By Martha Fisher, Third Year, English and Theatre
Strictly Come Dancing has become a staple feature of Saturday night TV for over 6.2 million households across the globe. Tess, Claudia, Craig and Shirley have become such regular visitors to the nation's screens it’s almost as if they’re part of the family! But has the critical, professional eye become a tool of objectification?
When I was younger, Strictly was all about sequined outfits, dazzling glitter balls and belly-aching laughter as John Sergeant DRAGGED his poor professional dancer Kristina Rihanoff across the ballroom floor. However, as I grew older Strictly evolved into a real celebration of dance. Whether it was Danny Mac’s samba or Jay McGuiness’ Pulp Fiction-inspired jive, I couldn’t get enough of the toe-tapping, hip-shaking, Saturday night showstoppers.
However, in recent years I’ve often found myself feeling uncomfortable and even cringing at the treatment of Strictly’s male dancers.
Last Saturday, viewers were dazzled with season twenty-one’s jam-packed Movie Week. There were Super Mario jives, Shakespeare-inspired sambas and even this season’s first ten! However, what caught my eye even more than Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru Murthy in a full-on Cabaret costume, was the judges’ objectification of professional dancer Giovanni Pernice. Following Amanda Abbington and Giovanni Pernice‘s Bridget Jones-inspired rumba, a former dancer turned judge Anton Du Beke exclaimed ‘Isn’t it nice when Giovanni gets all close, it makes you feel…’ then proceeded to make gushing, sexual oooos and ahhhhs. He goes on to exclaim how he’s gotten a ‘little warm’ but of course, that is just the velvet of his suit! To make matters even worse, during Anton’s outburst Giovanni exclaimed that his own mother was currently sitting in the audience; an obvious ploy to change the topic– what a disaster darling!
Of course, Motsi, Shirley and Craig all giggled along to Anton’s antics. However, as a viewer, I was left with a really sour taste in my mouth. I found myself questioning why these judges felt compelled to comment on the appearances of their male dancers and how in turn their appearances make them feel – does their dancing experience give them full access to judge not just the performance but the individual and their body?
Unsurprisingly, this is not the only instance of ‘predatory’ commentary from the Strictly judges. For Kelvin Fletcher, winning the coveted Glitterball trophy, unfortunately, didn’t leave him immune to such remarks, as he discovered in 2019. Similarly, it was the soap-stars rumba that got the judges hot under the collar with Shirley exclaiming Kelvin had ‘sent [her] temperature through the roof’ and caused her to go ‘all red’ while Craig called the couples dance ‘filthy’. Fans were quick to call out the judges online for their objectifying comments and the BBC show has since experienced an increase in complaints during the latter series.
However, the rumba is a passionate, sexy dance and therefore the movements are often sensual and romantic. Yet, the judges’ comments seem to suggest it is not the dance that is making them hot and bothered but the dancer instead! As professionals of the industry who have all been competing since adolescence (in Shirley’s case from the age of seven), you’d think they would be able to distinguish the two and focus more on heel leads than sexy hips.
The tip of the iceberg actually came in 2021 for many fans during Gorka Marquez and Katie McGlynn’s Cruella De Vil-inspired dance that led Craig to exclaim, ‘It really has made my night seeing you on all fours, darling!’. Craig was apparently overcome by the sight of Gorka dressed as a Dalmatian and even thanked Gorka for barking at him! Even show presenter Tess Daly couldn’t handle Craig’s antics here; she quickly covered her face with her hands as the studio erupted into giggles.
Irrefutably, Strictly Come Dancing has faced its fair share of criticism (let’s not forget the Strictly curse!) and I don’t expect this one will be the last. However, now more than ever it feels especially prevalent. It is a double standard calling to be stopped. If not to alleviate the awkward faces of the professional dancers as the judges gush and drawl all over them every weekend, then at least to make the show’s judging environment safe and fetish-free.
While I don’t think the answer is to stop watching Strictly altogether (what would I do with my Saturday nights?), I do hope the show shifts its focus slightly onto one, simple topic – dance!
Featured Image: IMDb
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