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STRICTLY Dance Diaries Week 5

JoWeekOne1In this week’s Strictly Dance Diaries, Jo discusses the importance of a good partner, for novices, professionals, and celebrities a like. She also reflects on how lucky she is to have such a great instructor to keep her motivation up.

The M word and exercise. It’s as bad as saying the C word in July. Motivation and exercise. Christmas in July. Just in case you were wondering. And now, as the clocks are about to go back, forcing yourself out on a cold, dark winter evening for a run, or to the gym or an exercise class, gets even harder. I certainly used to fall into this trap, until I found the right exercise for me – dancing – and the right teacher for me. When it comes to the latter, Gav and I hit the jackpot first time.

WEEK 1 Black tie ball with our teacher Maxine on left
Jo and Gav at a black tie ball with their teacher, Maxine

I can still remember the tentative phone call I made to Maxine, nearly four years ago, when I rang to ask some questions about her class. My main concern, at the time, was if we could dance solely with our partner, or whether she got us partner swapping (so to speak!). Having not danced before, and not knowing the effect it would have on my CF, and the sometimes aggressive coughing fits that come with it (which, in all fairness, can seem quite frightening to someone not in the know), I didn’t feel it fair to force this potential outcome on an unwitting stranger. Her reassurance that I could stick with Gav the whole night was our deciding factor in giving dance a go. That Maxine turned out to be the most energetic, funny, slightly bonkers but brilliant teacher out there was pure luck on our behalf. I’m under no illusions that she is a significant part of why Gav still goes!

The celebs on Strictly also face pot luck when they’re paired with their pro dancer. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Take Lulu and Brendan Cole in 2011. Tense doesn’t even go there. But in the opposite camp, Robin Windsor and Lisa Riley from last year’s show have become the best of friends, while Artem and actress Kara Tointon, who won the glitterball together in 2010, are still a couple now. But it’s not just personalities that make the difference in a couple’s success, it’s teaching style.

Strictly Come DancingKaren Hauer is partnered with the ‘people’s champion’ Hairy Biker Dave Myer. ‘One, two, three, beans on toast.’  That’s a cha cha cha. ‘Laaaaaaammmbbb cous cous.’ A foxtrot (or as Maxine often says to us ‘Slllllloooowww fox trot’).  And finally,  ‘1,2,3 1,2,3 1,2,3 1,2,3 sllllloooooowwwww braised beef. Sllllloooooooooww lobster bisque.’ A waltz.  Karen has found the winning recipe (sorry, couldn’t resist) to get the very best out of her celeb partner. And this week, after getting his highest score yet, Dave confirmed: ‘I may not be the best dancer, but Karen brings out the best in me.’

A New Yorker with double hand hold – no mirrors in the school hall for Jo and Gav to get too critical!
A New Yorker with double hand hold – no mirrors in the school hall for Jo and Gav to get too critical!

Bringing out the best in people when it comes to learning to dance is critical. In fact, research suggests that we only gain the physical and mental wellbeing effects of dance if it’s taught in a relaxed, fun manner. Adding a sense of being judged (those poor celebs!), or feeling like a failure if you get something wrong, actually has negative effects. Dancing in front of mirrors also makes people feel worse about themselves, according to studies (thank goodness for our dusty, school hall without a mirror in sight) as does wearing tight clothes, such as a leotard and tights. Baggy clothes improve self esteem. It’s official.


Maxime SocksMaxine’s clothing of choice most weeks is brightly coloured odd socks. An interesting look with Latin dance shoes, but that’s just a tiny part of her kooky nature. A stranger walking into our class would also wonder about the language she uses. We have the ’12 steps of doom’ in the foxtrot (a tricky set of steps that are notoriously difficult to master); detailed descriptions of ‘bay windows’ as Maxine demonstrates the shape we should be making with a different set of foxtrot steps. We get onto food, too – Gav coined the ‘chicken enchilada’ when he couldn’t remember the ‘fanchez entrada’ in salsa! Now, our whole class knows exactly what to do when Max shouts ‘chicken enchilada’ across the room.  And when we tackle the merengue, she shouts ‘make your bottom chew a toffee!’ at us. But, what matters is, it works and it makes it fun.

Jo dresses 50s style to learn a Grease routine
Jo dresses 50s style to learn a Grease routine

Maxine’s powers of persuasion are second to none. She’d make a killing as a saleswoman. She’s had us (or more particularly, Gav) doing things I never would have got him doing: country and western line dancing wearing a cowboy hat; dancing the Thriller video routine and You’re The One That I Want for a 50s style routine, and most recently a Greek dance to Zorba the Greek. She even got him on a dance cruise, when he gets sea sick just looking at a boat.



Strictly Come Dancing

The pros on Strictly also have great persuasive powers. Deborah Meaden ripping off her skirt Bucks Fizz style is a case in point. What’s lovely to see is each pro with their different ways of making it work with their celeb: Kristina calls her classes ‘ballroom bootcamp’; she adopts a tough training style for sportsman Ben who, with his experience from rugby training, will respond well to that. And it’s working – his rumba last week had the judges offering high praise and Bruno demanding to see more! Gav and I want to see more too (but in a different way to Bruno, I suspect!) as Ben’s our sweepstake pick. So, keep up the good work you pair.

Strictly Come Dancing
Dear BBC, please can we have more of Ben in a singlet (or better still with no top on)? Yours, The Editor

This week’s class saw me burn 140 calories. My Ki Armband cleverly allows me to check what I’ve burnt in small time periods. Rumba for 20 minutes burnt 66 calories, then jiving for 25 minutes burnt 74. Remember, this isn’t solid periods of dancing – account for teaching time and periods when we stop having gone wrong!

Jo’s tip of the week: Don’t give up taking an exercise or dance class if you don’t gel with the first teacher you find. Keep looking – there are loads of classes and great teachers out there; you just need to find someone who motivates and inspires you.

Next week: Get your mops at the ready….

STRICTLY Dance Diaries Week 4


STRICTLY Dance Diaries Week 3

STRICTLY Dance Diaries Week 2

STRICTLY Dance Diaries Week 1


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