OPINION: Same-sex dance couples in ‘Strictly’ return is neither shocking or new
PUBLISHED: 10:14 14 September 2020 | UPDATED: 10:14 14 September 2020
Stricty Come Dancing is on the way back with a whiff of controversy. Helen McDermott has seen it all before
Oh, relief. We can all start to breathe again now that contestants have been announced for the next series of Strictly. Hooray! But wait. There’s controversy even before the toes have begun to scuff the highly polished floor. The line-up will include partners of the same sex. Look out! Aunty Mabel has just spilled her box of Quality Street and cousin Fred dropped his glass of stout over the new cream carpet.
I’m no great follower of the dance show; I do love the dancing and admire the skill, but I can’t stand the whooping and clapping from the audience every time a “celebrity” dancer so much as lifts a leg, even if all they’re doing is nudging the crotch of their sparkly outfit to a more comfy position. Mind you, it should be a bit cosier and quieter this year with the studio audience shut out under Covid guidelines.
How this might affect the atmosphere only time will tell, but it might be worth giving it a try, keeping an eye on the dancers this time without having to yell at the telly, ordering the wretched audience to keep quiet.
So, for the first time we’re on our own without an audience, and we’ve got dancing couples of the same sex.
It’s hardly breaking new ground is it?
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Warning, name drop about to arrive: One of this year’s contestants is Caroline Quentin who went to the same stage school as I did (she never stops telling people, you know). When we met, just as we were about to work in the same telly studio, it was inevitable that we shared a few memories of those years when we trained to be hoofers, and how we both were condemned to the same dining room, the one they assigned to “fat girls”.
But how fat is fat? Nobody could have really said we were fat, it was just that we weren’t sylph-like enough in the eyes of the school to become ballet dancers in the classic sense of the word. What we fatties were able comfortably to do though was ballroom dancing so we joined the classes.
The trouble with it being an all-girls school was that we had no boys to partner us so we had to partner each other. I don’t know about Caroline, but for some reason I was always the one who had to take the lead. Even now, after all these years I instinctively incline to lead, which is a bit daft really as I’m nearly always shorter than my partner.
Ours being a dancing school nobody thought twice about girls dancing together. Boys would dance together too, and nobody thought much about that either. In the ballet and musical worlds same sex partners have been the norm for generations.
Perhaps you were lucky enough to have seen Matthew Bourne’s wonderful version of Swan Lake where male dancers are so graceful and athletic as swans it’s beginning to seem wrong when you see the ballet performed in the traditional way.
It’s only in recent years, this sexually self-conscious age, that we’ve actually referred to same sex dancing as actually being same sex. Joyce Grenfell famously sang about women dancing “bust to bust”, gliding round the floor “stately as a galleon”, a picture of a wartime ballroom when women had to dance together because so many of their menfolk were away.
In 19th century Argentina the Tango was commonly danced by men strongly strutting their stuff, and if you’ve never seen a sample look up the Nicholas Brothers who specialised in something called “flash dancing”, performances of such brilliance they take your breath away. This was back about the beginning of the 20th century.
Strictly might look a bit tame after stuff like that but the contestants should already be in training by now. Caroline Q has already admitted that she did actually train as a dancer so she should be able to put on a good show even though as she says her knees might creak a bit; once a dancer, always a dancer, some say. Whoever dances with whom and however well they do it I couldn’t really care less. We need cheering up, so just bring it on.
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