‘It doesn’t matter about your sexuality’

Strictly breaking boundaries: Nicola Adams will dance with a woman in the upcoming series © BBC

Is Strictly Come Dancing a force for good? Some see its same-sex announcement as profit-driven publicity-seeking, while others celebrate it as a positive step towards social change.

With European, Commonwealth and world boxing titles – not to mention a groundbreaking Olympic gold medal – Nicola Adams has already broken her fair share of boundaries as an elite sportswoman.

But soon the retired boxer will go one step further as the first celebrity contestant in Strictly Come Dancing's 16-year-history to compete as part of a same-sex couple.

Adams, who shares a home with model girlfriend Ella Baig in Leeds, was unveiled as one of 12 new contestants on the BBC show after her boxing career was curtailed by an eye injury.

“I guess it’s just breaking those boundaries and showing people that it’s OK,” she said in an interview with the Guardian yesterday. “It’s not such an uncommon thing: professional dancers dance with people of the same sex all the time; you dance in a nightclub with your friends.

“I just wanted to break down the thing of it being a big deal when it’s not really a big deal.”

Strictly Come Dancing is the one of the world’s most commercially successful reality TV formats. Approaching its 18th series, in a format exported to 50 countries, the show regularly draws audiences of over 7 million in the UK.

A social dance of the privileged, ballroom dancing first appeared in 16th-century France before spreading across the world. In contrast, Latin dancing has its roots in the traditional dances of the indigenous cultures of Central and South America.

The smooth formality of ballroom compared with the rhythmic energy of Latin are heralded as examples of how Strictly Come Dancing celebrates diversity. But some critics have argued that its heteronormative format, using traditional male/female couplings, conflicts with the show’s broader commitment to diversity and celebration of difference.

So, in the 2019 series the BBC decided to “test the water”, and featured a dance performed by two men.

Afterwards, although the BBC received 189 complaints and was accused of ratings-chasing, support far outweighed the criticism.

Overall, the experiment was deemed a success, giving producers the confidence to add a same-sex couple to the 2020 line-up.

So, will the Strictly move make a difference?

Progress steps

Definitely, say some. This is a powerful tool for positive social change. With evidence of a rise in racist and homophobic attacks, the BBC has an opportunity to open minds and challenge prejudices. It is a positive way to help some viewers accept people and situations they perceive as ‘other’, within the comfortable familiarity of their favourite TV show.

No, say others. Strictly is merely a reality TV show and should stick to providing viewers with entertainment and escapism. The producers are just trying to attract attention and increase their ratings, and their cynical PR stunt will have little impact.

You Decide

  1. Can you think of two occasions where a TV show, film or play has changed your opinion on a subject? Was it for better or worse?
  2. Do performing and visual arts have the power to instigate real social change?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are making a documentary for Netflix about people you think have helped make society more tolerant. Choose three people you would focus on and write a letter to each, explaining why you would like to feature them in your documentary.
  2. Imagine you are to present an assembly on tolerance. Write a short speech arguing that social media, despite its claims to connect and unite us, is actually making us less tolerant to those who we perceive to be different.

Some People Say...

“Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911), a composer seen as a bridge between traditional and modernist music in the 20th century

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most of us would agree that attempts to remove prejudices and promote greater tolerance can lead to a safer, happier and more productive society. Strictly Come Dancing’s efforts to demonstrate diversity and encourage open-mindedness are an example of how the media and the arts are often pioneers of social change.
What do we not know?
Whether a reality TV show can really remove prejudice. If people’s homophobic views are entrenched, then seeing a happily dancing same-sex couple may not change their minds: they might enjoy the dance but still retain the same prejudices. As there will be 11 other couples competing, the same-sex couple will arguably have little impact on the overall feel of the show. In a format that involves a weekly elimination, the pair could even be voted out early, becoming only a short-lived novelty.

Word Watch

Commercially successful
Something is commercially successful when it is popular and therefore makes money.
Indigenous
Ethnic groups who are the original or earliest-known inhabitants of an area or country: for example, Native Americans in the USA.
Heteronormative
A world view that promotes heterosexuality as the “normal” or preferred sexual orientation.
Diversity
A range of different things. Diversity on television would require a representative mix of different people in terms of age, gender, race, sexuality, socio-economic status, physical ability, religion, and other ideologies.

Subjects

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