'Strictly dancing' shows a penchant for polyester

By Frances Grant

Aussie dance-competition show Strictly Dancing (TV3, 7.30pm) has yet to make good on the lash of discipline promised by its title.

Far from exercising severity or constraint, the show is as all-embracing in its definition of partnership as the Civil Union Bill. Among the candidate couples in last week's first instalment, were a same-sex pair of blondes and an intense brother-sister duo.

Forget dancing to different steps. Conservative Judge Barry Fife from the movie Strictly Ballroom would have blown his toupee over the appearance of sultry, tanned, bottle-blonde, Russian-Aussie combo, Olga and Nicholle. Who was the man? wondered one of the commentators. Answer: "The one with the number on her back."

The girls, who bore an uncanny resemblance to The Simple Life's Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, not least in the skimpy, tasteless clothing department, may have made the cut but the "we're not sexist" commentators felt free to express their doubts: "It'll be interesting to see if they match the explosive strength of the male-female partners."

For a modern talent-quest show, Strictly Dancing is also strangely free of cruelty in the form of a Simon Cowell or a Dicko. One of the judging panel, Ramon, was "the hanging judge", but as the panel do not get the chance to accompany their scores with comments, we could only infer his witheringly critical nature from his straight-faced stance on the sidelines.

The silence of the judges is a disappointment but, host Paul McDermott is as cheesy as a Swiss fondue. A typical introduction: "He's a man whose feet are so hot, they've been blamed for global warming."

Strictly Dancing makes a small concession to the times; introducing its couples and giving them a couple of moments to tell us about themselves a la those renovation-reality shows like The Block. Otherwise it has all the elements of a traditional Come Dancing-style show: strutting and sashaying couples in suits and sequinned frocks, impossibly high heels, cut-throat competition beneath the rigid smiles - and a hatchet-faced audience, fiercely partisan and with a penchant for polyester.

The couples are put through their paces in a bewildering variety of dance styles from the "themometer-busting samba" (thank you, Mr McDermott), rumba and tango to jazz and hip-hop. They're also awarded a large percentage of the final score for something called "X-factor". Presumably there's some leeway created here for the sexier, better-looking pairings to get into the semis.

The show has been a hit in Australia and undoubtedly sparked a flurry of enrolments in dance classes round the country.

If you've always wanted to know what a "rotating pressage" is, and whether it's more impressive executed in a clockwise or anti-clockwise direction, this is the show for you. Or in the post-Hero Parade-Queer Eye era, it might just be fun to see what mix-and-match pairs turn up next.

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