Strictly Come Dancing: 33 Secrets Even The Biggest Fans Don't Know About The BBC Dance Show

·13-min read
(Photo: BBC/HuffPost)
(Photo: BBC/HuffPost)

When a show has been on our screens for as long as Strictly Come Dancing has, you might think that there’s nothing left to learn about it.

However, we’ve peeled back the sequinned curtain to reveal 33 well-kept secrets that will be surprises to even the biggest Strictly die-hards...

1. Production begins much earlier in the year than you might think

With a whole lot of celebrities to book for each series, the casting team begin conversations with agents early in the year, before they are then joined by more of the production team in late spring.

The professional dancers also usually start rehearsals in late July, while the celebrities are officially unveiled to the public in early August before work on recording the launch show begins in late August/early September.

2. While they might be celebrities, contestants still have to audition for the show

After getting the call, 2018 contestant Faye Tozer revealed that “you go in for a little meeting and you do a little practise run” with one of the professional dancers.

“I did a Waltz and a Samba or a Cha Cha for a few minutes with Aljaž,” she told HuffPost. “[The producers] had a watch and a chat and I just had to wait, and wait, and wait to see if they’d accepted me.”

3. And that wait can be a really long time

“My audition was around May, and then it was August that I got the nod. I thought it was done and gone and not meant to be,” Faye said.

“I think they change it as they go along, because they might go ‘oh no, we’ve got a sports person’ or someone else comes in the mix, so I don’t think they make final decisions until close to announcing.”

4. During Covid, all the group dances were recorded before the series even started

The pandemic brought a number of changes to the show in 2020, with one of them seeing all the professionals bubbling up in a hotel together to rehearse all the group dances for the series, before heading into the studio to record them all in advance.

This allowed them to film the numbers safely and in close proximity to one another, which they would not have been able to do during the series, as the pros were in bubbles with their celebrity partners.

Bosses brought back this way of working for the group dances in 2021.

5. Usually the pros have to take time out of their training schedule to rehearse the group dances

(Photo: BBC)
(Photo: BBC)

When the group numbers are filmed each week, the pros have to dedicate time in their training schedule to get together with all the other pros to rehearse.

Janette Manrara revealed to HuffPost in 2019: “Normally on Monday mornings we have a group refresher. We’ve already choreographed the routine earlier in the year and then on the Monday we’ll have a four-hour refresher in the studio with the choreographer where we sit down and map out the whole routine again. And then after that we go to rehearsals with our celebs.”

6. The couples’ routines are only put together on the Sunday before training

The pros only have one day to get their routine together for the next week after making it through the results show before training gets underway.

Janette told HuffPost in 2019: “I’m very lucky that my husband [Aljaž Škorjanec] is on the show, so we use each other a lot for the man and woman’s steps. We’ll normally do that together on a Sunday, and just have the whole routine ready to go, so when we come in on a Monday we’re ready to teach them.”

7. This means that the pros don’t get a day off when they are in the competition

The 2021 professional dancers (Photo: BBC)
The 2021 professional dancers (Photo: BBC)

Janette explained: “You’re so busy during the week and Friday we’re in the studio, Saturday is obviously show day and Sunday is meant to be our day off, but we pros, if we’re in the competition, we don’t get Sunday off. It’s almost the most important day of the week, as it’s the day that you do lots of research and gather your thoughts about the steps and what you want to use and what the storyline is.

“Because the celebs don’t have a lot of time to learn you can’t come in not knowing what you want to do.”

8. Unlike the celebs…

They get the Sunday to just chill out and relax after a hard week’s training, which most of them do on top of their regular day job.

Janette Manrara and Will Bayley in Strictly rehearsals in 2018 (Photo: BBC)
Janette Manrara and Will Bayley in Strictly rehearsals in 2018 (Photo: BBC)

9. There is a special dedicated team who help the pros out with the routine and production…

Janette revealed: “We have a team – they’re called the dance team – which is a group of three or four people that come with us pros, and they help us because we get like writer’s block. They’re amazing because they’ll give us ideas, help us with song choices and help produce the routine.

“So for example, in week one, it was all my ideas and I knew in my head what I wanted so I sent them visuals and clips and photos. The team are so good, they just get it. They’re the best in the business.”

10. But the pros have the final say...

“If I don’t like the song or the concept or something’s not working, then the pro has the final say,” Janette said. “But the dance team are incredible. I’ve never had anything where I’ve been like ‘what is that?’”

11. The professionals travel the country to be with their contestants

Many of the celebrities who take part are not based in London, so the pro dancer will relocate for a number of days a week so that they can train locally to where their partner lives or is working. They must both then travel down to Elstree each week.

12. Strictly originally aired from a different studio

Aerial view of the sound stage used for Strictly Come Dancing on the lot at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood (Photo: High Level/Shutterstock)
Aerial view of the sound stage used for Strictly Come Dancing on the lot at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood (Photo: High Level/Shutterstock)

Currently, the Strictly ballroom is hosted by the George Lucas Stage at Elstree Studios in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire. The stage was the home to the original Star Wars films, and was also used during the Channel 4 era of Big Brother.

However, until 2013, Strictly was filmed at the BBC Television Centre in White City in London. It moved to Elstree when the BBC sold off the iconic building for redevelopment. It had been due to move back a few years later when BBC Studioworks began to sublet part of the renovated building from its new owners.

But as the move to Elstree had given bosses the chance to quite significantly increase the size of the ballroom, Strictly’s decamp back to Television Centre was scrapped when it reopened in 2018.

Strictly Come Dancing pros outside the old BBC Television Centre (Photo: BBC)
Strictly Come Dancing pros outside the old BBC Television Centre (Photo: BBC)

13. Friday is studio rehearsal day

James Jordan and Denise Van Outen in rehearsals in 2011 (Photo: Shutterstock)
James Jordan and Denise Van Outen in rehearsals in 2011 (Photo: Shutterstock)

All couples are required to be on site in the studio every Friday so they can run through their routines so the camera operators can get all the correct angles. This also gives them the chance to work with any props they’ll have on the show for the first time.

14. Rehearsals in the studio are strict

Each pair is only allowed to run through their routine a set number of times (often just twice) on Fridays, so that everyone gets the same amount of time in the ballroom.

Alexandra Burke and Gorka Marquez in Strictly rehearsals in 2017 (Photo: BBC)
Alexandra Burke and Gorka Marquez in Strictly rehearsals in 2017 (Photo: BBC)

15. It is the first time the contestants get to see their costumes for that week

2018 contestant Dr Ranj revealed to HuffPost: “You go into wardrobe to try on your outfit and we’d all be in there together, boys on one side, girls on the other side. No one gets to see that bit and it’s also the first time you get to see the other contestants all week and it’s a really lovely moment.”

16. A full dress run then takes place on Saturday

After the celebrities and dancers arrive at the studio on Saturday morning, they all go into hair, make-up and wardrobe to be kitted out for the live show.

After lunch, they run the whole show through from start to finish with hosts Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman. However, the judges are not present, with members of the production team sitting in on the panel instead so that producers can run everything to time.

It is the first and only time that the contestants get to actually dance in their costumes before the show, so if there are any issues, very swift adjustments have to be made.

17. The judges watch the dress rehearsal from their dressing rooms

While the judges are never told what comments or marks to give, they do get to see a live stream of the contestants’ rehearsals to help them get an idea of what to look out for later that evening.

18. The singers find out the songs at the beginning of each week

By Tuesday, the session singers know what they will be singing come Saturday night and then have a few days to get them in their heads.

“We’re sent an edit of the track that the dancers will dance to, and we learn our lead vocals on our own during the week,” singer Tommy Blaize told HuffPost in 2017.

Some of the Strictly Come Dancing singers (Photo: BBC)
Some of the Strictly Come Dancing singers (Photo: BBC)

19. The singers all rehearse individually, before coming together on Fridays

“The first time we get together is about 6pm on Friday evening for about an hour in a room at Elstree and check everything is alright,” Tommy said. “Then from 7pm until about 10pm, we go into practise with the rhythm section and vocals so that the sound department can get a grip of what’s going on.”

20. The band don’t play the music altogether until Saturday morning

The band are not given any of the songs until the Friday, and most of the musicians play it for the first time on Saturday, according to Tommy. “They haven’t seen a note! They just sight-read. They just come in and see it on the paper.”

The Strictly band is led by conductor Dave Arch (Photo: BBC)
The Strictly band is led by conductor Dave Arch (Photo: BBC)

21. All the singers have different genres they specialise in

Tommy explained: “Normally the songs pick the singers - like if there’s a jazz thing, Hayley will sing it. If it’s soul, Andrea will sing it, and Lance will do the show side. I like having a go at everything, but I’m more the R&B, soul side of things. I normally sing the ballads and soppy stuff.

“Then we have different singers that come in if there’s a particular genre we don’t feel comfortable in, which is very rare. Between us, we can patch up most of the genres, but every now and again, there’s one that trips you up.”

22. The singers can be performing on-and-off for over 12 hours on show day

Tommy continued: “On a typical show day, at about 8.30am we’re on the stand making loads of noise. Then the dancers come in about an hour after we’ve been pottering around and run through their songs at least twice in the morning. Then we normally take a little lunch break, then we do a dress rehearsal, and then we go live around six-ish.

“Sometimes it runs a little past 11 [after recording the results show], but me and Dave Arch [the conductor of the orchestra] always pray it doesn’t as we sneak off to a pub around the corner and have a quick pint. It’s been such a long day and it’s the most delicious tasting pint you have.”

23. The Sunday results show is pre-recorded straight after Saturday’s live show

There is a short break so the audience can use the loo, but the dancers are usually back out on the floor after a quick change.

24. The results show is filmed out of sequence to how you see it on the telly

The results show is filmed straight after the main live show (Photo: BBC)
The results show is filmed straight after the main live show (Photo: BBC)

Performances from music artists are usually shot before the live show begins on Saturday, while group dances (in pre-Covid times) would then be shot straight after the live show.

The results are then announced, but there are many breaks in between, and the whole show is edited together to air on Sunday.

25. Some TV magic makes it a look like a different night

Some members of the audience who are sat in prominent places are shuffled around, so they’re not the same shot on both Saturday and Sunday, while Tess, Claudia and the judges all change their hair and outfits.

Same day, different outfits (Photo: BBC)
Same day, different outfits (Photo: BBC)

26. The result always leaks before it is on TV

Due to the fact the result is filmed almost 24 hours before it is on TV, it obviously leaks every week.

Over the years, various spoiler sites have popped up, publishing the result ahead of time thanks to an inside source. However, the mainstream press are kept to a strict embargo not to publish any result until after the Sunday show has aired.

27. There is HUGE demand for audience tickets

It’s claimed more than five million people apply to be in the audience every year, making it the hottest ticket in TV land.

28. And the studio doesn’t accommodate anywhere near that

The Strictly Come Dancing ballroom (Photo: Guy Levy/BBC)
The Strictly Come Dancing ballroom (Photo: Guy Levy/BBC)

The studio can only accommodate around 700 people, meaning there’s a lot of disappointed Strictly fans out there each year.

To help with this, the BBC only allow the same people to attend one show per series.

During Covid, the studio audience was parred back massively, and even scrapped altogether during the 2020 series.

29. This behind-the-scenes video shows just how much work goes into building the ballroom

Impressive stuff.

30. There was originally a different spin-off to It Takes Two

It Takes Two has aired weeknights on BBC Two alongside the main show since the second series in 2005 and has been hosted by Claudia Winkleman, Zoe Ball, Rylan Clark and Janette Manrara.

However, the first series had a different spin-off, with Strictly Come Dancing On Three airing on BBC Three which was hosted by Justin Lee Collins.

The former Friday Night Project host was dropped when Strictly was recommissioned for a second series, and later spoke out against the show’s then-host Bruce Forsyth, calling him “horrible”.

31. Tess Daly, Craig Revel Horwood and Anton Du Beke are the only people who have been there from the start

Tess Daly, Craig Revel Horwood and Anton Du Beke during the very first series (Photo: BBC)
Tess Daly, Craig Revel Horwood and Anton Du Beke during the very first series (Photo: BBC)

Tess has hosted every series of Strictly Come Dancing since it began in 2004, although she was replaced by series one winner Natasha Kaplinsky for some of the second run in 2005 when she was pregnant with her first child. Craig has also judged every series of Strictly so far.

Prior to the 2021 series, Anton was the longest serving professional dancer, having appeared on the first 18 series.

Following his move to the judging panel for the 19th series, the longest serving professional is Karen Hauer, who joined in the 10th series in 2012.

32. Pasha Kovalev is Strictly’s top scoring professional

(Photo: Dave J Hogan via Getty Images)
(Photo: Dave J Hogan via Getty Images)

The former pro dancer, who appeared on the show between 2011 and 2018, scored a total of 93 tens from the judges during his tenure – more than any other dancer who has appeared (as of 2021).

Pasha, whose partners included the late Caroline Flack and his now-wife Rachel Riley, also holds the record for the most dances with a perfect 40 score, totalling 13.

33. But Oti Mabuse and Aliona Villani are the only professionals to have won twice

Oti Mabuse and Aliona Vilani (Photo: Getty)
Oti Mabuse and Aliona Vilani (Photo: Getty)

Aliona won Strictly in 2011 with Harry Judd and then again in 2015 with Jay McGuniess.

Whereas Oti won two consecutive years, triumphing with Kelvin Fletcher in 2019 and then with Bill Bailey in 2020.

This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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