The professional stars of the RTÉ’s hit series showed the Cork public how to jive with the best of them recently, writes
The ballroom of the Metropole Hotel on Cork’s MacCurtain St is hopping. A group of about 60 people, of all ages and from all walks of life, are being put through their paces by professional dancers from the cast of RTÉ’s Dancing with the Stars (DWTS).
And it’s great fun.
Starting with a jive routine, Emily Barker and Curtis Pritchard, the show’s ultra-glam professional dance couple, break down sequences of steps before introducing music and upping the tempo. By the end of the first half hour, the dancefloor is packed with people jiving away with varying degrees of success.
They have one thing in common: Everyone is smiling, and everyone is getting into it.
Jiving is a fast-paced dance, and most of the dancers are out of breath. With one exception: Athlete Of The Year, Olympic bronze medallist, and DWTS contestant Rob Heffernan is in the crowd, with wife and trainer Marian Heffernan. As you can imagine, the ultra-fit sporting couple aren’t breaking a sweat.
As a professional athlete, competitive walker Rob may not have thought he needed dance to keep him on his toes, but he says he’s been surprised at the level of physical demands his intensive training for DWTS has put on him.
“It’s very tough, because you’re moving your body in different directions,” he says. “I’ve had problems with my ankles, my back is at me, and my hip is at me. In my sport, you can become too one-dimensional and this is brilliant because it opens you up. You need to be flexible, strong, and well-coordinated.”
The benefits have been mind, body, and spirit for Rob. “I’m loving the challenge of it, because your brain is so active when you’re learning something new,” says the 39-year-old.
“As you get older, you get so stuck in your own routine and this retrains your body and keeps your head young too.”
While his stamina and physical condition have proved useful for training, loosening up, and allowing his emotions to be revealed is quite a vulnerable experience compared to the macho world of sport, he says.
For the Viennese waltz routine in Week 5 of the show, Rob and his partner Emily, the stunning 22-year-old professional dancer from Nottingham who’s leading off the jive antics with real-life boyfriend Curtis, enlisted the help of an acting coach to help Rob get in touch with his emotions, an experience Rob says he found quite powerful, especially as a “stereotypical Irish male” who had never connected with dance before.
“It’s like a reversal of the way you’re meant to be in sport,” he says. “You put up a front, act hard, and look hard. With this, you have to recognise emotions, and you have to be confident to do that. A lot of the girls have a bit of dancing experience, but the lads feel so awkward. That makes a great bond between the men because you can laugh about it: There’s a huge thing in it for men to let go.”
With five celebrities down and Rob and Emily hanging on in there, Rob’s hesitant to admit to a competitive drive, even though he reportedly went to the extra measure of flying Emily over during the Christmas holidays, a testament to his level of commitment.
“I’ve got so far in it that I’m genuinely just proud of myself,” says Rob, smiling. “I still don’t want to go home, but I’d be quite happy to because it’s been such a positive experience for me. I enjoy the Sundays and I won’t leave the show with any negative feelings at all. I’d love to get to the end, but I’d be a bit embarrassed if I won it because I know some of the others are really good dancers.”
Emily, who began her Latin and ballroom training at age seven, knew she’d struck gold when she heard her partner was a bronze-medal Olympian. “I’ll never get the opportunity to work with someone like Rob again,” she said earlier, while preparing for the evening’s class.
“In Rob, you have someone who will give every minute of their day to it and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. He’s one big block of muscle and sometimes that works against us, because I have to get him to rotate his body in different ways, but most of the time it works for us because he’s got so much stamina.”
Her boyfriend, Curtis Pritchard, got eliminated in round one this year, alongside Dragons’ Den panellist Norah Casey. Canny businesswoman Norah has obviously seen a way to use the connections she built up through her stint on the show to set up a new enterprise, because it’s her new business venture, ConfidanceMDF, that is hosting the Metropole’s dance class.
Despite having been eliminated in the first round, Norah, 58, was bitten by the dancing bug: She reported having lost a stone in weight and made huge gains in confidence through her experience. And now she wants to share this with others.
ConfidanceMDF is now holding a series of morning classes in various locations in Dublin, as well as evening sessions in boutique hotel House, where salsa classes with Emily and Curtis are followed by social dancing and a complimentary cocktail.
For a class aimed at boosting confidence, being taught by Emily and Curtis, both of whom ooze the good looks, charm and confidence that their profession demands, is a very good start indeed.