Stepping out at the Dirty Dancing masterclass

NOBODY puts Baby in the corner?

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  • Dirty Dancing cast member James Bennett shows reporter Catriona Stewart some of the moves. Pictures: Mark Mainz
    Dirty Dancing cast member James Bennett shows reporter Catriona Stewart some of the moves. Pictures: Mark Mainz
  • Dirty Dancing cast member James Bennett shows reporter Catriona Stewart some of the moves. Pictures: Mark Mainz
  • Dirty Dancing cast member James Bennett shows reporter Catriona Stewart some of the moves. Pictures: Mark Mainz

Well, someone should have put me in the corner.

As two of the dancers from the stage version of Dirty Dancing take to the floor, I realise I might have bitten off more than I can chew.

James Bennett and Lisa Welham are demonstrating a few of the moves from the box office smash.

And if there's one thing you can say about their efforts - they make it look really easy.

It's not.

I've been invited along to a Dirty Dancing masterclass ahead of the show's return to Glasgow in August.

On its previous run, in 2011, the show smashed box office records for the King's Theatre - and it looks set to do the same thing again.

Glen Wilkinson is the UK associate choreographer for Dirty Dancing and responsible for the moves the dancers perform.

He has brought James and Lisa to Scottish Youth Theatre's Merchant City headquarters to show a selected few how they put the dances together.

Glen, from Leeds, trained in theatre dance before being accepted to the prestigious Rambert Dance School and then joining the Rambert Dance Company.

He danced with the company for 17 years and worked as a choreographer, before moving on to become head of performance at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds.

He then moved to London to work on Lord of the Rings before joining Dirty Dancing in December 2008 as the resident choreographer on the London show. He is now the associate choreographer for the UK Tour.

Glen said: "When I moved back to London and was working on Lord of the Rings I used to get the Tube at night and see all the women in their pink T-shirts, singing and happy, and I would think, 'Eugh'.

"But now I'm working for the show I see how much people love it and it's really energising - very different from Lord of the Rings."

Glen explains that the dancers who are "swings" - a musical theatre version of an understudy - have to learn multiple parts.

That means one dancer can have to learn around 90 parts. To help them out, Glen and the dancers have nicknames for individual steps that they can run together as a chain.

James, a Dirty Dancing swing, said: "Dancers all have their own codes that they keep in their book, which is like a bible to us.

"I'm just going into the show and I'm excited about learning all my parts and getting them right. Everyone has seen the film and everyone loves it so it's important we get it right."

The 27-year-old began dancing when he was 15 and is currently undergoing intense training for the tour. With eight shows each week, the dancers need to be in peak physical fitness.

In the masterclass, Glen has James and Lisa show us amateurs a short dance.

First the pair mark out their moves step-by-step to show us how it's done. Then they perform it as it would be done in the show - and "dirty" doesn't quite cover the tension between the pair as they act out the scene.

Glen explains that this talent makes the difference between a good performance and a great performance.

Then it's our turn. And, just to add to the pressure, the show's producer, Karl Sydow, is in the room.

Karl has worked with the likes of Kristin Scott Thomas, Imelda Staunton and Carey Mulligan.

One of Britain's top theatre producers, he said taking on Dirty Dancing was a daunting task.

Karl said: "The film has 118 unique scenes. There's no way we could put that on stage so the thing to work out is how we're going to represent the film on stage.

"But in the theatre we have our own special tricks and I think we've done a very good job."

As Karl stands back, Glen takes to the front of the class and shows us a very basic step, moving side to side along the floor.

Counting, remembering the steps and trying to go in the right direction proves a little too much.

But when James and Lisa perform the task it really shows the skill that goes into even the simplest moves.

Knowing how tough the dances are has given me new respect for the performers. And I can't wait to see the show when it comes to the King's on August 26.

Glen said: "Glasgow audiences definitely take Dirty Dancing to their hearts. We had thought we'd had a good run but then we came to Glasgow and people were up out of their seats, singing and dancing along.

"It was wild."

Karl added: "When people come to see the show they don't just sing along - they know every line and recite the whole show.

"We had to make sure all the famous lines were in there.

"Dirty Dancing is beloved by so many people. You just can't get it wrong."

catriona.stewart@eveningtimes.co.uk

Arts and Entertainment

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