One of the standout dances of week 1 was without a doubt cheeky Essex chappy Mark Wright and his professional partner Karen Hauer.
The couple danced a very energetic cha cha which scored them a very respectable 24 out of 40. Mark was criticised by the judges for getting a little over-excited but they highlighted him as someone who will go far in the competition.
Ahead of week 2 we called Karen to find out how she felt the cha cha went, talk about this weekend’s American Smooth and discuss Mark’s ‘free willy’ during his cha cha.
You and Mark kicked off the 2014 series with a bang scoring 24 out 40. How do you feel the cha cha went?
I think the cha cha went fantastic. Mark was full of energy and joy which showed through the entire dance. He was really upbeat and that’s a great start. It’s really frightening to go out there for the first time, especially being the first one to dance on the second day after having watched everyone else. He went out there and gave it his all. I couldn’t have been more proud because he was working so hard. He was absolutely frightened at the beginning but when he went out there and started dancing it was a joy to watch him enjoy it so much. I think it went fantastic for us and I’m really happy with it.
We thought you were slightly under-scored. It’s a great score for week 1 but we though the judges were a little harsh…
It’s a great score. The judges have their own views and I respect everything they say but I do think that was a little bit better than what they scored him. It’s a journey that we have to go through and I’m happy with the score. I’m just waiting for the next couple of weeks and we’ll see what happens. We’ll take the 24 though! (laughs)
Mark’s smile beamed throughout his performance. How did he feel after his cha cha?
Once he got out there and started to hear the crowd, it got him going even more and it made him feel like he wanted to give more. It’s exciting when you go out and it’s your first time performing. He’s never performed before and it’s a rollercoaster that you go through before you go on that dancefloor and you’re hoping you won’t forget your steps. Once you get on the dancefloor its muscle memory that takes over and excitement is what you’re left with.
Let’s talk about the caterpillar which Len decided to call the ‘free willy’…
(laughs) I don’t know why! I’ve never heard it called that.
No, us either, especially not at that time on a Saturday night. Whose idea was it to incorporate that into the routine?
Mark showed me he could do that and I said it has to go in! It just has to go in the routine. It showed a little bit of his personality. He likes to have fun, he’s smiley, he’s got a lot of energy and he’s athletic so he wanted to show a bit of flexibility. He’s pretty flexible and his back is pretty flexible for him to be able to do that.
He looks like a really great mover. We think you’ve got a good one there Karen…
I know! I was like ‘I didn’t know you could do that!’
Now that you’ve seen all of the other couple perform, how are you and Mark feeling about your chances of progressing and getting as far as you can in the competition?
It’s a tough competition. Everyone is great at every level and everyone is bringing their best out on the dance floor. We’re just trying to focus on doing better and progressing every week. We’re looking at what the judges said about his lines, his footwork and his timing so we’re trying to touch up on all those points and focusing on having fun and working hard.
We’re enjoying the journey of it because we want to have good memories of this moment. We’re definitely working very hard and it’s a tough competition this year that’s very hard to call. We have no idea who will be in the dance off or who’s going to go next. It’s a scary thought being in the bottom two because there’s so many good people.
This weekend you’ll be switching from Latin to Ballroom and performing the American Smooth. How is Mark getting to grips with the routine?
The first couple of days were tough. It’s a Foxtrot American Smooth and it’s one of the hardest ballroom dances. It takes a lot of control and focus so we’ve been working really, really hard on this dance. We’ve got three lifts which is great and usually a crowd pleaser. It’s been tough for him to get all the footwork and the posture but like any other dance it has its own characteristics and it’s own technique. He’s looking good today so we’re just trying to run it as much as possible, feel the music and enjoy it. He always has a big smile on his face that makes me smile as well.
The judges criticised Mark for being over-excited with his cha cha. Is the American Smooth a good opportunity for him to prove that he can control that excitement and energy?
Yes. I feel with this dance it will be more under control now he’s got a taste of how the audience is and a taste of dancing on the Strictly floor. I feel his nerves will be less and he’ll be able to focus more and create the story of the Foxtrot. It’s a very romantic dance and I think he’ll be able to focus a bit more and not get too excited when the audience starts clapping.
What have you been like with Mark in the training room this week? Is it starting to feel more pressured and serious because someone is going home this weekend?
Well yes because no one wants to go home but I don’t think it’s changed the way that we’re working. Our working ethic is still the same. I still want him to enjoy what he’s doing. I’ll push the button and it’ll get a bit more serious when it needs to but the whole process I still want him to enjoy. There’s a lot of pressure on him already, and on everyone, so additional pressure isn’t going to help. It’s all about enjoying the dance and he knows he has to work hard already so I don’t really need to implement hard work because he’s already really tough on himself. That’s perfect because I have plenty of patience and time to give. There’s a lot to work on but it’s good that he likes to work hard. That’s what it’s all about – I don’t like to put too much pressure on him.
The opening pro dance at the weekend was incredible. Tell us about how that routine was put together…
Jason Gilkison choreographed the pro dance and it was phenomenal. I’ve never done anything like that with a video screen and we had an army of Kevin and Karens behind us. It was amazing. It was definitely a step up for all the pro dances we’ve done in the past. It’s a brand new Strictly. It feels fresh and it feels great. I feel like all the pro dancers are really proud of the work we’re doing now because it’s so different and exciting. Everybody is really up for doing all the new things with the choreographers. This week’s group dance is incredible and I really can’t wait to see it.
Every week of every year we say it can’t get any better and it does. We have no idea how!
I don’t know how they do it seriously. This team is working so hard. The dancers are really contributing as well. It’s really very exciting for us.
Strictly Come Dancing continues at 6.20pm on BBC One tomorrow night. Watch Mark and Karen’s week 1 cha cha below: