The blood, sweat and sparkle-fest that is ‘Danc­ing with the Stars’ has re­turned, and it seems to por­tend the com­ing of a new age

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS - PA­TRICK FREYNE ■ Danc­ing with the Stars is on RTÉ One, Sun­days at 6.30pm

The re­volv­ing glit­ter ball is back. In the dark of win­ter we wor­ship it like the sun, and this year the druids at RTÉ have found more peo­ple who will be forced to dance for it un­til mid-spring, at which point we will, pre­sum­ably, eat them.

I al­ready know who I want to win. By March I hope the glit­ter­ball will be re­placed by Marty Mor­ris­sey’s twin­kling face – it’s come a long way since it played the sun in Tel­ly­tub­bies – and the word’s Danc­ing with the Stars will be scratched out and re­placed with “Smarty Marty’s Dance Party”. I saw this head­line in a news­pa­per ear­lier this week (not this one, sadly) and it seemed to por­tend the com­ing of a new age. A night­mar­ish age of dark­ness or a utopian one filled with light? Well, that de­pends on your views on Marty Mor­ris­sey. I imag­ine it will be a mixed bag, with in­creased sports fund­ing but also the odd purge.

But I’m get­ting ahead of my­self. The pro­gramme opens with pro­fes­sional dancers galumph­ing sex­ily and blow­ing star­dust to the strains of Re­light My Fire while the au­di­ence, pro­cured from a 1980s edi­tion of The Late Late

Show, clap along out of time (you had one job to do, au­di­ence. One job). They are quickly joined by the “stars” who par­tic­i­pate in these rhyth­mi­cally com­plex high jinks. I can tell in­stantly that they’re not trained dancers, although Marty Mor­ris­sey does a sort of fin­ger gun thing that makes me say “Ni­i­ice.”

Out come the pre­sen­ters . There’s Amanda Byram, who once hosted US beau­ti­fi­ca­tion/ surgery show The Swan. Her un­read­able face is framed by wavy hair cur­tains and she is wear­ing a dress that is black but fea­tures sparkles, much like her soul. She warns us darkly to pre­pare for the “the glitz and the raz­zle daz­zle”. I put on sun­glasses and close my cur­tains.

Byram is ac­com­pa­nied by Nicky Byrne, a tuft of wild grass jut­ting from his rec­tan­gu­lar head, a tiny Com­mu­nion jacket draped around his torso. This like­able chuckle-munchkin is now my favourite of the Westlifes and the one who has pros­pered most, I think, since Gargamel freed them from his lab. He pos­sesses, leg­end has it, the power to grant wishes if caught, and though he doesn’t quite know how to make a joke land cor­rectly, he cer­tainly crash lands them en­er­get­i­cally.

The judges are also there. There’s Brian Red­mond aka “Mr Nasty”, so dubbed be­cause he no­tices that the danc­ing isn’t very good. There’s Lo­raine Barry, the nice one, who is, in the best Ir­ish spirit, pre­tend­ing ev­ery­thing is fine. “Ev­ery­thing’s fine,” her pos­ture seems to say, much like your mother at Christ­mas or suc­ces­sive min­is­ters for health or those peo­ple you chat up in bars.

The one who dresses like a colour­ful piñata (Ju­lian Ben­son) is ill this week and is thus re­placed on the panel by a for­mer Strictly

Come Danc­ing win­ner named Dar­ren. Dar­ren’s okay but he doesn’t look like a rain­bow got sick on a uni­corn, so I’m in­stantly sus­pi­cious. He prom­ises “blood, sweat and sparkle”, which makes me think that “the glitz and the raz­zle daz­zle” fore­told by Byram might ac­tu­ally be a new dis­ease (“Me raz­zle daz­zle is giv­ing me gyp”).

Byram also an­nounces that there’s a com­pe­ti­tion to win a trip to the US. To win you have to an­swer one of those mul­ti­ple choice quiz ques­tions that’s de­signed not to alien­ate even the plainest of the plain peo­ple of Ire­land. You know, some­thing like “What is your name? (a) Pope In­no­cent III (b) Warren G fea­tur­ing Nate Dogg or (c) [in­sert your own name here].” Co­in­ci­den­tally, these are also the names of my neph­ews.

Musk of testos­terone

Then the danc­ing com­mences. Much like the deer in the Phoenix Park or the pay ra­tios in some me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions, the dancers are split along gen­der lines. This week it’s the turn of the men, so the musk of testos­terone, sweat, fake tan and sparkle ap­pli­ca­tor fills the stu­dio. There are two ap­proaches to “danc­ing with the stars”. For the male dancers deal­ing with fe­male stars, it’s to twirl them like a ba­ton. For the fe­male dancers danc­ing with male stars, the trick is to dance around them, as though they were part of a dance-themed ob­sta­cle course. It’s also good for the dancers to be as dis­tract­ing as pos­si­ble, fak­ing a fit or ill­ness if pos­si­ble, so that no one no­tices that their danc­ing part­ner is ba­si­cally a vi­brat­ing plank with a face drawn on it.

The first up is ath­lete Rob Hef­fer­nan, who is re­ally good at walk­ing fast in one di­rec­tion and dances ac­cord­ingly. It goes well. He and his dance part­ner, Emily Barker, fin­ish with their legs akimbo and their arms folded, look­ing over their shoul­ders as though they’re in a movie poster about a mav­er­ick cat who plays by its own rules.

Next up is Bernard O’Shea, who mo­men­tar­ily pre­tends to be Marty Mor­ris­sey (this will be re­mem­bered when Marty comes to power) and whose in­stinct is to jape. This is slapped down. “There is no laugh­ing in tango,” says his dance part­ner, Va­le­ria, out­lin­ing one of the many rules of this au­to­cratic new world (the afore­men­tioned Smarty Marty’s Dance Party).

One way the pro­gramme mak­ers cir­cum­vent lack of danc­ing skill is to add dra­matic sce­nar­ios. In fact, I heard that RTÉ’s drama depart­ment has been sub­sumed and that this is what we’re go­ing to get in­stead of Love/Hate. Good. So rugby player To­mas O’Leary fox­trots over to part­ner Gi­u­lia Dotta ap­par­ently mind­ing her own busi­ness on a bench. The theme is “park pest”. Later we get sports com­men­ta­tor and re­tired Mr Man Marty Mor­ris­sey quick­step­ping in Joe Dolan-sound­tracked pur­suit of a shop­ping-bag-car­ry­ing Kse­nia Zsikhot­ska. He is sur­pris­ingly twin­kle-toed and I would be ly­ing if I said I wasn’t both moved and fright­ened by his erotic en­ergy.

Steamy hunks

The fe­male con­tes­tants aren’t com­pet­ing in this episode, but they do per­form a group dance to­gether and thus get their spake in. “When you see ev­ery­one to­gether you can see who are the strong ones and who are the weak ones,” says fit­ness guru Erin McGre­gor chill­ingly, clearly pre­par­ing to hunt the dead­li­est prey of all (celebrity). Then a song called Boy I Ain’t Your

Momma plays and they’re all seen to per­form do­mes­tic chores in an im­prac­ti­cal al­beit rhyth­mi­cal fash­ion be­fore aban­don­ing such tasks to groove steam­ily with hunks. This dance is called The Sec­ond Sex by Si­mone de Beau­voir. It’s wor­ry­ing. I peek through my cur­tains, wary of see­ing hunks.

We also get a per­for­mance from last year’s win­ner, GAA cham­pion turned danc­ing fool Ai­dan O’Ma­hony, a bit in which bois­ter­ous dancers phys­i­cally lift up flesh-Tintin (Nicky Byrne) and an im­promptu clos­ing dance that re­sem­bles a drunken wed­ding re­cep­tion.

Through­out, the judges get their say. They’re en­cour­ag­ing ex­cept for Brian who can see what is hap­pen­ing to his beloved art form, and will even­tu­ally suc­cumb to lau­danum and ruin. But we don’t have to kow­tow to so-called “ex­perts” any more. The peo­ple at home can also de­cide who they think the best dancer is, just like they get to de­cide who the best lead­ers and sur­geons are.

Yes, this is where the ex­per­i­ment in demo­cratic self-gov­er­nance has led – to Smarty Marty’s Dance Party – and it is glo­ri­ous.

There are two ap­proaches to ‘danc­ing with stars’. For the male dancers deal­ing with fe­male stars, it’s to twirl them like a ba­ton. For the fe­male dancers danc­ing with male stars, the trick is to dance around them, as though they were part of a dance-themed ob­sta­cle course

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