A CORK city councillor is gearing up to trip the light fantastic in the style of Strictly Come Dancing for a fundraiser in aid of worthy causes.
Cllr Kenneth Collins, of Sinn Féin, is one of 33 people who have been dancing their socks off in preparation for a show, called Blackpool Goes Strictly, taking place at the Rochestown Park Hotel this Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27.
The event, based on the hit BBC show, is being held to raise money for Autism Spectrum Disorder units at St Mark’s Boys Primary School in the Glen, St Brendan’s Girls Primary School, in the Glen, and Scoil Oilibheir Primary School in Dublin Hill. Blackpool Youth Club will also be a beneficiary.
It’s expected the event will raise around €60,000.
Kenneth, 41, will dance the cha-cha to the Britney Spears’ song, Womanizer, while holding a mock front page of The Echo with a photograph of himself on it and the word ‘womaniser’ emblazoned across it.
While it’s all in the name of fun, the dancers are working very hard at their steps. They are made up of teachers, priests, parents, grandparents and Kenneth.
The dancers are being choreographed by Michelle Barry from Divine Events, a Dublin-based company that has made a business out of Strictly Come Dancing-style fundraisers like this.
It was Fr John O’Donovan, from Blackpool Parish, that came up with the idea. And Kenneth says it is being well supported by the community.
“When I was asked to dance, I didn’t hesitate to say ‘yes’, he says. “It’s bringing me outside my comfort zone.”
Not only is it a new experience for Kenneth, but the rehearsals, three hours over three nights a week, have resulted in him losing two and a half stone.
Now weighing 13st 7lbs, he feels much better and is also going walking in the early mornings and watching his diet.
The father of two girls, 11-year-old Kate and seven-year-old Grace, says he realised he didn’t want to be unhealthy anymore.
“I’m proud of myself,” says Kenneth. “The first night we started rehearsing, we got our photos taken. I got worried when I saw myself but the energy used in the dancing and all the movements have got me into fitness.
“The weight just came off. It’s like a health craze for me.”
Kenneth has been partnered with local business woman, Jenny McSweeney for the dance. “She’s fantastic and unbelievable to work with,” he says. “She’s very patient. Her patience has been paid off. She has taught me how to dance.
We put a lot of effort in. Womanizer is three minutes and 42 seconds long. We are down to the remaining three seconds of dancing to it.”
It’s expected that 1,500 people will see Blackpool Goes Strictly over the two nights. The audience will be made up of people from the community who are totally behind this effort.
The 33 dancers include a deaf woman, who is dancing with Jenny, and another woman. The deaf woman ‘listens’ to the music and steps through feeling the vibrations on the floor.
There will be an all-male dance and an all-female dance as well as dancing by couples. “The judges on the night will be a surprise,” says Kenneth, who will be wearing all black and says that the dance devised to accompany Womanizer “is very seductive”.
While Divine Events guide the dancers, Kenneth says that Jenny has done a lot of the choreography for the two of them.
“If I can’t do certain moves, Jenny takes them out. She’s not a professional dancer but she’s very good at it.”
Rehearsals have taken place in Blackpool Community Centre as well as private venues. For Kenneth, the dancing bug has grabbed him.
“We have become one big family. We’re after making friends forever. Everyone is making a big effort.”
Kenneth didn’t watch the recent Dancing With The Stars on RTÉ as he didn’t want to be influenced by it. He is taking the whole thing very seriously and is also enjoying the social aspect of it.
A truck driver who regularly travels from Cork to Dublin and back, as well as a North Side councillor, based in Farranree, Kenneth is running in the local elections next month.
“I’ve put a pause on my canvassing until after this event,” he adds. “I made a conscious decision to concentrate on the dancing.
“I’ll be dancing in front of 750 people per night so I want to get it right.
“People on the street are asking me how I’m getting on. If I’m asked to do something for the community, I do it. It’s good to get involved. I’m a community activist. I love helping people out.”
Kenneth has the support of his wife, Debbie, who is thrilled that her husband is now trimmer due to the rehearsals.
His daughters are dying to see him perform too. “Because I’ve been putting so much time into this and am out of home a lot, Kate and Grace haven’t seen much of me,” adds the dad.
The girls will get a big surprise when they see their father, nimbly dancing in front of his community. Kenneth knows he has improved at it.
“When I started, I was saying ‘sorry’ a lot. I might step on Jenny’s toe, for example. Instead of a swear jar, I have a sorry jar and every time I say the word, I have to put a euro in. I’m not saying ‘sorry’ so much now!”
Blackpool Goes Strictly has a Facebook page which has messages of support from local singer-songwriter John Spillane, RTÉ’s Jennie O’Sullivan and Lord Mayor Cllr Mick Finn, among others.
There will be a raffle on both nights, with Blackpool Credit Union sponsoring the main prize, a week-long Mediterranean cruise for two.