It’s amazing to think Strictly Come Dancing has been on our TV screens for just six years. Of course we had Come Dancing on and off from 1949 to 1998 but although I remember seeing it occasionally, it didn’t make me want to put on my dancing shoes.
Pan’s People got me tapping my pre-adolescent toes to Top of the Pops, then there was John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever when the audience strutted out of the cinema and over the road to the bus stop.
Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing did it for a lot of people – who didn’t want to be Baby in the film’s final scene?
But the film that put the Strictly into Come Dancing was Baz Luhrman’s 1992 film Strictly Ballroom.
So when the BBC decided to bring ballroom back to the TV, pairing dance professionals with celebrities in May 2004, I was intrigued – and quickly hooked. The first series was short with just eight celebrities but realising it had a hit on its hands, the BBC brought out a second series in October 2004.
Dance teacher Brenda Hague has been helping to run the family dance school, Topaz, in Liverpool since the late 70s. I first met her online at www.theblueroom.me.uk, a forum mainly dedicated to TV discussion which numbers quite a few ballroom and latin dance teachers and learners amongst its posters who eagerly debate every SCD show.
Where the celebrities and dancers get it right
Brenda’s always been happy to explain the intricacies of the dances and point out just where the celebrities – and the dancers get it wrong (or right).
But that’s what you’d expect of a woman who’s judged alongside SCD head judge Len Goodman. What you might not know is that Brenda and Len judged the British Championships for Disco Dancing.
Going back to the days of Saturday Night Fever, Brenda saw people flocking to dance studios wanting to learn the dance.
“I went down to London to learn the Night Fever dance from the film’s choreographer just so we could teach it to our pupils who went on to take part in disco dance competitions around the country,” she said.
“Night Fever started it all off but disco went on to become a dance form in its own right – and brought an influx of lads into dance.”
That led to the formation of the Association of Disco Freestyle Professionals and its first chairman was Len Goodman.
“At the time Len was well known for his expertise in disco rather than ballroom or Latin,” said Brenda.
The original Come Dancing
Although Brenda never competed, she helped her brother Paul by designing and making costumes when he took part in dance competitions.
“Paul danced from being a child and took part in the original Come Dancing,” said Brenda. “He’s a contemporary and friend of pro dancer Ian Waite and still dances with his wife Joanne as guest lecturers on P&O Cruises.”
Brenda and Paul took a particular interest in how Ali Bastian, ex Hollyoaks and The Bill, did when she danced into third place with Brian Fortuna in 2009.
“We tipped Ali as a dancer when she and other people from Hollyoaks came to us to learn hip-hop,” said Brenda.
Another youngster noticed by Brenda was Ray Quinn – ex Brookside actor, X Factor finalist, musical theatre star and winner of Dancing on Ice.
“Ray was an excellent ballroom and latin dancer and competed a lot at junior level. Although he’s a few years younger, he competed against Mark Ballas and Derek Hough – two of the dance pros who take part in the US Dancing with the Stars.”
Women have always been keener on dancing than men. But when ex-England cricketer Darren Gough took part in, and won, series three of SCD, that brought a stampede of men into the dance classes.
Dancing recommended by British Heart Foundation
“Men realised they could dance with their wives or girlfriends thanks to Darren,” said Brenda.
“Dancing is recommended by the British Heart Foundation as it’s high exercise and low impact.
Ballroom classes are also a great way for people to socialise and can work wonders on people who are shy or have low self-esteem.”
Pamela Stephenson wows the judges
Tonight (Saturday 18 December) sees the final of series eight of SCD. And it will feature Pamela Stephenson, the 61 year old comedian-turned-psychologist-turned-sex therapist who has wowed the audiences and the judges with her performances with pro dancer James Jordan from the start.
“James has really brought out the best in Pamela,” said Brenda. “Good choreography, has kept the dances within her capabilities and avoided the over-use of props.
“And Pamela’s body shape has changed in the three months she’s been dancing – just look at her legs!
“My head wants Kara to win but my heart says Pamela because she’s a woman of a certain age. James Jordan deserves to win for the way he’s taught Pamela.
“And Pamela deserves to win because of her age, but more importantly, because she can bloody well dance!”
To borrow Brucie’s words, ‘get dancing’ and get voting for Pamela!