We're fools whether we dance or not, so we may as well dance – Japanese proverb
Whispers to my Footsteps
My daughter J had been very excited recently, as she'd been selected to go through to the next stage of Just Dance. This is a reality TV show which will be shown on Sky 1 next year: a sort of X-factor for dancers. We knew that Davina McCall would be presenting it, but didn't have any other details about the format or the judges.
She quickly got to work developing a routine. Her boyfriend is a talented musician, and she found a piece of music of his that had the right style to allow her to choreograph a dance number incorporating both contemporary ballet and hip-hop. We had a fun session trying to come with a name for the piece to allow him to do the legal releasing waiver, and eventually settled on Whispers to my Footsteps..
Finding the costume was the next hurdle! Starting with the feet, ballet shoes look wrong for hip-hop, but trainers wouldn't do for the ballet section, and turning pirouettes in bare feet is just asking for trouble. We located a new product called Foot Undies, which provide a surface under the ball of the foot to perform spins and turns, but look from a distance as if the dancer is barefoot. Having been to see the new cinema version of Fame, she was inspired by the outfit worn by the main dancer in it, and we found a pair of tight black shorts to wear with a beautiful high necked, sleeveless, drapey top, which moved well in the ballet section and still looked funky enough for the hip-hop. We even had a back-up costume of a short black lace dress, in case she changed her mind at the last minute.
Finding a suitable date to attend the auditions posed another difficulty, as she is heavily involved with her school play, but there was one Sunday in October that we were free, and I booked our flights over to Edinburgh. With an audition time at 2.30 pm, we felt we had plenty of time to fly over in the morning, and be on the 8.30 flight home again the same day.
She knew some other dancers who had also got through to this stage, and on the Saturday evening she phoned the pair who'd been auditioning that day, to find out shockingly that they hadn't got through. J was stunned: this pair are extremely talented, and teach and perform extensively in and around Belfast. I reminded her that it's not really a search for the world's greatest dancer, it's a TV programme, and sometimes the results are puzzling or even downright unfair. Them's the breaks.
On Sunday morning we rose early and excited, and headed off in the grey dawn over the hills to Aldergrove airport. J had packed carefully the night before, and I had a collection of plasters, surgical tape, magazines, bananas and painkillers in my hand luggage. No scissors of course, and all liquids from our make up bag in a see through plastic bag. I jokingly asked her when we were on our way if she'd packed a spare pair of undies, and she answered 'I have actually, and two spare pairs of tights!' I was most impressed at this diligent level of preparedness.
The flight from Belfast to Edinburgh is ridiculously short: no sooner are you airborne than the captain announces 'Cabin crew prepare for landing'. The sun was shining as we walked down the steps and found the loos in the airport in order to apply make-up (in case cameras were filming us on arrival). We took a taxi over to the Ocean Terminal in Leith, which is where the Royal Yacht Britannia is berthed. I only found out later that there's a bus that goes between the airport and here, but sure we'll know for next time.
In a car park beside the shopping centre were two white domed tents, with the Sky 1 and Just Dance logos on them. We were shown into a first stage waiting area, which was freezing cold, and completed our registration details. It was too cold for J to change into her costume just yet, but the space was filled with dancers of all sorts; little ballerinas in cute tutus, a tap dance troupe in silver lame outfits and fishnet tights, and some highland dancers in kilts. After an hour killing time here doing Sudoku puzzles together, we were led over to the main backstage and performance domes. Inside, it was much warmer, and the atmosphere was fizzingly electric, with knots of camera crews roaming around doing interviews with the contestants and close-ups of the friends and family faces as they watched the performance and judging on a small television screen. Many of the supporters had banners to wave, or had specially printed up T shirts to show their support, and everyone clapped and cheered loudly for all the performers.
We watched as one amazing dancer after another failed to meet the judges' high standards. Jaws were dropping and gasps of breath were sharply taken in. Tears were shed, hugs were dispensed, and Davina did her best big-sister act in comforting the contestants as they came off stage.
The judges themselves were extremely well qualified: Adam Garcia, West End stage and movie star and founder of the group Tap Dogs; Kimberly from the Pussycat Dolls who's been dancing professionally since the age of 14; and Ashley Banjo, leader and choreographer from Diversity, who won Britain's Got Talent in 2009. Each dancer had 90 seconds to perform in front of the three of them, plus a live studio audience, and then had to endure an agonising wait before the verdict was delivered, followed by the judges' comments. Their feedback was extremely tailored and incisive, and it was obvious that they knew their stuff.
J stayed calm and organised amidst the frantic backstage activity. She carefully wrapped up her toes with surgical tape so that she'd be able to spin properly, and chatted confidently to the crew on camera about her hopes for the contest. Soon, it was her turn, and one cameraman got ready to film her running onto the stage, while another trained his lens on me as I watched the screen, biting my nails and peeping out between my fingers.
She danced her usual brilliant self, and her wonderful smile filled the screen, and my heart with pride. Applause rang round the dome as she stood, composed and calm, waiting for the judges' verdict.
It was three 'no's.
She listened to their comments with a brave face, a smile and an "OK", and to be fair all their remarks were constructive and credible (no Alesha Dixons here...) She was even asked about her music, at which point her face lit up and she explained how it had been written for her, and how much she loved dancing to it.
As she ran back through the tunnel and into my arms I was the one fighting back the tears, but I hugged her tightly, and told her how proud I was of her, and how brave she'd been to go out there and do her dance, and listen with head held high to the comments.
So. It was a very valuable experience for her indeed. She learned how she copes with rejection, which she'll come across a lot in this biz. She's seen what all is involved in making a TV programme, and how much activity there is behind the scenes, and how important it is to be nice to the crew. And she's learned how to handle nerves in a downright petrifying situation. Yeah, I know I'm biased, but what a little trooper!