Editorial: Carol originally titled this article "She’s back, she’s bigger ~ and not any better!" but, quite frankly, there's only one important part of that sentence so I decided to leave it there. We so missed Carol during her enforced absence it's fabulous to have her back brightening up the studio not to mention entertaining us with her writing...
Published Sunday January 30 2011, by Carol Elsbury
I just checked on the Wright Rhythm website and found the last article I wrote was in October 2008! A happy little piece where I had failed to qualify but was determined to do so in 2009. Fate has an interesting way of stepping in and in 2009 I had to give up dancing for about six months for health reasons. I had some weird illness which meant that I had to give up dancing for a while in an effort to rid myself of this. I also had to give up hoovering and carrying heavy shopping etc which strangely I didn’t miss quite so much! The enforced lack of movement (let alone exercise) and my predilection to comfort eat meant I had piled on the pounds (again) but that wasn’t going to stop me once I was able to return in January 2010.
Paula took us every Saturday morning and had the patience of a saint as we struggled to get back into the swing of it ~ unfortunately the swing was mostly in the wrong places but she ploughed through it and we began to improve. I left each Saturday looking as if I had had a shower(!) but Paula knows both of us very well and it is down to her teaching that we managed to be as ready as we could be to resume Supadance.
Competing again was scary but the wonderful thing about belonging to the Senior Team is that we have a sense of fun and true team spirit amongst us which we all treasure. There are no recriminations if one of us (well me and Steve mostly!) mess up on the floor and huge amounts of encouragement for a round well done. I am sure every team feels like this but we have the added advantage that what we lack in the age stakes we make up for in attitude! Therefore there was nothing but support from our friends as we shook like whippets on that first day (you may remember the temperature was around 110 degrees but it didn’t stop us shaking). We were still unfit so we barely managed the minimum amount of dances and were grateful Paula hadn’t scheduled us to fill in anywhere. We did contemplate the medal dance, until it dawned on us that we couldn’t actually stand let alone dance a Cha Cha. Gradually some semblance of fitness returned, the nerves subsided eventually and we began to enjoy it.
And then the “Qualifiers” began to loom. I had decided that I was going in with the sole objective of trying to enjoy it and assumed that the chances of actually qualifying were fairly slim. The question of who going to partner me arose and I found out I had Howard for Ballroom. Howard is now officially classed as a “bigger boy” due to his stunning ability to not only lead and do so with excellent floor craft but his ability to partner loads of different people with numerous different routines with what appears to be apparent ease. That ease, however, masks loads of work and superb skill to which he never admits!
Now, taking into account that Howard is a friend and a member of the Senior Team, you would have thought I would have been relaxed wouldn’t you? The first dance meant I almost collapsed as I had (as I always do when dancing with someone new and “bigger boys”) stopped breathing. Howard soon realised that to partner me he not only had to remember the class routine, he had to individualise it (with some brilliant ideas by Kyle) to give me clearer hints of what came next or to cover some inability of mine to do something, then hold me up as I shook, and finally remind me to breathe. He should have spoken to Lee although he could have assumed I had progressed since then…!
I remember that the dance I dreaded most was the Quickstep. About two weeks before qualifiers I had failed entirely to commit it to memory and I remember one lesson on Thursday evening when I failed totally to even make one side of the routine without stopping. Howard was partnering me and Pete (hail Pete!) helping us. Gently it was mooted that maybe I should do the reduced routine. I think it was me that made the suggestion(!) but then I asked for another lesson on the Saturday before we made the final decision. For the next two days I re-ran the routine over and over in my head and by some miracle on the Saturday it was in place. Neither Pete nor Howard were sure where this had come from but confirmed we were going for the full routine or bust!
Our other dance was the Foxtrot which I thought felt wonderfully “floaty” and very “long”. Boy was I wrong! The week before the qualifiers Howard was instructed to really “pace it out” and I realised just how different my ability was to Gillian’s! Not that I had ever doubted it (she is a champion in her own right) but I never realised just how long her stride really was until Howard danced as he normally does! At that point my legs refused to move backwards (or in any direction!) at that length without me losing any semblance of balance or grace I might have achieved so we agreed, quietly, to return to my intermediate stride which I was able to accommodate!
My latin partner was my long term ally, Pete. He never fails to have a kind word and has always had significantly more faith in me than I do. We had the Paso Doble and the Samba. I love the Paso Doble (yes ~ I do make some progress!) but had begun to loathe the Samba (and yes it was by favourite dance at Blackpool ~ no I don’t understand either!). Here I must give credit to another long term ally of mine, my husband Steve. It is known that his memory for routines isn’t always infallible (no you can’t sue me, I’m your wife…) but where the Paso Doble is concerned he is right on the money. He literally DRILLED the routine into me as there were three parts I always got wrong and there isn’t really enough time to do that in the paso. Every car journey, advertisement break and just before bed I had to repeat the routine to him until it finally sank in.
The Samba was a different story. It is a dance you have to “feel” and all I felt was total hatred! I tried everything to rekindle my love affair with that dance ~ I certainly tried giving up the new start of the routine (I was totally incapable) and then I gave up the routine itself! We decided to go with “keep it simple” and still I struggled. I bought new latin shoes with lower heels in an effort to get some balance and movement (Paula having refused the idea I do it in trainers ~ she’s so picky!). Eventually I tried hiding when it was my turn to dance with Pete in the Samba but he had an unnerving habit of finding me and very quietly but firmly insisting we did it! Nothing seemed to make any difference.
During the last lesson before Qualifiers I had an audience of friends who were urging me on to “let go” and “enjoy it”. As the music began I played the fool and walked up to Pete undulating (well, rolling around mostly) and hamming it up for all I was worth. “That’s it!” they yelled, “Do it like that!” They must be joking, I thought, I am 50 and the wrong size/shape to do that! It’s ok if you are slim and look the part ~ I felt like Hattie Jacques pole dancing! Either my friends were setting me up to look truly ridiculous on the day or that was what was required! So there we were then. Two awesome partners (as normal), one frightened competitor (par for the course), two good dances (i.e. I liked them) and two nasty dances (i.e. I couldn’t do them properly!), and one of them meant I needed to lose all inhibitions and perform as if I was outside several large bottles of wine!
But there is one last element of this story I haven’t covered. It concerns someone I have always liked and admired but who took more than her usual interest in me and my progress prior to the Qualifiers. She is affectionately known as “Pepper Pots” (she bears an uncanny resemblance to Gwyneth Paltrow in Iron Man) but is really called Carys. She has an awesome presence on the dance floor and, which is more remarkable, an even greater presence off the dance floor. She will cringe whilst reading this but hey ho! Suffice to say she is genuinely a lovely person and more caring than you could imagine. Given that she is in her early teens, you will appreciate how little interest she should have in some aging member of the club with more enthusiasm than talent. Having said that she has always been supportive but she took it to a whole new level, encouraging me to work through returning to the club and trying to regain lost ground. She always found me during a break for a cuddle and a kind word and stayed behind to dance with Pete for the video we needed of the paso and samba. I felt able to ask her for advice and she spoke to me with patience beyond her years. Never once did I feel stupid when she showed me some steps which she had mastered probably when she was four.
As we cuddled I held on really tightly and told her I was stealing her talent and youth! As the years roll by she will lose her youth, but she will never lose her real talent ~ for being a truly lovely young lady who is nothing but a credit to her parents. Her belief in me gave me a boost you can’t over estimate and so I am happy to say, in writing, THANK YOU LITTLE PAL.
As always at Wright Rhythm it is the people around you (not all of whom I have mentioned or this would go on for several more pages) who make the whole experience worthwhile. Paula & Gilli say you are never just dancing just for yourself but for everyone ~ and they are right. Everyone has a vested interest in their club members and without it I would have given up years ago. And yet here I am, several years on, and about to go to the Qualifers again. Back, slightly less big, and maybe (after everyone’s work) just good enough to make it this time?