Friday, November 16, 2012

From Deadwood to 'Doble, Rome to Rumba! In which I Learn Dancing is Animal!

I used to have good televisual taste.  Way back, when the nights of the week were differentiated by what show was the daily highlight.  Deadwood Day!   Rome Day!  Those were my favourites. 

Deadwood with it’s blood and sweat and filth; characters so real I could smell them reeking from the screen; cursing with their “cocksucker”-ready mouths, depicting a society so degenerate and uncivilized, I squirmed with delight from the corner of my leather sofa.

Rome was similarly base and lusty, but with grapes and togas and incest!   Corruption and betrayal usually triumphed over honor and integrity, and love?  Forget that!  Whatever was good and noble was crushed or squeezed by sandal or fist, was thrust at with knives, delivered with a twist.  The female led, Atia, played by Polly Walker, was my heroine of an anti-heroine; she was neither nice, nor kind, but she was a passionate force to be reckoned with. 

The characters were vivid, the script was sharp, tight, witty and wonderful; amid the grit of these lavish productions, I would often find myself laughing until I couldn’t breathe, snorting like an asthmatic guinea pig.
Every Monday, my weekly wait for HBO Sunday would seem interminable.
But then, both shows were cancelled.  Both were touted to be made into films, but alas, projects that were obviously too costly, or too risky to gamble on.

I started singing, “Bye, bye, my historical porn,
Perhaps it was the cocksucking that won only scorn?...”

But the TV didn’t die.  It thrives on.  I just get can’t, or rather, I don’t allow myself, to get into True Blood, Mad Men, Games of Thrones, Once Upon a Time, Revenge, Nashville, the televisual circus --God, all the hours that would take up!  I have found a replacement though, and it’s not what you would think.  It’s my guilty pleasure, my dirty little secret… it’s hot and lusty in it’s own gyrating way; oh, there is vertical thrusting---lots of it—there are rippled men lifting scantily-clad females up and down and round-about like they weigh nothing, and the competitors are fed to the lions, the judges giving thumbs up or down, it’s… oh God, don’t judge me…  Dancing With The Stars.

Yes, bring on the too-white teeth, the spray on tans, the hair lacquer, the lettuce-diet.  We're not in Deadwood anymore, Toto.

I know.  I know.  I should not be condoning reality TV.  (Jobbing actors don’t hate.)  I know this is cheap programming taking acting opportunities away from professionals, but BOY this is entertaining!   The relationships, the effort, the physicality, the flesh, the sequins!  It’s a visual feast, this celebration of dance.  And it boggles my mind that someone who loved two programmes so seemingly opposed to reality TV, could be enjoying this harmless family-fun show so much!  Where’s the bleary-eyed, greasy-haired, pale-faced Al Swerengen, delivering his dramatic, almost Shakespearean, monologues to camera, shouting for more whiskey, whores and blowjobs?  Where’s the tangible, breath-holding lust of Mark Anthony and Atia going at it like rabid rabbits in a Roman orgy of wine and silk, with servants listening at doors?

It’s a different type of drama, but there is drama; there is life, there are stories, there are emotions in dance.

Now, perhaps I should confide to you, dear Reader, that I have always had a bit of an emotional tango, a love-hate relationship, with dance. Ballerina Eleanor, was not a thing of beauty.  Ballet En, was in fact about as stiff and wooden as a stick.  A flat, straight, unbending, uncurved, inelegant stick.  I started ballet at about the age of six, one of a small group in pigtails, pink up-the-bum leotards, itchy-mcscratchy tutus and hand-knitted pink wrap-around cardigans.  There was nothing comfortable or practical about this strange ensemble.  I recall, I regularly froze and spent the whole class itching.  The one item I did like was my fairy wings: a gauzey, iridescent panel of fabric that my mother had sewn for me, that gathered up the back and attached to my middle fingers with elastics. 

I thought I was amazing in those wings!  That this pointless, highly-flammable synthetic material conferred on me the power to dance!   I didn’t need Superman’s unitard, or Ironman’s metal, or Batman’s reinforced bat-shield armour; I had NYLON!

Most of the little girls in my class dreamed of being ballerinas, or princesses.  I didn’t.  I think this was principally because I wasn’t very good.  My limbs didn’t curve, so there were no such things as elegant swaying arms, they were goal posts; my jete leaps were vicious karate kicks with the attendant facial expression that was far from ballerina-serene.  In the Nutcracker, I was cast as a rat.  I think that really says it all, doesn’t it?

But, even though I did not dream of ballet shoes, I did love to dance.  I really clearly remember-- I couldn’t have been more than 6 at the time— my great Auntie Joanie had come down on the train to visit.  She sat in the big, red chair, by the window, and, as I flapped around the lounge, pirouetting and slamming into the splits with the grace of an intoxicated, baby giraffe, she asked me if I wanted to be a ballerina. 

I didn’t know this then, but this was quite the loaded question, as Auntie Joanie, back in the day, had been a dancer.  She lived to dance!   (She now has replacement hips to show for it.)  But the war scuppered her dancing dreams and lead to a career in the WAF instead.

It is one of my earliest memories: Auntie Joanie’s face in the soft light, her sparkling expression, her twinkling eyes watching me dance.  Her hands clasped, encouraging and applauding my improvised moves that probably looked as if I was in pain or being electrocuted.

“So you don’t want to be a ballerina?  Tell me, what do you want to be?”

I flapped my wings, shucked my itchy tutu, kicked it off into the air, and told her I wanted to be a stripper! 
She gasped, and then she laughed, and my mum laughed, and somehow it wasn’t scandalous, or perverted or anything, it was just me being a show off.  Now, don’t ask me how or why I even knew strippers existed, because I don’t know, but I thought if I would get to flap my wings and dance with no clothes on, that was alright by me!

Times have changed of course.  Shit, I have to be sedated before I peel off my togs in front of someone.  Give me gas and air, a vodka, a valium, a glass or three; but, give me strategically-placed sequins (or fairy wings) and I could dance the light fantastic until 3 am!

So when I finally stop working, I draw the curtains, light the candles, pour Self a glass of pinot noir and I get down and dirty with DWTS.  It’s quite the guilty treat.   Some friends mock me for this bizarre down shift in En’s programming.  But I won’t apologise for it.  There is merit in such a show, and while it may not be winning Emmys, like Deadwood or Rome, it has all the elements to make you feel.  And isn’t that the point of entertaining television, to make you think and feel emotions?   I sit there transfixed, holding my breath, mesmerized by the wardrobe, the talent, the choreography and I can’t help but sway and feel like I am wearing my fairy wings; slinking like an alley cat as the couples rumba, breaching like a serpent as they tango, flaring my nostrils as they paso doble; and in my mind, I can really dance. 

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