Strictly 2021 Week 3: two Paso Doble performances

It’s Movie Week at Elstree Studios. This means that each performance is set to iconic film music. In addition to the usual challenge of learning a new dance style, the couples have to act through dance, portray believable characters and recreate the atmosphere of a film.

We were treated to two Paso Doble performances, one by Greg Wise and Karen Hauer to the James Bond Theme and one by John Whaite and Johannes Radebe to Pirates of the Caribbean. Let’s dive in.

Greg Wise and Karen Hauer Paso Doble to the James Bond Theme

Greg Wise and Karen Hauer Paso Doble to the James Bond Theme

I enjoyed that Greg was fully committed to his character and embodied a cool Bond incredibly well. He was attentive, both to Karen and to the music and dance. Every dance style requires commitment, of course. But how it should be perceived by the audience is different. In the Paso Doble I don’t mind one bit when you can see the dancers’ focus and concentration. To me it’s part of the style.

Greg’s torso felt strong and he commanded a very supportive lead to Karen, a great accomplishment in week three! All the steps and moves were there, but I was missing one element, that I’m sure will come with continued practise: it’s a mixture of physical core strength and a certain passionate fire in the tummy/heart region, a connection to bring it all together.

The relationship between physical strength and self-belief and mindset in dance

Achieving it is partly down to actual strength (core exercises), partly down to knowing how to galvanise that strength in any given dance move (practise, practise, practise + time) and partly a ferocious commitment and self-belief that you can do this (mindset, self-belief, support). They’re interconnected impacting each other and it’s super complex. It’s what makes incredible dancers great, and of course it takes experience and time.

As Greg develops these linked elements, his torso and arm movements will be able to expand, be larger, take up more space and make a stronger impact on the viewer, because all torso movements ultimately grow out of the core area. And he’ll be able to offer more resistance to Karen. As the Paso Doble lives off a degree of tension between pull and attraction, that will make it an even stronger performance should they chose to do it again in the final. All of this will also be important in the other dances, but in different ways. It really is an incredibly challenging journey the celebs go on with Strictly. I continued to be amazed.

Interpreting the creative brief

Every week, the pro dancers face a choice over how abstract or literally they tell a story. It’s a particularly important choice in Movie Week. And everyone will have different preferences. To me this seemed an abstract interpretation of Bond. It was a very cool performance, which I liked. But it nearly felt dispassionate to me at times, which didn’t work quite so well for me in a Paso Doble.

I wonder if going for a storytelling rather than abstract interpretation might have worked better, because it would’ve allowed Greg to marry coolness with fire, rather than “only” going for cool. E.g. Bond has been invited to a ball hosted by the villain. His enemies think they can embarass him by putting him on the spot or he has to dance to achieve his mission. He defies their stereotypes and delivers a fiery, impassioned performance perfectly blending his cool English reserve with the heat and fire required for the Paso Doble.

This is in no way criticism, just a thought that occurred to me while watching 🤓. Of course, I loved Karen’s choreography and her costume. And I hugely admire the pros’ ability to come up with new concepts and choreographies that make their partners look great week after week. On top of the actual teaching and supporting their celebs through this rollercoaster challenge. It’s so impressive!

John Whaite and Johannes Radebe Paso Doble to Pirates of the Caribbean

John Whaite and Johannes Radebe Paso Doble to Pirates of the Caribbean

Achieving expansive movement

The first thing I noticed was how big John’s movements were. I say that first, because with those heavy costumes that was super necessary. Any normal sized movement would’ve disappeared in such a large costume. It was an extra challenge. And John delivered! To pick just one example, if you look at his arms, you’ll see that they never flailed about. They didn’t move just on their own. They moved because the fire in his tummy boiled so hot that the heat rose from within into all the extremeties. He didn’t move an arm because he was told to, he moved it because his body, the music, the dance compelled it to. I know this may sound a bit wafty-wafty, but it’s my way of saying that the connection from the core was there and it created a wonderful expansion of the whole body.

I knew it was going to be great from the moment they strode down the stage. Johannes leads the way going backward and John follows. Or is it John that compells Johannes into a magnificent retreat?! A traditional Paso Doble dances the relationship between toreador and cape. Picture it in your mind: neither the bull fighter nor the cape will ever be slack. They will be in constant motion, creating stunning shapes along the way. That’s why we must see a constant interaction between the two partners, an interaction defined by pull and contraction, by tension and manipulation. We saw it here maginificently demonstrated. John and Johannes were always in communication. Even when they weren’t in hold or not even looking at each other, their bodies were connected.

The magic of dance

Confidence and self-belief are funny things. Hugely complex of course. On the whole they do need to come from within, I would think. However, dance and performance have a unique ability to bring out things in people they either never knew where possible or secretly felt were there, but didn’t let out for whatever reason.

I call this an outside in approach. You learn the steps, the movements, physical shapes. You dance them to music. You repeat. Until something happens. And then it’s not just steps anymore. Something else happens, your soul dances too. And then your entire being dances and you go above and beyond your usual self. Dance can make that happen. And it makes me extremely emotional when it happens! I take my hat off to Johannes for being able to tickle it out of John, and to John for allowing himself to take that risk and see where it takes him. I cannot wait to see what they do next.

Watch week four on BBC One on Saturday 16th October 2021, at 7.10pm.

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