In Praise of Strictly

October 15, 2014

In an avalanche of spray tan, sequins, and glitter (and that’s just the men), Strictly Come Dancing has returned to Saturday nights. Another bunch of minor celebs are led from the training rooms into the ballroom, planking it.

strictlyFrom now until Christmas they will Paso, Cha Cha, Charleston and Waltz their way through the competition. Some will have no sense of rhythm and the suppleness of the Tin Man, others with a stage school or similar background will shine from the beginning. But they’re not the interesting ones. No, the ones I love to watch are those who, through the course of the show, overcome their nerves, inhibitions or general lack of fitness to become genuinely great dance performers.

People like the shy and reserved cricketer Mark Ramprakash, who midway through the 2006 series suddenly discovered his inner sex god and performed a showstopping Salsa, going on to win the series. Or Pamela Stephenson, who in 2010 at the age of 61 made it all the way to the final through hard work, determination and a winning personality.

The technical skill, athleticism and artistry of the professional dancers is great to watch, as are their amazingly fit bodies. They choreograph the dances as well, and these can be comedic, dramatic, romantic or even genuinely moving at times. The glamour is off the scale. The considerable resources and attention to detail of the BBC costume and make-up departments are deployed to ensure that everyone, regardless of their size, age or shape, looks incredible.

The judges and presenters seem to love what they’re doing. Old school ballroom stickler Len Goodman, elegant former prima ballerina Darcy Bussell, pantomime villain Craig Revel Horwood and Bruno “I’ll flirt with anyone” Tonioli are all motivated by wanting the contestants to be the best dancers they can be. The newest full time addition to the show, replacing the superannuated Brucie, is the effortlessly hilarious Claudia Winkleman, who is clearly having a ball (see what I did there?)

Yes, it’s the campest, cheesiest show on TV, but what shines through is a genuine love of dance. A far cry from the cynical, gladiatorial tone of its Saturday night rival the X-Factor, which excels at nothing except reducing music to its lowest common denominator.

The YouTube clip below is of Frankie Bridge from the Saturdays performing a Paso Doble to ‘America’ from West Side Story with her pro partner Kevin. Best dance of this series so far. If you’re not a fan of the show, just watch this and tell me it’s not entertaining.