Watch and learn

I love winter.  Yes, in the UK it can be wet and miserable.  Or cold and miserable.  But I try to ignore those things and focus on the following things, which I relish:

  1. Coats: specifically, my cape (navy blue, hooded, military buttons and a belt), which is one of the best things I’ve bought in the past few years (despite the fact that it has buttons which ping off the minute you look at them).  I feel sad when I wear it for the final time in spring, and look forward to the return of winter so that I can wear it again
  2. Autumn/Winter fashion: AW is my favourite season for many reasons – this isn’t the best bit, but just one example – I’m a lazy girl at heart, and not having to examine myself for rogue bits of stubble on a daily basis means it’s that much easier to roll out of bed and into your day.  However, the best thing about AW is the unadulterated sparkle which hits the shops.  Sequins are acceptable as the predominant material of a daytime garment.  Beauty brands launch lines full of deep, rich colours, as well as the obligatory glitter.  Everything glows, all because the sun doesn’t.  And you don’t even have to put your sunglasses away – the sun sits so low in the sky at certain times of day in the UK that I occasionally wonder if I wear my sunnies more in the winter than the summer here
  3. Food: hearty savoury pies, warming soups, hot drinks rather than cold (especially if they contain a splash of alcohol).  And let’s not get started on my mince pie consumption…
  4. Saturday night TV: my standard choice of staying in on the sofa during the evenings finally becomes socially acceptable.  Whichever TV channel you’ve grown up watching produces a marathon of Saturday nights leading us to Christmas to entertain us as we get progressively wearier from dashing around the shops (and wonder when the next Bank Holiday is and why August feels like it was so long ago).  And in terms of my favourite, I’ve even intellectualised it…

Much like Big Brother before it and very few shows since, Strictly Come Dancing pranced into our living rooms and made itself at home with increasing success each year.  There is a huge chunk of the internet dedicated to Strictly praise and adoration, fans who speculate upon which celebrities will be lined up next before the credits have finished rolling on the current finale.

I don’t quite fit into that box, but I have been known to pick my favourites, criticise those I don’t approve so highly of and offer a – ahem – colourful commentary both on the sofa and via Twitter (and if you don’t like it, just mute #scd).  But as well as finding it entertaining, I think Strictly is fascinating.  Those who are familiar with it will be aware that some of the professional dancers – particularly the handful remaining who have been with the show from the beginning – now have extensive fan bases of their own and, occasionally, upstage the celebrities in terms of fame.

The dancers become famous for a variety of things: their talent, their relationships with their competition and celebrity partners, things they’ve said which they perhaps shouldn’t… the list goes on.  But it doesn’t often include the thing which fascinates me the most: their teaching ability.  Perhaps it can be because this is difficult to spot – especially now when the previously-brilliant weeknight show It Takes Two and the VTs shown on the main weekend shows which were previously dedicated to an inside view of training footage, are now dominated by ridiculous skits.

Dancers who are partnered with a celebrity who is blessed with natural talent or extensive prior training are overlooked due to the viewers believing they have an easy job.  Similarly, those paired with the token clunkers are also not rated by the general public – the female professionals do their best to look good and the males gamely haul their horse around the dancefloor, but there’s no real pretence at any dancing being actively taught.  So it takes a keen observer of those achieving consistent mid-table respectability to see what really goes on behind the scenes.

Some professional dancers have been vocal over the years of the strong criticism received on live TV from some of the judges, bemoaning that the judges wouldn’t do this if they were in the professional’s shoes, whereby come Monday morning – if they are saved and required to dance again – it can be a delicate act of not only teaching the celebrity a completely foreign dance, but also rebuilding their shattered confidence and ego in order that they can perform.  It demands and astonishing lack of ego on the part of the celebrity: some of those who have had the greatest success are the ones who are happy to sacrifice the opportunity to showcase their own ability by dialling their talents back and dancing at their celebrity’s level, so it isn’t obvious that they have only mastered a few steps, making the partnership look truly even.

Week on week, there are some masters of the game of teaching, and I take my hat off to them.  I have noticed two professionals in particular who are excellent at inspiring the necessary confidence in their celebrity, and working at the correct level in order to showcase their (sometimes meagre) talents to the full, rather than exploiting the opportunity to show themselves off.  I find it mesmerising how these dancers are so astute as to quickly pick their celebrity up, show them the ropes and pull off a good performance.  They could adopt the tried and tested tactic of some of their fellow dancers who – to borrow a phrase from one of my friends – are aware that you can’t polish a turd, but you can roll a shit in glitter.  But instead, they show courage, integrity and kindness, things which many people in teaching and coaching positions forget the importance of.

I hope that next time I’m teaching someone, I can think Strictly: work at their level, inspire confidence, and park my ego at the door.

What’s the best example of teaching or coaching that you’ve seen or experienced?


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