I can’t dance. I’m not made for it. Flappy feet, stiff legs, immobile hips. A dance disaster waiting to happen.
I wouldn’t want you to feel sorry for me. I’m happy in my anti-terpsichorean wilderness. I can completely see the point of the activity, get that it’s exhilarating and addictive, and derive enormous pleasure from watching other people do it. But when the music starts I’m quite happy tapping my foot, thanks, or doing some table drumming.
Nonetheless (and, I suspect, in common with much of the country), when Strictly comes round I’m all over it.
‘Nice fleckle’, I murmur. ‘But Craig will have something to say about that gapping. And she really needs to do something about her top line.’
And when Craig does indeed have something to say about that gapping – he has something to say about most things – I give myself a smug pat on the back, as I’m supposed to, as the programme makers surely intend.
You can hate it with the heat of a thousand suns if you want, or be completely indifferent to it, but let nobody pretend that Strictly isn’t a force for good in the world. Every year I try to work out exactly why I love it so much. Because I do love it. And not in an ironic ‘Oh yeah this is so kitsch I’m going to enjoy it, all the while maintaining an aloofness entirely in keeping with my archly constructed online persona’ – no, I love it heart and soul, from ‘Ohmygoodness’ to ‘Keeeeep dancing!’
I’ve come to the conclusion that it boils down to one not so simple ingredient: Strictly is fundamentally, resolutely uncynical. And, God knows, that’s a commodity in desperately short supply.
To pick holes in it in the face of this refreshing lack of guile comes across (to me, at any rate) as just a tidge curmudgeonly. I willingly suspended my disbelief a decade ago and it’s showing no signs of coming down to earth. Who cares if the celebrities are in it to boost their careers? What does it matter that you can predict with some certainty what marks the judges will give? So what if the whole thing’s conducted at a constant fever pitch of uber-positive excitement? It’s Saturday evening entertainment, and by some peculiar alchemy it’s managed, by and large, to avoid looking tired or jaded after fourteen years of steady popularity.
At the heart of it, of course, are the celebrities. We can be as cynical as we like about their reasons for competing, but one thing is certain: nobody has ever reached the final of Strictly Come Dancing without working bloody hard for it. And for all that the Great British Public quite often gets it wrong – how, how, HOW did Chris Hollins win in 2009? Ricky wuz robbed, I tell you – they can detect a shirker a mile off. Gone are the days of keeping the complete duffer (Sargent, Widdecombe, I’m looking at you) in the competition for the lolz – the ‘Sunday’ dance-off has seen to that.
There are always niggles: the ‘oh but he/she has a dance background it’s not fair!’ complaint rears its head every year, and every year my eyes roll back in my head so far that I can see my bald patch. The same people who complain about that would be the first on the comments board to moan about the lack of quality, were anyone who has ever danced before be automatically excluded from the competition. And it’s easy to overlook that when a beginner makes fast and visible improvement, everyone is rightly sore amazed (‘Ohmygoodness!’) – but the progression from very good to excellent (as shown by Ashley Roberts this year, for example) is no less gruelling, even if the difference is less visible to the layperson.
While there’s a part of me that would love to see a bit more honesty – it’s surely not possible that every single pairing can get on as well as they always seem to – on the whole I’m glad that the producers manage to spare us the tensions that must simmer below the surface. Avoid the chat boards, tabloids and comments below the line, and it’s just about possible to sustain the fairy tale. And that’s just the way I want it.
Is it perfect? Of course it isn’t. One day the programme will feature same-sex partners, and Middle England will lather itself into a fury in the same way they did about a female Doctor Who or disabled people dancing (did we ever imagine, in the dark days of the 1970s, that people like Jonnie Peacock or Lauren Steadman might have been able to participate in such a thing? No we didn’t). I look forward to that day. And while it’s always fun to have a little moan – that’s never a seven, what IS she wearing?, she should never be in the dance-off, I don’t like that one much, oh Bruno do pipe down, STOP CLAPPING ON 1 & 3 YOU IMBECILES – that’s all part of the fun, the ‘He’s behind you! Oh no he isn’t!’ of the Strictly panto.
I’ll forget about it for nine months, of course – I’m not obsessed – and next year, just at the moment when the heart sinks at the encroaching darkness, the airwaves will hum to the wonderful sound of the wonderful Dave Arch and his wonderful orchestra and the wonderful Strictly Singers, Hayley, Hazel, Tommy, Andrea and Lance, the glitter ball will be up for grabs again, and, for just a couple of hours each week, the world will be set to rights.
Hurrah for Strictly – long may it thrive.