Anton Du Beke and Erin Boag: Away from the bright lights of the Ballroom
On my way to the theatre I am picturing the article that I don’t want to write. I don’t want any Strictly puns in the title, I don’t want to put together some terribly forgettable exposé about life behind the sequins or the stage-smiles or whatever. It’s been done.
My aim is to have them give the honest answers, instead of the ones they either feel expected to say or the ones they are used to saying. My challenge is to have them put into words something I know from experience is very difficult to describe.
If I have nothing else in common with Anton Du Beke and Erin Boag (which is probably a fair assumption), I know what it is to love to dance. I have felt the drive take place over the exhaustion when your body is tired but your mind is not satisfied and to this day I wonder how it is that I cannot jog for more than twenty minutes yet I regularly find it in me to rehearse and choreograph for three hours straight.
Du Beke calls this a state of mind. Though he is ever-charming in his nature, his answer has a sort of hard-headedness that I would expect has emerged from his years of competing, the blood, sweat and tears that it took to get him to where he is now.
“You either are it, or you’re not,” he says and I think he’s entitled to be that unforgiving. Forget the fake tan and sheer-shirt stereotypes of Strictly and remember the man in front of me is a World Class professional.
“That attitude is the same for a dancer as for a professional sportsperson. You get those people at the top of their game – the really good ones. The others probably don’t have the same commitment and drive and preparation.”
Erin is off-duty in sweatpants and without makeup and I suppose that this is the reason that I am not permitted to take photos with them backstage. If that is the case it seems a bit of a burden for any girl to bear. But then I imagine that the audience want to believe in all the glamour and magic of ballroom and that Erin has probably come to personify that.
It’s not a weight on her shoulders though, as I discover. I think she is perhaps still too enamoured by the elegance to perceive it a requirement rather than a privilege.
“I’m very lucky,” she tells me, genuinely. “I get to dress up every night and dance beautifully.”
She’s too modest to be talking of just her own dancing here and the way she alludes to an infatuation with the dance as a whole is the first inkling I have that the pair may be able to answer the question that I really came here to ask.
The second is the fact that their relationship with dance has not been corrupted by money. We all know what it is to love something and then to instantly resent it when it’s no longer a choice but a necessity, and dancing is to some extent, their day-job.
And before I know it I’m asking (begrudgingly) about those stage-smiles and how much of it is all for show, before Anton wipes away any notion of the pair adopting alter-egos for the sake of a good performance.
“This is what we do and we absolutely enjoy it,” he says. “You can’t not be yourself when people have come to see you.”
And Erin agrees, “what you see onstage is what we are.”
It’s true, too. Having watched from the audience I don’t see fakery. The showmanship is all just bringing to life what they have told me prior to the curtain rising.
And rather unexpectedly I found myself falling for the classic charm of ballroom and getting lost in all its elegance, so I’m not surprised when Erin recounts to me how the audience often think they see perfection.
“What people see and what we feel is often totally different though,” she adds.
“Not often,” Anton chips in, “always!” And while she digs her heels in for a moment eventually Erin comes around.
“Perfection is an unattainable goal,” Anton tells me, and just as I think it’s quite a forgettable cliché for him to call upon he adds, quite expertly, “as it should be.”
And I find the moment handed to me where I could ask two of the country’s best if they could ever adequately describe in words the moment it all comes together – when the stress and aches and pains and all the background noise fades behind the perfect symmetry of dancer, choreography and music.
“It’s like flying, really,” Anton says, and my heart sinks with the weight of the answer I didn’t want to hear.
And perhaps he sensed my disappointment because he started to search for a truer reflection, one I knew was hard to put into words for anyone who'd not known the feeling for themselves and one that Erin was equally struggling to express.
“It’s a weightless feeling of complete... –ness." he went on to say. "It’s immaculate.”
And those were the right words. I knew because all three of us felt a sense of relief like the one when you finally remember the name of that person that you’ve been scouring the edges of your memory for hours to recall – suddenly, it all fits.