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Strictly Come Dancing tour review: Tears, joy, and a lot of love in Birmingham

Ballroom and Latin dancing runs in my family. My nan went to lessons, followed by my mother and my aunt.

Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice's iconic showdance. (Photo by Dave J Hogan)
Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice's iconic showdance. (Photo by Dave J Hogan)

My cousin and I went dancing for over a decade each, and when it was once suggested that my cousin could become a professional on Strictly, six-year-old me sat at the top of the stairs on my own and cried because that was my dream!

So Strictly always sparks excitement for me and I was thrilled to be able to go and see the live tour at Utilita Arena Birmingham.

It's been a long wait for Strictly fans, as the pandemic pushed the tour back by two years, and every dancer on the stage looked like they had been counting down the days until they could dance in front of live audiences again.

And it was clear that the audience had found the wait just as torturous. I was surrounded by die-hard Strictly fans, and particularly endeared by the people in the row behind me replying to the judge's remarks, such as "Yes, she was robbed!"

John and Johannes

After an electric group opener to Donna Summer's iconic I Feel Love, the night started off with John Whaite and Johannes Radebe, the show's first ever male-male pairing.

They kicked off with their riveting Pirates of the Caribbean pasodoble, rightfully earning them a perfect 30.

John and Johannes always cast a spell over their audiences and I couldn't physically tear my eyes away from them during their opening number.

John Whaite and Johannes Radebe do the pasodoble. Photo: Dave J Hogan

The combination of their dynamic, duelling performances as warring pirates and music with a bass with so strong it could perform its own CPR left me physically aching to rush out of my seat and join in.

Their second dance of the night was their show dance to Florence and the Machine's You've Got The Love, a celebration of love in all of its forms, and Bruno Tonioli thanked the couple afterwards for helping the show to "move out of the dark ages".

The show finished its first half with this ethos, weaving a beautiful love story between Johannes and Kai as a Prince falling in love with a handsome stranger at a ball, set to an instrumental cover of Taylor Swift's Love Story.

To put it simply, it was magnificent.

The show must go on

While the show could finally go ahead after two years, Covid didn't entirely leave the cast unscathed. Tilly Ramsay's dance partner, Nikita Kuzmin tested positive for the virus only a few days before the tour was due to start.

But the show must go on and Neil Jones stepped into the breach, proving he's a pro by learning the choreography for the pair's waltz in only two hours.

The two performed a dreamy waltz in the first half and a riotous couple's choice from Matilda the Musical in the second half.

And speaking of last-minute changes, Eastenders star Maisie Smith was only recruited into the line-up two weeks ago as AJ Odudu's leg injury refused to heal in time for the tour.

A perfect score from the judges. Photo: Dave J Hogan

Maisie was a runner-up on the 2020 season, which is difficult to believe when watching her quite frankly stunning performances on the dance floor. If you didn't know any better, you'd think she was one of the professional dancers.

When her quickstep didn't get full marks, the crowd was on the verge of rioting, before screaming when her flawless samba got a perfect 30.

Maisie Smith and Kai Widdrington do the quickstep. Photo: Dave J Hogan

Rhys Stephenson also earned full marks from the judges for his Charleston with Nancy Xu, performing lifts that almost constituted acrobatics.

Sara Davies was also a delight with her elegant foxtrot and fiery quickstep, while The Wanted's Max George was a charming addition to the line-up.

Rose and Giovanni

But there was one star of the show who shone a little brighter than the rest. It was no surprise that she won the audience vote, considering she's already won the hearts of the nation.

Seeing Rose dance on TV is one thing, but in real life her effect on you is palpable.

Rose and Giovanni's Argentine tango was passionate, the two of them pressed face to face - though from hilarious rehearsal footage, Rose finds this intimacy a bit disgusting.

The Argentine tango is well-known for its dynamic leg kicks and Rose was masterful, earning her and Giovanni, unsurprisingly, full marks.

Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice's show dance. Photo: Dave J Hogan

But it was their show dance that was the evening's unmissable moment.

We've all seen the footage on TV as the dance plunges into silence, taking the viewers into Rose's world.

On the screen, it's moving. In real life, it leaves you gasping. Most of us couldn't hold back our tears.

Rose has quickly become a symbol for disabled rights and fighting for a more equal world. The show having a British Sign Language interpreter beamed up onto the screens for all to see exemplifies this.

But she's also a stunning dancer and a joyful person. If you leave the show, chances are you're a little bit in love with her, and who can blame you.

A fab-u-lous evening for fans

Even if you only have the slightest interest in Strictly, this is a night of joy for everyone.

Strictly has become a national institution, evident by a packed arena of adoring fans whooping and hollering for their favourites, holding up golden paddles to show the dancers their love.

But one of the most touching moments for me that will linger in my head for a long time, is an old couple on the front row, dancing in the aisle as the show finished.

That's what Strictly is. It's love.

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