‘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– she has already broken her fair share of boundaries as an elite sportswoman.

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

“It’s not such an uncommon thing,” she said in an interview yesterday, “Professional dancers dance with people of the same sex all the time.”

Strictly Come Dancing is one of the world’s most commercially successful reality TV formats. Using a format exported to 50 countries, the show regularly draws audiences exceeding 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 that its heteronormative format, using traditional male/female couplings, conflicts with the show’s broader commitment to diversity and celebration of difference.

So, will the Strickly 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.

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. Their 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?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are making a documentary for Netflix about people who you think have helped make society more tolerant. Choose three people you would focus on and write a letter to them explaining why you would like to feature them in your documentary.

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 any attempts to remove prejudices and promote greater tolerance will 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 work to change opinions. If someone’s homophobic views are entrenched, then seeing a happily dancing same-sex couple may not be enough to allay their fears: they might enjoy the dance but still retain the same prejudices. Besides, the same-sex couple will be one of 12 couples competing, so will arguably have little impact on the overall feel of the show. In a format that involves a weekly elimination, the pair could be voted out early, becoming a short-lived novelty that fades from memory as the series progresses.

Word Watch

Commercially successful
Something is commercially successful when it is popular and held in high regard, 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. When used to describe diversity on television, that would mean a mix of different people in terms of age, gender, race, sexuality, socio-economic status, physical ability, religion, and other ideologies.

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