Gerard Westhoff is thrown in to the world of dance, as a competitor in Strictly Come London
When I was asked by Pi’s president, Becky, if I wanted to represent our society in Strictly Come London; I should have by rights said no. I’m uncoordinated, clumsy (having once managed to knee my own tooth out of place), and most definitely not a natural dancer. But for some bizarre reason, my adventurous side won out over reason, and I said, “omg yeah why not”.
Strictly Come London is an event organised by the University of London Dancesport society, in which 14 non-dancer “celebrity” society bigwigs from across London universities couple up with a UoL Dancesport “pro”, in order to battle it out on the dancefloor for the chance to be crowned Strictly champion. Now wouldn’t that be a nice achievement to write about in my Christmas cards this year?
My only previous experiences of dance have been an attempt at salsa in a musical theatre group aged 15 – where I was so bad that I was relegated to the back of the stage – and then the standard crap dad-esque bumping and grinding you’ll see me do in a nightclub when I’ve got a couple of beers down me. So from the moment I signed up, I knew my partner would have a big task ahead in training me up, and I would have an even bigger task in not embarrassing myself.
When I logged onto Facebook one day several weeks back, after all but forgetting that I’d agreed to do Strictly, and saw that I had a message from the competitions organiser, Adam Dyster, I was both excited and nervous. First he introduced me to my dance partner, Nollie Kernot. Then he revealed which classic ballroom standard we would be dancing – the Viennese Waltz. I’ll admit, I didn’t really know what a Viennese Waltz was at first (I didn’t even know much about the regular waltz), but following a quick look on YouTube I discovered my fate. The Viennese Waltz is fast. And full of spins. I almost felt dizzy just from watching videos of it.
The first rehearsal
I arrived at the rehearsal room in Student Central last Wednesday night feeling rather anxious. Was my partner going to be nice? Was I going to stand on their feet? Would I fall over? Would they ask me to lift them up? Would I end up looking as bad as John Sergeant?
Fortunately the answer to the first question was a resounding yes, with my partner greeting me with a great big bear hug. However, this was then followed straight up with the dreaded ‘can you lift me?’ question… Luckily, I could, and so any potential awkwardness was averted. After a quick introduction into what the routine would consist of, it was straight into learning the steps of the dance. Initially practising the footwork alone, I had trouble grasping it at first. But with a bit of practise and encouragement from Nollie, I soon started to get the hang of it – until we tried to do a section of the routine in the proper dancey ‘waltz hold’ (not the technical term for it).
Toes were stepped on, other dancers bumped into, moves forgotten, and lots of nervous laughter expressed. Half an hour later, after going over and over the steps, and being shown what the dance should look like with ‘real dancers’, I started to make progress. Progress from ‘terrible’ to ‘quite bad’, I’ll admit, but progress nonetheless. Once I’d learnt the ‘natural turn’, changeover step, and reverse turn to a basic enough standard, we decided to step up the tempo to full speed Viennese. I wasn’t quite ready for this. Dizziness and mistakes ensued.
I’ve only had one rehearsal so far, but am already feeling slightly reassured that I won’t be making a complete fool of myself come competition time. I may not be fighting for perfect tens from the judges any time soon, but with several more weeks of practise ahead and a supportive dance partner, I can at least aim to be average, or even – dare I say – slightly good. I’ll keep you posted.
Strictly Come London is being held on December 10 in The Venue at Student Central. More details here.