Has Strictly Come Dancing lost its sparkle?
- Credit: Archant
Strictly Come Dancing is once again dominating the headlines – both on and off the telly pages and here Andrew Clarke argues that it’s a sparkle of sunshine in an otherwise drab world
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Ten years ago I was a grumpy non-believer. Saturday night’s were all about David Tennant’s adventures as Doctor Who. As Murray Gold’s majestic theme tune faded away, I would swiftly make myself scarce. My DVD shelves needed re-organising, I had to find a book on Hammer Horror movies which I had misplaced, on one ocassion I remember saying that I needed to iron my work shirts because I had nothing to wear on Monday.
I would use any excuse to get away from the television because I knew what was coming next. It was what I disparagingly referred to as “Bruce Forsyth and the Multi-Coloured Dance Show”. I knew I had to escape because my daughter and wife had recently become huge fans and I was not going to get sucked in.
But, in a message to my younger self, all I can say is: “Hey, why didn’t you lighten up? Give yourself a chance to judge the show on its own merits, rather than your pre-conceptions?”. Today, I am something to a Strictly Super-fan. I even watch Zoe Ball every night on the BBC’s spin-off show It Takes Two.
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So what was my Road to Damascus moment? I’m not sure. I think it came a couple of years after my wife and daughter started getting into the series. My first memories revolve around wandering through the lounge, off to make a cup of tea, and catching sight on the long-legged Australian dancer Natalie Lowe tripping the light fantastic, not wearing very much, partnered with Hollyoaks actor Ricky Whittle and then being rather spellbound by Ola Jordan dancing the Charleston with BBC Breakfast’s Chris Hollins.
This was the gateway into a whole new world. The following year my daughter India was beside herself because she was a huge McFly fan and drummer Harry Judd was competing and suddenly, no doubt encouraged by the visions of the previous year, I found myself staying put after Dr Who ended and swiftly found myself becoming engrossed in the show.
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It was nothing like I had expected. It was a world away from my boyhood memories of Terry Wogan introducing Come Dancing in the 1970s. This new show had an amazing live band, a range of talented contestants you had heard of, themed weeks which boasted impressive production values and you were very aware that these people were working very hard and acquiring an impressive new skill.
This was not some cheap and cheerful vanity project which only required them to turn up for two hours ona Saturday night, this was a full time job and it wasn’t long before I saw that it wasn’t just the dancing that made Strictly Come Dancing addictive it was the fact that we, the audience, were caught up in The Journey of the various contestants. We were rooting for them and for anyone who didn’t take it seriously we wanted them gone (Tim Wonnacott and Nancy Dell’Olio) – but equally we loved the underdog and we embraced entertaining no-hopers like Ed Balls, Dave Myers, Judy Murray and Russell Grant.
I also quickly realised that the ordeal of the judging panel was part of the appeal of the show. Craig Revel Horwood is exacting but scrupulously fair, Darcy Bussell is supportive and offers practical advice, Bruno Tonioli is lively and eccentric while old school Len Goodman grew increasingly tetchy and disliked anything that took attention away from the dance. Any bits of theatre he would call ‘messing about’ but a nicely performed feckle would be enough for him to “pickle his walnuts”. New head judge Shirley Ballas combines Len’s old school ballroom values with Darcy’s nurturing practicality.
For those who claim that the series has become stuck in a rut are sadly mistaken. The BBC documentary broadcast just before this current series took to the air revealed just how much the show has evolved over the years.
The early shows were much more down-to-earth. The whole thing was much more cheap and cheerful, much more like its predecessor Come Dancing. The current show is more like a West End experience, particularly since the arrival ten years ago of costume genius Vicky Gill along with musical maestro Dave Arch and his highly adaptable big band.
Strictly Come Dancing off something very rare in this day and age, a highly professional entertainment show which the whole family can sit down together and enjoy and we can witness people acquiring a wonderful new talent through blood, sweat and tears. I’m sorry I was such a cynic.