I have a confession to make. I’m a radical Strictly lover. Like some fanatical religious devotee, I try and convert all of my friends. I am the Jehovah’s Witness of the Strictly fandom. I have a prepared spiel for any of their reluctant replies: ‘Oh, yeah it’s all right…’ ‘I’m not really into dancing’ ‘It’s way too over the top!’ or even (heaven forbid) the dreaded ‘Nah, I watch X Factor.’ Shudder.
Recently, I’ve been trying to reconcile this religious obsession with my favourite TV show. It’s not like a drama series that draws you in with an intricate plot line, twists and turns of suspense. It’s pretty predictable; the same format every year. Yet despite this predictability, more and more viewers tune in every year to watch some seemingly hapless C-list celebrities try their hand (or their foot) at ballroom dancing. There are about 14 celebrities, most of whom you’ve never even heard of unless you watch a lot of rugby/cricket/sports news or Eastenders/Coronation Street/Hollyoaks. About four or five will be shockingly awful with almost no rhythm or movement, of whom one or two will make up for it with their hilarious pantomime-style facial expressions and cringey but endearing dance concepts. Who could forget Starship Widdecombe or Russell Grant being fired out of a cannon to ‘Reach’ by S Club 7′.
A lot of the programme, for us younger viewers (and Bruno, Craig and Darcey) is about a bit of sex appeal. I can’t deny that I have shivers in places I care not to name when I (quite regularly) re-watch Louis Smith dances from last year. I know, call me whatever you like, it’s a regular past-time of mine and it’s good for the soul.
But it’s not all dirty (though it might help to lure some of us in). By week 10, the gimmicks are gone, most of the stragglers have been sifted out and we’re left with the golden nuggets of actual talent. These are the ones who, like Natalie Gumede from Coronation Street, Kimberley Walsh from Girls Aloud or Rachel Stevens from S Club 7, have possibly (read: definitely) had some dance training when they attended stage school, or when they performed with their respective bands. Sometimes this means that watching their effortlessly graceful and obviously complex performances is tinged a little with jealousy and anger – it doesn’t seem fair that in a dancing competition for amateurs, anyone should have had some professional experience.
But really, in the end, this isn’t what Strictly is about. It doesn’t take itself seriously – this is pretty self evident in the cheesy opening sequences and behind-the-scenes VTs and the copious amounts of glitter and sequins that make my TV on a Saturday night look like a gaudy Christmas emporium in a shopping mall. It’s not about trying to persuade the public that you have the best personality, or that you’ll be the most successful in a cut-throat industry. It’s not about being big-headed, fighting for your place, trying to prove your worth, or having an overwhelming talent. A majority of Strictly’s viewers won’t have a clue what a reverse turn, a botafogo or a drunken sailor are. Most of my technical comments on the dances consist of ‘he looked a bit stiff’ (don’t be naughty!) or ’she looks kind of grumpy.’ It’s not about a sob-story of your dead nan or having the right dance for you.
The magic in Strictly is, of course, in the coming together of spectacular music, gorgeous frocks, and exciting dancing throughout. The true winners, though, aren’t the winners of the ‘glitter ball trophy,’ but those who form lasting and touching friendships. It’s inevitable that spending 30 hours plus in the same room for weeks on end could create a bond between even the most antagonistic pair of people, but what makes these friendships so endearing, so loveable, is everyone’s genuine disregard for any sense of rivalry, and mutual respect for the hours of hard work that everyone puts in. By choosing to showcase celebrities rather than members of the public or amateur dancers, the producers ensure that the contestants essentially have nothing material to win or lose by participating.
Some of the contestants become true partners for life – the most memorable have probably been Lisa Riley and Robin Windsor, whose departure from the show made me sob like a little baby. She even helped him plan his recent engagement to his partner. Cue more emotional tears from me. Others have literally coupled up – most notably Artem Chigvinstev who won more than just a trophy with Kara Tointon back in series 8, sealing their win with a kiss on the dance floor.
It’s moments like this that I watch the show for. It’s moments where people break through with their posture or footwork that they’ve had problems with for weeks. It’s moments when people who have struggled with their weight or health find that dancing is the way to battle it with happiness and success. Strictly, in my mind, is not strictly (ahem) about dancing. It’s about humility, friendship, and hard work.
And glitter. Lots and lots of glitter.
Alice Paver is an English Language and Literature student at Edinburgh University. Anyone who has ever met her will have encountered her annoying yet endearing habit of talking incessantly about Malaysia, which is where she spent her teenage years. She is a fiercely loyal Harry Potter fan and feminist and she also loves Romantic poetry.
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