Editorial: It's the moment all Carol's fans have been waiting for and, boy what a wait it's been! Carol has come a long way since her first tentative steps onto the dancefloor, she's had spectacular highs and a few lows along the way but she's kept us entertained through every step. Last we heard she was elated at having qualified for the IDTA Nationwide finals. Now she has to take that step onto the big stage, will her nerve hold out? Which Carol will take the floor, the confident performer we have come to expect? Or the shy girl who nervously stepped out onto the floor just a couple of years ago?
Published Monday April 28 2008, by Carol Elsbury
Carol's Blackpool - Could this be the pinnacle?
Now, my stories normally follow the same old formula:
- Get roped into some new competition
- Feel totally terrified and want to run away
- People are all wonderful and help a lot
- I dance, I enjoy it and want to carry on
This one is exactly the same except I started off being given someone wonderful of my very own! I got a LEE! Now Mark had declined to dance with me again after the qualifiers, saying that he still had the nail marks in his arms..... I admit I am a little on the needy side but Paula, Gilli & Mark found me a six foot security blanket who could dance, physically carry me when necessary, put up with my hit and miss approach to learning and generally give me a cuddle when it all went pear shaped... Lee Boocock.
I didn't know all this during the first lesson and spent most of it perspiring profusely from a mixture of nerves and effort and apologising at least once down each side of the studio. When we had finished he looked at me, paused and said "Look love don't worry, if all else fails I'll drag you round the floor!" It was honestly the kind of reassurance I was looking for! We were a match!
I gradually began to relax with Lee and turned up early to watch him dance with his other prospective partners, Holly, Laura and Bec. No worries there then, I thought, I fit right in to that line-up! I did explain to him that it was fine to use my routines with any of the others but I would be eternally grateful if he didn't use theirs with me! Most of their moves wouldn't have been possible without radical surgery and a time machine.
As always I felt more comfortable practising ballroom which should have been the clue to spend LOTS more time doing Latin however we decided to tackle ballroom first. Waltz and Foxtrot weren't too bad and we began to assemble something like two routines. Tango was slightly different in that I developed the habit of bobbing up and down and by the end of the first circuit had developed a claw instead of a right hand. I'm not entirely sure it was the look the instructors were after. I asked Lee to be honest with me and tell me what I was doing wrong each time it happened. So there we were, dancing round the studio with Lee whispering "DOWN" and "CLAW" and occasionally "SHOULDERS" and more importantly (to me) "BREATHE!" Gilli did mention also that if I didn't alter my position in the "fall away" it was fairly likely I would take out Lee altogether and we would end up on the floor in the very basic sense.
That left us only the Quickstep and the Viennese Waltz. I had already tried the "grown up" Quickstep with Steve ~ you know the bit where you hop skip and jump? We managed it late one night and stopped (at different times) to a stunned silence from Paula & Gilli. Steve wanted to keep it in his routine with Liesa whereas I didn't want to repeat that EVER again. There was some general low grade mumbling and it was decided we would "See how it progressed..."
I brought the debate to an end when it came to deciding my routine with Lee by suggesting that perhaps the sight of a "Weeble on Acid" wasn't a required element and that, in my case, the argument for "less is more" was the way to go. So the routine was simplified but never became a favourite. This is, by the way, code for something you just can't do properly.
Lastly, ho ho, there was the Viennese Waltz. Having always avoided anything which made me lose my sense of balance it came as no surprise to me how completely useless I was at this. It did surprise Lee, however ......... I lost all sense of direction, balance and hung around Lee's neck like a sack of potatoes. I was unable to recognise the "change of direction" even when Lee's trusty hints were used (picture Lee carrying me shouting "CHANGE ~ NO, CHANGE!!") We struggled around one and a half sides of the studio before quitting. "We'll come back to that lovey," said Lee, still smiling weakly. And this was my strongest branch remember ~ there was still the latin!
In my head I love Latin. This is because (in my head you understand) I can move seamlessly to the music, react to the beat and lose all inhibitions. Unfortunately you are required to dance with your body and at that point all bets are off. Now Lee loves Latin ~ he is a natural. I love Latin but am definitely NOT natural. Stilted, awkward and hopelessly self-conscious are better descriptions. The Cha Cha and Jive routines were to remain the same as the qualifiers which should, in theory, mean there was plenty of time to "perfect" them. Hah! I remember Paula demonstrating what the instructors DIDN'T want from the Cha Cha ~ you know the "la la la la lah" soft Cha Cha? Bit of a blow for me really, as that was the one I had perfected. I knew in my head what was required but, for the moment, my body just wasn't listening.
The Jive was much the same as it had always been for me ~ totally lacking in control never mind style yet always enjoyable in a kind of manic way. I have often watched Connor jive and wondered how to contact the Devil to make the deal which would allow me to dance like him in return for a portion of my soul. It was pretty much decided that the jive would "Be what it will be" and we moved on. Not far, mind, in the humiliation stakes to the Rumba. Not only have I ALWAYS been unable to hear the beat (and yes I've had all three instructors try NUMEROUS methods to instill this simple timing into me) but walking out of hold and being so EXPOSED was simply hideous. It was around this time I put in some practice time with Jemma. I decided to ask her to try and show me how to take that awful "walk of shame" which she made look so truly elegant but sexy and full of movement. Bless her heart. We spent ages with her walking slowly and undulating and me following slowly and as static as a lamp-post. "You just need to practise some more," she said kindly, "I always feel silly when I do it." Dear God if she thinks she looks silly the girl needs glasses or therapy. The "Blackpool" routine for the Rumba underwent various changes in order to keep me a) in hold for as long as possible and b) within earshot of Lee at all times in order for him to sweetly whisper "TWO, three, four-one" as I effortlessly slipped off time.
So now we were left with the Samba and the Paso Doble. With about four weeks to go we had a lesson with Gilli. Gilli who astutely guessed that I didn't actually KNOW either of the routines all the way through let alone be able to dance them with anything approaching competence. It was the one and only time her total composure slipped just a little. "It's only about 4 weeks to Blackpool Carol, shouldn't we simplify the routines?" ~ the give away being the slight quiver in her voice. Now strange as it seemed I actually liked both of these dances enormously but had, for some inexplicable reason, not "got round" to practising them. "Give me a week," I asked, "and if I'm not any better we'll reduce them." So there we were, one month from Blackpool, and I'll summarise:
- Waltz - Basic competence providing Lee reminds me of one part of the timing before the oversway
- Foxtrot - World's SIMPLEST routine but which works quite well (could there be a clue in this?)
- Quickstep - Not actually completed correctly (even once) but the general jist being "DON'T STOP".
- Tango - Moments of stillness followed by "bobbing" and eventual arrival of the "claw"
- V. Waltz - Physically impossible - should be abolished
- Cha Cha - Soft and floaty (good thing in the Waltz, BAD thing in the Cha Cha)
- Jive - Manic
- Rumba - No timing, nor arms, nor discernable hip movement (and all of this OUT of time ~ did I mention that?)
- Samba - Remembering only one side and completely unable to turn the right way into the walks - even with Lee exerting major pressure and screaming "TURN TO THE RIGHT ~ NO THE OTHER RIGHT!!"
- Paso Doble - Does being able to spell it count?
So what did we have to worry about? By this stage Paula had changed her mantra. You may recall she used to say "It'll be fine!" This had now changed to "You may be a little excited..." This I took for "You will be so terrified there is no telling what you'll do on the day!"
I had decided in my own mind that I had to do something positive to deal with the situation. I was practising with anyone and everyone who stood still without a partner for too long and each night would rehearse all the dances in my head and try to imagine Blackpool. Kyle had told me about "positive" imagery ~ imagine being successful.
Being me I decided that if I imagined the worst possible scenario (and how to get out of it) that would be of more benefit to me and slightly more realistic. So each night I imagined walking out and falling flat on my face, forgetting everything, knocking people over ~ and actually managed to induce a minor panic attack at 2am in bed in Chingford. Good huh? Sorry Kyle but to each his own. Eventually I developed my own management technique. It truly would be what it would be and as long as no-one actually died there wasn't a problem. Now for the dancing!
Empathy (Alright, I've run out of p's!)
You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned Bec in this monologue. You didn't really think that would continue did you? Bec is a force of nature. She regularly states that it is "All About Me" yet the truth (which she tries very hard to hide) is that she is far more concerned with other people than she would ever admit.
I watched her at the studio advising her partners (I never knew Steve could stand that straight without a back brace but one raised eyebrow seemed to do the trick) but it wasn't limited to her partners. Bec has very exacting standards and it is possible that not everyone understands her when they first meet her ~ to be perfectly candid she terrified the life out of me. At the bottom of it all, though, she just wants everyone to dance the best they possibly can ~ irrespective of the standard they achieve.
To jump forward to Blackpool for a moment, I was on the balcony and Bec was sitting on the floor putting on her make-up. In between technical strokes her radar hearing caught every event the children were in and with mascara in one hand and mirror in the other, she stopped and ran to the front to cheer on the competitors from Wright Rhythm. I know for a fact that most "small" people were delivered to her door-step earlier that morning to have their "mini me" makeup put on and a final tweek of the all important bun (hair, you understand, not currant....) From small people to seniors we circled Bec, requiring eyeshadow in various colours, safety pins, requests for additional last minute tan top ups, advice on the positioning of number cards and just a last minute general "nod" that all was in place. You may have just been tumbled Bec, it very definitely is NOT all about you!
Anyway, back to the monologue. Bec discovered during one Wednesday night session at Cathy's school (where I had tagged along as Steve was due to practise with Bec) that my Paso Doble was struggling somewhat. In the time she was due to practise with Pete (sorry Pete!) she decided she had enough time to dance and drill the Paso Doble into me. "But it's hard," I whined. "So?" she replied. "And it's latin," I continued to whine... God knows why I hadn't learnt by now. "Nooo ~ think of it as ballroom," she said, in a less patient voice ~ you know, the one that brooks no argument with the slightly lowered chin and the raised eyebrows? Now for all those men out their struggling to find their leads, Bec has them. All of them. There is no way that you aren't going to follow Bec, unless you fancy several weeks in traction. She continued with a running commentary of "Head up, no UP! Frame, don't slump! Think BALLROOM! Better, no you've dropped again, UP!" When I had completed the dance I decided to quit while I was ahead and besides, Pete was now looking for some wet paint to watch dry as he patiently waited for his turn with his own partner!
I am sure Steve will have enlarged on the fact that after Sunday practice at the studio, Pete and Bec began to come back for lunch, sometimes joined by Lee and Kyle. Now you would assume this would be a lazy lunch, a few glasses of wine and some general chit chat? Ahh, well, so did I. What actually happened was that Steve learned to do everything WITH A PURPOSE ~ but you'll need to read his monologue for the details. Ahh, Stevie Weevie!
Two weeks before Blackpool we decided to take the video camera to the studio so that we could video Bec and Lee, Bec and Pete, Bec and Steve and Lee and me. The presence of the camera had a very weird and unexpected effect on me. I suddenly realised that this would be captured and I would be able to watch the reality of my dancing ~ for good or bad ~ and I really, really needed it to not be ‘bad'. I'm sure Lee began to wonder what was happening ("Where did that come from love?!" he asked as I managed to produce some arms in the rumba.... Ok on closer inspection I look like a Dalek but at least they weren't pinned to my sides!). The dances continued and, on the whole, I remembered the steps, made an attempt at producing a head that wasn't "sleepy" and tried to hold my not inconsiderable frame UP. I was very happy but still had to see the footage in the privacy of my own home. Yes, you're ahead of me aren't you? Pete, Bec, Lee and I all went to home to a very public viewing and all round appraisals! Luckily I remained happy when I watched it back and the three gins I necked on an empty stomach made cooking the dinner subsequently more of an adventure! Quietly that night I resolved that no matter what happened at Blackpool, I had actually danced to the best of my ability that morning and it is a feeling I will never forget.
Preparation (Ah Haa!)
The atmosphere during the week prior to Blackpool is intense. It seems ridiculous now but "real life" ceases to exist and is relegated to "Oh, I'll do that after Blackpool." The only time I felt at ease was in the studio or in the company of other members of Wright Rhythm who understood what we were all feeling. I kept remembering things that needed to be done; good luck cards, pressies for long suffering partners, hair-nets, new shoes, arranging a tan, etc etc. At one point I couldn't walk into a shop without spotting something we needed for Blackpool ~ although the kids did suggest that buying some basic elements like bread and milk and cat food should be included in my spending frenzy...
Paula & Gilli took the final calming lessons, making encouraging noises and Paula, on some flight of fancy, actually explained the position my feet should be in during the photograph if I won something! Lee and I pointed out that, in those particular circumstances, my feet would be above my head as I would be in a dead faint.
For those of you who are Blackpool Veterans, you know there is a point where something "ticks over" and you realise there is nothing more you can do and you just want to get there. I was surprised by this as I left the studio for the final time on Thursday. I repeated my now familiar mantra.... "It will be what it will be."
We had a room at the Ruskin which could best be described as bijou. For those of you who didn't see it, imagine spending three days in your wardrobe. Steve suggested that there was no way I was going to unpack everything we'd brought because it just wouldn't fit (although I seem to remember there were some adjectives in there which aren't fit for young eyes...). We did, however, unpack and then waited for the rest of Wright Rhythm to arrive as we had sneaked up on Thursday evening to beat the rush.
Friday evening was one of my happiest memories of Blackpool. Everyone felt the air of excitement and everyone was hugged and wished good luck and we laughed till we cried. An elderly lady sitting next to me in reception asked me if it was a family wedding because she wanted to look out for the bride! I think that sums up the atmosphere from an outsiders point of view.
Gilli & Paula regularly disappeared to see last minute alterations to dresses and it occurred to me, as I watched them minister to us all in turn, that they had nerves for each and every one of us. Mark had us all in fits of laughter but, just like Paula & Gilli, I knew he cared how we all performed. Team spirit? Can't beat it!
We arrived at the ballroom in time to see the juniors dance in the last heats and they were amazing! Their presence alone is enough to stagger me but they all danced like the mini champions they are. Holly won the Latin because, quite clearly, Lee had passed on my tips to her...
I then went to check with Bec that I had grasped the eye-shadow technique she had been teaching me to find out I needed false eye-lashes. "I can't put them on," I ventured pathetically. "No problem, see Kim ~ Kim does great eyelashes." Now although I've spoken to Kim (mostly to express to her that actually it isn't fair that her daughter can dance better now than I could if I live to 100 ~ and to remind her that Steve said it was a sobering experience to be lead by an 11 year old when you are 47 during the Christmas dance) but I felt a little awkward approaching someone to put on my eyelashes. Shouldn't have worried should I? She was kindness itself and I was stunned at the difference they made! Kim wished me luck, as did Cathy and the other mums, and at the risk of boring you into the ground, this camaraderie never fails to touch me.
Kieran walked up, looked at me closely and said "Where's Carol? What have you done with her?!" It wasn't that he was stunned by the outfit, it was that I was standing there, fairly calmly and actually smiling. Kieran is used to me quailing and wringing my hands and panicking for England! Then my six foot hero/security blanket arrived with a smile from ear to ear. "You ready love? It's going to be brrrilliant!" At the risk of embarrassing Lee (ok - not an easy task...) I knew that whatever the outcome of the dancing, I had made a real friend and that meant I had already won.
Lee and I had the Tango and the Foxtrot in the first round (where I expected it to end) and got a call back to dance the Waltz and..... the Quickstep!! As we waited for the start that smiley face looked at me as if to say, "Don't worry love, if all else fails I'll drag you round!" I don't remember much about the quickstep but I didn't fall over, nobody died and we walked off arm in arm smiling. Then, unbelievably, we got a call back to the Quarter Finals! The dances were the Tango (out with the claw again) and the Viennese Waltz! Just before the v.waltz, Lee took me into hold and whispered "Hold on, kid, we're going on a roller coaster!" We whirled around and I am sure that by the end I was again hanging around Lee's neck with all the grace of 10lbs of King Edwards but we had danced six dances at Blackpool and I was officially a "Quarter Finalist"!! You would have had to scrape me off the ceiling to talk to me! (N.B When I got home I looked at Scrutelle to find that one judge had actually wanted to call me back for the Semi-Finals ~ but the other six medicated him and said he would be better soon.....)
With a smile six foot wide I watched the other members of Wright Rhythm acquit themselves admirably although I thought they all deserved higher places because, as far as I was concerned, the day belonged to Wright Rhythm. There is one highlight though, that will stay with me for as long as I have a functioning memory. The look on John's face as he was called into the Final and the sheer joy as he walked off with his trophy still makes me come out in goose bumps. John ~ you danced out of your skin ~ Seniors Rock!
We watched the juniors soar into the finals of the ballroom and watching Carys and Hannah was just amazing. Cathy and Sharon couldn't have been more proud and tears ran down their faces as these small people took everyone's breath away with their presence and grace.
To be honest, I never expected to qualify for the Latin so I certainly had no expectations for a call back ~ in a truly girly fashion I was just happy to wear the dress and go on for my first round. I had told Paula I would be genuinely thrilled if I got to dance the Samba but, knowing my luck, I would get the Rumba. The Cha Cha was a given and, on a good day, now had some strength but at least I knew the routine!
Lee arrived sporting his "latino" look and an amazing shirt, completely buzzed up for his favourite element. Providing I didn't actually break him at least he could use me as a warm up for the main event! We began with the Cha Cha which went ok-ish until suddenly someone was in front of me and then I felt a small wet patch on my shoulder. It was my brain running out of my ear taking the routine with it. I stumbled around for a while until Lee man-handled me back on track but I never really recovered. Our second dance of the first round was.....THE SAMBA! Yes! I truly didn't care now ~ I was going to dance the Samba with Lee at Blackpool and knowing I had royally screwed up was going to make the very best of it. I can't say it was controlled, had loads of hip movement or probably looked very good but by god did we enjoy it! I kept eye contact with Lee and that smile was infectious. We walked off and I was a happy woman. Scrutelle score told the story: Cha Cha impressed two judges(!) ~ Samba impressed four which meant we were called back! I nearly died of shock ~ swiftly to be followed by manic laughter as they announced the Rumba and the Paso Doble. The less said about the Rumba the better (Scrutelle said one judge - but as Steve said that was only to call you back because he couldn't believe what he saw the first time...) and the Paso Doble three so the event for me was over. I was elated. To get one call back in Latin was more than I had ever hoped for and now I could settle back and watch my friends rip up the floor.
Again, the Seniors stole the day for me and to watch Deb win the Latin was fantastic. Talk about a popular win! We all felt she should have had the trophy the previous day instead of 3rd so to see her in her "proper" place was just wonderful. Told you it was your year Deb!
You were all there that night so you know how marvellous it was. Standing in a circle singing "I've had the time of my life" and looking at all the deserving winners and finalists, semi-finalists and partners ~ being there because they wanted to be there, smiling because they were happy right down to their toes (get a bucket then, I don't care ~it's how I feel) from the juniors to the seniors, family and friends and everyone in between. We're no longer Blackpool Virgins, had a fantastic time topped off by a night to really remember. Well, Steve will try to remember it.....! Snigger...
Footnote: Arrived back (still on the ceiling) and eager to begin practising for the next qualifiers. Want a real laugh? The two dances for Latin are the Cha Cha (right.. ok...) and ...........the RUMBA! Lee! Lee! Where are you going? Leeeeee........