Interview - Strictly Chris Orr

Chris Orr

Steve Taylor-Bryant sits down with an old friend to see what he is up to these days and to talk about his latest charity venture...

I like my friends. I don't have many on purpose but the ones I do have are all passionate about something. Chris Orr is no exception, he has spent years trying to explain gaming to me even though he knows deep down I am hopeless case. We talk film a lot and he is always trying to boost my education of comic books. I'd go as far as to say that chatting with Chris is always a pleasure. He's not always about though as he is very often training for some exercise based charity venture. Being an ex-runner myself I am always in awe (Orr - get it?) of Chris' passion and, when he starts these mad bids for marathon dominance, I look from my sofa with a mixture of jealousy and pride. So to get to speak to Chris in a work capacity excited me. Are we going to talk about the latest gaming news? Perhaps share our views on the comicbook industry or the latest blockbuster film? 

No, we are going to talk about ballroom dancing. A subject I know nothing about, one that honestly I didn't think Chris knew anything about either, but here we are with Chris about to enter a Strictly Come Dancing style competition all in the name of charity. Sequins at the ready and welcome Chris Orr to the AlbieMedia offices...

So from gaming guru to ballroom dancing? We've always supported your charity ventures but if I'm honest I didn't see this coming. Why dancing?

To be honest, I didn’t see this coming either!

Last year I decided that I really wanted to challenge myself to do one major event each year for charity. On 20th September 2015 I did my first proper running race, which felt like a big thing after years of running solely for me and my own fitness. I set myself a target time to beat that I knew would be a stretch (but I did it) and raised £700 for Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity – they have been instrumental in treating my friend’s son who was born with a rare heart condition, alongside thousands of other children who have needed their specialist medical care.

I was looking for an event for 2016 that would push me even further when the opportunity to take part in H1 Healthcare’s Strictly Worcestershire 3 arose. The event is raising money for Ladies Fighting Breast Cancer and Worcestershire Breast Unit Campaign, two charities which I care about very much, and I knew it would be a fantastic fundraising opportunity.

I was lucky enough to be in the audience at last year’s Strictly Worcestershire event and I remember thinking at the time that it looked like a lot of fun, and surely it couldn’t be THAT hard?! It turns out I was both right and wrong; it is a lot of fun, but it really is THAT hard. It really has given me a personal challenge though, pushing me well beyond my comfort zone, and I have a few new moves to show off at weddings now too.

How did you get the team around you that you've got and how's it been going?

I originally asked my wife, Allie, to dance with me but understandably she didn’t fancy standing up in front of 900 local business people and performing with someone she knows has two left feet!

I’m not the sort of person who gives up easily though, and through my local connections I got to meet and know the winners of last year’s Strictly Worcestershire, Laura Bligh and local radio presenter Hursty. Through them I met Jennifer Appleton, a Director of a Worcester-based business called ISO Quality Services Ltd. Like me, Jen felt that raising money for Ladies Fighting Breast Cancer and Worcestershire Breast Unit Campaign was really important, and like me she wanted to get involved but hadn’t found anyone to dance with yet. The rest, as they say, is history.

Jen already knew Laura and Hursty and so finding the rest of our team was fairly straightforward. We went straight to Sharon Tilki of Worcester Dance Centre, who taught Laura and Hursty last year, and she’s been a fantastically patient mentor. She knows her stuff and can even get my non-dancing brain to understand most of it. Sharon also has great contacts and so she has found other people to help us with some of the more specific or challenging parts of our dances. Sharon’s also teaching 4 out of the other 7 couples who are competing against us (which just shows how popular and in demand she is), but this has turned out to be a really good thing. All of the couples being taught by Sharon are competing against each other, but it’s all very friendly as we are all in the same boat; we’re all inexperienced dancers and we’re all in this thing together. Naturally we all want to win, but we also support each other and we’ve all become friends.

Chris Orr
 
So when is the competition?

It takes place at the Chateau Impney Hotel & Exhibition Centre, Droitwich, Worcestershire on Thursday 26th May 2016.

How much training does it involve? I know you're keen on running, how much different is it?

There is a lot of training involved! We started with just an hour a week, but now that the 26th May is looming, the amount of hours we’re putting into dancing has rocketed. We are probably doing 4 hours of lessons and 2 hours of extra practice a week minimum. No doubt this will continue to increase as the event gets closer and fitting it all in with work, a social life, eating, sleeping, getting to the gym, and of course gaming, is not an easy balancing task.

Dancing is a completely different kind of exercise to anything I’ve done before. It’s certainly not as painful on the muscles as running or cycling, but there’s a much higher chance of being hit, or worse kneed, somewhere very delicate (yes, it’s happened!).

As the routines have become more structured and complex, the exercise part has become a lot more noticeable. Each dance is only 2 -2 ½ minutes long, but you really begin to notice it when you do it over and over again for hours on end.

Which dances are you doing (e.g. waltz, quickstep, tango etc) and did you get to pick them? If so, why did you choose those?

We are doing a Viennese Waltz and a Quickstep/Jive. We did get to pick our dances, although the organisers have been guiding all of the contestant couples through this process to ensure there is enough variety for the audience on the night.

Sharon helped Jen and I settle on the Viennese Waltz and Quickstep/Jive pretty early on in the process. I always joke to people that my role is simply to turn up, help Jen look as fabulous as possible, and agree with everything and anything Jen and Sharon say. The truth, though, is that when we started this whole thing I didn’t know anything about any dancing; an American Smooth could have been a Tango or a Rumba for all I knew?! Jen had a much better understanding of the basics than me and had an idea of the sorts of things she wanted to do. Sharon has then taken this onboard, used her technical knowledge, and helped us get to the right dances for us. So, whilst I do turn up and agree to everything it’s only because I don’t actually know anything – and obviously Jen doesn’t need my help to look fabulous!

I know you work with your dance teacher for your choreography, but do you get any say in how the dance is put together or is it a case of doing what you’re told?

The choreography is mostly down to our teacher Sharon, and her team. Again we’ve been able to say what we think works and doesn’t and Sharon listens and tweaks things to help us get there. It’s fair to say Sharon has a much better understanding of what Jen and I are able to achieve than we do. So many times we’ve felt like a specific step, or sequence, isn’t working and have wanted to get rid of it, but Sharon is pretty stubborn and 99% of the time she’s right; with practice it works and it looks really good. I’ll never forget wanting to quit completely when trying to get to grips with very fast pivots for the Viennese Waltz, but now we can do them every time and having seen them back on film they look great. When Jen and I started we knew almost nothing and so we’re very fortunate that we have someone as experienced and knowledgeable as Sharon helping us put the dance routines together, and find people who can help tweak and perfect different parts. Looking back at our journey, it’s amazing to thing that not that long ago Jen and I couldn’t even stand in hold and move in a square; now we can fly around the room together like it’s second nature.

What's the music you've chosen?

The music for the Viennese Waltz is Earned It by The Weeknd… if you recognise that song, or know what film it featured in recently, then you’ll have a good idea of the theme we are going for in that dance..!

The Quickstep is being performed to a modern version of Lady is a Tramp, and the Jive is being performed to the Blues Brothers’ Shake Your Tail Feather.

How many sequins have you hand sewn onto your dress so far?

Haha! Yeah… In fairness I think I’m getting off fairly lightly in the costume department. The dresses are the biggest expense and naturally all eyes will be on Jen on the night so she needs to have plenty of sparkles, tassels and flair. I’m fortunate that my outfits basically consist of trousers, waistcoats, shirts and ties, which aren’t that different to my normal work attire! Allie is making me a few props though, and I’m under no illusions that some point I will probably need to let her loose on my waistcoat and tie to add some form of sparkly stuff. I’ve been informed I’ll be required to shave and get a spray tan too, which is… something I’m less than pleased about! The actual dancing clothes are really odd too; the shirt is sewn into a pair of shorts, which you then wear the trousers over. There’s no risk of your shirt becoming untucked during dancing which is good, but the whole getup doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination! 

Chris Orr

How do you feel about "putting it out there" and dancing on stage? Have you danced in front of an audience yet?

Other than when I’ve had a few too many to drink on a Friday night I haven’t busted out my moves in public yet! Allie comes along and takes photos and watches most of our practices, Jen’s family have popped in to see our progress a few times, and all of the couples being taught by Sharon have performed in front of each other. That’s about it so far. Even just in front of those small crowds it’s really quite nerve-wracking and suddenly something you’ve practiced perfectly loads of times becomes an almost impossible task.

We plan to keep practicing in front of as many small crowds as we can up until the night; Sharon has arranged a few things for us to do to perform in front of people during April, and Jen and I are planning a small invitation-only performance for people who cannot make it to the actual show about a week before.

The thought of the actual night is genuinely quite terrifying. When I know what I’m doing or what I’m talking about I’m generally quite an (overly!) confident person – you’ll probably remember this from heated video game conversations in the past! – but with dancing I’m so far removed from my comfort zone I can’t even express how nervous the thought of the performing on the night makes me. In truth, I’m not sure I gave that part of it enough thought when I signed up to take part! The key thing is just to practice as much as we possibly can now, and go out there on the night knowing we’ve done the best we can – I know everyone is going to be really nervous and in the same boat, so we’ll probably all have a very small glass of wine to calm our nerves and support each other. Beyond that, Jen and I are a team and we’ve got each other’s backs if things don’t go 100% to plan on the night.

Talk to us about the charities involved and give everyone the links and information they need so that they can throw some coins in your hat.

H1’s Strictly Worcestershire is supporting Ladies Fighting Breast Cancer and Worcestershire Breast Unit Campaign. Both are local breast cancer charities.

Ladies Fighting Breast Cancer is a West Midlands-based charity that raises money for new equipment at the Queen Elizabeth Birmingham Hospital to combat breast cancer and support those diagnosed with the disease within a 70-mile radius of the hospital.

Worcestershire Breast Unit Campaign is a charity based in my home city where I live and work. Originally this charity was set up to raise funds to open a new Breast Unit at Worcester Royal Hospital. This campaign was successful and the Breast Unit (Haven) is now open with fundraising carrying on continuing to make it the best facility it can be.

These are two really important local charities and they’re both close to my heart. Allie’s grandmother and mother have both been treated for breast cancer, and Allie had a scare herself about a year and a half ago (which fortunately turned out to be something much less serious). One of my colleagues at work has also recently undergone treatment for breast cancer, and so it is an honour to be involved in supporting these charities again in this final year of Strictly Worcestershire.

If people want to get involved then they can use the following links:

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jenniforr

Facebook: www.facebook.com/JennifORR

Strictly Worcestershire 2016: http://www.strictlyworcestershire.co.uk

and donate to:

Just Giving: https://www.justgiving.com/teams/sw3teamsharon

Ladies Fighting Breast Cancer: http://www.lfbc.org.uk

Worcestershire Breast Unit Campaign: http://www.everybodyknowssomebody.co.uk

Image - Main: Simon Fall-Taylor, others: Chris Orr.