19 December 2022
Back in November, pupils got the treat of a lifetime when Strictly head judge Shirley Ballas waltzed into school to share some dance moves as part of the Find Your Dance Space campaign to boost well-being and showcase the benefits of dance to all.
In this article from Dance magazine issue #497, we chatted to Shirley about the exciting day at the school and asked questions on all things dance.
When did you start dancing and why?
I started dancing at seven years old in the church hall because I heard some music coming from the other room and it just filled my soul with the most beautiful feeling. I enquired into whether they were going to do children’s dance classes and they did – that’s how I joined and never stopped since.
What does dancing mean to you and how does it make you feel?
Dancing means everything to me – I think I’m married to it. It’s just something I do 24/7, 7 days a week – Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays. Without it, I feel lost. It gives me a warm feeling. I think you can get lost in a world of music and movement – it’s a form of escapism, I think. It really is a lovely feeling.
Why is the Find Your Dance Space campaign important to you and for dance in general? What do you hope it achieves?
This campaign has a simple message at its heart – get more people dancing. Dance is good for the soul, good for your physical health and mental well-being and you socialise whilst you’re doing it. I back the campaign because I want to see people of all ages dancing.
I recognise the importance of dancing with a qualified dance teacher – so as well as dancing being good for you in general, dancing with a trained ISTD professional ensures you learn dances in a safe environment, providing you with a good grounding of dance knowledge if you wish to become a professional dancer or a dance teacher.
You recently visited a primary school to spread the message of the Find your dance space campaign. Why is it important for schools to have dance classes for their pupils as part of their sports offerings?
I loved visiting the school to teach a cha-cha-cha lesson and to demonstrate how just in a short space of time, children in a class can learn something new and exciting, listen to some music and just dance.
Schools can access local dance teachers through the ISTD, and once you have them established in your school, the dance teacher can provide excellent regular classes and exercises as part of your school's PE and extra-curricular offerings.
"Schools can access local dance teachers through the ISTD, and once you have them established in your school, the dance teacher can provide excellent regular classes and exercises as part of your school's PE and extra-curricular offerings."
As an ISTD member, what would you say the benefits are for people dancing with an ISTD teacher?
The teachers can give you a feeling that anybody can dance. They can teach you the basic steps, they’re going to make you feel great, if you’ve had a bad day there’s always someone to communicate with. There will be a social group around and there are so many benefits – the list is endless!
As Head Judge on Strictly, what elements of a performance are you looking at when deciding your final score?
My judging style is slightly different on Strictly compared to a major world championship. On Strictly, the dancers only have a few days to get ready, so I scan the body like you would in the airport. I look at the footwork, the leg action, how flexible they are, check if they are coordinated, do they understand a little bit about their posture? I can weigh that up by somebody just doing one La Cucaracha.
"I look at the footwork, the leg action, how flexible they are, check if they are coordinated, do they understand a little bit about their posture. I can weigh that up with somebody just doing one La Cucaracha."
When you danced professionally, what was your favourite aspect of the art of performing?
When I was younger, it was all about dressing up and going to meet people that had the same passion as I had. The performing part of it has the thrill of the music and the fact that, if you’re doing a demonstration on the floor, you’re the only couple. Competing was huge for me – I loved demonstrating but I loved the thrill of competing and exceeding all expectations.
What’s your best dance memory?
I think my best dance memory was winning with Corky [Ballas] in 1996 when we were against all odds. Everybody, including family, said that we would never make it. I think there was a huge thrill winning with him as I really believe we did it against all the odds.
What are some of the most significant moments in your career to date?
Being paired up with Sammy Stockford when I was 17. Winning the British Championships in 1983. Winning again in 1995 and 1996 with a second partner. In between all of that, giving birth to my son, Mark. When he turned 10 and I retired in 1996, he decided he wanted to be a dancer – so that was a good memory for me. We were leaving our careers and he was starting his.
"If it’s in your heart and it's your passion, then move forward and do it."
If you were talking to young dancers, what advice would you give about getting into the industry?
I would say to do some research and find the best studio in your area. If it’s in your heart and it's your passion, then move forward and do it. Whether you want to be in a same-sex partnership or whatever partnership you want to be in, you should do what makes you feel happy.