Bill Bailey's Strictly Diary: ‘I can rap to the boogie-de-beat but can I dance to it?’

In his exclusive weekly report, the comedian talks about his best score and perfecting a street dance to a rap classic

Oti and Bill placed second on the leaderboard after their Western-style 
Paso Doble for last Saturday’s Movie Week
Oti and Bill placed second on the leaderboard after their Western-style Paso Doble for last Saturday’s Movie Week

It was another night of wonder for me on this sparkly danceathon. Amazingly, my movie-inspired Paso Doble was much admired by the judges, producing a score which seemed out of reach on Week One. I loved the Latin fire which it somehow kindled in my English bones.

Oti’s spectacular choreography combined with Ennio Morricone’s thrillingly atmospheric music propelled me to a new dance high, to the point I imagined myself as a West Country Antonio Banderas. Or at the very least, the guitarist in a Tiverton-based mariachi band. 

This week is Couple’s Choice, where you pick from jazz, musical theatre or street/contemporary, and a song where the music may also have a particular significance. It may surprise you all to hear that I will be doing a street dance to Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang. The track consists of a bunch of MCs taking turns to rap over Good Times by Chic, and while not really being an authentic rap song, is nevertheless credited with bringing rap to the mainstream as it was a huge hit.

For a callow Somerset lad for whom the charts were filled with punk, novelty records, sporting singalongs and Cliff Richard, this track exploded into my ears like the musical bombshell it was.

The beats are electrifyingly catchy, the good-natured rapping is comically boastful and percussive, and it quickly became a favourite inclusion on my cassette mixtape. In fact, an old friend got in touch to tell me she had a recollection of me performing the entire 15-minute version to a barn full of partygoers when I was 18. It’s a blessing there were no camera phones back then.

The tricky part is dancing to it.  The music is fast and the moves are relentless. There’s intricate business with newspapers, hats, briefcases, telephones, sunglasses and chairs. Individually, and at slow speed, I am fine with all of these things. But when I hear “hip, hip-a-hoppa you don’t stop a rockin’ to the rhythm of the boogie-de-beat” I seem to just freeze and look in bewilderment at a newspaper as if it’s the first time I’ve seen one.

Also my left leg refuses to move on occasion to Oti’s exasperation. Of my two legs, the left one is definitely the less confident. 

I’ve also realised that the dancer’s counting method is not the way that I count music. Dancer’s count to eight, as in every beat over two bars of music (assuming it’s in 4/4 time, which this track most definitely is). But I am counting as a musician, in bars, as in 1, 2, 3, 4… 2, 2, 3, 4. The upshot is that it’s taken me 12 hours to work out when to pick up a hat.

In one bit of business, I have to nonchalantly get up off a bench, fold a newspaper under my arm and stride off with a spring in my step. Two days, four newspapers later and I feel like a shambling Neanderthal picking up a tool for the first time.

Oti is, as ever, amazingly patient and has devised a “non-dancer” language for me. So instead of the “kick ball change” and “7 and 8 and 1” which is beyond my ken, we converse in a new hybrid lingo, of “Up! MOVE! kick-kick, SCOOP!” I haven’t told her I have my own secret language that I say in my head: “This-is-the-bit-where-I-pick-up-the-hat.” Not the greatest rap, but it might just work on Saturday.

Strictly is on BBC One on Saturday at 7.10pm and Sunday at 7.25pm

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