In the never ending hellstorm that is living in the UK at the moment, we all need moments of levity and escape. For us, on Sunday afternoon that took the shape of the Strictly Come Dancing live tour.
A quick wikipedia search suggests that the first series I properly watched was in 2012, meaning there’s been a good 10 years of Strictly in my life. My eldest child was very into it from a young age, and just as their interest waned the younger one became a fan – such is the life when your kids have a 4 year age gap. Even so, we continued to watch it as a family every year. Some series and contestants/pairings have been more memorable than others. The most recent series was a particularly good one, which prompted me to buy tickets for the tour for the first time. Both my kids and myself were drawn into the stories, the highs and lows, the drama and the glamour. It is good old-fashioned family entertainment. We don’t tend to watch things like that, we’ve never as a family watched Britain’s Got Talent or I’m a Celebrity or anything starring Ant & Dec. When the kids can agree to watch the same thing, they prefer movies or David Attenborough type programmes but generally have very different tastes. Even if we don’t always get to watch Strictly live, because they spend every 2nd weekend with their dad, there’s still something nice and wholesome about sitting down each week to watch something that’s full of joy, positivity and about trying your best at something and having fun, even if you’ve never done it before and you have 2 left feet. Or only 1 foot. Who cares, get all dressed up and shimmy your troubles away.
These past 2 years have robbed us of any feelings of excited anticipation. We haven’t been able to look forward to anything due to the constant threat of more restrictions, positive tests, cancellations. Every time I made tentative plans with my kids I always had to give them the speech about nothing being certain, things might change, we just don’t know. It was the same for this. I told them about the Strictly show just a few weeks ago and it was sad to see them stifle any excitement they would normally have displayed. When Omicron reared its head I expected this tour to be postponed but restrictions on indoor gatherings were lifted here recently. We took the recommended precautions, of course. I was pleased to see the vast majority of people also wearing masks and the venue had the air conditioning turned up to the max, to the point where I thought the air flow might blow me down on to the dance floor.
As usual when kids are involved, we were running a bit late, but made it to the Hydro just in time, only to find that doors hadn’t actually opened an hour before as planned and everyone was waiting in massive queues in the freezing cold outside. We joined the back of one line and thankfully things soon got moving. We found our seats just as the lights went down and the iconic music struck up.
The set featured many, many glitterballs, the familiar curving stairs rising up either side with the 3 judges chairs in the middle. We had Shirley, Craig in a kilt, the return of Bruno. Sadly no Anton or Motsi. Janette Manrara was the host in a series of increasingly sparkly outfits. The format was similar to the tv series, with couples taking turns to perform dances, short chats with Janette afterwards, then judges comments. There were some group dances interspersed throughout. I for one could have done without the interviews after every dance. They all said pretty much the same thing – it’s great to be in Glasgow (cue cheers), I love dancing with my partner, it’s great to be on the tour etc etc. There were, however, some very funny moments and exchanges between Janette, the dancers and the judges. I’m not sure to what extent they were scripted and thus same for every show, but they were funny nevertheless.
At one point during the 2nd half the judges had us up on our feet and tried, with varying success, to get us all to follow them in a wee routine. The less said about our shimmies the better I think…
We got to vote for our favourites via text (up to 10 times at 25p a go) and a winner was declared at the end, although I think we all knew who it would be before anyone even stepped foot on the dance floor.
Rose Ayling-Ellis was the stand-out star of Strictly last year and the first deaf celebrity to take part. Strictly has always been ahead of the curve in terms of diversity. Jonnie Peacock was the first celebrity with a disability to join in 2017, followed by several other Paralympians and JJ Chalmers who was injured in Afghanistan. A professionals dance featured 2 male leads in 2019 and in 2020 the first same-sex female couple competed, although their stint was short-lived due to covid. The latest series had the first same-sex male partnership who made it all the way to the final. I knew of Rose from a couple of things she’s acted in but don’t watch Eastenders. Due to my job (I’m a sign language interpreter) I had a special interest in Rose’s participation and how Strictly would adapt to having a deaf competitor. The answer is they adapted very well indeed. There were sign language interpreters with Rose in training and on show nights, deaf awareness and BSL lessons were given to the cast and crew. Rose’s professional partner Giovanni obviously played a huge part in their success. Giovanni was the perfect pick for Rose, I remember when he was paired with Debbie McGee and rather than treating her like a novelty act he showed her nothing but respect and devised beautiful choreography that played to her strengths. with Debbie he often stepped back and let her dance alone, out front, be the focus (yeah I may have gone into a youtube wormhole, all in the name of research, obviously…) With Rose it was all about communicating through touch and body language, they became one unit. There’s a good article here on how he and Rose worked together. Rose is funny, warm and charming, Giovanni seemed to genuinely grow and learn from her and we all fell in love with them both. Their partnership and friendship was beautiful to watch, if you didn’t see their instagram videos you missed a treat, they were hilarious and I hope they manage to keep dancing together after the tour ends.
On the tour they performed their “couple’s choice” dance with it’s famous silent section and I held my breath throughout, as did most of the audience it seemed. Not a sound was heard from anyone in the near-capacity Hydro on that Sunday matinee which included a lot of children. We also saw their Tango, which in its own way I found just as moving. Intense, thoughtful and engaging, I could have watched them all day. Keeping with the theme of accessibility and inclusion, the tour had BSL interpreters at every single performance, rather than the usual 1 or 2, hopefully this is something they will continue after Rose’s involvement and other productions will learn from.
Unfortunately one of our favourite contestants from this year, John Whaite wasn’t performing that day due to illness and AJ was still suffering the effects of an injury picked up during the series so we were treated to seeing Maisie Smith from last year join with Kai. They were great but I was sad that Maisie wasn’t with her partner Gorka, but really only cos Gorka is one of my favourites.
A special mention has to be made of the live band and singers who were very impressive. Unlike on the telly, the singers came out on to the dance floor, became part of the performance, doing their own dance moves alongside the other performers. Particular credit to the drummer who had his moment of glory during a dance to “In the air tonight” and the singer who somehow managed to perform a flawless Kate Bush number while flat on her back on the floor.
There was Strictly merch on sale! Of course. J wanted to check it out and I was prepared for long queues and/or extortionate prices, but happily we found neither. Tshirts and hoodies were on sale at about the same rate you’d expect at a gig. J opted for a rainbow Strictly mug, S wasn’t interested, I think she was feeling a bit overwhelmed by this point and just wanted to get out.
Unfortunately we weren’t to have a quick getaway, having parked in the notorious Hydro multistory car park, it took us over an hour of queueing to get out of the place. Thankfully it didn’t put a dampner on the afternoon, although the promise of a delivery from our favouite local pizza restaurant did help.
Both kids loved it, J immediately asked if we can go again next year. It is quite expensive, but if you are a Strictly fan it is definitely worth the money. You get to see your favourites (most of them) in action, they put on a proper show – with all the razzmatazz of the lights, flamethrower things and bucketloads of glitter and sparkles.
The whole Strictly Come Dancing operation is something to be treasured. At a time when the continued existence of the BBC is being threatened, it’s important to remember that, merch and 25p text votes aside, a programme full of uplifting positivity, inclusivity and representation and free from commercial interests and advertising could only be made by the BBC. They have created something magical, appealing to people of all ages that deliver important messages, open minds and be highly entertaining all at the same time. And if a deaf actor can discover a talent for dancing and lift a glitterball trophy, then who knows what the rest of us could achieve if only we take the chance to try.