By LOUISE THOMASON
It’s strictly fun and strictly fundraising. The latest CLAN venture is based on the hit TV series Strictly Come Dancing and looks destined to be a phenomenal success when the big dance-off takes place in April.
The idea of dancing to drum up funds for the CLAN 1,2,3 appeal came from fundraising committee member Cecil Smith when he was “suffering” the show at home with his wife.
It occurred to him that the popularity Strictly has enjoyed could transfer to Shetland – and be used to raise money. He mentioned it to the other committee members, and there are now eight pairs of invited contestants waiting to strut their stuff for the good cause.
Four women and four men are the local “celebrities”. They have been paired with opposite numbers who qualify as “professional” dancers because of the dexterity of their footwork.
This week we introduce four of the couples, with the remaining four appearing in next week’s paper.
Shetland Charitable Trust general manager Ann Black has been paired off with dance teacher Graeme Halcrow, BBC Radio Shetland reporter Jane Moncrieff with Maddy Maddison, accountant James Hutton with Marilyn Harris and Anderson High School headteacher Valerie Nicolson with Jim Grains. Each couple has been practising hard over the past month, sometimes as much as two or three times a week.
They are being tutored by dance instructor Diane Watt, who is also dancing in the competition with a well-known political figure.
Ann said: “It’s been hard, very hard! I’m loving it though, it’s quite addictive. I think we’ve all toned up our tummies and bottoms, it’s been great fun.”
Graeme, who has been dancing all his life and was inspired to try ballroom dancing by his parents who were inter-county champions, said: “It’s going really well. I saw a couple of the dancers [this week] and they’re doing exceptionally well considering we’re only four weeks in.”
While he is thoroughly enjoying practising for the competition, Graeme said the night itself will be very exciting. “I’m really looking forward to it – it will be the culmination of eight weeks of hard work.”
Jane said she has a little experience of dance but mainly Shetland dancing and some belly dancing and jazz, but none whatsoever of ballroom.
“It’s quite a lot to learn in a short space of time but I’m really enjoying it,” she said, “and Maddy is very patient with me!”
Maddy said he thought Jane had drawn the short straw: “I’m up against gold medal winners, so I don’t know how it’ll be on the night!”
Maddy is the chairman of the Sound Dance Club where he and his wife teach social dancing. However, he said it had been around seven years since had done any ballrooom dancing.
“Reels and jigs are a world away from ballroom dancing, it’s a totally different ball game,” he said. The practices are going well however and Maddy said he hopes they get a chance to perform all their dances on the night, although he is apprehensive about the performance.
“I’m terrified! After all the hard work you’d hope to get at least into the second round, but we’ll see.”
Jane said she was thoroughly enjoying the competition, especially as it is for such a deserving cause.
“It’s lovely to take part in it, especially as we’ve worked with some of the CLAN [people] through broadcasting. I think it’s something everybody in Shetland will probably use at some point in their lives.”
Does she have any clues about who might eventually win? “I’m not even thinking about that yet,” she said. “We’ll just take it as it comes and enjoy it.”
Valerie said of her progress: “We are wrestling with the waltz and are keen to get on to the quick step.
“I’m finding it very hard work and everything hurts form the neck down! But I have a splendid teacher, Jim is endlessly patient and cheerful,” she said.
Jim, who has mainly danced Shetland and Scottish traditional dancing, said his partner was getting on fine but their main concern was lack of time: “Valerie’s doing well and we’re really enjoying it, it’s just that we don’t have a lot of time to practise,” he said, “I’m looking forward to it. It’s in aid of a good cause and it’ll be a laugh.”
Of her progress with James, Marilyn said: “It’s going ok so far. We’re managing to get in a practice a couple of times a week.” Marilyn has been taking part in ballroom and modern sequence dancing for around five years.
She said: “It’s really good fun and it’s a great cause too. I think there are quite a few competitive people in the group though.”
Mr Smith is confident the show will be a “winner” for CLAN, and according to fundraising committee chairwoman Elaine Jamieson, the dancers are “really getting into it”.
Mrs Jamieson said: “The commitment from all the dancers is more than we expected. They are all giving up their time to practice, and are practising anywhere – in the British Legion, at Islesburgh or the high school. If you see any dancers – they’re ours.”
The contestants are learning four dances – waltz, quickstep, cha-cha-cha and tango – and taking it very seriously. They were very frightened at first, Mrs Jamieson said, but are now going round “with smiles on their faces”.
All are determined to put on a slick and memorable show on the big night of Saturday 4th April.
Various other people and organisations are becoming involved too in an effort to stage a spectacular. Islesburgh Drama Group are helping with the costumes, Health and Beauty are taking care of the make-up and a local hairdresser, still to be confirmed, is expected to preside over the hair-dos.
Music for the dancing will be played by an orchestra of local people assembled specially for the event by Alan Nicolson of Brindister.
And the all-important money will be collected by David Nicolson from the Bank of Scotland.
The evening will follow the format of the TV show. All eight couples will dance and will be subjected to the full and frank opinions of a judging panel.
Then there will be an interval when the audience will vote. Each of the eight couples will have a bucket with their names on it, and voting will be done with money, with members of the audience putting pound coins in the bucket or buckets of the acts they want to stay in the competition.
Mr Nicolson will bring the bank’s scales to the show and the money-filled buckets will be weighed – the two couples with the lightest buckets and the least support will then be out. The six remaining couples will then be reduced to four in the same way, and eventually in the grand finale the last two will go head to head.
“It’s all coming into place,” said Mrs Jamieson. “Everybody is really embracing the challenge. The emphasis is on raising money and having fun. There’s no doubt it’s going to be a really good show. We’re really grateful to everyone who has given up their time to support the appeal and Clickimin has been great.”