Springingtiger's Blog

Strictly Transformational

“I felt like I touched something divine.” Natalie Gumede

It is the end of another season of Strictly Come Dancing and as ever the newspapers and people’s posts will be full of comment. I had more or less decided to say nothing more about “Strictly” until, towards the end, I heard Natalie Gumede say, “I never felt more myself; it’s a very rare gift we’ve been given” and it occurred to me that, for the contestants at least, Strictly Come Dancing is a transformational experience. I managed to jot down just a couple more remarks I heard, the one which really moved me was television personality and millionaire entrepreneur Deborah Meaden’s, “It gave me a joy I thought I’d forgotten”; later on she said something about things that money cannot buy, but I didn’t manage to catch the quotation.

The celebrities in “Strictly Come Dancing” find themselves on a path that contains some of the classic elements of tried and tested spiritual paths. They push their bodies to do things they have never done, beyond their comfort and experience as do the yogi, the martial artist, and the pilgrim, they refine their sense of who they are. I think they also get an opportunity to discover what it is to absolutely depend on others, their families rally round to care for children, and provide other support as do their friends and colleagues. They have to surrender their will, very much, to their professional partner; the ones who can put aside their embarrassment and self consciousness and follow direction are the ones who progress. They have to learn to trust deeply in their spouses and partners ability to trust them, as they generate a weekly sexual chemistry with their dance partner, as well as a, trust in themselves. Susannah Reid said “It’s easy to fall in love with Kevin for three minutes.” and that is the key, for those three minutes the love has to be real, faking it puts people out of the competition. It is a skill which goes beyond mere acting. The contestants and the professionals have to learn physical courage and resilience, they have to trust their partners to handle lifts and have to find the grit to continue despite aches, sprains and bruises.

Some contestants because of the demands of their other commitments discover a capacity to find time, and make things happen, they never realised they had; as Julian Macdonald said,  “You can do anything if you put your mind to it.” The actor Patrick Robinson remarked, “Strictly gave me the knowledge there are still things I can do.” I can’t imagine the professionals in their first year have ever worked under the conditions they do on strictly, travelling all over the country to grab opportunities to rehearse, practising steps on trains and in corridors on film sets.

I like that the whole structure of Strictly Come Dancing is a continuous feedback machine. As well as the comments of the judges on a Saturday, throughout the series “It Takes Two” provides daily analysis from experts like Ian Waite and Karen Hardy as well as encouragement from the public who interact with the show via the website and social media. The public is often quick to disagree with certain of the judges remarks and scores, but I notice, from the interviews, how much the celebrities and, more particularly, the professionals actively use the comments to guide their training.

One of the things that comes out of Strictly Come Dancing is the power of working together. I suspect part of its power lies in the shared commitment of all the contestants, professionals, singers, presenters, musicians, designers, technicians, seamstresses, caterers, cleaners, admin staff, etcetera to generate a magical experience every winter. I love the way contestants encourage and support each other, of course several of the professionals are competing against their own dance partners and spouses, it seems, to an outside to generate a sense of community and purpose that goes beyond the goal of winning a trophy. There seems to come a point where everyone realises that the prize on offer is not a glitter ball or a title, but a life that will never be the same again, an experience and friendships that will last that lifetime, and a way of living and sharing their lives that enriches them and all around them.

There is much in Strictly Come Dancing that could well be modeled by our society more broadly and by our institutions. What if cooperative learning were the norm in schools, or we all got continuous constructive feedback on our performance with the emphasis on encouragement? What if our education and workplaces provided us with an environment where it was safe to go outside our comfort zone and try new things without the fear of punishment or exploitation? What if we all sought the common good as well as our own, and as enthusiastically? What if Strictly Come Dancing is a microcosm model of what our society could be?


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