Written by Julia Raeside

Arts

Digital Watch special: An audience with Strictly

Strictly Come Dancing took its first once around the dancefloor proper this weekend and Standard Issue’s digital watcher, Julia Raeside had a ringside seat.

I spend a lot of time watching TV from the right side of the screen; the side with a sofa and easily-reachable food and no dress code. But it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of the herculean effort which goes into making these shows which briefly flit across my screen and are gone.
In the case of Strictly Come Dancing it’s over 200 people, legions of porta-loos, colour-coded wristbands, complimentary Kit-Kats and the kind of physical dedication more usually demonstrated by US marines.

And so to Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, just across the road from a large leisure centre and the local Ibis hotel, for a night of impossible glamour in the company of some heavily embellished celebrities and an equally tizzed-up audience.

The experience of attending a live TV show is very like catching a flight. You check-in hours before the main event, pumped full of adrenalin about going up in the sky in a big metal tube. And then you wait for a year.

It’s that combination of extreme excitement and total tedium: the big, sparkly thing is coming but not for *looks at watch* hours and hours. Your body is simultaneously coursing with woohoo and forced to do nothing for ages.

Just as energy levels start to dip, production assistants appear with cartons of juice and chocolate bars like on a school trip. This only makes us happier and giddier still.

As we wait in the holding marquee (me, my brother Col and sister-in-law Donna) I feel like I’m at a wedding. Everyone makes the effort for Strictly. The audience tickets do state a dress code (no denim) but most people need no encouragement. Every shimmery item in the collective wardrobe is out for the occasion which gives me an unexpectedly festive buzz.

Every carefully-applied false eyelash and ironed shirt says, “Tonight’s a bit special. I am not going to be cool about this”. And like a wedding, everyone here is pro the experience and willing it to be good. All that positive feeling in one place is actually medically good for you, I think.

Flat screen TVs dotted around the tent play a loop of last season’s Strictly final and an infinite number of audience handlers expertly channel the over-excited hoard from one holding area to the next, being sure to point out the dozens of toilet blocks and telling those in difficult shoes to mind their step on the miles of cable.

If you ever go to a live TV show (and I recommend you do – it’s free after all) eat a 10-course banquet beforehand and go to the toilet constantly until they lock the studio down. Because once the floor manager makes the wavy hand signal, you’re there, wedged into a tiny chair until Doctor Who, no exceptions.

The experience of attending a live TV show is very like catching a flight. You check-in hours before the main event, pumped full of adrenalin about going up in the sky in a big metal tube. And then you wait for a year.

A full hour before we go live, we’re shown to our (very small) seats in the studio and get our first glimpse of the famous dance floor. When we see where we’re sitting – two rows from the front, right by the band – Donna and I swap silent OMG faces and start scrabbling for lipstick and powder. I don’t know why we did that, but it felt like the respectful thing to do when you’re front and centre in the church of the great glitter ball.

Our ears fill with a megamix of constant dance-themed pop. Let’s Dance by Bowie, Dance the Night Away by The Mavericks, I Want to Dance with Somebody by Whitney. It should be annoying but it keeps up the hum of excitement which we now have to maintain for an hour before the show actually starts. Just as energy levels start to dip, production assistants appear with cartons of juice and chocolate bars like on a school trip. This only makes us happier and giddier still.

What happens next is quite hard to describe because it’s so overwhelming. But effectively a tidal wave of pure glitter, perfect skin and synthetic fibres breaks suddenly over the studio and for the next hour or so you’re just borne aloft by it, helpless to resist.

The Strictly professionals are a whole different breed of human. Insanely fit bodies, trained to twang and jut with total precision in time to the music played by the flawlessly brilliant house band. Before the group dance, pre-recorded so they have time to get changed, the dancers burst in, waving, grinning and stopping to chat with blushing fans.
Brendan works the room like Robbie Williams with the front row, new girl Otty is a walking smile, hugging all and sundry and saving the biggest one for Anton. Latest heartthrob Gleb sends a hen-party trill rippling around the room as he peacocks good-naturedly for his fans.

Everyone looks delighted to be there and while the more cynical among you might say that’s showbiz, there’s a real air of camaraderie in the studio which leaks out into the already pretty delighted audience.

My face hurts from grinning and we haven’t even heard the opening music yet.

Every carefully-applied false eyelash and ironed shirt says, “Tonight’s a bit special. I am not going to be cool about this.”

Tess and Claudia pop in before we start, informally, like they’re welcoming you to their party and telling you where to dump your coats. Tess is genuine, friendly and Claudia is waddling in her impossibly tight dress and seven-foot Louboutins, hamming up her agony and swearing like a docker about the “fucking amazing” dances we have to look forward to tonight.

That partnership (all hail the first all-female presenting team on prime time Saturday night telly) works so perfectly with Claudia’s clowning and Tess’s good-natured straight-womaning. In the flesh they are nudging, eye-rolling sisters, gathering us all in and making us feel part of it.

Then it’s cue titles, nine dances, booh the judges, cheer the judges, inhale the rapture of that noisy, happy room, keeeeeep dancing and we’re out in the Elstree night, huge super-moon in the sky above us while the rest of you watch the TARDIS materialise.

As we walk back across the leisure centre pay-and-display car park, still grinning and oh-my-ing about the wonders we’ve seen, even my petrol head brother has to admit it was quite the joyful ride. Truly, we have licked the glitter ball.

If you missed our Friday and Saturday live Strictly blogs, you can catch up here with what Dep Ed, Hannah Dunleavy and Annika Eade had to say.
Meanwhile if you missed Cal Wilson’s hilarious account of her time on the Australian Strictly – known as Dancing With The Stars – do yourself a favour and rectify the situation here.

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Written by Julia Raeside

Julia loves TV and writes about it for the Guardian and other people. She also enjoys talking on the radio which she mostly does for the BBC.