This has been a week of firsts for me, which I find is always a fun way to get through life. First time dancing the Cha Cha Cha and first time dancing on live TV, and of course first time wearing gold trousers. Those trousers, I have to say, did elicit a lot of comments, largely positive. They are quite magnificent, something a pharaoh might wear around the house, or to a pyramid viewing. I may try to purchase some, in case I ever get asked to go golfing with a sultan.
As for my performance, the comments about my Cha Cha were also mainly positive. I was a little shaky on technique, my arms appeared to be acting independently of my body and a couple of steps went awry, but I think it was a creditable effort. I threw some shapes that could be interpreted as not so much Latin, more semaphore, or maybe self-defence, but I still think the spirit of the dance shone through.
I did give myself wholeheartedly to last week’s routine, and indeed the whole experience. For some reason I have acquired the nickname “The Rocket” from the other male contestants. I think this came about during a conversation we were having about sporting prowess. I mentioned I was fastest at the long jump on school sports day, meaning I was great at the run-up, not so good at the actual jumping part.
Indeed, despite his rather parsimonious score of three, Craig Revel Horwood enthused that I had “invented an entirely new dance genre”, somewhat due to the speed I was performing at, which can’t be a bad thing. Dance innovators such as myself are always misunderstood in their time, only to be judged by future generations as having pushed back the boundaries of the craft.
This week I have been training for the Quickstep to Bobby Darin’s If I Could Talk to the Animals, so I brought a couple of our rescue cockatoos, Molly and Jakobi to the studio. They had a whale of a time showing off to the camera and Molly flew across the studio gracefully to the cameraman so I’ll have a tough time matching her poise on Saturday!
The animals theme is a good one for me as we have a menagerie of rescue animals at home. Sharing our lives with these beautiful creatures is a gift, but in reality it’s a massive commitment – they're very high maintenance and we can never make up to them what they’ve lost. They should be soaring over the jungles of their homelands, not sitting in our living rooms. For that reason, I’m very committed to the conservation and protection of these lovely birds (and all endangered species) and their rapidly disappearing habitats.
The Quickstep is a tricky dance to master and completely different to the Cha Cha. You have to be fast and light on your feet, but you also hold your arms with elbows out in a fixed position, forming a “frame” with your partner. This is for me the biggest challenge. For the correct “look” of ballroom, shoulders have to be down while the elbows go up. But I seem not to be able to isolate the two, they are inextricably linked in my mind. A lifetime of simultaneous movement has to be unpicked in a mere few days.
Every time my elbows go up, my shoulders go up, when my shoulders go down, so do the elbows. They’re pegged together, like the pound and the euro. So my resourceful teacher, the brilliant Oti Mabuse, has come up with a device to help me. She straps a length of wood across my back, then another vertically which forms a cross. With the application of straps and braces, my shoulders and elbows are spatchcocked together to give me the right posture. It works brilliantly, but does look a bit conspicuous and a bit like I’m starring in a low-budget version of The Passion of the Christ.
I'm sure the cross will help me to achieve the correct frame in time for the dance (if I sleep with it on). If not, I’ll have to figure out a way to wear this device without it being noticeable. If I'm wearing a spangly bear suit on Saturday, you’ll know why. Well, the theme is Talk to the Animals, after all.
Strictly Come Dancing is on BBC One on Saturday at 7.10pm; the first results show is on Sunday at 7.15pm