What is the Spirit of Strictly?

Is Ashley Roberts just too good for the show, asks Ben Dowell?

Ashley and Pasha Strictly (BBC, EH)

On Saturday night Strictly viewers bid a sad goodbye to Graeme Swann, the plucky former England cricketer who with partner Oti Mabuse lost out in the dance off to Ashley and Pasha.

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“I’d have voted for Ashley and Pasha as well,” Swanny joked. “I can’t quite believe that I was put against them to be honest… I was a novice coming in to this. This woman Oti has just made me fall in love with this whole dance nonsense that I thought it was before… To be honest let’s face it when you get down to the nitty gritty of this competition, I was on borrowed time, unless I learnt to fly or something I wasn’t going to go past here.”

Interesting. And so were the words of his dance partner Oti Mabuse.

“I’ve had the best season of my entire career on Strictly,” she said. “I have never laughed so much, I’ve never been so angry so much… We might not have been the best dancers, but [looking at Graeme] you are the spirit of Strictly.”

So what is that then – the spirit of Strictly? The lovable loser? The carthorse that tries? The decent dancer who becomes brilliant? It’s probably all these things. But one thing it isn’t, for me anyway, is the dancer who enters the competition performing like Ginger Rogers and continues in the same vein throughout the series.

And in the current series that dancer is clearly former Pussycat Dolls singer Ashley Roberts.

I have nothing against Ashley, and have enjoyed her extraordinary dancing all this series. But the spirit of Strictly? She arrived on the show fully formed as a dancer and has continued her dominance – topping the leaderboard in all but four of the ten weeks of the series so far and coming pretty close when she didn’t.

Given her brilliance it was a surprise to see her voted into the dance off; but it’s perhaps also a sign that the public feel that she may be too good and has slightly lost interest in her. And she was sure to win against Graeme and Oti anyway, right?

Of course we’ve had this debate before. Ashley joins a line of Strictly candidates who have had previous dance experience and performed strongly from the off. Recent examples include Alesha Dixon (who won the Glitterball) and Denise van Outen and Alexandra Burke (who came close but didn’t).

The Arizonian seems like a perfectly delightful person to me and there’s no doubt she dances wonderfully, better than anyone else in the current line up by a good distance. And it’s important to have good dancers in the early stages of each series so there’s something nice to watch while everyone’s finding their dancing feet. But I would be quite pleased if she didn’t win.

My favourite is probably Stacey who wasn’t really a dancer before she joined but now moves with grace, precision and skill. It’s what we want to see with this show – a journey.

The same goes for Joe Sugg. In Sunday’s show his dance partner Dianne gave an indication of the strides they have made.

“I am not going to lie, it was a bit like Bambi on Ice when he first came to me, skinny long limbs,” she said. “I thought, ‘this is going to be hard work’ but we have done it. We have worked so hard and [turning to him] you are a dancer, you are actually a dancer.”

That, to me, is the spirit of Strictly.

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Strictly Come Dancing continues this weekend on BBC1