“You have to get this side of me, no point in going early if I can’t get to the other side. Stop, make sure you’re this side of me... and then... go... and again.”
The Leinster Leader invited ourselves to a rehearsal session last week for the Strictly Come Dancing show being organised in aid of Scoil an Linbh Iosa, the national school in Prosperous.
The thrown-together ad-hoc dancing troupe is made up of current and former parents, teachers and former pupils.
There are some who were doing it for a bit of a laugh, some because they were anxious to help the school and some were clearly doing it because they secretly always harboured an ambition to be dancer!
They’ve been in practice since early January, but by last Wednesday night, there was a workmanlike atmosphere around the school. Soon after 7pm, couples were spread throughout the school practicing.
Mick Gormley and Fi Latham were in one of the larger classroom. He was talking her through a routine, but was afraid she would move too fast for him to get into the next position.
“Wait, wait until I can get around. Now, go, go, and step and step.”
Next door, Richie Whelan Jnr and Debbie Mason were trying to find something extra to add. Richie, especially, is looking to find something that will distinguish them from the other couples. And he’s not alone – there’s friendly rivalry around - and there’s talk of Larry’s (a local pub) opening a book on it.
But his adventurousness may exceed the laws of physics. There’s talk of bunny hopping over Debbie, and somersaults and back flips. As it is, their routine involves him doing a cartwheel while balancing his hands on her knees.
More than once his experiments come tumbling down, but it doesn’t diminish his enthusiasm for the spectacular. “There’s a reason I have scars all over my body,” he says, matter of factly.
Mick Gormley says it’s hard work, but it’s getting there.
“We have the routines, it’s just a matter of getting rid of the nerves. Just keep doing them in front of everyone, and the nerves will go.”
We ask Fi Latham, a slightly-built effervescent Londoner who looks less than half her 50 years, if she stretches in advance training sessions.
“What? I’m covered in so much arnica and I’ve that much ibruprofen in my system, I swear to God!”
“There’s lots of deep heat going around,” Dermot Lavin, another dancer explains.
Prior to his routine, he was doing a couple of press-ups. One of the lads slagged him that he was “pumping the guns”.
“Just trying to warm up – the shoulders are banjaxed afterwards,” he explains, and in fairness to him, there aren’t many whose routine involves as much lifting as his.
Taking advantage of the fact that both he and dance partner, Kathy Casey, are on the tall side, they have come up with a routine that involves a lot of lifting. It looks very well, but it’s just as well he’s a reasonably fit footballer.
The dancers talk of that moment when it starts to look effortless. But when you see them coming off the floor and out of breath, you realise that looks are deceiving.
“We’ve been practicing so hard, so hard and so long,” Fi says.
They all say they’ve toned up and lost weight since they started training. It’s a lot of work, and the training has been fairly full-on – three to four night a week, for several hours at a time.
Rose Marie Ormond is the choreographer. She, and Alicia Grills Grant, have been producing Strictly shows for some time now.
“Every time we do one, we get asked to do another one, or two.”
The event will take place in Johnstown House Hotel in Enfield on Saturday, March 2 at 8pm.
Aonghus McAnally will MC the night while 2FM’s Rick O’Shea, Gavin Duffy from Dragon’s Den and Sibéal Davitt, a professional dancer and television producer will be the celebrity judges.
“Smile a bit now, don’t forget to smile,” Rose tells the dancers.
Most are too busy counting themselves through the routines and thinking about where their legs go next to be worrying about what their faces look like.
“Count in your head,” she says.
During the opening and finishing routines, she occasionally gets frustrated. Given that some of them are teachers, you’d think that there would be a bit of quiet when the instructor is speaking!
After she tries to get them to do one section of the routine for the fourth time, she turns to this reporter and says: “Do you see it? Do you see what I can see?”
The Leinster Leader isn’t sure really if we see the same thing. It looks like someone trying to herd cats - and just about succeeding.
“Any time I put ye in front, ye make a balls of it,” she says to one group. “Pretend you’re doing it in your bathroom. Forget the nerves.”
At another point Rose grabs Dermot Lavin and tries to show the other women a particular move.
“So, it’s the other leg?” Fi notes, thinking she’s finally gotten it. “No, it’s no leg, it’s no leg!” Rose replies with exasperation.
It’s notable that all of the dancers know the broad outline of the routines, more or less – they just have to perfect them.
“So, which way do you go then?” Rose asks James Cash - who has been paired off with Pamela Kiely – about a section in their routine.
“I dunno, I just follow her,” he admits.
Later, she’s talking to Kevin Scully about Lisa Corrigan. “Just because her legs are longer doesn’t mean it will take longer to lift her!”
That gets a laugh.
Between breaks in practice you can see the couples talking each other through their moves. “So it’s turn, left, down, lunge, right, step, step, step, two, three aaaaaaaaand freeze.”
There is one move, and we won’t give it away, with Fi Latham and Richie Whelan, or possibly Mick Gormley. It’s a bit spectacular, but it has to be done absolutely right. It’s either completely right, or completely wrong.
A few times, it doesn’t work. “Unfortunately, we can’t do it like that on the night!” Rose remarks.
Then it goes right and there’s a round of applause. “Whoop, whoop,” says Fi once she’s back on her feet.
There’s nerves, but nobody is holding back. They’re going at it with all guns blazing.
There’s frustration, but there’s an awful lot of good humour. They all say it’s hard, and they’re tired, and at one point Alicia says there’s a lack of zip from some of them.
But they’re all enjoying it, really, really enjoying it. They encourage each other, never more so than if somebody tries something new, especially if it comes off.
“I want to keep doing this after March,” one says, and a number of them agree with enthusiasm.
At ten past nine, after more than two hours of intensive work, with heads starting to droop and sweat patches appearing, they call it quits.
“Is is over?” Fi’s Cockney rings out. “It’s time for me dinner. I’m starvin’!”
Tickets are available through the school. Ring 045-868660
- Conor McHugh