It takes something special to be an elite competative dancer. Talent, dedication, fitness and an ability not to blank out half-way through your routine but even the greatest champions start with a first step. Just a few short months after taking to the floor for the first time Steve and Carol would be the first to admit that they are not world beaters, but they are champions - and they have the medals to prove it!
Thursday May 03 2007
, by Carol Elsbury
Confessions of a Supadance Champion
I have always had what I felt to be a very healthy attitude towards competitive events. You avoided them. At all costs. They involved, in my experience, a mix of humiliation, ridicule and general panic - stemming from school "sports" in the seventies. In those distant days the games lesson began with two of teacher's star pupils being given the task of choosing their teams. I was chosen fairly low in the pecking order, if not in the last two, having no sporting ability that was visible to the naked eye. Then the fun really began. I would spend the entire lesson praying that the ball never came near me. If it did, the remainder of the team would stare at me until I had dropped/missed or generally fumbled the move required and an audible groan would emanate from my "team" members. It was bad enough being forced to do this, especially in the winter by some crone in a fleecy tracksuit, cackling from the sidelines about healthy living (while you were freezing in the compulsory T-shirt, short skirt and long socks that masqueraded as our winter kit) but the idea of choosing to do this? Look up the definition of competition and you will see the following: rivalry, opposition, antagonism, war and struggle. Yep, that about summed it up as far as I was concerned...
During the following years I never found anything changed my mind about team events and as an adult one of my greatest pleasures was being able to say "No, don't worry, I'll look after the bags/kids/car - you all go off and play nicely - I'll stay here. No - I promise you I won't be missing all the "fun" - I INSIST." Perversely my second long term partner adored all forms of sports and was fiercely competitive - I remember an interesting conversation about the merits of beating four children under ten at rounders and him expecting some response from me other than stunned disbelief. Again, my opinion that competition brought out the worst in people continued to thrive.
And then I began dance lessons with Steve, my husband. I thoroughly enjoyed the lessons and when the conversation concerning Supadance was brought up, I heard phrases like "Bit of a laugh, not serious" and the golden "You'll be fine." Luckily enough we were starting with the waltz, quickstep, cha cha cha and jive. Lucky, you understand, in the sense that it wasn't foxtrot where we only knew six steps and five of those we couldn't dance in time...
The week prior to the first competition was right up there with root canal work at the dentist. I had woken up every night during the week at 2am revisiting the idea of falling flat on my face and letting the rest of the team down. Why, in God's name, did I ever agree to this? The last lesson before the first competition gave Paula, Gille and Mark some idea of how I was approaching the competition. Someone mentioned changing something in the (hardly extensive) routine and I just looked flatly ahead and said "No." Steve smiled sweetly and said everything would be fine - we'd stick with what we knew (ho ho) aware that changing anything at this stage would result in me losing what little of the plot I had left.
I remember clearly turning up at the first competition wishing I was ANYWHERE else and being met by a sea of faces telling me how much I would enjoy this.... We found Paula who said there was a slight delay as they were running late (n.b. this actually means you have time to go home, prepare and eat a leisurely meal and saunter back...)
Eventually the "team" match began and we went onto the floor. I would like to tell you it was a resounding success, all fears disappearing and we danced to the best of our ability. To be honest, I can't remember much at all. I heard no music (the pumping of my blood being the only audible sound in my ears) and saw nothing except Steve's right shoulder. That in itself is the giveaway to our excellent frame.... Gille had said that if we were dancing "off time" she would tug at her ear - huh! She would have had to cut it off and attach it to Steve's shoulder to stand a chance. In fact it was many competitions later before I managed to see anyone, but more of that later. Jackie was there, as always, with many kind words of encouragement, safety pins which we forgot regularly and heel grips (which I didn't even know existed) when one floor resembled a skating rink and talcum powder when one floor seemed to be made of Velcro. I am not sure what you would need that Jackie couldn't produce, with a smile, from one of the many cases at her feet!
The competitions continued, as did the fear, but the overwhelming support we got from our team members was something I had never experienced before. Far from groaning at us, they solidly continued to encourage us - and not only our own team (Seniors) but also the rest of the Wright Rhythm crew! We had some memorable moments - mostly of the horrific variety - the Samba coming firmly to mind. We had learnt the Samba because we had to dance it (no better incentive then) and the lessons were a credit to Paula, Gille and Mark. Their acting ability is second to none - they didn't laugh, cry or run from the building ~ they just simplified the steps again and again and again until we had some form of Samba. They smiled weakly (which was more than we could manage) and said, yes - you've guessed it - "You'll be fine!" There is a move called the "Samba Walk". Steve, however, decided to take this to a whole new level. Picture it - there I am slightly in front of Steve, one arm in the air trying to rotate somewhere in time with the music, when I feel that there isn't the normal "bounce" in his step. I looked behind to find him, face like thunder, looking straight ahead and walking. Not swaying, you understand, just walking. We had a full and frank exchange of views after that competition where he explained that, occasionally, his mind went completely blank and he lost his place in our carefully honed routine (snigger). It was then I asked what proved to be a crucial question... "What do you think about when you're dancing at a competition?" There was a pause, then he said "Well, I think about my frame, my head position, the timing, floor craft (presumably at that stage he meant he meant was it wooden or laminate) ... that kind of thing. What do you think about?" "What's coming next!" I screamed. "That's it - it's all we're capable of at the moment - just what comes next!"
And so, without false modesty (we were fairly crappy) we limped from competition to competition with varying degrees of success - we didn't hurt anyone when they appeared from no-where, we didn't actually fall on the floor and sometimes, just sometimes, we smiled and remembered the steps. Steve manfully continued to try and get me to hear the beat of the Rumba (without any noticeable success I might add - even when the rest of Wright Rhythm began to chant it as one when I was dancing) and continues to this day to hope that I will actually move my hips as I do when dancing in the kitchen! And throughout all this, we were met with smiles from our team members and told that no-one would notice the "hiccups" in our routine. Although quite how anyone missed it when during the quickstep we went into a spin turn and came out in the waltz I'm not quite sure.....
"So - it's the final of the Supadance Competition soon, it's in Wales and you have to stay at a holiday camp* in November" we were told. "The floor will be far larger, the competition is open to the whole of England so the northern teams will be there and you have to learn a walk on routine." And, again, "You'll be fine!" There are few words to describe the new level of terror this information caused me. By now Steve was coping with his nerves and had devised a method of getting us around the floor in most circumstances. I, on the other hand, was still a gibbering wreck and it must have taken all of his patience not to simply have screeched "Get over it woman!" but - he didn't and that, among many other reasons, shows me I married the Prince after mistakenly wasting time with two toads.
*intentionally not named in case they sue....
We duly met one Sunday morning to learn the walk-on routine. I had assumed we would be practising it for weeks. Nope - that was it - the entire Wright Rhythm School would learn it in one morning. I laughed weakly because, in former lives, this is where I would have been heading for the door laughing hysterically and shouting "Not me buddy!" However, that elusive "team spirit" had finally arrived and I didn't want to let the others down so I formed a cunning plan. Stand behind Gillian and do what she does. And it worked, after a fashion, until each couple had to present themselves to the instructors. I watched as Bec and Pete performed spirals and turns, followed by Kieran and Thee, Rebecca and Kyle, Gillian and Howard..... all of them instilling a grace and style that left me feeling I had somehow missed the lesson that allowed you to spin without closing your eyes and wondering where you would end up..... I made a half-hearted attempt at spinning and ending up in the approximate vicinity of Steve and called in done!
We arrived "there" in the dark. Just as well really. Best way to see it in November. We got our keys from reception and learnt we were staying in the "Beach Resort" complex or some such other name. I am fairly sure it didn't say "Dimly Lit and Freezing Cold" or I could have understood. Steve eventually resorted to taking off all the lamp shades in order that we could see each other across the room. I really wanted to take a bath but, upon having discovered we had no bath plug we were informed "Facilities" (i.e. the man who knew where they hid the plugs) had gone home. I therefore bathed with one foot holding a stainless steel sugar bowl over the plug hole. No - it doesn't work well so don't try it. We were unable to get the superior accommodation so manfully fed the electric meter for all we were worth (about £10 an hour) which resulted in about as much heat as a small burning twig would produce in the Albert Hall. By eleven that night, whilst sitting in our coats, we decided to go to bed. Big, huge mistake. Steve's bed had an interesting hole in the middle with vicious springs on either side whilst mine was filled with gravel. We looked hopefully at the bed settee. God knows why. It was about nine inches deep and we had perched on it like two dejected sparrows all night. When it was opened up it revealed the horrors of stains which Daz could never remove and had the comfort factor of concrete. So - back to the bedroom then and several hours of severely interrupted sleep. N.B. Unfortunately for us, our kitchen window overlooked the perimeter fencing (the guards to keep you in having gone for a tea break) and our view consisted of a rather warm, comfortable looking hotel. Tempted? Not for one moment.....
The following morning arrived and we had the walk on routine to look forward to... I made up, the trembling with fear (and the advanced stages of hyperthermia didn't help) perched next to the kitchen window to get what natural light Wales in November can provide. I carefully applied several layers of hair spray and we opened the door onto a gale, lashing rain and bitter cold winds. Perfect. Just perfect. The "Beach Resort" was miles from the main hall so we did what seasoned performers do best, we ran clutching our shoe bags and hoped for the best. At least the main building was warm!
The sight of the massive dance floor, not to mention the legions of other clubs, didn't do much for morale and as we were ushered into the dining area my mind froze and I couldn't remember a single step of our carefully prepared formation routine. All I could see, repeatedly, was the opening sequence of Black Adder where I was going to be "Baldric!" All I needed now, I thought, was the triangle and my nightmare would be complete. I looked around and found Gillian, my only hope of survival. I stuck to the poor woman like a leach - she couldn't have got rid of me for love nor money even if she had tried. We watched as a team from the north moved on to the floor, then more of them came, then even more. Good god there were hundreds of them! I smiled my now familiar smile (the one where your top lip is glued to your teeth as your mouth has given up any resemblance of fluid retention) and we walked on. ‘Smile - for god's sake smile and don't fall over' were the only clear thoughts throughout our walk on and I barely saw Paula and Gille as we presented ourselves. Through some fluke of nature I managed to walk off with Steve so at least that part was over.
Through the scheduling of the competition we weren't dancing on the Saturday so we were able to change and enjoy the rest of the day watching our friends acquit themselves admirably in each section. Sometime during the morning, Bec approached me and asked what I was wearing for the competition. "What I wore this morning and every other Supadance Sunday" came the reply. "Would you like to try one of my Supadance dresses?" she said. Would I?! I took the offer with both hands and dashed back to the barracks to try it on. I take much pride in saying I am dressed by "Bec's Fashions" and I felt wonderful in a "proper" dress. That night, when the dancing was over, we decided a take away would be in order and went to the sentry at the front gate to ask about a fish and chip shop. "Ooh, yes we have one on site", she said. Great we thought, as it was still lashing down. "Course, it's shut for the season now..." she said. Why didn't we guess? Armed with a list for ten orders (and NO Kieran, they don't cook Scampi in November in Wales) we tracked down a local "chippie" and came back to share it with our team members watching "Strictly Come Dancing" - obsessed? Definitely. NB. That night Steve stumbled upon the answer to our freezing cold accommodation. Feed the electric meter with £50 and turn on all four rings on the electric cooker. Within half an hour we had regained movement in most of our limbs...
The following morning I carefully applied the closest thing to a matching eyeshadow to my new dress I could find and we braved the elements again to get to the main hall. My team were wholly supportive of my new dress but Bec hadn't finished yet. What followed was both invaluable and, if I hadn't been panic stricken, hugely funny. Pete and Bec gave an impromptu lesson on walking on and presenting including - yes you've guessed it - the elusive spin, in the bar section adjacent to the dance floor. We were far enough away not to be a total spectator sport but close enough that I felt we could get to the floor if we were called. Bec explained that Steve should keep a light hold on me when I finished my spin to enable me to move as I wished. We explained to Bec that if he didn't hold on for grim death, I would a) not stop spinning and b) probably end up in the judge's lap. Half an hour later, and using a mixture of Pete and Bec's knowledge and Steve's brute strength, I came close to presenting "properly" and felt a million dollars. Right up until I knew we had to dance.
I will gloss over some of the dances where we just passable and tell you of the seminal moment where I knew, without doubt, that no matter how bad this got I was forever "hooked". It was during the quick step. We had completed one side of the floor and were overtaken by a couple motoring at fifty miles an hour. This unprompted stop in our routine was it - I looked at Steve to be met by the same blank stare I had - and we stayed there. In the corner. For what seemed like hours... We tried to come out of the corner. Both at different parts of our routine. So we tried again. Again dancing different steps. From the corner of my eye I spotted, not twelve feet away, the entrance to the eating area. One quick dash and I could be out. Out and back to the barracks. Quick pack and we could in the car and half way to London before anyone noticed... But we stayed and mercifully danced out of the corner and, although badly thrown, limped around the last two sides of the floor and back to the friendly faces of our team. "No-one would have noticed!" they lied bravely - but no-one groaned. No-one at all. Our team were there for us and, by dint of having three other couples who danced brilliantly, we later learned we were "Supadance Champions!"
N.B. So - from this you will have gathered that I have, if rather late in life, discovered "team spirit" (which is just marvelous) and am again, this year, competing in Supadance. We have had only had one "friendly competition" which I expect you will think went well for us. Let me finally tell you two moments we had during this event. One moment, bang in front of the judges, where again we had again "blanked". To Steve: "What are you doing?" From Steve: "I'm TRYING to dance!" To Steve: "No, I meant what are we doing next. I know - let's do a V6" From Steve: "Right". And he confidently chassied to the right....... And lastly, I saw Bec - even when I was dancing - and there she was waving at me frantically whilst smiling. It was so sweet. Even if she told me later it was the sign to SLOW DOWN YOU'RE OFF TIME......