Television

I don’t recall saying sure to the present. Maybe I simply stopped saying no. However abruptly, a champion dancer was on her technique to practice me – and to my dismay there was no turning again

Thu 16 Dec 2021 01.00 EST

My invitation to seem on Strictly Come Dancing’s Christmas Particular got here very late. Being a cynical soul, I assumed somebody had dropped out, however I’m warmly assured this wasn’t the case. I’m no person’s thought of a dancer. It’s not that I can’t dance; I can dance with nice exuberance, however provided that I’m alone. If anybody else is within the room, I develop into overwhelmed with disgrace and embarrassment and simply sort of seize up. I do know the recommendation is to bop like nobody is watching, however I can’t dance if anybody is watching.

This wasn’t the precise Strictly Come Dancing, one in every of our largest TV reveals, by which contestants, paired up with professional dancers, are subjected to the judgment of 4 consultants and, much more harrowingly, a public vote. The Christmas Particular is a little bit of enjoyable, by which half a dozen, erm, celebrities – dread phrase – do one dance for the needs of normal seasonal leisure. OK, it’s not as terrifying as the actual factor, but it surely’s nonetheless all about dancing. And due to this fact, not for me. Anyway, for a lot of the scant two weeks’ preparation time accessible, I used to be away on vacation in an out-of-the-way village in south Wales. Can’t dance, gained’t dance, away on vacation, no can do.

So why did I find yourself doing it? I’m truthfully not fairly positive. I don’t recall ever saying sure; maybe I simply stopped saying no. However abruptly, a champion dancer from Poland referred to as Jowita was on a practice to Swansea. Her mission: to show me, from scratch, find out how to do a ballroom dance, you realize, like what they do on Strictly. Sheepishly, below cowl of darkness, I discovered the holder of the important thing to the village corridor, who gave me permission to make use of it for 3 intensive days of dance tuition.

By now I used to be getting messages from folks I hadn’t seen for years alongside the traces of, “This isn’t true, is it?”, “You may’t be severe!”, “God enable you to!”, “This has made my Christmas,” and so forth. None of this affected my confidence one jot as a result of, when it got here to dancing, my confidence might get no decrease anyway.

In desperation Jowita introduced in an odd-looking metallic bar to hold round my neck to maintain my arms up. {Photograph}: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

My poor accomplice, Jowita Przystał, was raised in Czeladź, simply north of Katowice. Twenty-seven now, she began dancing aged seven and took up ballroom when she was 12. Earlier than her teenagers have been carried out she was Polish Open Latin champion. Off she went to the US to affix a dance firm, with whom she labored on cruise ships, aboard which she danced, performing and rehearsing, eight hours a day for 4 years.

Her subsequent transfer was to strive her luck within the UK. She obtained to compete within the BBC expertise present The Biggest Dancer. This she gained, incomes her a efficiency slot on Strictly, which in flip led to her being taken on as one of many present’s skilled dancers. This was her dream come true. I’m pretty positive that the identical dream didn’t characteristic a windy morning in a village corridor on the Welsh coast and 16st of non-dancing, flatfooted, grumpy Brummie.

So far as I might see, I had three – and solely three – issues going for me. First, she was lower than half my weight, so not less than I’d have the ability to get her off the bottom if required. Second, having by no means carried out any ballroom dancing, I had no unhealthy habits to unlearn. Third, and most significantly, she was pretty – a fairly good, affected person, endlessly encouraging trainer.

First off, she made it clear she couldn’t do so much with me till my appallingly hunched posture was straightened out a bit. “Shoulders again, Adrian, BACK!” she commanded, bodily adjusting me. Half dancer, half chiropractor, she brooked no resistance. With my backbone already aching on this unfamiliar straight place, the drumming in of the fundamental waltz step might begin. One two three, two two three, three two three, over and again and again. Forwards, backwards, sideways and round in circles I’d go. Some bits I’d choose up shortly; others I’d wrestle with however then all of a sudden grasp, at which level we’d return to the bit I’d picked up shortly, solely to search out that I’d fully forgotten it. On and on we battled as outdoors the wind whistled. Day was evening. The odd native wandered by, puzzled in any respect the stomping and cursing emanating from the village corridor.

After 5 hours of this, we referred to as it a day. She assured me I’d carried out very properly and left me to stagger dwelling. I couldn’t have been any extra knackered, mentally and bodily, if I’d simply had my first cage-fighting session. Within the morning, to my shock, I didn’t really feel too unhealthy. I bolted down some breakfast and headed again to the village corridor, the place Jowita was already limbering up.

“Proper then,” she mentioned. “Let’s strive the carry.” Making full use of my weight and top benefit, it went fairly properly. Filled with confidence, we tried it once more, however I’m afraid that on this event, as I executed the carry, I unintentionally broke wind. She was well mannered sufficient to fake to not have observed. I used to be well mannered sufficient to forego breakfast earlier than all subsequent rehearsals.

Over three days we did 15 stable hours in that village corridor. The focus required was painful, however on the similar time a terrific launch. If, like me, you’ve obtained ADHD, you’ll know that something demanding full absorption is a blessed aid from all the opposite noise. I discovered I used to be slightly good at selecting issues up shortly; sadly, I appeared to be even higher at instantly forgetting them. “Don’t fear,” mentioned my diminutive good friend. “You’ve obtained this.”

Vacation (if you happen to might name it that) over, it was again to London and my first go to to the Strictly studio, the place I used to be to be taught my half within the massive opening variety of the Christmas present. Bashfully, I lumbered in questioning what contemporary hell this may be. It turned out to be the closest factor to heaven I’ve come throughout in showbusiness. One after one other, the professional dancers, from the UK, Russia, Italy, Ukraine, Australia, Slovenia, South Africa, and different locations apart from, got here as much as introduce themselves. As a physique of women and men they’re gifted, match and handsome; in the event that they weren’t extravagantly good with it, they’d make you sick. With one in every of them, Aljaž Škorjanec from Slovenia, I instantly grew to become bromantically concerned. I put him on the cellphone to my Croatian mum, whose language he speaks. “Ja sam uvijek dobro,” I heard him inform her – I’m all the time glad. The next day I requested him about this. Was it actually true? “Once I’m dancing, I’m all the time glad,” he confirmed. “How are you going to not be?”

Making full use of my weight and top benefit, the primary time I attempted the carry it went fairly properly. {Photograph}: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

My reply to that query at that second would have been: “If you’ve no thought what you’re doing and also you’re nervous sick about trying a chump in entrance of thousands and thousands of tv viewers.” Nonetheless, I completely took his level. These folks had one thing particular occurring; it appeared prefer it was nice to be them. Slack-jawed in surprise, I watched all of them do their good factor. Up shut, what actually blew me away was the sheer, uninhibited pleasure they exuded as they danced.

I’d all the time assumed the grins have been simply painted on, but it surely seems they’re smiling with their complete beings. “Because of this I do it,” Jowita mentioned to me. “With each dance, I will be whoever I wish to be. Wherever I’m, it’s like there’s no person’s watching. I’m free to be myself.”

I’ve recognized footballers fed up with soccer, politicians sick of politics and lots of journalists sick to loss of life of every little thing. However I’ve but to satisfy a dancer who didn’t love dancing. Admittedly, my pattern dimension is small, however I believe I’m on to one thing.

I used to be now motivated by a terrific need to earn the respect of my new dancing associates and, extra importantly, do Jowita justice. I used to be her first Strictly accomplice; she deserved a trier. In rehearsal rooms throughout London we laboured. The extra progress I made, the additional away I appeared to be from getting it proper. Our dance, to a deceptively fast model of White Christmas, lasted two minutes. This, by my reckoning, concerned nailing round 200 exact steps, for every of which my arms, fingers, head, bottom, neck and varied different bits of me all needed to be doing one thing equally particular. I calculated this added as much as about 10 million alternatives to cock issues up. “You overthink! Cease overthinking!” demanded Jowita, her endurance displaying the primary indicators of wear and tear.

The unhealthy bits of ADHD have been actually kicking in now. As we went by the entire routine, as an alternative of specializing in what I ought to have been doing at any given second, I used to be busy regretting the transfer I’d simply tousled and worrying continually a few tough one in the direction of the top.

Additionally, critically, I simply couldn’t get my arms – my “body” – proper till I’d sorted my toes out. As soon as my toes have been sorted, my body began coming collectively, just for my toes to then go to pot once more. As we waltzed collectively, strive as I would, I couldn’t preserve my shoulders again and my elbows up in the proper place. This wasn’t about posture, as Jowita thought; my shoulders have been sagging in sheer disappointment in any respect the errors my toes have been making.

In desperation she introduced in an odd-looking metallic bar to hold round my neck to maintain my arms up. It was humiliating, however I didn’t care. If Jowita was glad, I used to be glad.

The legendary soccer supervisor Brian Clough would sometimes, simply sometimes, give a participant a thumbs up from the dugout. That participant would do no matter it took to elicit one other thumbs up from the nice man. Jowita had one thing related for me. Each time I nailed a sequence, she’d exclaim “Good!” with an enormous, contented smile. By no means did I believe one phrase from a small Polish lady, barely older than my daughter and solely barely heavier than my canine, might imply a lot.

The dancers had one thing particular occurring. It appeared prefer it was nice to be them. {Photograph}: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

The time got here to take our routine into the studio, in entrance of some precise folks. I used to be sick with nerves, fairly positive I’d lose my method fully. However it went slightly properly; I even obtained a pleasant “Good!” out of Jowita on the finish. At this level, my silly thoughts went from being positive I’d mess it up, to visualising how badly I’d now really feel if I did mess up the actual factor after I knew I might truly do it. “Overthinking!” hollered my exasperated accomplice. “Cease it! You’ve obtained this. Please, cease considering, cease worrying, benefit from the second, be within the second.”

Resolving to obey my dance trainer/chiropractor/life coach and stop all my stinking considering, I obtained togged up for the costume rehearsal. I used to be provided a pretend tan not as soon as, however twice, however managed to swerve it. The shirt – who knew! – was truly a bodice, a sort of babygrow that I needed to step into. The concept of this, as with the decidedly cosy tailcoat, is to cease every little thing using up whenever you increase your arms. After a lot pinning and fiddling by the wardrobe division, I used to be prepared. Sadly, the nerves had kicked in and I used to be determined for the bathroom, which meant every little thing needed to be unpinned, the bodice stepped out of, and the entire palaver repeated. A rookie error.

It was time for our one costume rehearsal. After this, it could be the actual factor. All was going swimmingly till we obtained to the carry and spin, the one bit I’d all the time obtained proper. I’d crouch to carry her on to my shoulder, seize her knee and begin twirling. On this event, although, unused to the tightness of my outfit, I didn’t get low sufficient to select her up correctly. One thing twanged in my again and, even worse, I couldn’t discover her knee among the many issues of her voluminous costume. Frantically, I rummaged round for it within the folds of this frilly frock as we span, however to no avail. I’d nonetheless be spinning now if she hadn’t yelled at me to place her down and end the dance.

Facedown on the physio’s desk, I attempted to place the costume rehearsal behind me. Quickly it could be time for the precise televised efficiency. In the event you actually wish to know the way properly or in any other case I do, you’ll have to look at on Christmas evening. After that I could or might not find yourself dwelling out of the country below an assumed identify.

So can I now name myself a dancer? I’m afraid I can’t, as one second illustrates. We have been all wearily milling round chatting within the studio between run-throughs of a bunch routine. Immediately the sound system began blasting out We Discovered Love by Rihanna. As one, the professional dancers all went berserk, just for the sheer pleasure of doing so. It was like being in an episode of Glee. I attempted to affix in however, inhibitions nonetheless rock stable, my toes had turned again to clay. Regardless of, it was a privilege to see what life will be like if you happen to reside for the second and dance, sure, like nobody is watching.

• The Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Particular airs on Christmas Day on BBC One and BBC iPlayer

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