It’s the final countdown – the big Strictly dance-off is this weekend!

Hospice of St Francis 2012 Strictly Learn Dancing rehearsals.
Hospice of St Francis 2012 Strictly Learn Dancing rehearsals.

THE final countdown to the big Strictly dance-off has officially begun and, with just a few days to go, practice sessions have gone into overdrive.

I was pretty impressed when I totted up the hours dedicated to dancing last week – 40 minutes on Monday, two hours on Wednesday, an hour on Thursday, an hour on Saturday, an hour on Sunday morning followed by almost two hours at the regular Sunday night class with our fellow enthusiastic dancers.

But as my ever reluctant dance partner Michael Carillo has put little effort into dancing for the last five weeks – that’s when he’s not trying to get out of it all together – we had a lot to catch up on.

And there’s been plenty of help – a private lesson with dance teachers Shirley and Brian made a big difference and we’ve had the benefit of rehearsal space thanks to professional fighter Denniston Sutherland, who has allowed us to twirl around his Hemel Martial Arts gym, and Boxmoor Lodge Hotel owner Andrew Rickett who has offered up the venue’s dance floor whenever we require it. This has saved us from many bumps around the living room.

And it looks like the dancing drive is about to get ramped up further – Michael woke me at 5am on Monday morning to suggest we rehearse before he headed off to work. I won’t tell you the reply he received before I turned over and returned to my slumber.

So far this week, we’ve practised together on Monday night and then attended a jive class on Tuesday evening in a bid to pick up some fancy footwork.

Dancers were given a run down on how the big night at Berkhamsted’s Centenary Hall will work during Sunday’s practice, which set the nerves off but we were all given a boost with some kind words from the lady who will be the lead judge on Saturday – director of nursing and clinical governance at the Hospice of St Francis, Alison Briant.

She told us: “You have been transformed from clumsy ducklings into graceful swans.

“To be able to dance two complex dances within a few weeks’ practice is amazing – you should all rightly be very proud of yourselves.”

She reminded us that we are all doing this for a fantastic cause and encouraged dancers to enjoy the night.

Senior community fundraiser Fran Martin, who is in charge of organising the event, is also full of praise.

“Not only have our lovely dancers had to learn their steps, they’ve also had to raise sponsorship money for the Hospice of St Francis too, and I’m thrilled to say they’ve excelled in both.”

The others making up the judging panel are Linda Venables, a former winner – along with husband Frank – of world, European, British, UK and international championships, competing in both Latin and ballroom dancing; Katherine Coburn, who teaches dance across South Bucks and is studying for a BA in dance; and Daniel Fox, a morning presenter on Heart Breakfast.

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