Gerard Westhoff continues on his quest to become Strictly Come London champion
I may have had a licence since the age of 17, but I didn’t truly learn to “drive” until a dance rehearsal last week. Over my initial rehearsals I had been learning the basic steps of the Viennese Waltz fine, but I was performing them with no confidence, oomph, or, as dancers like to call it, “drive”. Fine is not finesse.
To fix this, I was told to ensure I transferred my weight between feet more effectively, and to maintain the correct posture of chest out, shoulders up – or “tits to the sky like a princess” as my dance partner, Nollie, phrased it. We then practised going up and down the length of the room, repeatedly doing a simple change step, until I had mastered my “drive” – which is very important for a dance that is traditionally led by the man.
Keeping up the driving metaphor, dancing around a large rehearsal hall is often like completing a hazard perception test. A small glance to your left and some foresight about another couple’s trajectory is all you can do to prevent a Tango-Viennese collision, or worse, being bowled down by a Quickstep.
Following the “driving lesson”, came another great metaphor – “dancing is just Physics in a dress.” The point being that dancing with a partner is all about your motion, as you push and respond to your partner. Physics. It seems that dancers are full of hilarious imagery. Another example was whilst learning a running spin I was asked to keep my shoulders down “like a duck”, then my arm movements in a walk forward were meant to be like I was saying “would you like more doves”, but I think my favourite quote yet was an overheard one from another dance “pro” teaching his partner the Cha Cha: “slink in like a nightclubbing fox”.
In the words of Nollie, our dance’s choreography is “fucking dramatic”, with lots of big steps, spins, and Viennese Waltzing. It tells the story of two former lovers reunited – the man having previously ditched the woman for being a bit cray cray, and her being too keen to take his initial “no” for an answer. After speaking to another competitor, it seems their dance is also about a rejected lover – I guess that’s just ballroom dancing.
I’ll let the choice of song remain a surprise for now, but let’s just say it fits our dramatic aim, and certainly isn’t as twee as one of last year’s Strictly competitors, who did the Viennese Waltz to the Harry Potter theme. Also, more drama will be added instantly to our dance due to the fact that I’ll be wearing a tailcoat in the competition.
There are few things funnier than the sight of five people in a large hall going through the motions of a two-person dance alone. This kind of practise may be needed to ensure all the steps are learnt correctly, but is nonetheless hilarious to watch – even when you’re waltzing by yourself too.
I’m amazed how far I’ve come in just two weeks. From a clumsy non-dancer, to a clumsy not-too-bad dancer. My partner has been a fantastic teacher, and supportive throughout – even when I seem to completely forget how to dance at the start of each rehearsal. Apparently the Viennese isn’t usually taught to beginners until they’ve gained a lot more experience, so I’m even more proud of my progress in learning a skill I never thought I’d be able to do. Bring on the competition next week. But first, a lot more practise is needed.