15. Cabaret Showtime

The boxed statement, centre page, were the opening remarks by Oliver Wessel-Therhorn, lecturing at the 1997 World Dance Congress in Blackpool, (an event sponsored by the WD&DSC and the BDC). Oliver made this, as a definitive statement, in the strong, authoritative manner which is his trademark. Who can quarrel with this? Certainly I would agree that this trio of essential qualities is vitally important, not only for showdance competitors but also for the ‘making of any dance champion’!

Oliver & Martina Wessel- Therhorn (File shot by Karin Moos of Munich top right) occupied the important closing spot of this Congress (it is a well known theatrical tradition to close the show with a ‘strong act’) which featured a star-studded prog¬ramme of international celebrities, champions and renowned coaches who had been engaged to share their ‘secrets of success’ with the audience of dancers and dance teachers.

Oliver has become one of the regular stars of the Dance Congresses staged at Blackpool. He has built up a formidable reputation as a lecturer with a powerful delivery and originality of presentation. In fact, if you think about it, he fits exactly the three requirements he mentioned in his opening statement.

I only have to look at the educated feet of Oliver as he prowls around the centre of the floor of the Blackpool Empress Ballroom during the verbal parts of the lecture to re-confirm my conviction that he is a very highly skilled dancer. These feet have character! The heel-toe flickdown, allowing weight to smoothly flow through to the forepart of the foot as he walks has all the qualities with which I associate top quality championship performance.

His body styling, even when standing or walking, is that clean backline, one-piece head-to-toe, slightly forward poise, which I would unhesitatingly recommend to any reader following my series of ‘The Making of a Champion’.
I have always had a lot of time for the dance skills of Oliver and Martina, ever since I saw them winning the 1986 World Amateur Ballroom Championship in Aarhus, Denmark. I remember writing about their flair in expressing movement; in their outstanding ability to swerve, swoop and sway,
and in the originality of their step- combinations and charcterisations of each dance. The tragedy was that Oliver and Martina, with all this talent, decided to pull out of competing in championships due to his spinal injury.

Immediately following their introduction by Freddie Boultwood, the Chairman of the British Dance Council, they walk onto the Empress Ballroom dance floor and without further ado, perform a lively version of the ‘Castle Walk’, a strutting style of dance, as performed by the originators, Vernon and Irene Castle in 1911 (the most celebrated dancers of the immediate Pre-First World War era) on the balls of the feet with the knees kept straight.

Oliver (in concert with many authorities), claims that the Castle Walk is the forerunner of the Foxtrot but some record books state that the ‘Foxtrot’ dance originated from Harry Fox, an American music hall performer who performed a trotting dance to ragtime music in the Ziegfield Follies of 1914. Perhaps our Foxtrot has evolved from a combination of both. What is in no doubt is that this relatively jerky trotting walk is a million miles removed from the smooth flowing “Rolls Royce” style of movement which became the hallmark of the classic Slow Foxtrot. (Fred Astaire later immortalised the pioneering dancing of the Castles in his film role as Vernon Castle. Archive photos show that there is the coincidence of a similarity of facial and bodily appearance between the two men.) This demonstration by the Wessel-Therhorns of the Castle Walk was the lead-in to their next dem.

The second of Oliver & Martina’s demonstrations was a reproduction – a faithful one, he assured the audience – of the Bill & Bobbie Irvine Foxtrot of 1968. This, as danced by Oliver & Martina, is an absolute classic. Mainly basic Foxtrot with the qualities of musicality, style, movement, body contact and artistry of footwork at its best.

Just for Oliver & Martina’s representation of this Foxtrot performance you should not fail to buy the 1997 World Congress Video from Dereck Brown. If Oliver can dance like this with a spinal injury what could he have been like without this problem?

Oliver, a German national, is very much a master of words in his usage of the English language. He does not waste time with ‘waffle’, he is clear and concise. He raised some very valid and pertinent questions about the present ambiguity of the international rules governing Showdance. He insists that they urgently need clarification, both for the benefit of adjudicators and competitors. To emphasise his statement, he turned and focussed his gaze on Donnie Burns, metaphorically saying ‘over to you’. (Donnie is the Chairman of the WD&DSC Dance Sport Committee, which would be responsible for any amendments to the rules.)

To further illustrate the three major points of his lecture, the third demonstration, by Massimo Giorgianni & Alessia Manfredini, was a ‘story’ which might have come straight out of one of the Tango musicals, ‘Tango Argentino’, ‘Tango Para Dos’ or ‘Tango Por Dos’ which have appeared in various London theatres (and other capital cities of the world) in recent years. The music which Massimo & Alessia chose was dominated by the sound of the bandoneon, which is so redolent of the authentic character of Tango. Creativity, personality and technical ability were all to be seen in this imaginative offering. As is well- known, their ‘ballroom’ Tango is one of the strongest of Massimo & Alessia’s competition dances.

Thinking about the authentic Tango, as created by the Argentinians around 1880, and developed in Argentina since then, it is my view that if it were to appear now, for the first time, as a prospective competition dance it would have had a more legitimate claim to be placed in the Latin- American group than in the Standard section. Certainly, it would be more in keeping than the Jive – a product of North America – which has far less in common with the dances of the sub-continent of South America and their Latin dance culture.

The penultimate show of the Wessel-Therhorn lecture was by German professionals, Ralf and Olga Müller, who performed a sophisticated, sinuous, sensual Rumba which drew the viewers’ enraptured gaze onto Olga’s uninhibited hip action and shapely legs. Ralf responded positively with a strong portrayal of masculinity in dance to match the sexual promise inherent in Olga’s rhythmic pelvic movements. Often, in competitions, I have thought that Ralf was somewhat eclipsed by the attention-demanding visual projection of Olga’s showmanship. But in this presentation, Ralf succeeded in equalling Olga in capturing the attention of the observer!

In this assessment of their lecture, I am nearly at the end of the Wessel-Therhorn presentation under the heading of Cabaret Showtime. Being the born showman that he is, Oliver & Martina chose a scintillating sparkling showdance-type Quickstep as the highlight finale to conclude, not only their lecture – demonstrations but also the 1997 World Congress.

There can be no doubt that Oliver and Martina achieved their purpose in pointing the way forward, through the development of Personality, Technical skills and Creativity, for those who compete in Cabaret Showdance events. But even more than this, it has a message of great value for all competitors and as such should be regarded as compulsive viewing. (Video by Dereck Brown of Peter¬borough, England – See Advertisement on Page 13).

source: Dance News newspaper Edition No.1518
Harry Smith-Hampshire, Making of a Champion series