Who is Shirley Ballas, and why do people suddenly think she’s the new Strictly Come Dancing judge?

Len Goodman could have an unexpected replacement

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UPDATE: Shirley Ballas has been CONFIRMED as the new Strictly Head Judge. Read more here.

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Many names have been in the mix to replace Len Goodman – Brendan Cole, Gary Edwards, Anton Du Beke, Arlene Phillips – but now, from out of left field, we have a new contender: Shirley Ballas. 

According to The Sun, this international Latin champion has already impressed producers at screen tests and emerged as an unexpected frontrunner, though the BBC will not yet confirm reports of any auditions or decisions.

So what do we know about 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. 

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.

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.

Born and raised in Wallasey in the UK, as a young girl she was a talented dancer, though family finances were tight. At the age of 18 she 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.

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Could we be seeing more of Shirley’s talents on TV soon?