An Evening at Strictly Come Dancing

What do you notice in this picture?

Me and Lynsey in the background of Strictly Come Dancing

Given the presence of the utterly divine Karen Hardy (in yellow) and – I’m reliably informed – the equally appealing Mark Ramprakash, you might be forgiven for not looking at the background. But if you did…

Close-up of me and Lynsey in the SCD background

I’m on the left, Lynsey’s on the right. Yeah, we’re small and nigh-on unrecognisable, but come on, if I don’t get to say ‘look, it’s me on tv!’ on my blog, where do I get to say it 🙂

A couple of months ago we managed to get hold of four tickets for Strictly Come Dancing, and after a nervous wait for them to arrive Lynsey and I headed down to London yesterday morning. We checked in with the kind friends who’d agreed to put us up for the night, then after a large lunch got changed into the ‘Smart/Glamorous dress’ specified on the tickets and caught the Tube to Shepherd’s Bush. After taking a few minutes to figure out the correct direction, we arrived at the BBC Centre and joined the queue next to the ‘audience entrance’. Our friends from the dance group arrived a few minutes later, and shortly afterwards we were shown into the BBC foyer, where there were seats and tables as well as a cafe and the BBC shop.

SCD StudioThe screens in the waiting room showed old episodes of SCD to get everybody into a dancing mood, and after forty minutes we were shown through the main doors to join a queue across the front of television centre. This didn’t go down terribly well as it was a cold night and most of the women had checked their coats in the foyer, but we were only there for a few minutes, made more entertaining when somebody spotted Anton practicing in a hallway and there was a flurry of whispers as we tried to work out who he was with – it didn’t look like Jan. We went into Studio One and were diverted up the stairs to the balcony seats on the right-hand side of the studio. It was surprisingly small! The dance floor itself was tiny, and I guess they must use wide-angle lenses to make it look larger. The whole studio was also darker than it appears on-screen. We were directly opposite the judge’s table and very happy with this view! A group next to us complained they couldn’t see all of the dance floor. Had they actually leaned forward a little they’d have seen there was only 2/3 of a metre hidden, so it was no big deal. They ended up leaving after the first half of the show. Grumpy!

The room filled up and we began star-spotting. Colin Jackson and his sister sat next to the judge’s table and Erin, his partner in series three, came out to say hello dressed in fluffy slippers 🙂 We later saw Julian Clary and Georgina. Many, many people moved back and forth, it’s amazing how many bodies it takes to make a tv show! The floor manager then introduced himself, the judges – Craig was booed, Bruno and Len cheered – and the orchestra. Incidentally, Craig Revel Horwood is a big guy! He dwarfed the other judges. Bruce Forsyth then walked out to loud applause and began warming up the audience. He told a few jokes, sang a song, and actually acted as compere for the entire evening, which I really liked. We were made to feel part of the show, rather than just being there to watch it. During the live show he was continually joking with the audience up to the final second before he was on-screen, and sometimes actually continuing, to the presumed bewilderment of the tv audience.

Finally the show began, and we all cheered and clapped loudly as Tess Daly appeared, then continued as the dancers descended the stairs. This was the first time we’d seen them, which was probably a deliberate move by the producers. Anton, unsurprisingly, got a particularly large cheer. I noticed that all of their make-up seemed much more pronounced, presumably because that’s the amount you need when on-camera. Then we were off and running into the main show, which flew by.

Setting up JamiroquaiI was so intrigued by the workings of a tv studio that I almost forgot to concentrate on the dancing. It was fascinating: a guy with a steadicam would sprint onto the floor during the routines, circle the dancers, then get out of the way as fast as he could; as soon as the screen cut to the week’s training footage make-up artists would appear and dab at the judges for a few seconds; huge boom arms would swing and glide around the studio, and hand-held camera operators would dash back and forth between the floor and the orchestra.

I don’t claim to have any deep knowledge of dancing, but after two years of learning I think I’ve picked up a few aspects of technique. I have trouble judging performances on tv, though – I never seem to notice the flaws that everybody else does. I found it much easier when I was actually there, and a couple of times the judges said what I was thinking, which was cool. The dancing looked more impressive than it does on tv, too, I guess because they seem more like actual people.

I liked Emma & Darren’s Viennese waltz a lot, as well as Carol Smillie, but wasn’t terribly impressed with Claire and Brendan. I think the audience were turning against Brendan – he was booed a little when he walked on, and when he had a strop during the point-scoring there was little reaction at all.

Then, though, came the final contestants: Mark and Karen. I admit I have a slight bias as I already thought they were fantastic, but imho they really brought the house down. As soon as their salsa music began the whole audience started swaying and clapping more than they had for the other routines, and once they leapt into the dance it was completely mesmerising. But then disaster struck – the microphone got caught and they had to stop. Bruce rushed on and Mark begged to be given another chance. The audience went mental. There was no way we were going to let them say no – I think we’d have revolted 🙂 I imagine the decision was made very quickly, but then something had to be done to guarantee the problem didn’t recur, so the sound girl had to dash onto the stage and sort it out. The floor manager was also shouting directions – did they make it to air? The dance began again and the atmosphere was really quite something. Everybody was moving and clapping in time with the music, and the routine was even better the second time around. We all went nuts when it finished, more so when the judges awarded them 36 points. The whole routine can be watched here.

Jamiroquai preparing to singThe first half of the show show ended, and we were sent back to the foyer for crisps and warm orange juice. Thankfully we’d had a large lunch to make sure we didn’t go hungry – 4 until 10 is a long time to go without eating properly. We waited there, watching a silent Robin Hood on the big screens (is better without the dialogue anyway), until being allowed back in 45 minutes later. Jamiroquai were rehearsing and there was some confusion over whether we should be there, but by then it was too late so we all sat down. Lynsey and I took the opportunity to snap a few photos. Full-size cameras were banned, but I don’t think they minded cameraphones provided nobody used them during the actual performance or important rehearsals. The full flickr set is here.

A sadly-hatless Jay Kay said hello and they filmed ‘Canned Heat’ live-to-tape. We’d been told to clap along with our arms in the air, and did so until they ached, then had to do it again after a sound problem with the first take.

Our balcony seats turned out to be the location for the second half’s introductory shot with Bruce and Tess setting the scene. It was a little dark but I got a couple of blurry shots:

Tess and Bruce Bruce chats to the audience

Again Bruce was chatting to everybody, as well as looking over the balcony and remarking upon the low-cut nature of women’s dresses 🙂 I didn’t dislike him or anything before, but I came away really admiring the guy.

They then ran through a dress rehearsal of the second-half. Various of the dancers changed dresses three times, then did it again in the live show! The rehearsal included the professional dancer’s routine, which was a samba with guest star Zoe Ball. This was excellent, as it starred all of the dancers who’d left the competition, which meant we got to see everybody dance! It ended with Zoe posing theatrically in front of Matthew Cutler. Unfortunately they became attached – her bum to his groin – and after a few seconds of unsuccessful attempts to pull apart Matthew gave up and began pumping away. I don’t know how many people noticed this, but we were in hysterics. Then, bizarrely, came a mock run-through of the final elimination procedure, with couples remaining purely based on their order in line. The first couple were given a cheer, but we felt a bit silly given that it wasn’t real, and by the time it got to Erin there was no reaction at all – she was unimpressed by this, and made all the other dancers clap 🙂 Matt and Lilia ‘exited the competition’, and even did their final ‘Goodbye My Lover’ dance.

SCD dancers on stage for dress rehearsalI’ve missed out something very important, though. The judges appeared for a while before and during the Jamiroquai set, and we waved madly at Craig until he saw us and waved back. We unsuccessfully tried the same with Len. However, there were greater things to come. I wasn’t looking, but just before the elimination procedure began Lynsey and Julie spotted Anton looking their way, and waved madly. I saw them trying to get his attention and joined in, and he waved back. I turned to see Lynsey’s reaction, only to see her eyes widen as he apparently blew her a kiss! She was most excited. I’m sorry I missed it happen, but I’m very happy it did 🙂

There were ten minutes before the show began, during which time the floor manager gave away signed t-shirts to two children in the audience who volunteered to do ‘something’. The first, probably six or seven years old, fearlessly stepped onto the stage and sang a couple of verses of a McFly song to rapturous applause. The second managed not to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for a minute, and was equally well received.

Then came the live show, which went very quickly. The judges gave their opinions on who should leave – Brendan seemed subdued – and the professional routine came and went without the dirty dancing finale. I was impressed that throughout the entire second show, rehearsal and live, the man sitting next to me didn’t move once. No cheers, no claps, no sways. Sure, he doesn’t have to if he doesn’t want to, but how do you end up even being there if you’re not interested?

After the showFinally it was time to eliminate one couple. Everybody lined up during the Jamiroquai music break, and Tess appeared literally clutching the results cards to her chest. I saw her take a quick peak at the first one, though 🙂 They cut back to live television, and began announcing the names. Tess or Bruce would say something like ‘the next couple leaving the competition is’ and then stare at the floor manager, who would hold up his hand for five seconds or so and drop it when the names should be read out. I have my suspicions about the ‘random order’ of the results – there’s never been a low-scorer made safe in the first couple of names, and the last four are always possibilities – but it was quickly narrowed down to Brendan and Anton. After what seemed like an age Anton’s name was read out, and there were very loud boos. I think this was mostly simply because it was Anton rather than ‘it should have been Brendan’, but there was probably an element of the latter. Poor Jan was terribly upset, and there were many ‘aaah’s.

SCD studio after the show endedThey wrapped up the show and everybody crowded around Anton and Jan. The thing I like about SCD is that it’s all genuine. Nobody disappeared once the cameras stopped rolling, and Bruce and Tess both independently commiserated J&A, before wandering around the floor and chatting to the various people seated around it. They were all still there when we left a few minutes later.

The contestants and professionals were laughing and joking with each other the whole time, no matter whether the cameras were rolling. They genuinely seemed to be enjoying themselves, which imho is far more pleasant than the infighting and unpleasantness which comes with many shows based around weekly evictions. The atmosphere in the studio was happy and friendly, bordering on ecstatic at times, and even the judge’s criticisms seemed to fit with the mood – they weren’t vindictive, after all.

We left the studio feeling a little sad that it was all over, but very happy that we’d had such a good time. Lynsey and I squeezed onto a packed Tube and made it to our friend’s flat forty minutes later. It was a truly excellent evening, and one I’d recommend to anybody if they get a chance.