Dancing Cheek To Cheek: An Intimate History Of Dance

A new series of ‘discovering dance’ programmes will hit our television screens ahead of Christmas, courtesy of BBC 4, dancing dandy of Strictly Come Dancing fame Len Goodman and historian Lucy Worsley. Throughout three episodes they will take to the floor to reveal the untold story of British dance, and show how Britain’s historical dances offer a fascinating window into society and relationships with one another. Worsley is adamant that dance ultimately is a metaphor for relationships, and in two hundred years time, the historical dances – which would encompass those today – would still be viewed in that way.

Each week, the pair will research and investigate a number of historical dances as well as train alongside a group of amateur dancers to recreate an iconic dance finale – the Charleston – in full costume at a historic location, the famous Café de Paris in London. Goodman and Worsley will track the story of popular dance from the 17th century to just before WWII, demonstrating how dance has always been about far more than learning the moves and feeling the rhythm. It is also about seduction, power, etiquette, economics, social change and romance.

Under the tutelage of many historical dance experts the three episodes contain a wealth of knowledge and history. In learning about the dances and how to do them, Goodman and Worsley have been able to appreciate the stories behind dance and uncover its secrets, be it etiquette or necessity. Dancing has gone from being frowned upon as dangerous and debauched to being an essential social skill, to being opened up to more people than ever before having lost its dubious reputation. The first few decades of the 20th century witnessed the most rapid and revolutionary change for British dance, and the rest – as they say – is history!

Billy Elliot’s Live Screening

Billy ElliotThe recent live screening of the much-loved Billy Elliot the Musical has topped the UK and Ireland cinema box offices, with takings of £1.9 million. The screening, which was broadcast live from London’s Victoria Palace Theatre to more than 500 cinemas on 28 September, beat new releases such as The Equalizer and The Boxtrolls to the top spot, and was the widest ever cinema release of a live event. This is fantastic news for musical theatre fans – and the industry – in expanding the reach of the musical for new and perhaps unanticipated audiences.

The musical, written by Lee Hall with music by Elton John, is an adaptation of Hall’s 2000 film. It is directed by Stephen Daldry with choreography by Peter Darling. The story, set in the mining town of Newcastle during the Margaret Thatcher era tells the story of a young boy’s quest to train at the Royal Ballet School against the odds of social, economic and personal difficulties.

25 former and current Billy Elliots, including the three original performers – James Lomas, George Maguire and Liam Mower – took part in a special finale of the show, which was broadcast to eight countries. Encore screenings of the performance went on to take place at more than 350 cinemas on 2, 3, 4 and 5 October and a DVD of the special event will be released on 24 November.

Billy Elliot the Musical is produced in the West End by Universal Stage Productions, Working Title Films and Old Vic Productions in association with Tiger Aspect, and is based on the Universal Pictures/Studio Canal film. The popular musical is currently booking until 19 December 2015, but by expanding its reach through cinema, who knows how long it could run for!

Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly Come DancingStrictly Come Dancing is back for 2014! Judges Len Goodman, Darcey Bussell, Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno Tonioli will all be returning to the popular BBC1 show, ready to judge 15 celebrities on their ability to jump, jive and boogie.

The final line-up of celebrities for 2014 has recently been finalised and announced, and they are Frankie Bridge (of S Club Juniors and The Saturdays fame), Judy Murray (tennis coach), Alison Hammond, Thom Evans, Simon Webbe (of the boy band Blue), Mark Wright (former The Only Way is Essex star), Sunetra Sarker, Jake Wood (of Eastenders fame), Steve Backshall, Scott Mills (from BBC Radio 1), Pixie Lott (solo pop star), Caroline Flack (TV presenter), Jennifer Gibney, Gregg Wallace and Tim Wonnacott.

There have been many Strictly news stories ahead of the live shows this year, mostly because of the BBC’s decision to release the names of the celebrities one by one (with the exception of the last three names) in the run-up to the 2014 contest. There has also been some controversial discussion about how well-known the celebrities are compared with previous years when contestants included those such as newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky, model Kelly Brook and household names Russell Grant, Susanna Reid and Vanessa Feltz.

In presenting the show, long-time host and veteran Bruce Forsythe has handed the Strictly baton to Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman, who will welcome this year’s 15 celebrities to the Strictly studio for the very first time on Sunday 7 September. New for this year, there will also be a Strictly Come Dancing Red Carpet special, featuring the first interviews with the entire Strictly line-up debuting on the Red Button and BBC iPlayer at 7pm on Wednesday 3 September in order to give viewers at home a little more insight into the Strictly world.

Busby Berkeley: More Hollywood Treatment

Busby BerkeleyThe son of an actor and actress, Busby Berkeley became a Broadway dance director in the 1920s after serving in the army during World War I. He came to Hollywood to work on films like Eddie Cantor’s Whoopee! in 1930 and turned to directing with the 1933 She Had to Say Yes and then Gold Diggers. He continued to work throughout the 1940s and early 50s, aiming to help people escape the misery of those eras, full of breadlines, depression and wars.

Now Warner Bros. Pictures is giving iconic choreographer Busby Berkeley the chance to be reborn, with actor Ryan Gosling rumoured to play the famous director and choreographer of musicals from Hollywood’s golden age. Named “Buzz: The Life and Art of Busby Berkeley” by Jeffrey Spivak, the adaptation is set to be produced by Marc Platt and Gosling.

Platt has musical experience in that he produced Broadway’s box-office hit Wicked, and is currently working on Disney’s adaptation of the Broadway musical Into the Woods, for release in December. He also produced the popular film Legally Blonde, which was turned into a Broadway and then West End musical.

Berkeley became famous for his elaborate dance routines in Hollywood musicals, such as the 1933 42nd Street and the 1935 Gold Diggers, two of the many movies he choreographed for Warners. He was especially famous for his overhead shots in which chorus girls performed shifting kaleidoscopic patterns, and he earned three Oscar nominations for best dance direction, a category that no longer exists. These overhead spectacles are awe-inspiring, the choreographic movement impeccable.

BBC’s ballet season

BBC2 LogoAs part of a major season of programmes on the BBC, which will also include rare footage of Margot Fonteyn in Sleeping Beauty from the 1950s, ex-Prima ballerina Darcey Bussell will reveal the ballerinas who have inspired her throughout her career and out the other side. BBC2 will present Darcey’s Ballerina Heroines, on 1 March in which she will discuss the dancers who were pivotal in her training and career. The programme will also explore the “history of the ballerina through the female ballet stars who came before her”.

The ballet season will be shown across BBC2 and BBC4 and will feature Fonteyn ’59 – Sleeping Beauty, an edited hour of highlights from Fonteyn’s appearance in Sleeping Beauty in 1959 which has rarely been seen since being filmed. It will be the first time viewers have seen extracts of the version of the ballet since its original screening, and will be broadcast on BBC4 on 7 March.

Meanwhile, Dancing in the Blitz – How WW2 Made British Ballet will be shown on BBC4 on 5 March and will see Birmingham Royal Ballet director David Bintley explore how the Second World War “was the making of British ballet”. It shows how the Sadler’s Wells Ballet, later the Royal Ballet, was formed during the war.

The season will conclude on 9 March with BBC4’s Good Swan, Bad Swan – Dancing Swan Lake, in which English National Ballet artistic director Tamara Rojo will take viewers behind the scenes as she prepares to perform one of the most challenging roles in classical ballet within Swan Lake. Rojo will reveal her insights on the role’s physical and psychological challenges while the season as a whole will give viewers a real glimpse behind the scenes of the ballet world.

Strictly Christmas Lineup Confirmed!

Strictly Come Dancing ChristmasThe Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special lineup has been confirmed with the show returning to Christmas Day again for 2013. Six brand new celebrities take part in a festive edition of the show.

The pairings are as follows:

Rochelle Humes & Ian Waite
Sara Cox & Robin Windsor
Elaine Paige & Pasha Kovalev
Matt Goss & Aliona Vilani
Ricky Norwood & Janette Manrara
Rufus Hound & Flavia Cacace

Star of The Saturdays Rochelle Humes, West End singing sensation Elaine Paige and radio DJ Sara Cox will be appearing, alongside the males, singer Matt Goss, actor Ricky Norwood and comedian and West End performer Rufus Hound. Professional dancers Robin Windsor, Pasha Kovalev and Ian Waite will partner the female celebrities, and Aliona Vilani, Janette Manrara and Flavia Cacace will partner the male celebrities.

All six celebrities are huge fans of Strictly, and two have even had a go at the BBC dance shows before in the name of charity. Rochelle took part in Strictly Come Dancing for Children in Need in 2010 against Harry Judd, before he went on to become Strictly champion in 2011. Rufus wowed audiences during Let’s Dance for Comic Relief in 2010, where he famously morphed into Cheryl Cole and performed her Fight For This Love routine. Elaine and Sara are both Strictly super fans, who both present shows on BBC Radio 2; singer Matt, famous for his part in boy band Bros has preciously performed on Strictly as a singer and Ricky will be trading the streets of Eastenders’ Albert Square for the Strictly dance floor.

The beautiful winter wonderland opening number will be filmed at LaplandUK, with Sir Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly presenting the show and its festivities, with judges Len Goodman, Darcey Bussell, Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel Horwood ready to provide some Christmas scores.

Ben Tackles Ballet For Strictly

Ben CohenOne of the nations favourite evening entertainment television shows, Strictly Come Dancing, has already gone through the usual set of harsh critiques, soft touches and goodbyes for its contestants. Ex-prima ballerina Darcey Bussell – and President of the Royal Academy of Dance – is back on the hit show for a second series as judge, bringing a feminine and arguably more human touch to the panel, and that is discounting her more effeminate male counterparts!

Aside from the usual waltzing, jiving and cha-cha-ing, contestants have already found themselves subject to extra training. Former rugby star Ben Cohen has found himself at the ballet barre, having been sent to ballet lessons as part of last week’s training for Strictly. Cohen is one of the bulkier contestants, implying he must work doubly hard to achieve the expected lines and performance quality.

Cohen’s professional partner Kristina Rihanoff had previously voiced her concerns about how much weight training he had been doing, leaving him much too stiff and bulky for dancing. As a result Cohen has been attending ballet lessons in an attempt to make him more nimble. Cohen freely admits his lack of good posture, aiming to improve this, along with his overall dancing appearance.

It is hoped that Cohen’s ballet lesson stint lasted him through to his next performance, a waltz to What The World Needs Now – however in order to prolong the result of ballet Cohen must embark on a much longer commitment to ballet classes, rather than just those required by the cameras and public relations for the show itself. Cohen has commented on his extra stretch and improved poise for his waltz, ready for former Royal Ballet principal dancer Bussell’s eagle eye.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Pushy Parents?

Dance MomsIt has been the subject of much speculation over many years, however with the turn of the twenty-first century it seems that dancers will stop at nothing to achieve. Behind these dancers are their parents and dance teachers, encouraging and even directing these young students into a dance world they may not wish to be a part of. In addition to this, they not by physically ready for this kind of work either.

The work of subject is high pressure and high performance dance contests in which applying the same amount of make up and fake tan to a small child as a dancer on Strictly Come Dancing has been rather controversial. Whilst the child may enjoy the dancing, the music, and the social life that comes with dance classes and competitions, it must be noted that they do not have the knowledge of any alternative, and therefore the motivation to pursue another activity.

Whilst younger children are more flexible then their older counterparts, it is apparent that many dance teachers and parents abuse this, pushing the dancers to force their bodies to contort and lengthen before they are perhaps quite ready, substituting health and wellbeing for a leg up by the side of the head and a box jump greater than that in the hit movie Fame. Starting this work (too) early may be detrimental to the dancer’s future and is not a pre-requisite for a successful dancing life.

It is an assumption to label these parents and teachers as “pushy”, as seen on television programmes featuring dance phenomenons such as Baby Ballroom and Baby Disco: it is clear that overall each parent has the child’s interests at heart, however sometimes this gets lost on the way to our television and computer screens.

Game Changers

Sky Sports Game ChangersSky Sports has recently launched an initiative to get more children involved in sport by launching ‘Sky Sports Game Changers’ on Saturday mornings. An both an incentive and an inspiration, the show will feature regular appearances from a host of sports stars and Sky Ambassadors including David Beckham and Jessica Ennis-Hill to persuade children to get active and get involved.

The show also sees Olympic medallist and 2012 Strictly Come Dancing winner Louis Smith MBE learning a new skill: classical ballet. As the first of its kind, Game Changers followed Smith in his attempt to hone the pliés, jetés and even a small performance as part of his challenge, broadcast on Saturday 24 August.

The series began with a live skills session from Sky Sports Living for Sport mentor and inline skating world champion Jenna Downing. As well as live studio skills sessions that get the young audience involved, the sports stars will visit schools and sports clubs. The shows will be supported by downloadable Skill Sheets available from the Game Changers website to help young people learn the basics of a new sport.

Broadcast live in front of a live studio audience of young people, the shows are presented by Olympic Gold medallist Darren Campbell and Di Dougherty with Paralympic wheelchair rugby captain Steve Brown among the show’s reporters. Game Changers will draw on the expertise of many of the 75 athlete mentors who are part of Sky Sports Living for Sport, the free initiative that uses sports skills to inspire young people in a third of all UK secondary schools. Alongside Sky Sports Living for Sport, Sky Ride and the Sky Sports Scholarships scheme, Game Changers is another demonstration of commitment to all levels of sport following the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The Top Ten Dance Music Videos

Dance Music VideosNowadays, music isn’t all about the sound – it’s about the dance too. And some of the best music videos have got some real moves on display. We conducted a survey to find out which are the music videos that most put you in the mood for dancing, and showcase some of the best movers in the industry. So get yourself over to YouTube right now and check out these incredible music videos.

10. Billie Jean – Michael Jackson

You couldn’t have a list about dance music videos without mentioning the King of Pop at least once, so here’s MJ kicking off our survey results right away. A running theme of Michael Jackson’s videos was that feeling of watching a short film in its own right – and Billie Jean is no different. Lit paving stones, randomly appearing cats, a mysterious detective; what’s going on in this video is anyone’s guess. But Michael pulls off some of his most famous moves in this iconic video, and is well worth watching again and again.

9. Time Warp – The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Whether you’re a fan of Tim Curry in fishnets or not, there’s no denying that it’s a catchy dance. While it’s not the most complex of dances on this list, it’s one that can be picked up so quickly that it’s often performed by revellers on nights out!

8. Can’t Touch This – MC Hammer

Big tune, big glasses and absolutely huge cargo pants – what’s not to love about this iconic music video? As arguably MC Hammer’s signature song, U Can’t Touch This became one of the most popular singles ever made. That energetic dance is exhausting just to watch – and it really takes a talented dancer to have a go at some of Hammer’s moves, such as ‘The Running Man’ and the ‘Hammer Dance’.

7. Harlem Shake – Baauer

Not really a music video as such, but Baauer’s Harlem Shake didn’t need to spend thousands on production of a vid – thousands of Youtube users sorted that out instead. In early 2013, a fad of performing The Harlem Shake took hold, resulted in a wealth of videos of performers ‘dancing’ in the loosest sense of the word. There’s no denying it though – even if the dancers aren’t always up to scratch, they’re pretty amusing.

6. Vogue – Madonna

Released in 1990, Madonna was at the pinnacle of her career when Vogue hit the charts. The video itself was produced after hundreds of dancers appeared at a casting call in Los Angeles, and is filmed in homage to the Golden Age of Hollywood. That angular, smooth dance is now coined as ‘Vouging’, and requires a great deal of concentration to pull off properly!

5. Single Ladies – Beyonce

The look, the outfits, the hair, the film style and the dance – everything about Single Ladies is iconic. Coming in at number five on our list, this great chart-topper showcases some of the best dancing ever on a music video.

4. Macarena – Los del Rio

One of the most well-known one hit wonders ever the chart, Macarena was an international hit after its release in 1995 and continues to be one of the most iconic tracks of the 90s. Los del Rio were a lounge act who composed the song chorus ad hoc, and the remix which would become so popular included English lyrics sung by Carla Vanessa. And the dance – supposedly, it was devised by a local flamenco teacher!

3. Bad – Michael Jackson

As part of an 18-minute film written by Richard Price and directed by Martin Scorsese in 1987, Bad is one of Jackson’s most memorable dance offerings – not least because of that signature crotch grab. Many of the parts of the film actually make reference or homage to West Side Story.

2. Thriller – Michael Jackson

Easily one of the most iconic music videos of the 80s, everything about Thriller is quintessential Jackson, and it’s no wonder it got such a high place on this list. This video has got everything – zombies, werewolves, red leather jackets, memorable dance moves, shuffling – this is quintessential Jackson.

1. Gangnam – Style Psy

One of the biggest pop hits of 2012 – if not the biggest – Psy’s Gangnam Style broke all sorts of records. In fact, it would become YouTube’s most watching video, even more than Justin Bieber’s Baby. Our survey saw this vid come out on top. Quirky, strange, and with an easy to learn dance, we’re not surprised it ranked so high. What do you think?