Spray tan. Glitter. Open-chested shirts and spangly outfits. This is Strictly Come Dancing, the camp dance competition that has captured the nation since its debut in 2004. Eight to fifteen British celebrities are paired with the show’s own range of professional dancers and challenged to perform a 90-second dance routine to a live audience and four judges. These celebrities (who usually haven’t received any previous training) are transformed from dull dancers into spectacular performers. They imbue traditional dances with their own individual history and flair, bringing together a glitzy parade of ballroom, beauty, and Ed Balls-jokes.
Strictly – as it is affectionately known – is arguably just as trivial as any other reality show. It has all the vivacious glamour of Love Island and Made in Chelsea, the same escapist drive as I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! as well as its own brand of latent conservatism. With its steady output of pratfalls and tearful speeches, it falls quite neatly into the pile of TV shows labelled ‘trash’. It’s a fun and engaging watch, but is it not just another offering of bread and circus thrown to us, the ever-hungry masses?
Yes, it is: and an offering I will delightedly leap up to catch in my slavering consumerist jaws like a rabid terrier. Strictly is an unabashedly trivial show. It is not informative on current affairs, neither is it educational, despite my best seven-year-old attempts to learn the routines and perform them. However, it is inspirational. Watching the novices dedicate themselves wholly to an entirely new discipline and reveal talent they never knew they had is a wonderfully warming experience. So is the apparent camaraderie that forms between each pair, each novice, and every one of the performers collectively.
The professional dancers themselves are a joy to watch, as each one masterfully navigates the strengths and weaknesses of their novice partner and shows them off to the greatest benefit. Every once in a while, the audience is treated to an entirely professional performance, during which every watching pair of eyes grows wide at the displays of strength and grace, creativity and discipline put forward by the dancers. Mood lighting, bejewelled costumes and Dave Arch’s live orchestra complete each gorgeous ensemble, making each performance a feast for the senses. In a world where artists have been encouraged to “rethink, reskill, reboot”, these displays of immense and varied creative talent are both heartening and important. The ability of each of these artists to raise our spirits and stimulate our imaginative appreciation should never be underestimated or undervalued.
The 2020 line-up for Strictly has already produced some gems: Bill Bailey’s triumphant paso doble with Oti Mabuse will live on as one of the most striking moments in Strictly history. For the first time in its seventeen-year history, we had a same-sex couple in Olympic boxer Nicola Adams and dancer Katya Jones. The show may not espouse itself as a queer space, but ballroom is historically a tradition that allows expressions of queerness, along with drag. Dance is a part of activism, expression and, crucially, celebration of joy. Katya’s coronavirus infection has sadly made it impossible for the pair to continue to dance, but the inclusion of a same-sex couple is a wonderful step towards unrestricted and joyful LGBTQ+ celebration in mainstream media.
The days are getting shorter and greyer, the nights longer and darker. In addition to this, we are also in the midst of our third national lockdown and staring straight down the barrel of a COVID-infested graduation. The days can feel pretty grim, despite our efforts to adapt to the new normal. We need art, joy, silliness, and Craig Revel Horwood’s deliciously crisp sarcasm more than ever. Strictly delivers all this and more, wrapped up in spandex, sweat, and sequins.
Illustration: Verity Laycock
Have a guilty pleasure TV show that is pure trash? Send your article to email@example.com