through its paces, ensuring no wardrobe malfunctions and everything stayed in place as it should.
We made final preparations for another final practice session, then arranged the logistics of getting there to the EMCC on the night. Dawn and Tina had run through with everyone the run down and agenda.
- The Floor would be laid that Saturday morning ready for the children’s strictly competition.
- We were to arrive by 430pm and be taken to our dressing room
- Between 430-6pm we could familiarise ourselves with the rooms, the actual floor and do some ordered practice and hand over our music on a memory stick and CD to the guys in the booths at the back of the audience
- We would go through the walk on and off in order to the Strictly music (we would have approx.. 15 seconds each to walk on) and where X marks the spot to stand on the newly laid wooden dance floor
- The Nottinghamshire Hospice volunteer staff would be on hand to help us should be need it
- 630-645 the doors will open to the public, so we were advised to stay in the dressing until we went live at 730pm
- First half of the show would the couple performing their dances, a break for drinks and raffle tickets to be purchased. Plus Dawn’s own dance team of regular dancers would carry out a routine, before the Strictly Learn to Dance couples took to the floor a second time
- Final break whilst the audience votes would be counted and the amounts raised by each couple
- Winners announced and final dance.
Seven days away and the clock and truly began ticking.
Strictly Final Night – Saturday March 21st, 2015
The day finally arrived.
I spent the morning with my wife Joanne and two children. She would be attending later on with a family friend to cheer Angela and me on (so to speak).
Once we returned I firmed up travel arrangements with Angela, Donna and Lynne. Lynne lived ten minutes away from me, so my wife kindly drove me to Lynne’s house with our two children excitedly asking questions in the back about ‘daddy’s dancing. Once we picked Lynne up and squeezed her into the rear of my wife’s Ford B-Max, with the Mia and Rio handing Lynne a small gift, we set off for the Tram station a few minutes away.
I hugged and kissed Joanne and she wished me good luck as did the children, she did the same to Lynne (they had known each other longer than I had known both of them). They waved us off and Lynne and I cruised to the city centre in Nottingham on the NET tram system with our respective luggage in tow that enclosed our outfits for tonight’s main event. We talked about the event, what to expect or not and how we were feeling at that time. Before we knew it, it was our stop, at Theatre Royal in Nottingham. From there a short walk to meet Angela and Donna, who had arranged for us to be driven to the East Midlands Conference Centre.
After a quick stop at Tesco Express, Lynne and I stood on Maid Marian way by the large Casino. With a quick phone call, we tracked down Angela and the car. Several minutes later, after frantic discussions about our performances, we arrived at the conference Centre at around 430pm. As we exited the car with all our luggage, we recognised some familiar faces also arriving, some of the other performers. We said our hello’s and followed each other into the main conservatory style entrance.
Once inside, Tina Mctighe from the Nottinghamshire Hospice met us and ushered us towards the changing/dressing room. The access took us through a large circular hall like room that was laid out with glass bowls, each of which had each couple’s names on. This was (I presume) for the audience to put money in as part of the voting system. The money would be added to the money already raised to date by each pairing (via Just Giving and other methods).
Once through there we walked into a hallway that led to the main Lecture theatre, on our right where our performance would be delivered. On the left toilets and straight ahead our dressing room. However on seeing the main room, our first thoughts left us daunted as the dance floor was considerably smaller than we all had hoped. Walking into the newly converted Strictlyfied room, made me take a deep breath. Angela, Lynne and Donna, walked around the newly put down dancefloor, immediately testing the slippiness and freeness of it. Having to re-think now how we’d carry out our Waltz, which we wanted to drive and cover the floor, which was now a reduced space.
Putting that aside, we all entered the dressing room. Some of the other contestants were already in there, and soon after the hair, makeup artists arrived with their tonne of hairspray, glitter, false tan, more glittery stuff, false eyelashes, hair (teeth!!), maybe not, everything else and the competition was very real.
Stocked in the dressing room, laid out across two tables at opposing ends of the room, were bottles of water and energy drinks. At the other end, furthest away from the door we entered, were a table of sandwiches, crisps, chocolate, cake slices, and more importantly wine (white, red and rose) plus beer. All the things the performing dancer needs before hitting the floor!
Cornered off in the room was a large screen to get changed behind, then just to the left of that a large rail for all our outfits to be hung up. As everyone arrived and took water or another form of liquid, Tina came to tell us about the process and protocol for the night.
When she had informed us, Angela, Lynne and Donna, started their personal beautification sessions with the requisite expert staff that were there. Myself and some of the other men watched England play France in the six nations rugby.
In between doing this I took responsibility to hand over our music to the men working right at the top of the theatre in the sound booths. They tested the CD and the thumb drive I gave them and saved our music in the correct order with both our names on. Once in the theatre I and other men spent some time on the floor testing our routines partner less. I navigated and worked on the angles and space Angela and I would need to change, with the new size of floor we had to dance on. Doing that began to give me a sense of what this auditorium would be like once it was filled with over four hundred people.
As you entered the theatre, the dance floor was immediately ahead. To the left of the dance floor three chairs were placed behind a dressed table and a glittery backdrop for the judges to sit and pass their expert opinion on our performances. Above the dance floor, there was a huge screen (cinema size) with the words; STRICTLY LEARN TO DANCE GRAND FINAL. The view of this from half way up the many steps looked amazing and filled me with a little dread, as once again the realisation became closer, and closer.
Tina and Michelle (also from the Nottinghamshire Hospice called us together after 5pm for us to run through our walk on and off, plus our dress rehearsals. We were told how to line up in our order, Lynne and Donna were second, Angela and I 3rd. Men on the right, women on the left. We waited by the huge double doors, that let you into the very large four hundred plus seated theatre. Tina stood just inside the room and signalled the sound man to play the strictly theme music. That was our cue to walk on towards the audience (around the dance floor), down the bottom end of the dance floor (for a quick glance at the judges), then onto the floor to our ‘X’ marks the spot placement that Tina and Michelle instructed us to stand. Dangerous Dave from GEM 106 (who hadn’t yet arrived) would introduce us say a few words then we’d walk off in the same order.
We followed this with each couple having time to ‘fully rehearse/perform their dance’ whilst the others watched. So we waited at the double door (as if this was now live). Tina signalled the sound booth man (Dangerous Dave would introduce us and that would be the catalyst for the strictly theme music to start). Once it started Angela now made up and glamorised, took my arm and we walked on (with a 15 second time limit) to the theme music. We practiced bowing firstly to the crowd (empty right now) and to the judges (chairs also empty). We got into position for our Samba (our first dance). As soon we seemed settled the music started and danced our Samba, with no hitches. We came off to applause which was nice, with the real applause yet to come. (we hoped).
By now it was nearing 6pm, we’d rehearsed our dance, handed in our separate music selection and followed the process of walking on and off, all going well.
At 630 according to the official schedule the doors would open to the public and we were advised not to leave the dressing room after this time. Whilst we were in the room the official photographer took a few group photos once we were all dressed for our first dance. During the next hour, we had food, drinks and several of us walked through our routines in the dressing room, whilst nipping to the loo and doing our best to keep our outfits covered up from some of waiting expectant crowds, which were flocking into the main auditorium.
730pm came and went as the schedule became delayed. The reason was too many people in the bar buying drinks and not enough bar staff. Anyway at around 750 Tina entered the dressing room and asked us to line up in order, which we did and walked to the main double doors that led us into the main auditorium. We could hear dangerous Dave’s musings from inside through the thick doors, as Tina waited with us on the other side. Then the introduction, the Strictly theme music and we entered the room to huge raucous applause and cheering in our trained walk on routine. All seven couples strode confidently out across and around the newly laid dancefloor as we ‘brushed’ the front row. Couple 1, Arwen and Phil, followed by Couple 2, Lynne and Donna, then us Couple 3, Horace and Angela, then Couple 4, Glenn and Josie, then Couple 5, Andy and Karen, followed latterly by Crayg and Julie and lastly Dawn and Julie.
As we lined up on our respective spots the applause subsided Dangerous Dave gave us another ‘big up’ and introduction, then we walked off in order back behind those the huge double doors, ready for the live event, now just moments away.
As we all lined up behind those doors, the entranceway to another world, the doors opened and first couple stepped out into the fever pitch arena and the doors closed behind them ,leaving us the other 6 couples peering through the two adjacent slithers of glass, that allowed a minimised view of the their performance.
Arwen and Phil returned unscathed to rapturous applause as the door opened for the second time round and out of the blocks, were Lynne and Donna. The strictly theme music faded as the large double doors closed. We offered congratulatory hugs and handshakes to the first couple. A brave thing to endure, being out first. Lynne and Donna performed beautifully with their Waltz, as the crowd’s noise level reverberated around the large lecture theatre. Then it was cometh the hour (the minute and twenty seconds) as Lynne and Donna exited, Angela and I looked nervily at each other, held hands and then the infamous tune blasted out. We strode confidently out into the vibrant, expectant arena. I kept my head up and look straight ahead, not at the audience. Expressive shouts and whooping could be heard as we reached the end of the dancefloor and turned left, to face the judges then left again onto the dancefloor. When the theme music stooped, we carried out customary bows, to the audience and then to the waiting judges as we had rehearsed. We then moved into position for our first dance – the Samba.
With my back turned, my armed around Angela waist, then our music started and then all the threat of potentially forgetting our routine vanished in a flash. My hips starting gyrating and the decibel level in the audience exploded. We performed our routine as best we could even though we had a wardrobe malfunction halfway through, which thankfully no one realised. When the music stopped, the audience reaction was something I will never forget. Angela and I hugged each other in relief, once I have helped her from the floor, after she had been pulled through my legs as part of our ‘big finish’.
The judges liked our routine to ‘Bambeleo’ by the Gypsy Kings, enough to give us 2 nine’s and an 8, which put us in first place after 3 dances (on points anyway). Coming through those doors, we both were smiling, hyped now with the first dance over, to some lovely well done remarks from our fellow contestants. Next up Glenn and Josie though the door and onto the dance floor, followed by Andy and Karen who all performed well despite nerves being at the top of everyone’s agenda. Next Crayg and his mum Julie dance a beautiful Waltz, and scored three nine’s. Some exquisite footwork and well –lead and consummately followed by his mother, who kept thinking she would let her son down. Not a chance. They were both excellent. Then finally Julie and Dawn, danced and jazzy Samba with maracas that brought more whooping from the ever vibrant and excited audience. So the first dances over and time for a well-earned break, re-fuel and rest.
During the break Dawn and her other dance team (who attended her regular lessons) delivered a performance as part of the interval entertainment. Dangerous Dave filled in the gaps as the audience moved freely towards the bar area to obtain additional alcohol and place their votes in those glass bowls which each of names on. As they returned in groups, they retook their seats and we all changed into our alternative outfits. Angela and I put on our Waltz clothing and ran through our steps one last time. We all discussed how our first dances went, how we felt dancing in front of the wild, boisterous crowds yelling support for each us. We all replayed what happened during our dances and what we’d try and do in the second, now that we had a platform to build off.
Without realising it Tina returned to our room to let us know we’d be back on in five minutes (they were running over slightly), and it was about 855pm. More time for us to get ourselves together. I had my first sip of alcohol of the night (I never drink when I’m dancing), but this was an exception. Just half a glass, laced with some flat lemonade. Angela put some black fingerless long gloves on that she hadn’t tried before and they looked great. I hope they wouldn’t interfere somehow with our dance as we hadn’t ‘tested’ this in any our rehearsals. When Tina returned this time we all lined up in order as we did the first time round. Smiles were on our faces ready. Nerves in check. Breathing normal. Feet worked as we moved from our now messy, over glitterised, ‘clouds of tan and hairspray’ dressing room to those imposing double doors.
Up front and first again were Arwen and Phil, we all tried again to get a glimpse of their performance and attempted to listen to Dangerous Dave’s questions once it had finished and the judge’s responses. At least for them, it was all over. Done and dusted. The applause could be heard as they left the auditorium and leaving the way open for Lynne and Donna to take there steps forward ready to move at the sound of Dangerous Dave’s introduction and the strictly theme music. On they went for their Samba. Deftly executed with great costumes, they carried off the Samba to the cheering, noisy partisan hoards (and Lynne’s husband Kevin was shouting from the front row!). On finishing Angela and I stood ready, looking out for the ending of the judges responses and the final scores for them. The ebullient audience cheered as Lynne and Donna exited stage left as it were and we were there, waiting. Dave did his intro and once the again the music started. Angela and I strode out across the floor, following the strict protocol, where we had the 15 seconds to walk around the dance floor, my right arm folded behind my back, Angela’s left out. Angela’s blinged up Waltz dress reflected off the multiple lights in the arena as we moved into the centre of the dancefloor, bowing to the crowd and the judges respectively.
Taking up our newly revised position, facing the correct angle for our Waltz over in the far corner. We held hands and stood apart, as per our practiced routine. As the music began, for the first time that night Angela’s whole arm was shaking with nerves. I held her hand firmly as we strode forward for our first few steps. Again the rapturous noise emanated from the crowds as we danced blithely as if we were the only once in the room. We wanted to tell a story through the dance over the allotted time. As we came together in the typical ballroom hold, we carried our steps, tracing the angles on the floor, facing the audience, the back of the room, the judges and the audience again. As the music subsided we completed our story holding hands, then letting go, walking away, going in opposing directions. The audience erupted, we hugged and our two performances were over. Following some complimentary remarks from the judges, the next facet surprised Angela and I both. The judges in their wisdom gave us the first three ten’s – the first of the night. More excited and wild screaming from the audience. They praised Angela’s footwork and our use of storytelling, which pleased us more so, as that’s what we hoped we could portray. We exited, waving to friends and family somewhere in the hectic, effervescent audience. We wished Glenn and Josie good luck as we breathed a sigh of relief in the corridor outside the main hall.
Once we’d calmed down, Glenn and Josie carried out their Samba with great desire and energy and the noise from the watching hoards agreed. Once they have completed theirs, Andy and Karen took the stage for their Waltz, to Skyfall. Dressed al la James Bond, Andy took Karen from three men who lifted her onto the dancefloor. I could her whooping from the corridor as I sipped water taken from a water dispenser outside the now famous double doors. After the questions by Dangerous Dave and the judge’s remarks, Grayg and Julie entered the fray. They performed very well also attaining three tens for their performance of a great Samba. The final act of Julie and Dawn rounded up the night, with just the scoring to be totalled up and the amount of money raised. These two factors would determine the winners on the night.
As the maddening, exuberant audience filed out of the now infamous double doors, heading for the bar in their droves, all of the contestants floated around, meeting and greeting our friends, supporters, family and some strangers. Angela and I received some unexpected complimentary remarks about of performances from people we didn’t now. It was a thrill, an honour and a humbling experience to hear the words of people we’d entertained. I can only imagine what this would be like if we did this in front of a live television audience.
I met and my wife and our family friend Bethany who came along to support Angela and I, once I had fought through the many bodies, now circling, milling like ants in and round the area in front of the seats in that huge auditorium. We spoke about our feelings to Joanne and Beth, and what it was like from our view looking out into that crowd and executing our routine as we had rehearsed. I moved between various friends I could see waving at me from their seats, that I ventured to speak to, as the cacophony of multiple conversations echoed throughout the large high ceiling theatre. With more congratulatory comments and discussions, time wore on and we returned to our dressing room, furnishing myself with some alcohol and the scraps of food that remained.
Tina entered our dressing room reminding us to have in mind a choice of a winning dance, for whoever would win (the Samba or Waltz.) Within minutes, well after ten thirty p.m. the time had arrived for the final calling. For the final time we strode into the now fever pitch audience that awaited pensively, for the decision to be made. Yet at the back of my mind and Angela’s was the fact we’d done something worthy, enjoyable, rewarding, required keen dedication, not just for learning to dance the Samba or Waltz, but for the money we’d raise and would continue to (for a short time) after the completion had come to it ultimate conclusion.
The cheering rose in decibels as we walked stress free now around the dance floor to the strictly theme, taking our positions as before on our allotted X marks on the dance floor. Dangerous Dave proceeded to delay the inevitable with the usual build up you have at these types of competitions, announcing the order in reverse. The quietest time it seemed that night, existed momentarily, then sporadically interrupted with an odd interjection shouts to those fans supported a particular dancing couple. As Dave put the microphone he was holding in his right hand to his lips, he uttered those words ; “and in third place tonight” (no drum roll, however I could swear I could hear one from somewhere), he deliberately hung on for what seemed like minutes; “the third place couple are – Crayg and Julie”. Loud applause all round as the stepped forward to have their photo taken by the official photographer and the judges.
Then Dangerous started his second and final conversation with “ there has been a tie for first place”, the crowd drew in their breath. It was almost audible. Then some screaming I think and shouting of sorts. He went on to explain that the eventual winners would be based on how much money was raised tonight. So he restarted his announcement which ended with; ‘Horace and Angela’. We were joint first, which was an achievement, not only for the dancing but for what we had raised. We hugged and stepped forward proudly, Angela taking a bouquet of flowers, for me, some wine, then our photo with the judges.
Then the big announcement that Arwen and Phil had won and rightly received the Glitterball, taking the photoshoot opportunity with the judges and Dave. Dave spoke to them about winning, with the winning couple surprised at this first place, but well deserved for the funds put in by their efforts and their supporting cast. They danced their winning dance to huge applause and we watched can clapped along and as they finished the crowd celebrated a fantastic night for a fantastic cause. A well put together event that every one of my friends that came absolutely enjoyed.
Aftermath – the Strictly Final Night – Saturday March 21st, 2015
As a variety of the excited assembly filed and exited the double doors, they did so stopping off to congratulate each of their supporting contestants. It seemed like a thousand people were there at the end not four hundred and fifty. Lots of hugs and handshakes from friends, family, my wife Joanne, Angela’s daughter Olivia, Lynne’s husband Kevin, plus Donna’s family and a host of other familiar faces. Angela and I had brief chats with as many of our supporters and some we didn’t know, thanking them for coming and hoped they had a wonderful evening’s entertainment.
When the crowds dissipated to a thin stream of stragglers that had remained, the contestants fed back into the dressing for one last time, cheering Arwen and Phil on their victory. In came Dangerous Dave, the judges and the official photographer who took a few group photos and one of the winning couple and the Glitterball. Once that had been accomplished, our tired, yet thriving from adrenaline bodies, forced us to remove our dancing outfits and back into our civvies. Before we did this, we all took pictures of each other in our dance garb as a memento of the night and what we had achieved.
The job of collecting, gathering all the clothing, sprays, and cosmetics accoutrements that had been utilised began in earnest with the clock ticking toward midnight. We said goodbyes to those that had left or were leaving, then Angela, and I, Lynne and Donna left our dressing room (actually I hadn’t planned things too well, as I didn’t have a ride home!).
In the foyer of the EMCC and then outside we worked out our various lifts home, after an initial spark of going for drink to celebrate faded after such a long enthralling and invigorating day and night. We hugged and thanked each other for the efforts put in over the last ten weeks. Angela went home with her daughter and mother, and Donna. Whereas I managed to ‘hitch’ a lift home with Lynne and husband Kevin as they live near me.
So after all this time, from that initial phone call in December 2014, to this, driving home in Lynne’s daughter’s car my mind playing on our performance, what we and all the contestants had achieved gave me a warm sense of satisfaction, topped off by the fact that we raised around £9,000 in that process and over the Final night (nearly double last year’s total). A happy job well done.
To Joanne and my two children Mia and Rio – for their patience and missing me for all those Saturday morning lessons.
Dawn Harrison at Wollaton School of Dance – for her patience and teaching, plus the extra invites to learn with Trent from Strictly and his lovely wife.
To Lynne and Donna for their support through the process and for the lift to and from the EMCC (and to Lynne for making great tea and toast at 1230am whilst I waited at her house for a taxi)
And to Angela – a great partner throughout. Driven, focussed when we needed it and delivered on the night, plus the extra funds she raised via a fashion show and a market stall sale of clothes which all went towards our total and to the Nottinghamshire Hospice. You are a true star and friend.