Here’s everything you need to know about the “Queen of Latin”:
Who is Shirley Ballas?
Shirley Ballas, 56, is a British ballroom dancer and teacher who has been called “The Queen of Latin” – something that could count in her favour, as she’d be able to provide expert Len Goodman-style commentary on technique.
Shirley has also had a brush with the “Curse of Strictly”. Her ex-husband Corky Ballas actually went on to date former Strictly pro Kristina Rihanoff before their 2007 divorce was finalised, though the relationship fizzled out after a few years.
Though she has never served as a talent show judge before, Shirley is well known to fans of US version Dancing with the Stars.
Her son Mark Ballas was a pro dancer on the show for almost a decade. On top of that, she helped raise and train two other young dancers, Julianne Hough and Derek Hough, both of whom have been Dancing with the Stars champions.
And Mama Ballas has previously stepped in for guest appearances – even providing masterclasses to the contestants. Dancing With the Stars judges, of course, include Bruno Tonioli and Len Goodman himself.
Born and raised in Wallasey in the UK, as a young girl she was a talented dancer. Shirley has even revealed that she trained in ballroom dancing with none other than Len Goodman, and that he even used to judge her dancing when she was a child.
“I’ve known Len since I started in the dance industry many years ago and when I used to compete from about the age of 9 or 10 and he was one of the judges,” Shirley said. “However, our paths properly crossed when I was about 15 or 16 when I actually trained with him as a dancer.
“We have remained friends and at any dinner party we were at together, he was the life and soul of the party,” she added. “Len always had great things to say about my dancing and I’m a big fan of his sense of humour and his insight into ballroom dancing. He played such an iconic role on Strictly and I know the viewers adored him!”
At the age of 18, Shirley won her first major title and caught the dance world’s attention.
Along with her dance partner (and first husband) Sammy Stopford, she triumphed in the 1983 International Latin American Dance Championship.
Their marriage ended when she met Corky at a dance competition in Quebec. She moved to America to be with him and they trained hard in Latin, with the two winning their first US title in 1984.
A dozen years after first winning the title, she again bagged the trophy at the International Latin American Dance Championship and she retried from competitive dancing in 1996.
Strictly Come Dancing will return on Saturday September 23 on BBC1.