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Strictly breaking with tradition: TV dance show steps out in style with first all-male pairing

© BBC/Guy LevyStrictly Come Dancing line up.
Strictly Come Dancing line up.

The brand new season of Strictly Come Dancing kicked off last night as the sparkling cast of celebrities coupled up with their professional partners for the first time in a show packed with glitter, laughs and fabulous dance moves.

TV baker John Whaite and professional dancer Johannes Radebe will be Strictly’s first all-male pairing after last year’s first all-female couple, Nicola Adams and Katya Jones.

Whaite told a reporter he was surprised by the support he has received since being announced as a contestant: “The reaction has been so positive. Because I’m doing the first all-male partnership I thought I was going to receive a fair bit of hate, but I can say I haven’t had a single message of negativity.

“I realised how important a step forward it is, for kids to have same-sex role models it will give them a little bit of hope for the future.”

Whaite and Radebe’s same-sex pairing will not be the only new first on the show this year. Giovanni Pernice will dance with Rose Ayling-Ellis, Strictly’s first deaf contestant.

There will also be new faces in the professional dancer line-up, with Gordon Ramsay’s daughter Tilly Ramsay dancing with 23-year-old newbie Nikita Kuzmin, and TV presenter AJ Odudu joining Britain’s Got Talent finalist and pro-dancer Kai Widdrington.

It wasn’t all plain sailing though after reports two of the show’s professionals refused to be vaccinated against Covid.

A spokesperson for the BBC One series said: “We do not comment on speculation of somebody’s Covid vaccination status. Strictly Come Dancing production has, and will, continue to follow strict government guidelines to ensure the safety of all on the show.”

Kim Winston, co-host of The Strictly Come Dancing Official Podcast, gave some insight into how producers pair the celebrities with their professional dancing partners: “The take into consideration a huge number of factors from height, personality, to who they have danced with before. I think this year they have got the pairings spot on.”

Winston was there when the celebrities walked into the ballroom for the first time: “There was huge excitement, and it was lovely to see their reactions. I started working on the show in 2009, and I distinctly remember walking into the ballroom for the first time. There isn’t anything like it. The contestants are so excited.”

Superfan with a microphone: Strictly podcast host Kim Winston on how she waltzed into her dream job

Winston worked in Strictly’s production department for 10 years but now focuses exclusively on the official podcast, bringing listeners the latest behind-the-scenes gossip.

Winston said her knowledge of the workings of the show allowed her to give the audience unprecedented insights into how the series was put together. “I’m able to bring the listeners back stage and give an idea of what goes into making a show of that volume.”

Another Strictly first will see former professional dancer and Strictly legend Anton Du Beke hanging up his dancing shoes to take a seat on the judging panel.

Du Beke said he would be a safe port in a storm for the contestants: “I know what it’s like when it goes marvellously in rehearsal on Thursday, and you can’t wait for Saturday because you’re going to slay it – and then on the show it’s as if you and your partner have never met. So I’ll be empathetic and understanding.”

Winston said the support Du Beke had from his fellow professional dancers on his new role showed how loved and respected he is: “One of the nicest parts of the launch show was when they showed a VT of Anton preparing backstage, and talking about what type of judge he is going to be.

“When it came back into the studio all of the professional dancers stood up and clapped, and it showed the genuine bond the cast have.”

The Strictly Come Dancing Official Podcast is available on BBC Sounds