Spirit of Strictly

The glitter has settled, the tears have dried, and I’m ready to make a public statement about my shameless love of reality TV. ore-and-joanne

If this post had been written a few weeks ago, it would probably have centred on the joy that comes with bringing together a group of ordinary people to take their ordinary skills and hobbies to extraordinary new levels. As it is, I am going to focus instead on all the things that make ‘Strictly’ the unique and wonderful thing that it is.

A couple of things before we start. Firstly, just to get it out of the way: I am, like, a ‘Strictly’ hipster. When I was little, I used to go to ballroom dance classes (actually Old Time Sequence, but whatever) on Saturday mornings, and then I went home and watched ‘Come Dancing’ with Gloria Hunniford. So there’s that.

And secondly, a disclaimer: I know that there is a lot to hate about the show. The heteronormativity is out of this world, before we even start on the conspicuous consumption… But today is not about that. Today is about the love.

So. My (pen)name is Mae, and I am a reality television watcher. I particularly like the programmes where people demonstrate a skill, and each week one is eliminated. My interest in this genre began years ago with ‘America’s Next Top Model’ (my friends, soooo problematic…), and current favourites include ‘The Great British Bake-Off’ (may it rest in peace), ‘So You Think You Can Dance’, and ‘The Voice’.

I love the way the personal stories develop through these programmes. They’re not just people getting on with stuff (I lost interest in ‘Big Brother’ very quickly); they are people challenging themselves, digging deeply into their inner resources as they undertake an emotional journey beyond anything they had anticipated. I think ‘Strictly’ takes this to unexpected places precisely because the contestants are celebrities – not because they are people I already care about (I consider it a good year if I’ve heard of more than three), but because they are hugely successful people, accustomed to hard work and to recognition for their expertise, often very conscious of their public personae. This year, we saw a full-figured comedian and an older woman teach the audience to take their talent seriously. Two Olympic athletes battled with the tension between their world-class training and the techniques needed for dance. A powerful, privileged, attention-loving judge battled with his own ostentatious defences as he showed true reverence for an art form loved by his family. And – Spirit of Strictly – a man who had never danced before, whose career had been focused on showcasing the talents and achievements of others, discovered a natural grace, elegance and showmanship.

The professional dancers are also spectacular, and as the series continues, it seems to me that they are being given more opportunity to stand out as personalities in their own right. Since Tess Daley took over as lead presenter, the band and singers have been consistently recognised, and the dancers are no longer objectified through sexist, racist and belittling jokes but are acknowledged as real partners, highly invested in this show which is, after all, their career. It was a particular joy for me, this year, to see the Clifton siblings reach the final together. They seem like a lovely family, consistently investing in warm, genuine friendships with their professional partners. Plus, that Jo is a choreographic genius.

I love the artistic direction this show is taking. The distinction between the beautiful, upright ballroom and the sexy Latin dances is eroding slightly. The rumba can be smouldering, the Argentine tango fiery; but they can also be lyrical, gentle, warming or powerful. The final show dances still include phenomenal lifts, but the focus is much more on clever choreography, character and dance technique.

I suppose I should give my opinion on the result – if only, potentially, to ignite the comments section! I’m afraid I didn’t want to Louise to win. She seems like a genuinely lovely person, and she worked hard and danced well, and I kind of did want Kevin to win; but in the end, she didn’t quite reach the level of consistent perfection that the other two finalists achieved.

Based purely on dancing ability, Danny Mac would have been the clear winner. He made a bigger mistake than the other two purely because he took much bigger risks. I didn’t like him at the beginning of the series – I thought he was too perfect, too slick, too confident, too Zuko. But he poured his soul into every performance, and I could watch his last two dances many, many times – not to mention the ridiculous chemistry between him and Oti.

But my vote was for Ore and Joanne, for all the reasons Len gave, and all the reasons here. He was such an elegant contestant, reminiscent of a much earlier decade, and his genuine surprise at every compliment showed what a revelation this was to him as well as to everyone watching him. His personal journey was bigger, bolder, more dramatic than either of the other finalists, possibly than any other contestant this year; and at the end of the day, I was watching and voting for the story as much as for the dancing.

Congratulations, Ore and Joanne. I can’t wait for next year!

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