Passion, tragedy, triumph and dead fancy footwork – if you thought only Saturday night telly could bring you all these things, think again. Building’s answer to Strictly Come Dancing reveals the amazing grace of construction folk
It was acknowledged by winners and losers alike as the fiercest dance-off ever seen in construction. True, it was almost certainly the only dance-off ever seen in construction, but this didn’t mean the industry held back when Building, with an eye for the topical and a penchant for sparkly suits, challenged it to put forward its finest to take part in our Strictly Building tournament.
Of the brave (or foolish) souls that turned up to shake their groove thing, some struck up partnerships that would make Egan break into a cha-cha. Gill Parker of fit-out design firm BDG Workfutures tangoed the day away with Kevin Arnold from QS Gardiner & Theobald as if there’d never been so much as a disputed quantity between them.
Also flying the flag for cross-industry collaboration was Francine Vella of contractor Forcia, who sashayed in perfect sync (most of the time) with General Demolition’s Colin McLoughlin. It was as tearjerking as anything on Saturday night TV. So for those who, sadly, couldn’t be there or were too afraid (or sensible) to risk ridicule, here’s a step-by-step account of that dazzling day.
Our dancers have fox-trotted their way, footloose and fancy free, to the Mission Room in north London. Outside it is freezing cold but the curtains are drawn and in the room the temperature is rising. The 11 couples vying for the coveted title of Building’s ballroom champions are tense and concentrating hard as Simon Lister, the dance teacher (and one-time world number 33 in Latin American dance) is patiently teaching them the moves they hope will bring them victory in the afternoon’s competition. They carefully mirror Simon’s steps as he commands in his New Zealand accent: “We are going to go left, close, left, tap and then right, close, right, tap.”
Neil Stanley of Trident is concentrating hardest of all. His neck is craned as he follows Simon’s every move. Unfortunately, while the rest of the group is doing as Simon says and moving like a slickly oiled machine, Neil keeps stomping off confidently in the opposite direction. He narrowly avoids crashing into his partner, Building’s Muireann Bolger, whose expression changes swiftly from concern to alarm. It’s not boding well for this couple, who have never danced together before. Or with anyone else, by the looks of things.
Other dancers are more confident – some might say overconfident. Colin McLoughlin, for example, effortlessly waltzes across the room while checking his BlackBerry.
Near-disaster strikes Building’s own Dan Stewart and Sophie Griffiths early on, as Sophie suddenly runs from the room, clutching the top of her dress. She soon returns, however, with a strategically placed corsage which has apparently solved her “wardrobe malfunction”.
The practice is over and it’s time to see what the dancers are made of. Our judges take their seats. They are Graham Watts, head of the Construction Industry Council, one-time ballet dancer and part-time dance critic, Michael Willoughby, Building’s Mr Nasty/Craig Revel Horwood, and Simon, our dance teacher. Silence descends as the first couple – Dan and Sophie – take the floor.
The salsa music starts up and the competition begins. In truth, it’s not a bad effort. Sexy shoulder-jiggling seems to be this couple’s forte, and there’s plenty of eye contact. By the end, the judges are impressed. “There was a spark between them,” says Michael, perhaps maliciously trying to start an office rumour. All three judges award the couple seven out of 10 – although Graham concedes: “I gave Dan an extra point in case he writes something bad about me.”
Next up, it’s Muireann and Neil. Muireann’s earlier misgivings are entirely borne out. There’s a manic tangling of limbs and the pair look more like they’re fighting than dancing. The performance leaves the audience in stitches. Graham tries to be encouraging – “That was, er, a very courageous effort …” – but the scores say it all: five, four and five.
There’s a manic tangling of limbs and the pair look more like they’re fighting than dancing. The performance leaves the audience in stitches.
More couples get up and strut their stuff. Some look considerably more professional than others. The couple from Apex do a workmanlike job, bearing looks of fierce concentration throughout. They score three sixes but Michael Willoughby has some harsh comments, which draw boos from onlookers. “It was a bit too sensible for me … like the Ford Fiesta of ballroom.”
The couple from Apex also draw a mixed response. The audience is laughing, and Louise Bratton looks slightly abashed by her partner, Kai Midgley, like she’s at a wedding and an embarrassing uncle has dragged her onto the floor. Not quite what the judges are looking for in a future ballroom champion.
Round two …
Six couples do it for the judges though, and they sail through to the second round. The Mott MacDonald pair are up first. This time, they are even heavier on the pizzazz, with outfits to match. Maurice Gidwani’s tie is glittering with pink diamanté, while Rachel Hardisty is (just about) wearing a skimpy pale blue number with what appears to be a giant tail made of feathers. Could she have had some previous experience, perhaps?
The judges like it. “That was brilliant,” says Simon. Graham agrees and pronounces himself “absolutely transfixed” by Rachel’s outfit. Even Michael doesn’t have a barb to fling this time.
Gill and Kevin also impress, with a series of complex twirls and twists. It all climaxes in a sort of crash, however, with a painful-looking knotting of limbs and a bang on the head for Kevin. “Nice tangling there,” says Michael, recovering his sarcasm skills. They don’t make it through …
Three couples are left: Mott MacDonald, Keltbray and Building’s Dan and Sophie. The first dance starts. It’s the Mott couple, and they are really going for it. Rachel is twirling as if her life depended on it. One spectacular move elicits applause from the crowd. This is looking good. The dance ends with Rachel suspended diagonally between Maurice’s legs. “That was brilliant,” says Simon, and Graham admits he “loved it”.
The bar has now been set somewhere in the stratosphere, and as Ian Sharpe and Victoria Lawrence from Keltbray take their places he gazes deep into her eyes. The routine ends with a spectacular flourish involving Victoria doing the splits.
Simon is rapturous. “That was the performance of the entire event!” Graham’s equally dazzled: “I loved the way you changed your routine throughout the day.” Even Michael is bordering on enthusiastic: “That was … jolly good.”
Last up, it’s the Building couple. The shoulder jiggling is in overdrive, and the pair even giggle in sync … until the end of the dance, which descends into a bit of a shambles. Graham’s still a fan, though. “Dan gives hope to men who want to dance.” Simon’s a bit tougher: “You’ve got to keep in time with her, Dan, because she’s gorgeous.” Michael, meanwhile, mutters something about a dancing pig …
The Building team gets three eights. Meanwhile, the other two are neck and neck, each scoring two 10s and a nine. So in time-honoured tradition, it’s over to the audience to cast the final vote. They raise their hands and, unbelievably, Dan and Sophie seem to be the popular choice – “We like them because they have no idea what they’re doing,” says Penny Fotherington of Overbury. “It’s the John Sergeant factor.” Um … thanks. But the final scores are based on the judges’ votes too, and once they are all totted up, the winning couple emerges. Graham announces that Building’ ballroom champions (2008) are Keltbray’s Ian and Victoria. The couple beam as they pose for photos with a large bouquet of flowers and everyone else applauds. As Bruce would say: “Didn’t they do well?”
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Photography by Matt Leete