Digested into bitesize chunks and regurgitated a week later for your pleasure!
The Tour : Even in my role as Strictly Superfan and Prominent Blogger, I’ve not done gone to see the tour that often. I went to the one where Austin and Ramps fought topless for masculine supremacy in a big mud-pit in the middle of the arena floor (or at least that’s how I remember it) and the year where Nancy Dell’Olio sexually tormented Artem Chigvintsev, but that’s it. And for cool points I’d like to say it’s because the prices are ridiculous and I’m a poor Millennial, or because I’m not that invested during the off-season, or because, as a cultural critic of note, a big splashy tacky arena show is anathema to the PURITY OF DAHNCE, but actually I don’t go that often because the warm-up man they’ve always used irritates the shit out of me. Don’t tell me to stand up and squeal and kiss the face of the stranger next to me, I am an INTROVERT and I will not pay London prices for the privilege of doing things I’d be embarrassed to ask of a rent boy. That said, my parents bought me the tickets for Christmas, and also there was no warm-up man this time, so maybe I’ll go more often in future.
Ore Oduba : There was no warm-up man, in practice, because all crowd-tickling duties were being performed by Ore Oduba, Series 14 champion and 2017 tour…not champion. He sang, he danced, he pretended to cry, he danced some more, he wore a deliberately undone bow tie (grr), he remembered the name of the town the show was being performed in and said it out loud quite often…basically, every aspect of the hosting gig were handled by Ore, including Bruno-wrangling. Which, when the backrow he’s playing to is a good 100m away, is no mean feat. Frankly, even as an Ore agnostic (I am happy to accept the possibility that he is a good winner, I just need to see more concrete evidence) I was glad of his outsize smuggity pep on the night, because London Thursday night crowds being what they are, you needed somebody to try to squeeze some energy out of the room. And Ore mananged that, even managing to get through an entire closing La La Land routine with a straight face and determination and showbiz aplomb, as the audience all stampeded for the exit doors at 100mph because they’ve got a school run in the morning.
The Pro Dances : Yes, they did the Jason Gilkison Wild Boys video Sex Dungeon routine again, and no it didn’t make any more sense than it did on the show (in fact rather less, because the visual transition from Soho bath-house to Fields Of Elysium is even harder to do without a filming gap to redress the set, so basically everyone made friends again at the end for no reason at all, after 3 minutes of punching the floor and swinging pugil sticks at one another) but yes most of the male pros did get their tops off so frankly, narrative coherence was a price I was willing to pay. Anton’s role as the villainous monarch was played by Janette, incidentally, and if you want to know what the visual effect was, just watch any tango or paso she’s ever done on the show, because she was pulling the exact same faces. As well as the La La Land number, we also got a fairly standard Opening Routine to a mash up of Single Ladies and something else (my husband was running about an hour and a half late (THANKS TFL!) so the note-taking part of my brain was a bit hazy for the first part of the show) and also a tribute to Sweet Charity, in which Jonnie and David played sleazy johns during “Big Spender”, Susan mugged about pretending to be Tom Chambers to “If My Friends Could See Me Now” (and what a combination of personalities that would be!), Gemma and Debbie were vaguely female-empowery during “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This”, and for some reason Joe recreated the video to Emma Bunton’s “Maybe” video in the middle. Alexandra was probably there doing something as well, it’s a big arena, I dunno.
The Routines : After 10 years it’s obvious that the show knows what sort of routines it wants for its arena spaces. Lots of Latin, lots of gimmicks, lots of costumes, lots of showy moments, no trad ballroom other than sprinting around in a circle and calling it a quickstep, and wafting with lifts and occasional hugging (aka American Smooth). Given the space, the routines really exist more as an excuse to sing along with the music, cheer and stomp your feet when Debbie spins around Giovanni’s neck flashing her knickers to the front row, and to try to work out which backing dancer is Luba, rather than any sort of fine appreciation of technique, at least for the 90% of the audience that don’t have direct ringside seats. The effects of your distance from the action was probably best demonstrated for me by comparing Debbie’s salsa to Alex’s jive. My seats were good enough that I didn’t have to rely on the GIANT VIDEO SCREENS, but for both routines I gave a quick squizz to them whilst the dancing was ongoing. Looking on the screens both routines appeared exactly as they did on tv – Alex’s jive a feast of energy and Debbie’s salsa fun and campy, but a little awkward. From a decent distance? Debbie’s salsa looked great and energetic, and Alex’s jive looked like a load of milling about on a platform. Some dances just translate better to bigger spaces, and obvious reasons aside (ie, if you’re making a tunnel of pros for your dance to go down, make it involve more than four people, two on either side) it’s not easy to pinpoint why. Other than Debbie’s salsa, the dances that worked best for personally-me were Joe’s Toy Soldier Charleston (with the backing dancers playing the soldiers, making it 100 times less creepy than the CGI guff going on when they did it on the main show), Jonnie’s cowboy jive, Susan’s Wonder Woman samba, and Debbie’s American Smooth. Look how I kept Debbie’s dances far apart, so I don’t look biased! (I voted for Debbie 6 times, and would have given it the full 10 if I hadn’t accidentally lobbed my phone down the back of the seat of the woman in front). Anyway, in such a large space, any pretence on my part of good taste went out the window. Give me costumes, give me big ol tunes, give me a metaphorical custard pie to the face, I want a circus.
The Personalities : It’s fair to say that as important as the dancing is, what’s even more important on the tour is how you sell yourself afterwards with the judges. Whilst on the main show standing before the judging panel is simply a matter of looking grateful and graceful and avoiding Tess’s attempts to break your wrist with her hand-clamps, on the Tour, it’s your primary campaigning point. From a distance in the mid-seats it might be hard to catch the details of Gemma’s American Smooth technique, how deftly Debbie is lifted, or just how big Davood’s bazoobs are, but wherever you sit you can hear Susan giving a speech about how anyone can be Wonder Woman, or crying about her love of dance, or talking about how handsome Kevin is, or saying she’s going to get a tattoo of Grimsby and Blackpool and Wembley and Kevin’s face and Joanne’s face and Won…there was a lot of Susan, is what I’m saying. By contrast, at the other end of the scale Alexandra gave the usual Alexandra humble/blessed soundbites and Jonnie said everything like he was eyeing the exits (but then didn’t he always?). Other than Susan, the most voluble charismatic speakers were Gemma (saying “ME MUM ALWAYS TOLD ME…” so many times that it felt like she was five second away from claiming she was psychic and staking out the role of Daphne in a Frasier reboot) and Giovanni, who did most of Debbie’s talking for her and got a decent amount of laughs from the crowd by playing up the Italian Stallion stereotype, and also by spelling Debbie’s name out. Twice. Never say we, as a nation, are not easily pleased. All those long sweaty nights of practise with Debbie yelling “SAY MY NAME BITCH!” to his face finally paid off! It’s good to see Giovanni’s English is coming on a-pace anyway, and hopefully Gorka and Nadiya get the same confidence in playing to the crowd if they stick around, and they’re given more (ie anything) to do in future. Sadly Nadiya in particular got relegated to “AND THE REST!” during the walk-on intros at the start, along with Luba And Her Woo Woo Backing Dancer Boys, which felt a bit harsh given that Janette got a speaking role even without a partner, and maybe doesn’t say much for her long term prospects. Although speaking of sticking around, if Neil Jones doesn’t have a partner next year I will eat my Katya’s Hat. He was in most of the intro skits, he got a solo spotlight and a bigger cheer than half of the celebs at the end…it’s coming people. Prepare yourselves.
The Judges : In keeping with the theme of everything coming across better on an arena tour if it’s it’s over-the-top, Bruno pretty much carries the judges portion of the evening. Yelling, flailing about, over-emoting so much that at one point Ore even faked falling over due to the sound of his voice…Bruno did a lot to keep things upbeat and moving along. By contrast Craig pulls his one face a lot, and Darcey is treated very much like the visiting royal in that episode of dinnerladies – gliding serenely through everything off the back of her damehood, giving out the glitterball at the end and still not 100% sure of the script she’s following. It was a small reminder of the bad old days BS (Before Shirley), although maybe she was a hoot at the wrap party, who knows.
The Gay Jokes : Neil being Davood’s sexy Bond Girl, writhing up against him! Giovanni in a Debbie wig flirting with all the boys! Ore calling all of the male celebs and half the pros handsome! Ore basically demanding that Jonnie strip his trousers off and replace them with a pair of spangly shorts in a sequence so bizarre and convoluted even Ore Oduba, the consummate professional, got a bit lost in it and had to move swiftly on. Bruno calling Craig the Wicked Queen (getting his Alice In Wonderland mixed up with his Snow White as he did so)! I think I hit my limit (for this life) when Ore and Craig recreated Joe’s Argentine Tango lift and bickered a little over who got to be the top, but if you enjoy campery, then rest assured there was plenty on display. And I do.
The Declaration : Just after the interval, as everyone was getting changed from the group number for their second act routines, AJ got a very special spotlight, where he talked about the real and pure love that he and Mollie share, and that the real reason that she couldn’t be here tonight was that she is in fact pregnant. But he swore us all to secrecy, and told us that, like the ending of the Mousetrap, we weren’t to share it with our friends on social meeds, or the mean old press will get hold of it and ruin their privacy, and even more importantly the privacy of little baby Tallulah, whenever he or she is born. He then sang a cover of Wonderful Tonight, which will be the b side to Mollie’s new single “Sand In My Pockets”. I am ready for any hate I receive for breaking this embargo, but the love is too real not to be broadcast to the world! Also Chloe rode around behind him on a unicycle, dressed as a lion, whilst balancing a scale model of the Eiffel Tower upside down on her nose whilst juggling, and also the model of the Eiffel Tower was on fire but nobody really paid any attention to her. Because That’s So Chloe!
The Winner : On the night I attended, Susan’s speechifying and JOY didn’t pay off in terms of anything other than crowd reaction, as the top 2 slots in the audience vote went to Debbie and Joe, with the former winning (although the biggest reaction of the night was clearly to Joe’s Pimp Slot Argentine Tango, and I have a feeling that if it had been scheduled in the first half, just before the voting opened, he’d probably have won more dates over the course of the tour) (I still hated it lol). In practice this meant the best of both worlds – I got to see my favourite team triumphant, and also a few days later, when it was confirmed that Susan won the tour as a whole, it meant I got to deepen my amusement at the irony of Giovanni having “Born To Win” tattooed on his arm and also naming his upcoming tour the same. One day Giovanni! I guess you won a Monkie Award, that sort of counts! (At a guess, based on the crowd reaction I could hear I’d say the finishing order went Debbie > Joe > Susan > Jonnie > Alexandra > Gemma > Davood, although I could see swapping any of Jonnie, Alex, and Gemma around).
Kevin’s Arse : Absolutely enormous and a highlight of my evening.
UNTIL NEXT YEAR (maybe)