WESTERN Isles twinkle-toes are getting set to show Strictly Come Dancing how to do things community-style as residents throughout the islands prepare for the spectacular which will be Come Dancing! with Stornoway Big Band.
Following the success of Big Band Glenn Miller World War II Nights and Rat Pack Evenings, Music Project Hebrides (MpH) are staging a unique event in the islands: two ‘Come Dancing’ nights, one in Benbecula and one in Stornoway where folks will have the opportunity to dance to live music from the islands’ very own superb swing band.
Expanding on how the project – funded by Scotlands Islands Trust – came about, MpH committee member Cath Fish said: “When we’ve held the Big Band nights we came to realise that no-one really knew how to do any of the dances, which we all thought was such a shame.
“Wanting to do something to change and the funding allowed us to bring professional dance instruction Michael Smallworth to Lewis for a series of dance workshops, culminating in the final Come Dancing events in Stornoway and Benbecula, both set to be real community events.”
Community was the catch-phrase which first sparked the interest of Michael, as well as the chance to visit somewhere he’d never been to before.
“I’d never even heard for Stornoway before I got the invite to come up here, and it takes me a tube, a train, two planes and a taxi to get from London to the workshops – the most travel I’ve ever done to get to work,” Michael chuckled.
“But I’ve had such a warm welcome and have been so well looked after that it’s definitely worth the 17 hours travel.
“I became interested in the project as it is so much based on involving the entire community, in one workshop the youngest person we had was seven and the oldest 72, so it’s a project that really is reaching out to all,” he continued.
“The challenge also appealed to me - to get people to dance from scratch – and the results are getting more rewarding each time I’m up.
“When I see the end result, with everyone dressed up in their finery and getting the chance to dance to a brilliant and live big band, that will be the icing on the cake for me.”
Part of the success of the dance workshops, which cover Waltz, Jive, Charleston and ChaCha, have been the teaching methods of Michael. And islanders are assured of being tutored by one of the best.
Michael caught the dancing bug aged nine after watching film Grease and took to competing in Ballroom Latin events. Along came Saturday Night Fever and disco and as a teenager Michael twice scooped the title of World Freestyle Champion, as well as becoming the UK Rock and Roll Champion.
After auditioning at the London Studio Centre and qualifying in musical theatre he worked upon cruise ships the world over and performed West End shows in Thailand.
And during his esteemed career Michael has also choreographed the Top of the Pops and SmashHits parties, the Goodnight Sweetheart television series, dancers in various clubs in Ibizia and was responsible for the moves in Icelandic singer Bjork’s ‘Oh So Quiet’ video.
With Michael presenting dance workshops fortnightly, local dance instructor Kirstie Anderson of Isle Dance has been involved in keeping up the good work in Lewis and Laura Donkers is taking her experiences to the Uists to ensure that there are no two-left feet at the Benbecula evening.
“The way Michael has structured the workshops allows everyone to get to grips with the basic steps very easily and it’s a great way to be able to take what I’ve learnt home to pass onto others,” commented Laura.
Great fun is the response from all who have attended the workshops, including Lewis residents James and Susan MacAulay.
Although admitting he got ‘dragged’ into ballroom dancing as a 40th birthday present to Susan – who celebrates her milestone on the Come Dancing Stornoway night – James said: “It’s been absolutely superb!
“The workshops are a real social affair and it’s also great exercise – really, you wouldn’t believe how much hard work it is when you see people on the television; after the Jive workshop I could hardly walk!”
James added: “I’d never danced before and didn’t think I would like it, but this has been a brilliant experience and everyone is really getting into the spirit of it.”
If you fancy a trip round the dancefloor, visit www.musicprojecthebrides.org.uk for more information about remaining workshops.
And all are invited to the Come Dancing finals taking place in Benbecula at the Dark Island Hotel on saturday, March 24th and in Stornoway, at the Caber Inn on March 31st, tickets priced £20.