“We’ve been asked to be in Strictly Come Dartmouth this year,” my beautiful fiancée said. “Would you be happy to do it?”
I looked at her – I thought back to the few times I’ve been asked to move my feet in a controlled and rhythmic manner, and my heart filled with dread.
“It’ll be fun!” Lesley said, and grinned her happiest grin. I was won over, and said yes.
Then we found out we were doing tango.
Tango? Isn’t that the Latin one with passion, verve and drama? Me? A man who was once voted, on an exchange course in Holland, as the ‘Most English Person’ the group of international students had ever met?
By the end of a few glasses of wine, however, I had decided that we would watch a few videos on You Tube and ‘throw something together’.
We put together a story: I would be a geek in a terrible outfit, trying to impress Lesley, she would dismiss me, I would then be stopped by a woman in a witch’s hat – played by our friend Sue - who would slap me, give me a potion to drink and I would suddenly become a Latin sensation and whisk Lesley off her feet with my Tango-ista style. It would be GREAT.
Then it was October and we found out our music would be Roxanne, but the version from Moulin Rouge.
My, the song was serious: how could we do a jokey dance to THAT? We started looking at more info online about the Tango. Everything we found about it seemed to impress on us the history, drama and seriousness of this amazing dance.
We looked at each other. Lesley spoke for both of us: “We have to have some lessons.”
We booked in with a teacher in Torquay after a quick web search – and headed over there, incredibly nervous and worried we were going to get a shock.
Our teacher was small, dapper and in his 80s. He had Views.
“You don’t need to learn steps,” he said to Lesley, “you just have to be a rag doll in his arms. As in life, it’s the men who have to do the thinking.” I think the last bit was supposed to be a joke, but we were so taken aback we missed it.
Lesley asked a number of times to be taught steps - foolishly believing this would allow us to perform the dance better – and the answer she always received was our teacher grabbing her and dancing the steps, manhandling her around the floor and seeing this as proof no learning was needed. She stepped on his feet but the man seemed determined that facts would not get in the way of his argument.
After our second lesson Les pleaded with me to go to another teacher. I had picked up one or two steps but at no point had our teacher indicated how I also acquired natural rhythm and poise to allow me to pull them off convincingly.
So we booked into a lesson with a lady in Newton Abbot. We rushed over there on a rainy Monday evening. We met our teacher who asked us why we were dancing tango as our first dance as it is one of the hardest to learn?
She then took our CD, walked us into her cavernous teaching studio, smiled kindly and said: “Show me what you have so far”.
We danced our dance. The kind smile tightened slightly.
“Very good. And what’s that?”
Les and I looked at one another.
“That’s our tango,” I said.
She shook her head.
“I don’t know what that is, but it’s not a tango.”
“Would you like me to teach you a tango?”
“I think that would be the best thing, yes.”
What followed was a crash course in Tango dancing, starting from the basic step and trying to launch us to a point where we could do a whole three minutes.
Looking back, it was possibly the most heroic hour a dance teacher has ever given to their cause.
We practised – I found myself dancing round the kitchen when I was making coffee in the morning and Les reported confusing the dogs she was walking by stopping and starting to dance in circles in the middle of the woods.
We began hearing about the other couples who had been chosen for the fundraiser and sympathized with their efforts too: Monty Halls and his partner Tamsyn Smith trying to find time in their hectic lives as parents, diving experts, wildlife reporters and broadcasters to put something together; Baxter’s Gallery owner Sarah Duggan and fisherman Mark Lobb trying to learn the Cha Cha Cha in the three hours each day when both were awake and not working (Mark rises around 3am to start his working day); June and Keith Pockett fitting in some jive lessons to their busy lives.
The night was then upon us – we were backstage with the other dancers waiting to go on. This can’t be right, can it? Surely we have another week to practise?!
We then heard our names being called and we were on the dance floor in front of a massive crowd, my heart was thumping in my chest and I was wondering how bad it would be for my reputation if I made a break for it through the crowd…and then the music started.
Terror gave way to muscles that seemed, against all the odds, to have remembered our steps. A brief blur and we were waiting for the final move, which coincided with the end of the music. The crowd seemed to erupt.
Gil Garland, host for the night, asked us how it felt – “Thank god that’s over!” I said. It got a laugh but I suddenly realised I didn’t want it to be.
The judges - all playing the roles from the TV show – gave their feedback. I remember Nick Crossley, who was Bruno for the night, being absolutely lovely and Phil Braakenburg, who was Craig, making me laugh out loud with “poise, panache, dexterity…then Phil started to dance.”
In the rush we had missed Keith and June’s dance, but got to enjoy everyone else: and boy were they good. Each one different, all very funny: Stephen’s drunk grabbing Sue for a hugely fun dance, Father Will Hazelwood’s Mother Superior dancing with wife Sophie’s Julie Andrews; Monty in a wetsuit doing some killer moves with Tam dressed as a mermaid (all the more amazing when you consider they had flown back from South Africa that morning and had been up for 35 hours); and Sarah and Mark tearing up the floor with a brilliant Cha Cha Cha.
We were so impressed with the dancing we didn’t think about the fact there was supposed to be a winner: frankly we were ALL winners for getting up and dancing in front of our friends and family.
Then the announcement came: Monty and Tam were third; Sarah and Mark came second.
“And the winners are…”
We won. Wow.
A great night: the band storming every song, the Music festival getting in nearly £2,000 in funds and the town, yet again, coming together for a community event which was a huge success.
And Les and I? We start ballroom classes with the hero teacher in Newton Abbot in January. •
First Published December 2012 By The Dart