Suffolk dancer swings into the Strictly spotlight
He’s the new face among the professionals in this year’s Strictly Come Dancing - and he comes from Ipswich. Robin Windsor is currently one of the stars of Burn the Floor, the hot dance show that has just started a summer season at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre and he is thrilled to bits to be moving into BBC1’s big ballroom extravaganza with its 12 million fans.
The names of those taking part in the 2010 Strictly which opens in September have not yet been announced so Windsor has no idea yet who he will be partnering, but actress Felicity Kendal and former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe are among the names so far said to be taking part.
Windsor was surprised to be asked to join Strictly but is now looking forward to the biggest challenge of his 30-year-old life. It’s been a terrific time for him: a spell on Broadway, a West End opening and, now, the invitation to join the likes of Brendan Cole and Anton du Beke on one of telly’s big blockbusters has put some thick icing on the choreographic cake. But he has earned his place with years of dedicated work.
Burn the Floor, says Windsor, sort of pointed the way for Strictly Come Dancing because it is now in its eleventh year. He has been with it for nine of those years all over the world, but this is the first time it has been seen in the West End and he is delighted that his family and friends can see it there at last.
The headline names in the West End show are Ali Bastian and Brian Fortuna who came third in last year’s Strictly final. They became an item during the TV run and there is now talk of an engagement. Fortuna has left Strictly, his place filled by Windsor.
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Robin Windsor grew up in the Spring Road area of Ipswich and went to Clifford Road Primary and Copleston High School. He has been dancing since he was three when his parents, Lorraine and David, took him the Ipswich School of Dance where he fell in love with ballroom.
In the years that followed he carried off a cupboard-full of prizes and silverware, first as a juvenile (up to 12 years) and then as a junior ballroom dancer (up to 16). At this point he moved to London to further his training and went on to represent England in the World Championships, reaching the semi-finals.
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Soon after that he joined Burn the Floor and has done five world tours with the show that sprang from the big party given by Elton John for his 50th in 1997. “A group of dancers put on a floor show there and Harley Medcalf, our producer, was at the party and spotted something he could put on stage with rock’n’roll lighting, great music and big ensemble dance numbers.
“To find the cast he travelled the world attending all the top dance competitions, looking for the best and it’s a very international cast. We have people from Venezuela, Australia, Italy, Germany, USA, Russia, Malaysia, all over. Ali Bastian and Brian Fortuna are the first we have taken from Strictly Come Dancing but we have had several from American TV’s Dancing With The Stars and we’ve got some now from the US version of So You Think You Can Dance. We have played a lot of capital cities all over the world and appeared on their TV programmes.
“Burn the Floor is not at all the stuff our parents and grandparents were doing. It’s ballroom reinvented. It incorporates all the best from across the ages, with snatches of Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, all styles of dancing and all kinds of music – from the present day right back to If It ‘Aint Got That Swing in the 1940s. We’ve added lots of lifts, dips and tricks and interpret it in today’s life.”
The complete range of dance is there from Harlem, where the lindy, the foxtrot and the Charleston were created, to the Latin Quarter where the cha-cha, rumba and salsa first steamed things up. It’s all covered, from the Viennese waltz to the tango. But with a difference.
Windsor describes himself as a very energetic performer and his favourites are the latin dances, especially the samba, and the jive. He doesn’t have time for anything else. “Dancing takes up my entire life. It’s what I was born to do. I love it and do it even when I’m feeling down. When I put on my dancing shoes, I forget everything else.”
His role in Burn the Floor is central. He is the show’s ‘swing’. This means he has had to learn every movement made by every male dancer in the show, so that in case of illness or time off he can replace any of them. “It’s all so fast and so slick and I’ve had to pick up the lot.”
Before the West End, New York was the highlight of his globetrotting years, “the first-ever ballroom show to make it to Broadway and appearing with the cr�me de la cr�me.” Burn the Floor has just come back from New Zealand and its travels have taken it across America and Canada, all over Europe, Japan and China, 30 countries in all. “Wherever we go, there’s a huge age range in the audience from children to grandparents and they are all bopping in the aisles and having a great time.”
When I say that Strictly Come Dancing spurred a considerable revival of interest in ballroom dancing, Robin Windsor agrees but loyally points out that Burn the Floor was attracting audiences long before Strictly took off. “We were a little ahead of our time but these TV shows have lifted everybody’s interest and the public has been able to see what ballroom is all about. Now I hope many of them will come to Burn the Floor and say ‘I want to do that,’ afterwards.”
But when the show ends it’s London run in early September, he will be stepping straight into big time telly and he doesn’t seem a bit daunted by the prospect. He says he was surprised to be approached by Strictly Come Dancing team but knows that his formidable training in the business will stand him in good stead “I’m very proud and thrilled to be doing it,” he says.
Burn the Floor runs at the Shaftesbury Theatre until September 4, Monday to Saturday with no performance on Tuesdays but with matinees on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Box office: 0207 379 5399 or www.shaftesburytheatre.com.