Strictly fix: Does dancing experience give stars an advantage?

Why it's difficult for the BBC to get stars without any dance experience

Nikita Kuzmin and Layton Williams dancing on Strictly. (BBC)
Nikita Kuzmin and Layton Williams dancing on Strictly. (BBC)

Strictly Come Dancing has become embroiled in a fix row again after Layton Williams was trolled for having "professional" dance experience.

Even Les Dennis, who was eliminated this week, was forced to address his own previous dance experience in recent weeks, saying he was treading the boards in the "comedy dance sense".

We take a look at why there is a backlash, the difficulty of getting contestants without any experience and what some of the 2023 contestants have said themselves about their history of dancing…

What is the backlash about?

Craig Revel Horwood, Motsi Mabuse, Shirley Ballas and Anton Du Beke are the judges on the show
Craig Revel Horwood, Motsi Mabuse, Shirley Ballas and Anton Du Beke are the judges on the show (BBC)

Every year Strictly Come Dancing faces a backlash over its celebrities having previous dance training, whether they have gained experience from being in the West End or from theatre school.

With this in mind, all the 2023 contestants have varying levels of experience when it comes to dancing. Some fans have claimed this gives those famous faces an "unfair advantage" over others in the competition.

Why is it difficult for the BBC to get contestants without any dance experience?

Strictly Come Dancing 2023,23-09-2023,TX1 LIVE SHOW,TX1,Nigel Harman and Katya Jones,++LIVE SHOW++,BBC,Guy Levy
Nigel Harman and Katya Jones. (BBC/Guy Levy)

The contestants come from all walks of showbiz, from TV presenting to working in radio and acting circles. Although they are all in the spotlight, the famous faces have had different life experiences and opportunities.

Plus, all the contestants are different ages — with Angela Rippon being the oldest ever contestant in the history of the show at 78. Meanwhile, EastEnders star Bobby Brazier is this year's youngest contestant aged 20.

Stars who come from a musical theatre background will have professional dancing experience on stage that others do not have. Also, some actors will have been taught dance as it is often on the curriculum at drama school.

What some of 2023 contestants said about their dancing experience:

Layton Williams

Layton Williams and Nikita dancing on Strictly Come Dancing
Layton and Nikita put on a dazzling performance (BBC)

Strictly contestant Layton Williams hasn’t shied away from his previous dance training, having starred in the West End for more than 15 years with roles in Billy Elliot and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

Over the weekend, the star was trolled because some people claimed he had an “unfair advantage” over others for this reason.

Addressing the trolling, he wrote on social media: "The messages of love are overwhelming but as is the low key trolling. I’m just here to have fun like all the other contestants. I’m trying to handle this with a smile and determination to slay another day but reminder #BeKind."

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 29:  Layton Williams performs during West End Musical Drive-In at The Drive-In, Troubadour Meridian Water, on August 29, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
Layton Williams performs during West End Musical Drive-In in 2020. (Getty Images)

Wearing his heart on his sleeve, Williams had been open about his experience of dancing on stage before joining the Strictly dance floor. He previously said: "I trained in jazz, tap, and ballet to a certain degree. I’m absolutely not a ballet dancer, but I’ve done shows that I’ve had to play characters who are.

"So dance is in me, it’s a core feeling and I love it and it’s my passion. But this world of Latin and Ballroom is completely new to me, so that’s what I’m excited to explore."

Angela Rippon

Kai Widdrington and Angela Rippon dance on Strictly (BBC)
Kai Widdrington and Angela Rippon dance on Strictly (BBC)

Dancing has played a role in Rippon’s life too. At 78, she is the oldest ever Strictly contestant but already she has been showing off her fabulous high kicks and moves during the live shows.

In 1976, Rippon famously wowed the nation with her high-kicking dance routine in the Morecambe and Wise Christmas special. She later went on to host Come Dancing, Strictly’s predecessor on the BBC.

Ahead of the show, she addressed the speculation around her dancing past saying: "I was 37 for Morecambe and Wise! It was a very long time ago. I presented Come Dancing, I didn't dance in Come Dancing.

Ernie Wise, one half of British comedy duo known as 'Morecambe and Wise'- with TV Presenter ANGELA RIPPON in a scene from The Morecambe and Wise Show. Date, 09.11.1984.   (Photo by Avalon/Getty Images)
Ernie Wise dancing with Angela Rippon on the Morecambe and Wise show. (Avalon/Getty Images)

"But I'm very fortunate I've been around dancers for a very long time and doing Come Dancing, I was chairman of the English National Ballet for four years – I've been around dancers.

"So I know what's required and I did go to ballet class until I was about 17."

Zara McDermott

Zara McDermott is taking part in Strictly Come Dancing 2023. (BBC)
Zara McDermott is taking part in Strictly Come Dancing 2023 (BBC)

Meanwhile, documentary maker Zara McDermott, who is the first ever Love Island star to compete on Strictly, has no formal dancing experience and has battled with sore feet.

However, last week she was quick to address whether she has "previous dance experience" in a hilarious way on social media. She poked fun at the question that the contestants are always asked in a tongue and cheek video.

She wrote: "Yes I am a trained professional Tik Tok dancer actually."

Who has faced criticism in previous years?

Helen Skelton

Helen Skelton dances with Gorka Marquez on Strictly Come Dancing
Helen Skelton laughed off claims she had an advantage on Strictly (BBC)

When Helen Skelton appeared on Strictly last year, she laughed off claims she had an advantage over others competing for the Glitter Ball trophy. Lorraine Kelly had no qualms asking the presenter about her previous dancing experience.

With good humour, she said: "I found it so funny when they said it was a fix – Helen’s a tap dancing champion. When I was seven, yes, I did tap dancing."

It had emerged the star had won the Ken Dodd Tap Dancing Award more than two decades before her appearance on Strictly and in 2016, she had said: "Not a lot of people know this, but I’m very good at tap dancing. People are often amazed I can tap dance."

She had also made an impression on people when she had danced in the Christmas special of Strictly in 2012.

Fleur East

Fleur East had the best time dancing in a hot pink outfit alongside Vito Coppola
Fleur East had the best time dancing with Vito Coppola (BBC)

Also in the Strictly 2022 line-up, Fleur East come under fire for her previous dancing history. Naturally as a pop star and former X Factor contestant, she can dance live and she also loves to show off her moves on TikTok.

She had to tackle the issue head on when Ranvir Singh asked her on Lorraine: "Everyone knows you can dance and can deal with the pressures of a live show. Do you feel like the pressure’s on you to be the top of the leaderboard every week?"

The pop star clarified her dancing experience, saying in her defence: "I can dance in the club, and when I'm singing on stage, but I’ve never done any technical dancing. So I don’t know anything about ballroom, how to point a toe or spin or any kind of stuff like that.

"Put me on TikTok and I'm away but ballroom, this is a completely different level."

Strictly airs on Saturday October 7 from 6.20pm on BBC One and BBC iPlayer.

Read more: Strictly

Watch: Angela Rippon wows on the Strictly dancefloor