5 lessons in self-preservation from Strictly Ballroom
Strictly Ballroom Kate Fuller.jpg

Our little city of Adelaide feels strangely serene right now, the traffic is relatively calm, apart from the roadworks on North Terrace because we’re building our second tram line (watch out Melbourne); the heat has subsided after seven days of hell; and we’re all holding our breaths (and preparing our livers) for the impending Mad March season – which actually starts in February, but who’s counting.

The Adelaide Fringe officially kicks off the “madness” on Friday 16 February, followed by the Adelaide Festival (which people have finally started to give AF about), and the season closes in splendour with the wonderful WOMADelaide Festival, which takes place over the March long weekend.

At this time of year, the city comes alive with art, dance, drama, circus acts and music performances, and is taken over with an influx of artists from all over Australia and the world!

If you’re one of those artists, you might be feeling the impending festival season butterflies, whether you're focusing on your performance, fixated on ticket sales, or just have a string of tasks you still need to tick off before the "show goes on". It's a busy, exciting, nerve wracking and exhilarating time, but it can also be incredibly scary.

So here's my suggestion.

Give yourself a night off from posting Press Releases and practising your punchlines, sit down with a glass of Eden Valley Riesling (because when in Rome) and watch the iconic Australian classic Strictly Ballroom, from start to finish!

Between the sequins and the hairspray, the dancing and the dagginess, you'll find all the inspiration and self-preservation tips you'll need to get through this fabulous festive season (relatively) unscathed. To get you started, here are my top five take-aways from the film that teaches you that "a life lived in fear is a life half lived".

It takes two to tango

Fran wouldn’t have had the skills to become a professional dancer if it wasn’t for Scott, but Scott wouldn’t have had the balls to dance his own steps at the Pan-Pacifics without having the strong, gutsy Fran beside him.

"You're a gutless wonder! Vivir con miedo, es como vivir a medias!"

Strictly Ballroom teaches us that a problem shared is a problem halved, which is why when it comes to putting on a performance, having a partner in crime is essential!

Whether that be a Beyonce’s-mum-style fashionista who supports you by creating your entire wardrobe (I’m looking at you Hans); a publicist who can share the burden of promoting your performance and getting bums on seats; or just a really supportive band who shares your vision and is excited about creating something amazing with you.

If you don’t have a partner in crime, get out there and see other shows, get talking to other artists and find the Scott to your Fran, the person (or people) who will dance your steps… and give you a few new ones to try too.

There will always be a Tina Sparkle

When Scott’s family think Tina Sparkle will be his new partner, but it’s actually “beginner” dancer Fran, all hell breaks loose… and poor Fran feels even smaller than she does at the start of the movie when Mrs Hastings tells her she needs more apricot scrub! #waytobringagirldown

What Strictly Ballroom teaches us is that there will always be someone better than you, or prettier, or sparklier, or more talented, or even just harder working. That’s a given. But just like there’s only one Tina Sparkle, there is also only one Fran. What made Fran unique was her passion, her heart, her fire… no one at the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix had what she had.

So, next time you start comparing yourself to another performer (which is inevitable, we’re all “I” personalities after all) just think about that breath-taking moment when Fran crosses the floor in all her red sequinned glory at the Pan-Pacifics and get yourself some Fran-i-tude!

Do the Paso Doble!

In the scene where Fran’s father schools Scott on the Paso Doble he teaches him to listen to the rhythm of his heart, which is an excellent lesson for a dancer, or a musician, but it’s also a great lesson in being "in the moment" or what the cool kids these days call "mindfulness".

One way to achieve this is to meditate, which is a tricky thing to art (I for one tend to fall asleep whenever I try it), and it’s particularly tough when there’s so much going on in your head that you actually need to keep in there… like lyrics to songs, chord progressions, lines for your banter, stage plots, lighting, rehearsal schedules! Aaaah!

But they say that if you practice meditation for ten minutes a day you’ll become more focussed and more mindful, which might just make you a better performer too.

Frannies Dad's advice to Scott was to "feel the rhythm", to allow the beat of his heart to redirect his attention from what he looked like and what he "should" be doing, to how the music felt and how his body responded to that feeling.

The wonderful Tierney Sutton once taught to me that "as soon as you start to dig yourself" on stage, you'll fuck up. Which is really all Frannie's Dad is trying to say in all of his chest-beating-Paso-Doble-glory! As soon as your ego comes into play you step out of moment and you lose the essence, the soul, the heart of the performance. So rather than focusing on what the audience is doing, or what your band is thinking, or what the critics are writing, embrace your inner Paso Doble and take-in the magic of the moment one heart beat at a time.

Get your happy face on

When it all gets too hard (and it will) do a Mrs Hastings and “put your happy face on”.

While a crying clown is endearing, a disgruntled clown is just plain annoying. Remember, audiences are coming to see you because they want a distraction from their day to day lives and troubles and woes – that’s your contribution, so give it to them.

Yes, it will be hard doing shows night in and night out (I’m just doing one and I’m already exhausted) it’s a lot of work, and it can be heartbreaking when seats don’t fill up, or when critics are arseholes, but I’m sure conducting colonoscopies is no picnic (and there are a lot more arseholes); or shaving ham at a deli (hold on maybe that would be a picnic?); or sitting at a desk looking at spreadsheets all day long.

We all have our little crosses to bear.

So, when it does get hard, try and remind yourself why you do it, and put that Mrs Hastings smile on your dial!

A life lived in fear is a life half lived

When Scott and Fran decided to dance their own steps at the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix, they taught us all a lesson in being authentic. In not doing something just because everyone else is doing it, in being innovative and challenging the norm.

If you’re an artist or performer, you’re probably already challenging the norm in some way or another, so why does the fear of failure scare us so much? And what does failure look like anyway? Empty seats? A heckler? A bad review? 

When Barry Fife's (SPOILER ALERT) booby-girlfriend unplugs the music and Fran and Scott are disqualified, our hearts drop! Noooo! They're not accepted, they don't fit in! The movie is OVER!!!

But all they needed was one person, one clap, one beat, to get them going again, to believe in themselves enough to finish their dance their way, in spite of the critics.

So, next time you get a bad review, do a “Scott and Fran” and keep on dancing.

If you'd like to be the one hand clapping in my audience, I'll be telling Tales of Love and Murder through old (and new) murder ballads at The Spiegeltent, Sunday 25 February, 4pm. Tix available here.

Kate FullerComment