Former Strictly Come Dancing stars Flavia Cacace and Vincent Simone teach us the last tango
- Credit: Hugo Glendinning
As the final of Strictly approaches, two of its former stars are also putting in the legwork on their latest smash-hit show. Surrey Life gets a lesson in the tango from Guildford's Flavia Cacace and her dance partner Vincent Simone…
Standing in a mirrored dance studio, just over the Surrey border in west London, we couldn’t really be further removed from the razzle-dazzle world of TV’s most famous ballroom. Absent are the glitter balls and instead buckets hang from the ceiling (presumably to catch the rain that leaks through the roof), a CD player replaces the live orchestra, and, while wooden packing cases full of props are wheeled around noisily, a supporting cast of performers sprawl on plastic chairs nursing bruised bodies.
In the centre of the floor, however, beneath the glare of the fluorescent lights, Flavia Cacace and her dance partner of two decades Vincent Simone execute a sequence of lifts and lunges with sensuous precision. It’s a mesmerising masterclass from this world-class duo who are about to embark on a 32-week theatre tour of their brand-new stage show, The Last Tango.
Yet while audiences the length and breadth of the country await, there’s a sense that with their roots based firmly in leafy Surrey, they remain refreshingly grounded.
“It’s always pretty daunting when you put a show on for the first time in front of an audience because you never really know 100 per cent beforehand what will work and won’t work so well,” says Flavia, as she takes a short breather between rehearsals. “It’s lovely if people are up on their feet by the end, but we might still make a couple of small tweaks to try and make it even better.”
At just 5’2” without heels, her waif-like frame conceals the body of an athlete who manages to look glamorous even when dressed-down in leggings and UGG boots.
According to the 35-year-old, it’s pure coincidence that they both came originally from Italy – Vincent having stepped-off a plane at 16 to advance his dancing career in the UK; she having had lessons in Guildford since moving here from Naples when she was just five.
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“My mum was always keen that my older sister and I did ballet, or gymnastics, and the closest dance school was Hurleys where I started with Saturday classes,” she continues. “Angela Boxall was my very first teacher and she continues to come and see me when I’m on tour. Then I had lessons with Nigel Tiffany, who is still local in Farnham, and, finally, with Anthony Hurley himself who was a renowned ballroom teacher respected all round the world.
“I have so many memories of being there and feel really privileged to have learnt to dance at such a good school.”
It’s a debt of gratitude to her hometown that’s been happily repaid. As well as returning several times to teach at the now-renamed DanceWorld, Flavia and Vincent have also performed at the Guildford School of Acting, the University of Surrey, and at Guildford College where she sat her A-levels.
And although the dance duo have yet to appear in panto together, the opportunity to make a guest appearance has already proved irresistible to Flavia. “One Christmas, Gethin Jones was appearing in Cinderella at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre and he called me up because they were doing ‘secret panto’, which I’d never heard of before,” she continues. “It’s where they surprise cast members with pranks and the audience are in on the joke, which makes it very funny. So this time, I went on as one of the Ugly Sisters!”
Two to tango
And Flavia’s not the only one with an infectious sense of humour. During any conversation, Vincent interjects constantly with Latino bravado whilst she chastises him gently, yet always seems to have the final word.
But you don’t become tango world champions without taking things a little more seriously. So how hard is it to learn a few steps?
As I’m invited to take to the floor with Callum, one of the young guns in the chorus, there’s a shared tension about the outcome of the next few minutes. After watching another short example of Flavia and Vincent’s deft footwork with renewed interest, we tentatively strike a pose and (much to my surprise) start to nail some moves. Vincent though decides to spice things up a little by introducing a slow spin. “Square up to your partner,” Flavia instructs. “Stretch your left arm around his neck and keep your head to the left side. Now keep your free leg tucked behind the pivoting foot.”
It’s clear that I fall well short of the professional standards expected. But, nevertheless, this tango taster is great fun. Melting back into my seat afterwards, the remainder of the rehearsal rightly needs to be left to the experts because, make no mistake, The Last Tango is an incredibly demanding stage show.
Based on the classic ‘boy meets girl’ story, it follows in the footsteps of the previous two Olivier-nominated theatre productions that Flavia and Vincent have created and performed in: Midnight Tango and Dance ‘Til Dawn. Once again, they are reunited with director and choreographer Karen Bruce, as well as a tried-and-trusted backstage team. Packed with jaw-dropping dancing, there’s also heartfelt emotion too – not least because it will actually be their finale.
“I think everyone will find a little moment within The Last Tango that will remind them of either their life, or the life of someone that they know,” says Flavia. “So bring the tissues!
“Each one of our own shows has been a little bit different and has pushed the boundaries in different ways, but we always saw it as a trilogy. In 2016, it’s coming up to seven years of touring for us; eight shows a week is tough, there’s a lot of travelling and this does take its toll on you physically and mentally. However, it’s good for me on the current tour because we’ve got quite a lot of dates around London, so I’ll be able to commute from home.”
And that means that after the curtain comes down each night, Flavia will be returning to Guildford, where she now lives with her husband, the Coronation Street actor Jimi Mistry, and their dog Pablo. While the extended Cacace family are “scattered but not too far away”, her parents still live nearby. However, despite knowing Surrey so well, she’s looking forward to making some fresh discoveries during the coming months.
“We’ve not been to the New Wimbledon Theatre before, which is exciting,” she continues. “Whereas the New Victoria Theatre in Woking is one of my favourite venues, as it’s so near to home, and Vincent and I love it having toured every show there.”
Woking is also where one of her chosen charities, The Dogs Trust, is based. And as Flavia has demonstrated, she’s a keen advocate of other local organisations too.
“I also support Home-Start and since 2009 I’ve been a patron of the Fountain Centre for cancer care at the Royal Surrey Hospital – I recently did a TV show and raised £5,000 for them; it’s close to my heart as I have a former school friend who’s benefited from the centre.”
Twists and turns
Unsurprisingly, with so much going on in her life, there’s been little time to keep tabs on Strictly Come Dancing’s latest twists and turns (which viewers will remember she won in 2012 with her celebrity partner Olympic gymnast Louis Smith). But if The Last Tango marks Flavia’s last-ever theatre performance with Vincent, where’s the next dance coming from?
“One of the things we haven’t done yet is a tango-based film,” she says. With Vincent chiming in: “Even if we’re not the leads, to be involved in the choreography would be great.”
Flavia adds: “I’d also love it if one day we could have our own dance school; whether that’s local to Guildford I don’t know yet, but to be able to give something back to the community would be special. We’ll just have to see what happens after this tour.
Flavia’s favourite local…
Restaurant: When I’m at home in Guildford (which is not very often these days), Friday night is always our ‘curry night’ at The Red Rose in Bellfields.
Shops: I’ve been up and down the High Street in Guildford since the age of five and now love clothes shops like Karen Millen. Every time I go back, there’s something new that’s opened; I only recently found out that we’ve a Zara and was very happy when the Armani Exchange shop arrived in the Friary as I love it. The town’s got everything.
Place to relax: It’s lovely just to have time at home and be able to do simple things like going into town to do shopping or to see my family, none of whom live too far away.
Place to visit: We have a dog, a cockapoo called Pablo, so I love going up on to Merrow Downs or to Newlands Corner; there’s so much greenery around, it’s beautiful. One of the things I miss most when I’m not at home is taking Pablo for a walk.