Saturday, 22 November 2008

Save the last dance for me

Thus far I have resisted the temptation to discuss the issue that divides the nation. No, not the recession, the mental health of the Prime Minister or the prospects for an early general election, I mean the real issue : John Sergeant and his uncooperative feet.

Anyone meeting me would probably be surprised to learn that I am a trained dancer with certificates and medals and, on one terrifying occasion, an appearance on the West End stage. Tap is my thing. Maxi-Fords, ripples, time-steps, pick-ups, cut-aways and wings hold no fear for this fat man although the gruesomely difficult step-over is, sadly, a thing of the past. I even invented a step once, a 16-beat turning riff, although I'm not sure I can still remember how to do it. Dancing requires you to move in ways you never thought possible but with practice even the most complex steps can be mastered by anyone possessing reasonable coordination. It is good exercise, provides endless new challenges and gives a lot of people a lot of fun. My dodgy ticker no longer allows me to dance with vigour for fear that a triple pick-up timestep with double-shuffle will result in a luggage label being attached to my big toe and a trip to the local crematorium. Nonetheless gentle jigging about is still possible from time to time and injects a little pleasure into my otherwise miserable existence.

When Strictly Come Dancing started in 2004 it was an early summer show running from May to July. A second series followed later that year and since then it has run from early October up to Christmas and been one of the BBC's most popular shows. The format has been sold overseas and the American version, Dancing with the Stars, is huge. I haven't watched "Strictly" regularly since the third series because I found it became rather formulaic, although the competitors changed the performances didn't and the judges' comments became entirely predictable. Now I watch the last two or three weeks by which time those who can't dance or don't care to try have usually been eliminated and the remaining competitors perform to a very good level. For me the entertainment value lies in the quality of the dancing not in the early rounds of scoffing at uncoordinated performing seals. When the continued presence of John Sergeant on the show started to cause a stink a couple of weeks ago I looked at his performances on the BBC website and had no difficulty in including him in the performing seal category.

Recent heavy voting for him has been criticised as making a mockery of the show as a dance contest. Last week the actress Cheri Lunghi was voted out despite being an excellent dancer and I suspect that spurred Mr Sergeant into withdrawing before further injustices were meted out to those of ability and dedication. I do not suggest he hasn't tried and his final waltz on tonight's show was a very passable effort for a 64 year-old and was performed with elegance and great dignity.

The issue thrown up by these events is rather interesting. The BBC throws the vote out to the public and hopes that the votes cast will not result in perverse results yet it has no control over how people will vote. Some will vote purely on their assessment of the quality of dancing, some will vote for their favourite actor/actress/singer or whatever, some will vote for one person in the hope it will result in the elimination of someone they don't like, some will vote for a contestant who has been treated harshly by the judges and, no doubt, some will vote for a non-dancer who provides great entertainment value. Hundreds more reasons could lie behind decisions to phone in. Every reason is equally legitimate because the matter is open to all and when a vote is open to all you are stuck with what the voters choose to do, no matter how strongly you might feel they are doing the wrong thing.

In the second series of Strictly Come Dancing there were several contestants who had little control over their feet. Three were eliminated early on but one, Julian Clary, made it to the final. In doing so he got further than the athlete Roger Black and the singer Aled Jones, both of whom were very accomplished dancers. I do not recall many complaints at the time, presumably because Mr Clary was hugely entertaining both in his lacklustre dancing and in his observations about his own performances and the show in general. No dancer who witnessed his attempt at a jive could see it as anything other than an exhibition of comic mime and I had no difficulty in enjoying it for what it was.

I wonder whether the outrage about John Sergeant lasting so long is a sign that the show has outlived its usefulness as an entertainment. Perhaps Bruce Forsythe's retirement at the end of the current series would be a good opportunity for it to come off the air before it takes itself too seriously. I don't really care one way or the other, but one thing is essential for the good of the nation, Bruce must receive the knighthood he so richly deserves.


Charon QC said...

FB: Excellent tun of phrase.... needed a laugh...

"..... In a luggage label being attached to my big toe and a trip to the local crematorium."

Charon QC said...

Agree.. time for Brucie to get a *K*.... although he did have a most unusual baseball cap on during a recent video... as HIGNIFY picked up.