Is Strictly Come Dancing a popularity contest or a serious dancing competition?

The ultimate power is put in our public hands, but unlike Len, Darcey, Bruno and Craig we don't know what we're talking about, says Ellie Walker-Arnott

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Strictly’s celebs have foxtrotted, waltzed and cha cha-ed their way, with varying degrees of success, through seven weeks of this year’s competition. Craig Revel Horwood has disclosed his half-term report and next week the competition travels to the birthplace of ballroom in Blackpool. That coveted glitter ball is becoming ever more within reach…

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This is the time of year when Strictly really comes into its own, when Saturday nights are so consistently dark and miserable that we all become hooked on our weekly fix of glitter and glitz. But it’s also when we start to get a bit mean, as Twitter floods with rageful tweets when a middle-of-the-board celebrity is voted off and a consistently low scorer books their fake tan in for another week.

At this point in the competition everyone starts pondering the question: Is Strictly Come Dancing a popularity contest or a serious dancing competition? It seems we’re all a little confused.

One thing we do know? It’s not The X Factor. Sure, you can be a fan of both Strictly and X Factor, as long as you have a telly that records stuff and the determination to sit through FIVE hours of shiny-floored programming every weekend. But let’s not pretend there isn’t a smidgeon of snobbery when it comes to Cowell’s sob-story filled, over-dramatised singing championship.

Strictly is a whole lot more serious than X Factor. (If you’re comfortable with classing sequin-encrusted leotards and rivers of fake tan as serious.) Strictly is about skill, about learning new and surprising tricks, about celebrities transforming their bodies into pirouetting, promenading and pivoting machines.

But I can’t help but feel a little confused when the world starts getting so up in arms about the “wrong” celebrities being dragged into the dreaded dance off.  

We’ve always had the ‘comedy acts’, the John Sergeants and Ann Widdecombes of the world who have ‘outstayed their welcome’. And that’s fine, because if we’re completely honest with ourselves, Strictly just isn’t a serious dancing competition.

After week one, ultimate power is put in our public hands, and, unlike Len, Darcey, Bruno and Craig, we don’t know what we’re talking about.

We might have religiously watched 11 series of Strictly, but that doesn’t make us experts. We at home enjoy a celebrity who can’t stop grinning during their Samba, missed steps and wobbly lifts or not. We can be as easily influenced by a funny or touching VT, a wonderful swishy skirt, a song choice that we LOVE and an easy and likeable post-dance demeanour as we can a tricky technical step.

For the viewers at home, it’s rarely about a smooth top line. We notice blanks, awkward routines and wardrobe malfunctions; we don’t notice fragmented Rumbas, correct hand placement and whether that a-ma-zing lift was illegal or not. In fact, we love an illegal lift. We boo and hiss whenever one of the judges tries to criticise one.   

And, if we are meant to be judging on dancing talents, we often get it completely wrong. How often do we love a dance, the live studio audience jumping up for a standing ovation in agreement, only for Craig to deem it a disaaaaaaster, darling.

This isn’t a serious dancing competition. It’s a sparkly, lovely, sequin-filled show, which exists to brighten up our dreary autumnal weekend evenings. Let’s not get ourselves too worked up about it. 

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Strictly Come Dancing continues tonight at 6:30pm on BBC1