No couple was more surprised to get through to the semi-final of Strictly Come Dancing 2014 than Karen Hauer and her partner Mark Wright.
During last week’s results show their reaction was priceless and this week they’ve been hard at work doing everything they can to get to the final. With two dances to learn it’s a big ask but there are putting their all into this weekend’s performances.
We caught up with Karen to talk about Pixie leaving the show, making the semi-final, and Mark’s incredible Strictly journey.
Congratulations on making it through to the semi-final with Mark. It was another fantastic reaction at the weekend. How did it feel to make it through?
Yeah shocked. It was shock, not because we don’t believe in ourselves, but the fact that we were in the dance-off the week before. We came back with what we thought would hopefully be a really strong dance and it was a solid dance. The fact that the audience and the public voted and kept us in meant so much to Mark and I. I think that’s what really got to us. It was one of those things were anything could happen and you have to believe in yourself. We were the odd ones out of the bunch so we almost thought we would be in the dance-off. We’re absolutely thrilled, extremely happy and thankful to be in the semi-final.
Was it as shocking in the studio to see Pixie Lott leave the competition as it was to the viewers at home?
Absolutely. It was an absolute shock to see Pixie go. It’s so tight right now and there were a lot of ties on the leaderboard. After the Waltzathon things separated just a tiny bit. If the public is not voting for their favourite then we can easily be gone. No one is safe no matter how good or wherever you are on the leaderboard. You have to vote for your favourites.
For the semi-final tomorrow night you’ve got two tough dances – the Rumba and the Viennese Waltz. How have those been going in training?
Every dance is tough because every dance has its own vocabulary and it’s all about the choreography and the music. I’ve learned to watch and see what looks good Mark, what choreography fits him and what’s going to get the best out of him. I absolutely think that if you’re afraid of the dances then why even do Strictly? Even as a professional dancer you have to really have to find what suits your celebrity. I really feel with the Viennese Waltz and the Rumba, the one that everyone is afraid of, that Mark is handling those dances really well.
At the beginning of the series I would have thought that there’s no way I could do a Rumba and a Viennese Waltz in the semi-final, that would have been ridiculous, but on Monday when I got in and taught him the Rumba – it’s a very lyrical and contemporary Rumba still with our Latin roots in it – what fits Mark is something that is more lyrical and will get his sentimental and emotional side out. The Rumba is not something to be afraid of; it’s a beautiful dance with the right music and the right thought process behind it. We actually had a really good week starting out with the Rumba.
When we started training I never thought ‘he’s not going to get this’ and at every point I was positive about it. I was making him fall in love with the Rumba rather than be afraid of it, the same with the Viennese Waltz. We have two songs that are completely opposite. We have one that is light and happy, and one that is more heartfelt. It was very easy to get into character and really choreograph and enjoy the process of choreographing and teaching it to Mark. We’ve had a really positive week.
The fact that we’re in the semi-final meant that we drilled ourselves this week. There was one day this week where we got into the studio at 10am and left at 10pm. We spent the whole day focusing on little details and just the performance aspect of our choreography.
Have you found now that we’re a week away from the final that Mark is giving even more than he usually does in the training room?
Mark always gives 100% every week. He came in with such drive on Monday and it was Mark on a different level. He learned two routines on Monday and we were already running through the Rumba by 5pm. His determination and his love for dancing has just gotten to another level. I really appreciate that. He’s always shown me that he loves to learn and loves to dance but it shows me how much more it means to him to be in the competition and be part of Strictly.
Will you be involved the group dances this weekend or have you got a weekend off seeing as you’ve had two dances to learn?
They’ve actually given us some time off (laughs). It’s the other dancers that are doing something I believe. The ones still in the competition aren’t doing them this week. With having two dances we need as much time as possible. I love doing pro numbers but I think it would have taken a little too much time away from our celebs this week.
Yeah, two dances in one week is enough really isn’t it?
Yes (laughs) especially for the celebs as you don’t want to freak them out if you’re busy and then trying to make extra time for them, or they have to do It Takes Two or they have other commitments to attend to. Yesterday we trained for 5 hours and it was the most intense 5 hours we’ve ever had, especially with two dances. We really focused for one on hour on one, then an hour on the other and we kept alternating. For the last hour we did them back to back just doing run throughs. It was very focused because we knew we didn’t have that much time. It would have been a bit tougher if I’d had to do a pro routine as well.
This is the furthest you’ve reached in Strictly Come Dancing so far isn’t it?
Yes. The first year I got to the quarter-final then last year I got to the seventh week. To get to the semi-finals is fantastic. It’s a different level completely when you get to the semis and it’s almost like the stress goes away slightly. You still have stress but the fact that there’s only one week means you give it everything. I’m actually really enjoying it right at this moment. I’m feeling very happy and proud and I’m not nervous. I’m more looking forward to going out there with Mark and enjoying our dances together. Who knows? This could be the last time we dance together and we don’t want to hold back or be sad. We just want to be happy, go out there and give the best performance for all of those that have been voting for us. Hopefully we will make the final.
What would it mean to get to that final?
I think we would both faint. You know how there’s some goats that if you chase them around they faint? I think we would both faint! The prospect of actually being in the final…we would just drop down to the floor. I would probably drop. It would be incredible. Absolutely incredible. It’s one of those moments where there are no words. I would be happy…ridiculously happy and so proud. If we did make the final it would mean that Mark would have gone from complete novice.
I can see him the first week he came into the studio and we were learning to do our cha cha. I thought, ‘oh my god, here we go. Here starts the journey of Strictly Come Dancing with his stuff upper body’ and all of a sudden we’re in the semi-final and I have a dancer holding my hand. I’m not actually thinking about being a teacher. I’m thinking of dancing with my dance partner. It would be absolutely glorious if we make that final.
We want to see that reaction you just described…
It’s funny because every week people keep on telling us about the reactions we have but last week I seriously thought Tess was punking us. We just looked at each other and we were like ‘really?’ I loved it. I loved every second of when they called our name out. If our names get called once more, I think I’ll go and hug and kiss every single member of the audience. It would be amazing.
Strictly Come Dancing 2014 continues at 6.50pm Saturday on BBC One. Watch Karen and Mark’s Foxtrot from the quarter-final: