Working as an arts journalist in the West End can be inspiring. It offers you the chance to view performers at the top of their game, the very pinnacle of their profession, performing with a quality and panache that you can only dream of achieving.
Often, however, it leaves you thinking ‘I’d love to have a go at that’. Very occasionally, you get a chance.
This is why, as the working week draws to a close and most of London’s workers are heading to the nearest bar, I am on stage at the Peacock theatre with the leading man of ZooNation’s latest street dance musical Some Like It Hip Hop.
To be clear from the start, I am more tree-lined cul-de-sac than street, more flip flop than hip hop. But you don’t turn down the opportunity of some one-on-one dance tuition from Tommy Franzen, the Swedish street dancer who was the leading male contestant in the first series of the BBC’s So You Think You Can Dance?
Franzen has been busting hip hop moves (that, right there, is an example of me attempting to be street. You see my problem…) since he was a kid. It was, he says, the first class he tried as a child. His sister inspired him to give it a try.
I, on the other hand, have never had a dance class in my life, discounting my eventful 15 minutes with The Merchants Of Bollywood. I find even the Macarena as elusive as a highly camouflaged weasel.
Still, Franzen has both patience and an optimistic personality. He eases me into a routine involving placing one leg across the other in time with a beat, then whips the metaphorical rug from beneath my two left feet with what he describes as ‘floor work’ and what I describe using not words but a series of disbelieving giggles.
It becomes painfully obvious – in the most literal sense, my shoulder and knee are yet to fully recover – why he stars on stage every night, while I write. The 10 second routine he teaches me leaves me gasping for breath and sweatier than, well, you really don’t want to know what I was sweatier than.
The Some Like It Hip Hop performers, however, entertain audiences for two and a half hours each night. That’s rather longer than my attempts and is testament to how fit these dancers are.
The latest ZooNation show, which follows the success of Into The Hoods, is a tale of two women living in a society where they are considered second-class citizens. Deciding they aren’t happy with the status quo they don male garb, indulge in a little face furniture and try living life as men. It is a tale of empowerment and love that stretches much further than its title might suggest, pushing street dance to its limits.
My limit, quite clearly, is around 10 minutes learning a 10 second routine. But, though it will take me days to recover, it is a phenomenally enjoyable 10 minutes, thanks largely to Franzen’s patient tuition, but also because, quite simply, it was incredibly fun.
Franzen’s words of advice for budding dancers is to: “Go to any teacher that inspires you, that you look up to. Try and get a class with them and they will drive you forward.”
Honestly, I’m inspired. If Franzen ran a class, I’d go. At least, I’d like to think I’d go. Probably the aching shoulder and sore knee would remind me that I’m 31 years old and I should probably stick to sitting in the stalls watching the experts dance. Happily I can do that at the Peacock theatre until 19 November.
See 10 minutes of hip hop lesson distilled into just 50 seconds of video: