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Strictly a little bit of magic – the Waltz Tango



Strictly Come Dancing 7 – 16th October 2009

At last – a little bit of magic. Like two proud, elegant birds of prey locked in a mating dance, Vincent and Flavia captivated the eye and lifted the spirit with their Waltz Tango – which is a new one on me. The apparent contradiction of the dance’s name was perfectly reflected in the intricate entwining steps that turned and spun; with stepping, prancing precision engaged; broke free and re-embraced in complete unison; with for once the right musical accompaniment that echoed with time, folk memory and a Latin passion we cold climate sons can only marvel at. And envy.

Vincent for me is the most accomplished of the male dancers on Strictly: in his dancing body language he is totally multi-lingual; at home equally in the Old World stiffness of a Viennese Waltz; the nostalgic, jazz-tinged elegance of the Slow Fox Trot; and the Roaring Twenties brash Yankee-ness of the Quick Step. Flavia’s competence is equally wide but her artistry needs a Latin rhythm to let it breathe. Vincent’s Rumba last year with Rachel Stephens was the last little bit of magic to dim the sequins, shade the tawdry glitter and silence the po-faced hyperbole that are Strictly trademarks: and to which we are all drawn for some unfathomable reason.

I know nothing of the history of dance but the moody Latin dances like the Tango and Rumba, especially the former, seem redolent of the Flamenco and the corrida. The eclectic fusion of styles and cultures that the Tango represents – Spanish, Argentinian, even African it seems, is reinforced by the fact that its two most proficient exponents on Strictly were both born in Italy but raised in England.

There is for me something paradoxical about dances like the Tango that they share with say the Flamenco: there seems to be an extraordinary sense of sexual equality, an uncompromising and thrilling clash of equal but different forms of passion; of the masculine and the feminine; where neither is subservient to the other. The stunning thing about Vincent and Flavia’s Waltz Tango was the constant switching of emphasis: gone was the continuous male leadership of the European Ballroom dances, the Waltz, Fox-Trot etc. In steps, style, mood and performance this was a fusion of equals with no sub-text of domination and submission. In this the echoes of the Flamenco are unmistakable. I saw my first authentic Flamenco dancing long before it became a sanitised knees-up for tourists. The visceral thrill of the fusion of music, dance, passion and sexuality bordered on the menacing, the threatening; but thrilling precisely as a result. The paradox is of course that despite having dances which recognize and fuse without compromise, the equal but distinct and different power of masculine and feminine, the Latin cultures in which they have their roots are in most other respects deeply macho-centric. I can’t help but feel there is something deep that has been lost here.

That’s a long way from a show dance on Strictly Come Dancing but unlike the farrago of phoney, manipulated, musically rootless narcissism of The X-Factor, these magic moments on Strictly remind us that for all its glitz and self-importance, ballroom dancing, especially the dances I have mentioned, have their roots in an ancient popular art form. It would have been good to hear Darcey Bussell comment on the Waltz Tango. She could have done it justice. What draws me back to Strictly is that almost despite itself, each series it has moments that simply take your breath away.

More prosaically, less floridly did I hear you say, the bolshy British public again refused to sing from the same hymn sheet as either the programme or the judges. They dumped Joe just when he finally looked as if he might smoke a bit with his best dance yet; and kept the wimpy Craig who dances like an end-of-the-day, railway buffet lettuce and looks a like stranded goldfish while doing it. I can only assume that there is a Spanish or Italian beach somewhere offering Autumn sun to Zoe’s Mum, Dad and all friends and relations so that they neglected to vote this week. How else to explain that one of the best and most promising celeb dancers was dumped into the dance off? Mind you with our tragically unfair and unconscionable Electoral system we may be becoming the most sophisticated manipulators of voting systems in the world. The psephological parallels are apt: the Strictly voters, knowing that they are not empowered to directly vote off a particular couple, have learned that if they dump the right pairs into the dance off – the judges will do the dirty business for them.

Brendan’s feud with Craig continues; prematurely dragging his ‘entreprenoor’ crippled faun Jo Wood away from the judges apparently regarding Craig’s ‘bush kangaroo’ jibe as unacceptably rude while Bruno’s hand-mimed ‘grasshopper’ was presumably just good-natured fun. Anton du Berke showed that there are sometimes dances that even the pros are crap at with a jive where all the criticism heaped on his surprisingly sedate partner Laila applied doubly to his own antics that matched neither the note nor the spirit of the music. The Berke seems to have learned nothing from last week’s motor-mouth mess, still apparently afflicted with ‘Wossism’ – the mental delusion that leads you to believe that the first witless remark that comes into your head must be unfailingly hilarious. And Laila’s surprising inability to do anything fast looks likely to be her eventual undoing.

Brian is so infatuated he seems to think Ali already is a professional dancer offering her choreography so fearsomely complicated they will have to call out the fire brigade to disentangle them mid-floor one of these weeks. Zoe as previously indicated badly missed her Mum Dad and other discriminating voters too busy sunning themselves abroad to recognize a pretty good jive. Jack-the-lad Chris looked every inch the jiving Ted until he forgot not only all the steps but bewilderingly how to play Air Guitar. I mean how hard is that to remember? Vincent’s nicely ironic teaching style continues to flatter Nathalie’s modest gifts into deceiving us into saving her. I’m happy to relate the heart-warming news that Ricky the Jet this week left Alesha fully satisfied. If he could possibly introduce the likeable diva to the complexities of the correct person and tense forms of the verb ‘to be’, most of the nation and all the rapidly balding English teachers within it, would be eternally grateful. And Nathalie could take some genuine satisfaction on being told “you was like a lady”. Len’s double-entendre blindness continues to afflict him: this week opining that Tuffers apparently needs to “think balls” and then mysteriously for reasons I couldn’t quite fathom, “polish them”. Just so. Go Tufty.

Craig, perhaps nervously fearing a patent leather shoe up the jacksie from Burly Bren, told Ricky Whittle that he was “absolutely magnanimous” which I guess was in a sense a generous remark. Bruno seemed liverish and to be afflicted with a touch of the ‘Craigs’. The usual weekly bunch of flourishes got on Len’s wick. Not the highest scored, but the most interesting performance of the week by a celeb was a startling Viennese Waltz from Jade and Ian where weirdly the steps and the music didn’t seem to actually connect at any point but still managed to look in synch. Jade slipped in the intriguing observation that Mum and Dad were together for the first time in years and watching in the audience. It is a curiously affecting experience each week to watch this powerful and likable long-jumper feel more and more comfortable at being a rather strikingly attractive woman with an elegance and grace to go with her muscular power. As world-class long-jumping has much more to do with balance, timing, rhythm and grace than you might imagine, this likeable lady looks set to benefit in both spheres from her time on Strictly. And Mum and Dad are talking again. Not a bad week’s work.

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