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Dancing on Wheels: the nerves, excitement and terror...

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Dana Stevens | 11:32 UK time, Monday, 8 March 2010

400x350simonetop.jpgWhen I first heard that the new dance show on BBC Three was going to feature dancers in wheelchairs I have to admit I was sceptical and intrigued in equal measures. How were they going to pull that off I wondered? And in the very first episode of Dancing on Wheels the dancers who were asked to take part confessed they had the same concerns and worries about how the show was going to work.

But after watching the show it became clear that the personal journeys and commitment of the dancers was the real pull of this programme. Now that the finalists have been announced, I wanted to find out what it was really like to take part and why people would want to take on such a huge challenge. I caught up with Simone Milani the super bright, super lovely lady who danced with Kevin Sacre in the show.

So Simone, how did you first hear about the programme?

I'm a member of a casting agency for people with disabilities and I received updates about programmes looking for people with disabilities to participate in their shows. Dancing on Wheels was advertised and the rest, as they say, is history!

And why did you want to get involved with this show in particular?

I've always loved dance. I love the freedom and joy it evokes in most people and the creativity it calls upon. This show, for me, seemed like a fantastic opportunity to express that love and learn a new skill in a more formalised way of dancing. I also thought it presented a unique challenge and an opportunity to meet some other interesting and dynamic people. The prospect of featuring in a television show was also a draw, I think deep down we're all curious to experience our 15 minutes of fame!

Taking part in a competition like this must be an emotional roller coaster - what was the best part for you?

Emotional roller coaster is definitely the correct description! You really form strong bonds with the other participants and you come to understand how all-consuming it can be to dedicate yourself to the training, your partner, the competition and the show.
For me, the best moment was performing the first dance (the tango) and receiving the amazing responses from the judges and the audience. Before the dance you wait backstage pulsating with adrenaline, nerves, excitement and terror, internalising the routine and trying to get into performance mode. You know that you are putting not only your efforts and performance, but also yourself out there to be judged so there is no better feeling than when you perform the dance with conviction and impress the audience, the judges, your friends and family and ultimately the viewers at home.

So what was your favourite dance and why?

My favourite dance was the tango. I loved how passionate, dramatic and theatrical the dance was. I really enjoyed the 'I want you - I hate you' extremes of the dance as it allows you to inject it with intensity and passion. The music, costume, lighting and routine really came together in that performance, it all seemed to fit together seamlessly. I think this dance was also the closest to the other forms of dance that I truly love. I adore traditional cultural dances from West Africa, South America and the Caribbean and the way they've amalgamated into modern hip-hop and 'street' dance.

Did you have any say in the 'look' and outfits that you got to wear each week?

We had a stylist for the show who did a brilliant job in dressing not only us but the dances we had, as I think the 'looks' were a vital component to the whole performance. We all had chats with her about which features we wanted to highlight with the clothes (and more importantly those we wanted to hide!) and she would try and accommodate that within the choice of outfits we had. The stylist was also great at adapting and accessorising the clothes as well as helping us in and out of them. Not being able to stand when you have to get on leotards with crotch poppers can make for some quite funny and compromising backstage changes!!!

What has been the reaction from your family, friends and the public since the show has been on air?

The reaction I've had has been incredible. Everyone has been utterly supportive and proud and really seems to be enjoying the show and the performances. I think a lot of people were sceptical or a bit unsure about how it would work in practice but I think most have been pleasantly surprised. People have also reacted very strongly to the characterisation of the participants especially Brian! It's been interesting watching how the show has been cut and edited, knowing what the dynamics were 'behind the scenes'. It's definitely challenged my perceptions of 'celebrity'!
It's a strange thing being asked for your autograph and being talked about on blogs but I think the 'public conversation' about the show and the issues around it - namely attitudes about disability and its depiction in the media - is a good thing. I think it's always progressive to get people thinking and talking about wider social issues and whilst opinion may be split as to the effectiveness and propriety of the show, I think overall most people have reacted positively.

What next? Are you going to continue dancing?

I have to confess that I haven't continued with wheelchair ballroom dancing since filming the show but I'm really interested in pursuing hip-hop and street dance, so any interested choreographers out there....

Simone Milani is one of the contestants from Dancing on Wheels.

Watch the final of Dancing on Wheels Thursday at 9pm.


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