Darcey Bussell CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire). A fitting honour, given that Darcey is regarded as one of the greatest British ballerinas of all time. She has danced all of the classics during her long career with The Royal Ballet – Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Giselle et al – retiring from the Company on 8th June 2007.
Not then, someone you’d expect to see performing a Latin American dance – the Jive. Darcey joined the judging panel on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing from the quarter finals, “I would have hated to be a judge at the beginning where the nerves of all those celebrities, you couldn’t really see past anything else because they were shaking like leaves, their first experience of performing live.” She also agreed to perform on the show.
But the Jive? “The Jive, yes. It was slightly out of my comfort zone.” Classical ballet and Latin American dance are two totally different genres, but Darcey and her professional dance partner Ian Waite, learnt the steps in two days. They only had four. “Usually I’d have at least 2 weeks, but I wanted to know all the styles.” Working in heels is the most obvious change from pointe shoes “that was very odd, but actually I’m really pleased I had a go because it just made me understand so much more.” This is classic Darcey – perfectionist and hard worker. “I just don’t want to be typecast and I’ve always wanted to be thrown into things that people don’t believe you can do. I have been told that so many times, ‘oh no this isn’t for you’, and in a way that makes me want to do it more. I hate being put into that bracket. And I think life is short, especially in a dancer’s world. I think life is exciting if you get possibilities of getting up and doing a Jive. As a performance value it’s just so exciting, the buzz. That’s what I suppose I’ve missed the most, is the performance value.”
I ask about her motivation for choosing the Jive, as she’s a tall dancer and the Latin dances suit shorter people, “I wanted to challenge myself. I didn’t want to do something that everyone was expecting me to do, something lyrical like the Waltz or the American Smooth.” This much you might expect, but she goes on to say “actually, I really wanted to prove to Len that I wasn’t prim and posh. I thought, ‘how am I going to make him think that I am versatile and I’m not just a ballerina?” Len Goodman, Head judge on Strictly, told her afterwards that she had done really well and that the dance world would be impressed that she’d had a go and been able to adapt. She says of her performance “I’m still too lyrical on the edge, it has to be quite sharp, and there I am thinking I’m being really being sharp, and then you watch it and I went, ‘oh my god, I’ve still got a smooth arm at the end’, you know.”
Darcey lacks neither stamina nor determination “I suppose its more stubbornness; I don’t like to give up. I like being given tasks that seem unreachable and making them my own. I’ve realised that you never stop learning, and that process is enjoyable. I don’t want to ever feel that I’m comfortable, because in a way it’s a bit of a worry if you get too comfortable with yourself or your surroundings.” Darcey and her family emigrated to Australia following her retirement, and she tells me that this is the first time she has come back to the UK for work and been able to bring her husband and their two young children with her “we’ve been able to be altogether which is so nice.”
Darcey laughs as she tells me that her Jive sums up her Latin experience, but then expands, “for the last 4 weeks I took 1 class a week of Latin American which was great, just to get a flavour of it and to understand it.” She does have experience of Flamenco from her Viva La Diva show, “I loved it. We had a professional from Spain and he gave us a week intensive. We had 8 days of doing 8 hours a day, and it was just incredible. It’s the rhythm that’s the hardest thing in Flamenco. They counted it all differently. It’s incredibly difficult but I loved it because it’s so stylised. And it has a lot of disciplines like classical ballet, very clean lines, it is very beautiful. Quite balletic, but with the rhythms.”
None of the judges on Strictly mentor the celebrities, but Darcey had 2 weeks at the beginning of the series to meet them, “Ali (Bastian), I remember when I first saw her, I said ‘you’re actually too flexible, you’re going to have real problems,’ strength ability, of containing herself, because her joints are so supple; her poor ankles in all those heels! And you know they had to learn so much from starting with nothing, and really be pushed very early.” Darcey tried to make Ali smile after being voted out in the semi finals, “I said ‘look, you finished on top, you got 50 from the judges and so you know from us we gave you the benefit of the doubt because you have transformed yourself and you’ve proved that you can do another craft.’ But I did say to her, ‘well, of course, if you’d been like Ricky and taken your top off a couple of times in rehearsal, you might have just got into the final’. Poor girl, she said ‘yeah, of course, why didn’t I think of that!’ It did make her smile.”
I ask how she has found judging on the live show, “I’ve got plenty to say, but it’s keeping it short and clean and also not repeating what other people say, and there are so many other things to think about. Craig (Revel-Horwood) does Panto so he knows how the audience gets wound up, and I’ve luckily never had to open my mouth before.” So she still get
s nervous ? “I think that in a way they get harder because you know too much. It’s a problem. When you’re younger it’s much nicer, you’re naïve about what people notice and you’ve got the history behind you of what you have done so people are also expecting more from you.”
Since emigrating to Australia Darcey has revelled in being a Mum. She is working on dance DVD’s featuring ballerina solos, and is involved with her Magic Ballerina stories “we’re doing a fourth series next year so we’re bringing a boy into the storyline, which I’m really chuffed about.” When I tell her that my niece had read them she is pleased, “it’s a little adventure. We try and keep all of the basic ballet steps,” and it is this authenticity and theatrical magic which keeps my niece, and no doubt others, hooked.
And what of her own theatrical magic, does she miss her dancing days ? “I miss lots of things. I don’t miss the hard work at all.”