“Three cartwheels ... I thought we were going to have to call an ambulance!”
Jennifer Zamparelli doesn’t know how to react to Shane Byrne’s epic cha-cha towards the end of week two of Dancing with the Stars (RTÉ One, Sunday, 6.30pm). She isn’t the only one lost for words in an episode full of highs and lows – and that’s just the former Ireland rugby international flipping head over heels like a Lovecraftian wagon wheel at the end of his routine with Karen Byrne.
The competition has kicked off in earnest, and already front-runners are emerging. The stylist and blogger Suzanne Jackson wins the evening as she and Michael Danilczuk dance a Viennese waltz to Love on the Brain by Rihanna.
“Beautiful – it was all there. I’m excited to see where you go in the future,” says Loraine Barry.
“Wow! That was beautifully executed. You are the one to watch in this competition,” her fellow judge Arthur Gourounlian agrees.
Jackson scores a blockbusting 25. That’s two points ahead of Brooke Scullion, the Eurovision singer, who set the pace last week. Dancing with Maurizio Benenato, she scores 23 for her quickstep to Love Machine, by Girls Aloud (“Love machine? You were a dance machine!” says Gourounlian.)
That leaves Jackson and Scullion tied at 48 points after a fortnight – streets ahead of the competition.
‘You had a bit of country jive in you,’ Laura Nolan says about her partner, the comedian Kevin McGahern. ‘I come from the land of Declan Nerney – it’s in my blood, he replies
An equally dramatic story is emerging at the bottom of the leader board. The soccer star Stephanie Roche does better, having underwhelmed the judges with her debut dance. But the panel still clearly have their doubts after she and Ervinas Merfeldas deliver a foxtrot to Love Song by Sara Bareilles.
“There was about enough space to park a bus between you,” says Brian Redmond. “I want more relaxation to come into these dances.”
Barry shares those misgivings. “When you’re on your own you are a little bit lost,” she says. “Don’t be lost: take it as your moment to shine!”
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Joining Roche in the basement is the Derry Girls actor Leah O’Rourke. She dances an American smooth with John Nolan to This Will Be (An Ever Lasting Love) by Natalie Cole.
“It’s not called Stepping with the Stars,” says Redmond. “You can’t walk your way through an American smooth.”
Nolan protests, pointing out that O’Rourke is a mere two weeks in. The judges are unmoved: O’Rourke scores a total of 10 and is surely in danger of being voted off next week.
But while the competition’s potential winners and early departees are already standing out, most of the contestants continue to find their feet. Panti Bliss and Denys Samson deliver a graceful waltz to (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman by Aretha Franklin, scoring 19 for their efforts. And the comedian Kevin McGahern and his partner, Laura Nolan, receive 21 for their jive to Reet Petit by The Overtones.
In McGahern’s case the drama happens before the big dance, though. Rehearsing with Nolan earlier in the week, he lets go of her at the wrong moment and watches her faceplant. There is hurt on both sides, with Laura having explained that McGahern’s dancing is too rustic.
“You had a bit of country jive in you,” she says. “I come from the land of Declan Nerney – it’s in my blood,” he replies.
All of which is just a build-up to the truly brain-melting part of the evening. Shane Byrne, accompanied by his mullet and tiger-stripe shirt, dances the cha-cha to Hey Baby by DJ Otzi. It culminates with what Karen Byrne describes as a mulletwheel – it’s a cartwheel that will have sensitive viewers questioning the existence of God, and for which the duo score 12.
“You taught me something tonight: to be very careful what you wish for, because least week I asked for more entertainment,” says Brian Redmond.
“Three cartwheels – in my whole career I have never seen that,” says Loraine Barry.
She’s right. We’ve never witnessed anything like it before. Shane Byrne almost certainly won’t win Dancing with the Stars. But for now he’s the one turning the series head over heels.