A groundbreaking Strictly final in step with modern Britain

一种s the 2021 Strictly Come Dancing Grand Final began, it was all about Representation Strictly. From the first flick to the final lift, serious points about changing modern Britain – about inclusion, diversity and legitimacy – were being made amid the drama and the sequins.

In the show’s first-ever two-person (and thus shorter) 男子冰壶决赛, here was a young deaf woman – EastEnders actor Rose Ayling-Ellis, 27 – dancing with professional partner, Giovanni Pernice, 31. Bookies favourite Ayling-Ellis was competing against John Whaite, 32 – chef and 2012 Great British Bake Off winner – in a same-sex LGBTQ couple with Johannes Radebe, 34. They should have been joined in the final by a woman of colour – presenter, AJ Odudu, 33 – who was sadly unable to perform with her partner, Kai Widdrington, 26, due to a ligament injury.

As Strictly is one of the UK’s “litmus paper” television shows – an unofficial barometer of public taste and opinion – here was an interesting moment for British culture: the final of the nation’s biggest entertainment show completely dominated by minorities. For all the “woke” charges from some quarters, in real terms, there was little technically new here. Strictly has featured many people of colour, some of whom went on to win. It’s also had contestants with disabilities, including Paralympians. 去年, the show featured a same-sex female couple, teaming Olympic boxer Nicola Adams with professional Katya Jones.

那说, 今年, things have been pushed that much harder. As the weeks passed, Whaite and Radebe detonated the idea that same-sex couples looked “unnatural” dancing together. While resistance remained (and not a small amount of trolling), in the main, Britain seemed more than ready for two talented gentlemen hitting the Strictly dancefloor, and Whaite – who’d initially been nervous – said the reception was more positive than he’d envisaged. For her part, Ayling-Ellis danced so beautifully (following beats and vibrations, signing her way through dances) she not only represented and inspired deaf people, she also educated the hearing world, at one point increasing online searches for British Sign Language by 488%.

And of course this was about talent. As the final began, with Ayling-Ellis and Whaite leaping around on star-shaped mini-stages, it was all to boogie for. Alongside presenters Tess Daly (snow-globe empress) and Claudia Winkleman (silvery glitter-bomb), this season’s contestants (Odudu, Rhys Stephenson, et al), littered a studio that, despite the late arrival of Omicron, hasn’t seemed quite as cavernous and eerie as last year at peak-pandemic. Judges Craig Revel Horwood, Motsi Mabuse, Shirley Ballas, and Anton Du Beke – overdressed to the point of suffocation, reminding you that Strictly is, in the nicest way, a peak-time televisual panto – prepared to dish out perfect scores, compliments and tears – wow, so many tears! – though their votes don’t count in finals.

The first dances of the final were judges’ picks, and Ayling-Ellis and Pernice delivered their quickstep from Musicals Week. It’s still debatable whether Love is an Open Door from Frozen is a quickstep-banger, but they managed to glide through smoothly, even elegantly, considering that Pernice’s costume was the budget end of Disney-prince. Whaite and Radebe performed their rumba to Sting’s Shape of My Heart. It was intimate, sensual, daring and, considering rumbas have been the undoing of many a Strictly contestant, nigh on impeccable.

下一个, it was couples’ picks. For Whaite and Radebe, this was their magnificent paso doble to I’m a Pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean; my personal favourite from the series, an attacking, joyous, mischievous dance that drove a veritable cutlass through the Strictly dancefloor. 下一个, Ayling-Ellis and Pernice performed their now legendary couple’s dance to Symphony by Clean Bandit, featuring Zara Larsson, where once again a section was performed in complete silence, pulling you deep into Ayling-Ellis’s soundless reality. A barefooted, ethereal tour de force, it’s not for nothing this is hailed by many as one of the greatest Strictly moments ever.

Going into the show dances there wasn’t a sequin between the couples. Ayling-Ellis and Pernice performed to The Rose by Bette Midler, dancing dreamily around a quasi-Shakespearean bloom-strewn balcony in a whirl of lifts, spins and waltzes, amid dry ice and falling snow. Whaite and Radebe danced to You’ve Got The Love by Florence + the Machine, one moment slow and romantic, the next in a hi-energy disco frenzy, ending in an explosion of ticker tape with a rainbow heart glowing in the distance.

While viewers voted, there was a special guest performance from a certain Ed Sheeran, an up and coming busker from the Suffolk area. Clad in black, he performed Bad Habits, as dancers sexily frugged in front of him.

然后, the winner was announced: Rose Ayling-Ellis! Congratulations to the stupendous Ayling-Ellis, and to Whaite, and kudos to everyone involved, not least the professional finalists, Pernice and Radebe, who faced major choreography challenges throughout the series and carried them off with panache. This was a groundbreaking 2021 final in which two men danced together, looking not only glorious but entirely natural, and where a deaf woman didn’t need to hear the music to triumph. Far from being just another round of the culture wars, it was Strictly, and the BBC, at its best: everyone welcome, and everything all the better for it. In keeping with the event, this could be viewed rather as a cultural “dance-off”, where one side undoubtedly won. Where does Strictly go from here?

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