We’ve danced – live. More than once. And it is strictly terrifying. You’d think I’d be used to performing on live television. I present ten hours every week in my day job as a presenter on BBC Breakfat. I do big interviews (with the Prime Minister) and break major news stories. But it’s quite another challenge to turn a week’s dance training into a live performance on the country’s biggest entertainment show and be judged by four of its most notorious critics – as well as leaving yourself at the mercy of the public vote.
The nerves are different too. Nerves affect you physically. I know from early experience they can spoil your performance on air. If you’re nervous, you’re more likely to make a mistake. If the audi- ence knows you’re anxious, they wait uncomfort- ably for you to mess up. You have to deal with nerves to be a live performer. I have a tactic for this. I advise people to visualise their nerves. I imagine bundling them up into a box, closing the lid and leaving that box at the studio door before I walk in confidently and sit down on the sofa.
But I need to develop a tactic. Because Strictly nerves are different. They affect the way I dance, so that my arms become weaker and my legs can’t kick as strongly. I am made of jelly. I can’t imagine leaving my nerves in a box because they’re embedded in my limbs. As always, I turn to my dance partner Kevin for advice. He’s performed in competitions around the world and won more open titles than he can remember. When I asked which ones, he asked for a pen so he could make a list to remind himself. He doesn’t let his fear of falling get in the way of success.
His advice on nerves is to embrace them; if you’re not nervous, then you don’t care enough. So he suggests I just enjoy them. He also insists that we start dancing when we’re warm, never cold. He spends the minutes before we begin jumping around the dancefloor while the audi- ence at home watches our training video.
When it came to our first dance – the jive – it helped that I began by sitting somewhere I feel comfortable and at home. A version of the Breakfast sofa was transported into the Strictly studio. It felt like a comfort blanket. I even had a pile of scripts in my hands to begin the dance. I could only have felt more at home if I’d been dancing with Bill Turnbull instead of Kevin.
I held the nerves at bay, and did the best I could. Coming off the dancefloor, there’s a weird sense of anticlimax. All that hard work, the bruises, the skinned knees. It’s all gone into this, and now it’s over. The judges have spoken. I went home and watched the show. I’m not ashamed to say I watched it more than once. I look at what worked and what didn’t. I enjoy the other dancers. It may be a competition, but we’re genuinely rooting for each other. We’ve made friends and no one wants to see anyone go home.
I’d love us all to still be in by Christmas, but that wouldn’t provide the same viewing experience.
So far we’ve survived, although with a new dance to master every week, that feels like a temporary state. We’re back in the dance studio on a Monday, and my goldfish-bowl brain is gradually managing to absorb information. My muscles are better at memorising the moves. My bruised skin is getting thicker. And I may not have my nerves shut in a box, but I’m definitely learning to enjoy the fact that I care enough to have them.