Behind the scenes with Hatfield’s Greatest Dancers James & Oliver
PUBLISHED: 15:13 07 February 2019 | UPDATED: 22:27 09 February 2019
supplied by Kerry Newell
We reveal what it’s like for James and Oliver to prepare their performances on BBC’s The Greatest Dancer - and how these very young dancers are staying grounded in the high-pressure competition.
On Saturday night, the two young men in top hats and glittery waistcoats stepped down a grand staircase and launched into a show-stopping performance to the tune of Benny Goodman’s ‘Sing Sing Sing’.
What the rapt audience didn’t know was that earlier, James and Oliver were perfecting the very same steps in a much less glamorous venue.
Before Saturday’s performance, “we were just running up and down the stairs at Hatfield Swim Centre,” said trainer Kerry Newell with a laugh.
Performers on The Greatest Dancer don’t get their full stage sets until the day before the performance, explained Kerry, who is also their choreographer and director of their dance school, FK Dance Academy in Hatfield.
Even then, the boys had to practice their duet separately because of lack of space.
“They had never done the set both together till the day before,” added Kerry. “So that was nerve wracking.”
She explained how the dance had gone through tweaks and changes in conversation with BBC producers - there had even been a street dance segment planned for Saturday’s dance which got cut.
“The boys take it in their stride, they handled it well,” said Kerry.
They high-kicked and backflipped their way through to another week on the show, which eliminates one set of dancers per week by popular vote.
READ MORE: Hatfield’s James & Oliver make it through on BBC’s Greatest Dancer
With all the excitement of the boys shooting to fame at such a young age, Kerry and Oliver’s mum Liz Gordon told the Welwyn Hatfield Times how they keep them grounded at this whirlwind time in their lives.
“You have this crazy bit of action at the weekend and then they come back and life still goes on as normal,” said Kerry adding that the boys’ school and college have been very accommodating.
“We have lots of conversations about how Oliver’s going to feel, how he feels when he’s on stage competing and how he feels when he’s at home,” said Liz.
It’s a brutal competition on prime-time TV, and she’s doing her best to manage the talented 11-year-old’s expectations. “He’s prepared that it will come to an end at some point,” said Liz.
In the meantime, opportunities and well-wishing emails have been flooding in for the boys and FK Dance Academy overall.
For example, James, Oliver and one other student from the academy have already been invited to an Easter dance course.
“It’s lovely that from this, other things are going to other [students] as well,” said Kerry.
“I didn’t just want all this attention on just these students.”
Whether they stay in the competition or not, both Kerry and Liz take the long view. “It’s going to make them grow,” said Kerry. “I say to them, ‘It’s only for a few weeks but you’ll remember this for the rest of your lives’,” she said.
“They’re both working their absolute hardest to stay in as long as they can,” added Liz.
“But however long they stay in, it’s all been a really positive experience and will stand them in good stead for the future,” she said, talking about how valuable the experience of the TV environment is for a dancer.
Right now, however, the boys are focused on preparing for this Saturday night’s show.
It’s not just as simple as putting together a new dance and hoping for the best.
Each dance is given a challenge theme.
For the boys last Saturday, it was, of course, ‘stairs’.
For other performers, it was everything from ‘doors’ to ‘chairs’ to ‘classical’.
But dancers have to prepare two dances ahead - so James and Oliver are also actually working on their dance for the Saturday after next this week.
Not only this, but they are also training with all the other performers for an ensemble dance that opens the show.
Trialled for the first time last Saturday, the opener introduces every team in a group set piece alongside the celebrity team captains, Oti Mabuse, Matthew Morrison, and pop princess Cheryl.
It proved so popular last week that the BBC producers have scheduled another one - adding even more pressure to the dancers.
Kerry can’t reveal what the theme is for this week’s competition dance, but she did say it’s going to be “very different”.
“I’m trying to give variety and I’m trying to show how versatile they are that they’re not just one trick ponies,” she said.
“At FK they learn all types of dance, so I really want to showcase everything.”
Whatever happens this weekend, one thing’s for sure - they’re having a ball.
Liz said: “Oliver just turned and said to me, ‘Mum, this is the best time of my life’.”
• Episode 6 of The Greatest Dancer goes out live on BBC One at 7.35pm on Saturday, February 9.