From pilates to Pandemonium for Deb at Olympic Ceremony

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DEB WINCHESTER, who lives in Saxonwood Road in Battle, joined thousands of performers in the Olympic Opening Ceremony last Friday. Deb, a Zumba, yoga and pilates teacher, shares her experience with the Observer.

“Last year I, along with thousands of others, decided to offer my time to London’s biggest volunteer force ever to be assembled.

Although I would have been quite happy to direct guests to their seats or clean toilets (at a pinch), in October I was excited to receive an email asking if I wanted to be a part of Danny Boyle’s cast for the Opening Ceremony.

Two very long auditions and 27 rehearsal days later I found myself in Olympic Stadium last Friday night in front of 80,000.

Words cannot describe the experience! The whole evening was surreal; simply incredible. All of those long days hauling turf and moving fences, learning choreography in the rain had finally amounted to one spectacular performance.

I was in the Industrial Revolution section, called Pandemonium, along with over 700 others.

When we began rehearsing at our ‘stadium replica’ site in Dagenham, we were told very little, but it became evident that we were to be responsible for the largest scene change ever attempted in real time.

We spent countless hours in small groups practicing our ‘strike’ – becoming quicker at taking turf, fences and bridges off whilst in character and whilst acting out our mechanical choreography.

After several weeks of this I quickly gave up on my dream of wearing a pink tutu and flying above the stadium – this was going to be a little grubbier!

It wasn’t until we started rehearsing in the stadium in June that we realised the full extent of our set; seven chimneys, a house, enormous looms, beam engines and a gigantic trough where the Olympic ring was to be ‘forged’. Wow, suddenly this became a little more complex and real!

Our dance captains and co-ordinators handled everything in their own patient way and more than once we heard the word ‘organic’ ie this is an ‘organic process’.

We all came to realise this meant that no-one actually had any idea how we were going to achieve certain things, but that we would practice until we found an effective way!

It became evident that I had been placed in this scene due to my timing and strength (Zumba teachers have both!).

As costumes and makeup came into rehearsals we had a real sense of the atmosphere we were attempting to convey.

The music for our 17 minute segment, created by Underworld, was continually playing in our inner ear monitors (IEMs) along with an insistent beat for us to march to.

We became regimented and helped each other with the choreography and timings. The team spirit was incredible.

Finally, the week of our technical rehearsals in front of other volunteers and our families proved we could achieve this in the time given, in character and without getting burnt from the pyrotechnic showers from the Olympic rings overhead!

The performance night was simply fantastic – everything went according to plan and the reception from the audience was just so rewarding it was breathtaking.

I had always said to my classes that I didn’t think the UK had any idea of how good the Opening Ceremony was going to be and I was delighted to be proved correct.

Danny Boyle, who was usually there at rehearsals, watching, chatting, encouraging, is a genius in my eyes.

He took the best and the ugliest of Britain’s immense history and created a startling visual feast that simply oozed emotion, quirkiness, talent, eccentricity and pure hard graft.

If you haven’t been to Olympic Park yet you simply must go and wander around (tickets to the park itself are still available).

It is beautifully landscaped, impeccably designed and the sporting venues are an architectural triumph. The stadium itself is world class.

I know there are hiccups and there are always some people who lose out or suffer in an event on this scale, but my insiders view is that you should all be incredibly proud to be British right now.

This was a monumental task, seven years in the making. The legacy is to ‘inspire a generation’ and I truly think that could happen.

To be a part of that was simply magical. The greatest and most profound effect for me can be summed up in one sentence; ‘individually not one of us was particularly skilled or talented, but together we created a mind blowing performance’.

Surely a testament to team work if ever there was one.”

* Deb runs a number of Zumba, Zumba Gold, pilates and yoga classes at venues in Battle, Sedlescombe, Bexhill and Hastings.

Further details from www.debwinchester.com