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“Usually, when I was in the car and bopping along in time to the music, I definitely wasn’t. Now I am better at counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 – those are life skills!” Lauren Steadman laughs, as I ask her how her life has changed since appearing on Strictly Come Dancing back in 2018.
However, as well as a newfound musicality, the Paralympian is keen to emphasise just how transformative taking part on the show was for her.
“Strictly opened up a whole other world to me,” she recalls. “As an athlete, you’re used to being very driven and looking at one thing the whole time, but Strictly opened up a community.
“I’m forever grateful for what it gave me to move forward and change perspective on where my own life was going.”
While on Strictly, Lauren was paired with professional dancer AJ Pritchard, and together they reached the semi-final.
The gold-medal winning Paratriathlon athlete admits it was “pretty disappointing” to miss out on making the final by a whisker, but adds: “I have to look back and realise I have no dance experience. So when I look back and watch my dances, I can’t be disappointed and I can’t be upset.
“If you said to me at the beginning that the semi-final was where I was going to go out, I’d have been like, ‘You’re having a laugh!’”
In the latest instalment of our Back To The Ballroom series, Lauren shares some behind-the-scenes Strictly secrets and reveals how AJ helped her overcome something that he’d probably “never realise”...
Strictly gave me a much greater appreciation for make-up and hair...
I learned a lot. I knew how to put on the basic amount of make-up, but now if I was going out for the evening and needed the next level of make-up, I know how to do it.
When you have it done so often, you come to realise how to do it – even down to how to put lashes on and the colours that work with your eyes, what make-up does work for you, and doesn’t. I guess with hair, you can look at a hairstyle and not realise what has actually gone into it.
Sometimes it took me 45 minutes to go back to normal on a Saturday night…
It was really intense, but I loved it. I was the biggest girlie-girl in the world, it was awesome.
It’s not the celebs or dancers that have the most fun in the after-show bar...
Parents and the people you take into the green room seem to have a more sore head than the dancers the next day. If you’ve got friends and family, sometimes they have a drink to stop the nerves they have about you dancing!
I will always remember how the American Smooth made me feel...
It was a lovely week of training. It was the only week where I could say I was 100% relaxed and I could just dance – I wasn’t thinking, I was just dancing. That’s why it was so memorable for me.
I really enjoyed the part where AJ would push and I had to push against him and you get that sort of slowing feel that goes around the ballroom. It’s quite hard to explain the feeling, but when you get it right, you sort of levitate around the dance floor.
I hadn’t experienced it before and it’s the one thing that makes me want to continue ballroom dancing, just for that feeling.
The biggest life lesson the show taught me is one AJ helped me achieve…
I have a tendency that if we were taking a picture, I would stand on the left side of the person so my arm would be behind their back if it was a full length picture. But AJ was like, “What are you doing? No, go on the other side and make sure your arm is visible to the world because you’ve come on here to show them that you are proud and you are going to dance just like everyone else, so let’s show them”.
Ever since then, I’ve not really thought about it and just taken pictures. He’ll never realise that thing he did, but for me it was a big moment.
Not enough people gave him credit for the way he led me...
Dancing is normally led by the right hand and I don’t have one, so he was constantly having to switch and reverse all the dance moves. They’re just small things, like, we would do some lifts and he’d be having to use his weak side. We were both on weak sides, so he did really well.
I could say that we argued and bickered, but it was good because it meant that we challenged each other. If I didn’t want to do something, he would be like, “No, you actually can do this, I believe in you”.
And then other times, he’d be like, “Woah, I think that’s too much,” but I’d be like, “No, we can do this!”. It was great that we were able to have the communication where we could speak openly to one another and say how we felt.
If I could have danced with anyone else, it would have been…
Johannes – he has my heart. The fire in his soul is incredible and I remember when we first met all the pros, me and him were partnered together and he looked really nervous. But after we’d done the initial meet and stuff, he was having a whale of a time and I felt confident.
It’s his passion and he’s a kind human being. It would have been awesome to be partnered with him – anyone who is, is super lucky.
The biggest surprise about Strictly is…
How much everybody loved their jobs. I’ve been part of so many events and largely-run competitions, but it didn’t matter what the person’s job role was at Strictly – whether they were on flooring, props, lighting, music, hair and make-up – they were excited and everybody gave their best effort.
Usually there’s someone who doesn’t enjoy what they’re doing, but there isn’t a single person that doesn’t give it their all. That’s why when you watch the show on Saturday nights, you’re so immersed because it’s such a high quality production and people pay attention to the small details.
The one thing I’d change about my experience would be…
I would like to have had the Charleston later on in the show. I had it in week two, and at that point, I was still a bit of a deer staring into car headlights. Whereas 13 weeks later, I kind of had an idea of what I was able to do and had more musicality. We did a couple of lifts that week and it was quite tricky, and I was quite nervous still, so I didn’t relax. It would have been cool to have done it when I had a bit more dance knowledge behind me.
My favourite ever Strictly routine is…
I was lucky enough to be there for the Christmas Special when Caroline Flack did it. To actually see her dance live was a really special moment. The dance was flawless, but it was just the look on her face and how much she was immersed in the moment.
She was smiling the whole way through and the energy was high. And it was Christmas too. If someone said “describe Christmas”, that’s kind of what it was.
My dream Strictly celeb is…
Because I was on SAS: Who Dares Wins, if you got Foxy or Ant Middleton on there, that would make me very happy. They would either be amazing, or they would be really bad. It would be amazing to think that the dancer would be shouting at them giving them instructions – to see Katya or Karen dishing out press ups!
My advice for this year’s contestants is…
When you are dancing day in, day out, you can get really tired, and it is tough, but every Saturday night, it is worth it. You only get Sunday to rest, so make sure you chill the best you can, because the next thing you know, it will be Christmas and then it will all be over.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.