‘Inappropriate’, ‘grotesque’: why the outrage over Caroline Quentin’s Strictly arm-lick is justified

Marianka Swain
·5-min read
Johannes Radebe and Caroline Quentin - BBC
Johannes Radebe and Caroline Quentin - BBC

Strictly is no stranger to peculiar moves. There was John Sergeant dragging his partner across the floor like a wet towel in his paso doble. Russell Grant being fired out of a cannon. And who can forget Ed Balls’ infamous “Gangnam Style”?

But it appears that Strictly fans do have a line - and Caroline Quentin licking her partner’s arm in Saturday’s show may have crossed it.

Their Carry On cha cha cha involved Quentin summoning Johannes Radebe’s hunky fireman by pretending her cat needed rescuing. Wink wink.

So far so jolly, but viewers were alarmed when, mid dance, she took a lascivious slurp of her pro partner’s bulging bicep. Is this Quentin’s rebellion - Women Behaving Badly? 

“Cha cha, but make it cheeky,” trilled Strictly’s Twitter account, and some viewers enjoyed the comedy element of it - or were even envious of Quentin. But others took a different view. Darran Bilton tweeted that the licking “made my skin crawl.”

The latter opinion seemingly won out, with Quentin left by voters to compete in the dreaded dance-off. Interestingly, the lick wasn’t repeated there - perhaps they’d heard some of the backlash, or thought it might not impress the judges after Craig Revel Horwood said he “could have done without the tongue action.”

Elizabeth Anderson, who teaches in several dance studios around south-west London, was horrified. “It was grotesque! I was watching through my fingers. It wasn’t even fun as a comic bit. She was making facial expressions like Gollum. If one of my students licked me in the middle of a show, I’d have stern words.”

Anderson also runs dance team Showstoppers, and their WhatsApp group was a storm of appalled comments. “Everyone felt the same - and that’s a big range of ages, from 20s to 60s, men and women, different sexual orientations, different jobs.”

Even the concept of the routine was problematic, believes Anderson. “It was very tired, clichéd, ‘rescue me’, the older woman throwing herself at a young guy. Then she was up the leader and he was thrusting his pelvis at her. Cha cha is meant to be playful, flirty, essentially foreplay - not the actual act! She’d just ripped off her dressing gown and immediately he’s taking her from behind.”

Tess Daly, Caroline Quentin, and Johannes Radebe on Strictly Come Dancing
Tess Daly, Caroline Quentin, and Johannes Radebe on Strictly Come Dancing

As for lick-gate, Anderson thought “it looked awkward physically. She wound up bashing her head on his arm. It all felt overegged. Caroline is a beautiful woman, and when she smiles, her face lights up. This was gurning. We wanted more attack in her leg action - not this.”

Other than Revel Horwood’s displeasure, the judges seemed to find it amusing. “Anton saying that this is what a cha cha should look like? God no! And why was Shirley laughing?”

The trouble, says Anderson, is that “it makes a mockery of the professional teacher-student relationship. This isn’t equality for women. And it’s not fair on men either. 

“You have to be able to teach someone without it getting inappropriate. And it sexualised Johannes. It was the wrong call taking this young, athletic, black guy and getting his arms out for some Mrs Robinson-goes-wrong gag.”

Anderson recalls being very excited about Quentin joining the show, since “it’s great to see a variety of ages - dance is for all. But there’s a gender double standard. Bill Bailey is really dignified and committed to learning, a role model for older gents. He’s not licking Oti. If he had, everyone would be going mental.”

Of course, relationships do develop in the dance world - Anderson met her husband at a ball. And we know all about the Strictly Curse.

But there’s a difference between “an appropriate, reciprocal relationship and what we saw on Saturday. Just because Johannes is gay, it doesn’t mean it’s OK - this felt like it disrespected him as an individual.”

Strictly is a major shop window for the dance industry. It may be an entertainment show, but it has significant influence, points out Anderson.

“I take safeguarding really seriously. Unfortunately, I had to fire an assistant teacher recently because he’d been sending explicit images to students over Facebook.”

There are lots of people who watch Strictly and might like to take lessons, but feel too inhibited, Anderson believes. “This isn’t going to help.”

It’s certainly a memorable exit for Quentin, who initially made a popular pair with the charismatic Radebe. But, while some unlikely candidates have become national treasures via Strictly, from Judy Murray to Ann Widdicombe, Quentin seems to have missed the mark - and this final bid for attention has rather backfired.

Her ballet background was both help and hindrance, giving her ethereal grace, but meaning she never really seemed like she was embracing the learning process necessary for a good Strictly “journey”. The British public love a tryer - but not, it seems, a licker.