I’m sitting down, twiddling my thumbs, waiting to get ready. I’m listening to the hubbub of excitement around me.
My stomach is in knots- I honestly don’t know how I feel right now. Am I scared? Excited? Nervous? Sad? Ecstatic? I’m tortured by the niggling fear that I will forget my routine mid-way through the show.
This anxiety is based on a dream I had a couple of weeks ago, where I forgot the dance just at the very moment the camera, with over a billion people watching, focused on me. The whole world witnessed me making my major mistake, and I was forever known as “that girl who flopped”. Oh the shame, the horror, the agony. Fail!
Stepping into the Olympic Park helped to ease my nerves slightly. The atmosphere in the park was celebratory and the Games Makers were fantastic at welcoming everyone. In a few hour’s time, my fellow performers and I would be in the stadium dancing in front of billions. Exciting times.
Before I reached our cast holding area at Eton Manor, which is apparently 1.6 miles from the stadium itself, I cheekily went into the stadium to look for Danny Boyle, the artistic director for the Opening Ceremony.
When he came to see us a couple of rehearsals back, he challenged us, sort of, to visit him at the stadium if we wanted an autograph or a photo. I wanted to talk business. I also wanted to bump into associate director Paulette Randall. So I decided to take up that challenge, literally, but, alas, I could not find him.
I left the stadium feeling dejected. Even so, as I made my way towards Eton Manor, I soaked up the sites of the park, such as the Olympic Village, and the Velodrome. I would only be walking along this route two more times as a “Thanks Tim” performer in a few hour’s time. I also briefly met up with a friend, who was looking after the Madagascan team.
Once I finally arrived to “check in”, I received a programme, just like everybody else, complete with our names and the photos of some of the volunteers. We also received a personalised signed certificate from Danny.
I walked around our manor and nostalgically observed everything that was happening. Everyone was in his or her costume. Many books and bibs were signed, and Facebook friend requests were made.
Reflection: We’ve come a mighty long way
I remember that I tried to get tickets for one of the ceremonies last year, and failed, but never in a million years would I have imagined that I would actually be a part of it. We came to understand our role piece by piece.
As I sit here in the changing area, I’m reminiscing about how fun my first audition was back in November 2011. We would later discover that the people in pink bibs were the mass movement team.
I’m thinking about how bad I thought my second audition was, where we had to learn a hip hop dance routine. We were being filmed and a lot of people around us were scribbling down notes. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was the first time we were introduced to the dance captains who would teach us the “Thanks Tim” routine, headed by the cool, calm and collected Kendrick H2O Sandy.
I had never really performed a hip hop choreography before. I had always just done my own thing, where I would just “bounce” from side-to-side, swinging my hands in the air, making a “cool” face. In one rehearsal, much later on, one of the dance captains told us not to do the two-step (dance from side-to-side) as if we were dancing at a family wedding. Oh dear.
In the audition they told us to relax and said that they were looking for “potential”, but that didn’t stop me from being tense. I was so nervous, that I forgot parts of the routine when it was my line’s turn to perform it. But what was really gutting was that I remembered the whole thing as soon as I woke up the next day.
I’m chuckling to myself, because I’m thinking about the first time the dance captains taught the 60s section “The Gorilla” (leaning to the right and the left while swinging each fist into the opposite side of your chest) at Three Mills Studios, our first of three rehearsal venues in East London. I was a bit too enthusiastic and nearly knocked my glasses completely off my face. I left it hanging and carried on dancing, because I wanted to show that I was professional *cheesy grin* (I wore contacts during my rehearsals after that incident). Paulette saw me struggling through my routine when we had to dance in front of everyone line-by-line, but she was still encouraging all the same with her signature smile that we would come to know.
I’m thinking about the first time Danny himself filmed us, when we first started putting the routine together. The whole thing fell apart at a certain point and the face Danny had, as he frantically tried to find someone, anyone, who was still dancing, was priceless.
And the journey I had to make from Zone 5 West London to East London, especially Dagenham, was a mission! Well, at least I thought it was until someone told me that they travelled from Scotland to attend each rehearsal.
We danced a lot at Three Mills, and I thought it would be my weekly form of exercise. Little did I know that at Dagenham we wouldn’t really be dancing. Instead, we would be working on “blocking” (coordinates we needed to stand on to form the shapes) and on our exits from “the field of play” (the stage area), and “cleaning our chorry (choreography)”. Then at the stadium, we would be waiting around while we took part in various technical rehearsals.
Months of sacrifice, frustration, and hard work in the pouring rain, the bitter cold, the raging winds, and the scotching heat boiled down to the one moment we were about to take. We have all come so far.
Walking to Pandemonium’s beat
As I walk towards the stadium in my costume, it feels as though I’m in a film. I had warned a few people a couple of rehearsals ago that I might get teary at this stage. My sister just told me to “man the hell up”. You have to understand that I’m an emotional person. I cried when Simba in The Lion King found out that Mufasa died- not necessarily when Mufasa died. There is a difference, think about it.
The stadium slowly comes into sight and the dramatic music from the Pandemonium/ Industrial Revolution section is blasting through our in-ear headphones. It feels as though we are building up to something amazingly historic, rousing ourselves up for an epic battle scene in a war movie, but it also strangely feels like we are winding everything up.
We can hear the echo of the drums coming from the stadium, and this feeling of a theatrical entrance is made a bit more dramatic as Rick Smith of Underworld directs the drummers.
He keeps us all entertained on our long journey to the stadium with phrases such as: “Everybody grooving in, 1, 2, 3, 4. 1- keep it going!” “Booooosh! Hoyyyy!” “I-am-in-need-of-a-drink.” “You guys are absolutely amazing. Come on, give me a scream- ‘yeeeeaaaaahhhhhhh’ (he “screams” in the croakiest voice).” Everyone currently listening to Channel 2 on their FM radios are “grooving” along to the beat towards the stadium.
Pandemonium with Steve and Rick (If you want to listen to how epic Rick sounds, then listen, now!!!! The audio was provided by a cast volunteer. It kicks in from about 2 minutes in.)
Once we finally arrive at the stadium, I have to admit, I have a lump in my throat, and my eyes begin to well up (but I’m not crying), because for the first time ever we’re catching a glimpse of the Industrial Revolution action in all its glory on a large screen. I’ve always noticed the rings move in from the roof, but we’ve never been able to see how it all pans out, until now. It is an incredibly moving sight.
I’m not just getting emotional because of the fantastic performance and the story that’s being told. It’s the journey these guys took to get to where they are now. The transformation from the sneaky peek I had of their rehearsal at Dagenham till now is amazing; it involved a lot of vision.
As per every full rehearsal we’ve had, we cheer the Green and Pleasant cast and the Industrial Revolution people as they exit the stadium and make their way back to Eton Manor after a stunning performance. I really love the comradeship that we’ve all seemed to develop.
We dance along to the NHS section’s music as we slowly make our way to our voms (our entrances/ exits on to the field of play). Once we get inside our assigned voms, last minute photos are being taken. We cheer, we scream, we hug each other. We do the old hands-in-a-huddle malarkey.
We catch glimpses of the guys doing their thing, but again we’ve never really seen their full section. We can tell that the audience love them though! We see the lights from the detachable pixels by the seats moving from side-to-side to the beat of the music.
“Alright guys, quickly exit, quickly, run! Run, run, run, good job! Beds on the M25 need to hurry up! Beds on the east side need to exit straight after! Vom 3, speed it up!” Nathan Wright, one of the NHS’ mass movement choreographers, frantically directs the nurses towards their exits as if he’s a commentator in a race. This sets my heart aflutter.
I know it’s cheesy, but I feel like a bit like an athlete as the “Chariots of Fire” song plays in the background, preparing to step into the stadium, as we watch the house move into position. We have no idea what else is happening right now.
“Ok, so what you’s lot need to do is this,” says Kendrick as he proceeds to reel off a list of things each section should remember for our performance.
Gina Martinez, our legendary mass movement choreographer, also gives us a set of instructions, and then says what we have adopted as our very own good luck phrase: “Let’s kick this pig!”
Our section music starts. Some people panic slightly, because the inflatable house hasn’t blown up properly, but it does in the nick of time. We, Tube A, are given our cue to enter the stadium. A quick squeeze of each other’s hands, and then we’re off, running out of our vom and onto the ramp to get onto the field of play, shrieking with excitement.
But as I’m running my legs feel like lead and my heart feels as though it’s beating out of my throat. But I recover quickly, and once I stop running I soak up my surroundings, and what I see amazes me.
The thousands of flashes of light around the stadium dazzle me. I can’t really hear much cheering, because I turned my FM radio up to the highest level, and my headphones are taped tightly around my ears to prevent them from falling out of my ears for when I do “The Watusi” (bending your body forward to the ground and then stretching up to the sky while bouncing on your left leg). Even so, the atmosphere is absolutely electric. But I’m aware that the camera is right next to me, so I focus on what I have to do.
“Contract,” Gina shouts out, which basically means that we have to start with our backward movement hop-bounce thing (ok, so I’m really bad with the dance move names). Once our train starts moving, I begin to just relax and I promise myself to enjoy every single moment.
Our 60s section begins and everyone is really just going for it. I love the interaction I’m having with the people in a different line to me as we “travel” around the horseshoe position to move into the peace sign. I didn’t even have time to think about the moves. My “muscle memory” of the routine we have been practicing for months has definitely kicked in, just as our dance instructors promised.
It all seems to go by so quickly. Our hands are stretched into the sky soaking up the moment. The sequence seamlessly rolls in to the 70s section, and Gina tells us to crouch down.
Although I am a bit gutted that we don’t get to dance along with the other sections as we have done in our earlier rehearsals, I’m very grateful for this opportunity to catch my breath and to take in some of the other spectacles.
Everyone suddenly goes wild as soon as The Prodigy’s “Firestarter” plays. The song’s beat, and the heat from the flames around us send us into a frenzy. I do my little jump-in-the-air-kick thing. ‘Yeeeeaaaaahhhhh,’ I’m thinking, ‘this is AWESOME!!!!!!!’
Then, when the music changes, we party/run into position. I look for the Union Jack, which is situated next to the Greek flag at the top of the stadium, to find my position. Then we pause.
I have to admit, I’m finding it extremely difficult to sing along to West Ham’s “I’m forever blowing bubbles”. After every couple of words I’m having to gasp for breath.
And then we’re off again, completing our formation and partying into the Dizzee Rascal mash-up. I quickly think about the very first time we learnt this routine, and how fast and difficult it was, but now look at us doing it effortlessly- go Team Tim!
After running/partying off the field of play, I am now standing on the (Glastonbury) tor, busting a few moves behind the power skip guys with the giant heads. We then stand still to watch the professionals form a gangway towards the house. I still can’t hear any cheering from the audience, because the music is still loud. I take in the sight in the stadium again. It’s incredible.
The house lifts to reveal Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the World Wide Web, to whom our section is dedicated. “This is for everyone” is the message, which flashes across the stadium amid interconnecting light paths. We bounce up and down with our arms up in the air to mimic a heartbeat during Emeli Sandé’s “Heaven”.
We slowly move our hands down to our sides, just as Gina is instructing us to do. And this is the end of our section.
We do our power salute, we take a bow, we wave, we leave. As we make our way towards our exits, I can now hear the rapturous applause and cheers from the audience in the stadium. I also notice someone take a sneaky photo of the stadium.
We did it, we actually just performed our dance routine live, the one which we’ve been practicing for over 120 hours, to 80,000 people in the stadium, and to well over a billion viewers globally. Wow!
“You guys were absolutely amaze balls,” you’ve probably guessed by now, it’s another Gina-ism.
It’s a wrap
We’re walking back towards our manor and we are all on cloud nine. We’re jubilant. Estatic. No one can quite put into words how they feel, but I conduct a couple of interviews anyway from some of the volunteers for my radio station.
Everyone tries to take photos of the athletes as they slowly make their way towards the stadium. As you’ve probably guessed, there is a big crowd around the Jamaican team as everyone tries to get a picture of Usain Bolt.
The “Thanks Tim” section of Danny Boyle’s vision has just been successfully realised. He said to us, and the media, that he wasn’t trying to outdo China’s Opening Ceremony. Instead, he was looking to evoke the spirit of the people’s Games. He wanted it to be warm and inclusive, just like in Sydney, but with a quirky British twist. Danny, we salute you, Paulette, the mass team, the dance captains, the casting team, the hair/make up/costume teams and tech team. You guys have been brilliant. Thanks for the opportunity to take part in such a momentous occasion.
The people whom I have come to know over this period of time- you guys have made it such an unforgettable experience. Let’s be honest, things haven’t been rosy all the time, but in a strange way, I feel as though we’re a family. For now.
A few of us are hanging around near the “Park Live” area in the Olympic park, watching the rest of the ceremony on any available phone with enough internet data, so that we can watch the fireworks display. We’re in the best spot for the fireworks, and they are amazing.
When they finish we slowly make our way off into the night to celebrate the coming of the Olympic Games to London. Welcome world!