My children have new teachers and new classrooms this term, and it feels like I’m back at school, too. But while they’re learning English and maths, I’m learning Latin (dance) and completely new ways of counting.
The first morning that I left the Breakfast studio for my Strictly classroom – a dance training studio on an industrial estate just outside Manchester – I panicked. It felt far worse than going to school for the first time.
My hope that lessons would follow a relatively easy pace was quickly crushed. Kevin grinned as he said, “Welcome to training, Susanna – we’re learning the jive.” The jive? It’s the most energetic of the Latin dances, fast, springy and complicated. It’s your hardest aerobics class squeezed into one-and-a-half minutes. It involves legs and arms bouncing perfectly together in spirited motion. Kevin wanted the steps learnt by the end of the first day. There would be homework.
My fear had been that my professional partner would find my hopeless memory for movement painfully frustrating. But Kevin counters my cries of “I can’t do that!” with “You can’t do that yet!” He’s not afraid to offer criticisms, though – and these ring in my head. My leg movements are too long and low instead of high and punchy. My arms resemble bent chicken wings, when they should be rounded and graceful. I can’t seem to nail the step ball-change while shooting my arms in the air. It’s like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time. Or is it the other way round? I can’t even remember that.
Some of the moves have to be associated with other things I think about, to help stick them in my mind. So Kevin’s named them after Crystal Palace footballers. At one point he whispers, “Speroni” as I lunge to one side like the brilliant Palace goalie saving a penalty.
I’m trying hard. I may not be Premier League, but I’m working as hard as I can. In coffee breaks, my teacher keeps me smiling with impressions of the other pro dancers and the judges. We’ve got used to the photographers lurking in the car park, eager to catch that sweaty look as we leave after practice. In the past I’ve been guilty of looking at the newspapers’ snatched shots of cheeky Strictly cigarette breaks, hugs at the rehearsal door, rosy cheeks and spoiled make-up. Well, now it’s my turn. I’ve been papped in my unflattering grey leggings, my hair scraped into an “untidy topknot”. One reporter seemed disappointed I don’t wear full make-up and a ballgown at all times.
The live shows are hurtling towards us. You know that recurring dream in which you have to sit an exam, but the paper makes no sense? The night before my Latin A-level I spent the night awake, wide-eyed, sick and petrified. I was scared that I’d remember nothing at the crucial moment. Well, more than 20 years later that dream has come back to haunt me. I’ve been back in the classroom preparing for another Latin exam… only this one’s live, in front of millions.
Strictly Come Dancing is on tonight at 9:00pm and Saturday at 7:00pm on BBC1.