• Isabelle Osborne

Nicola Adams and Strictly Come Dancing: a refreshing sign of changing times

Why Nicola Adams and Katya Jones’ partnership will change the narrative on ballroom dancing.

“Strictly Come Dancing” 2020 is in full swing (albeit at a socially acceptable distance), adding some sparkle to living rooms across the nation in its unique way. The Strictly season is a highly anticipated time of year, and in light of the pandemic, this year more than ever before.

In line with Covid-19 restrictions, this year’s competition has seen many changes: pre-filmed professional dances, bubbles between couples, and socially distanced judges and hosts. But such changes do not overshadow the fact that Nicola Adams, double Olympic gold medal-winning boxer, has made Strictly history by forming the show’s first competitive same-sex couple with professional dancer Katya Jones.

Since the 16th century, the ballroom has historically been a place for mixed-sex couples. The Adams-Jones partnership is changing this narrative, reaffirming that this tradition has become outdated and is ignorant of how society has moved away from heteronormative ideas in favour of embracing diversity.

The pairing invites people across the nation to embrace and normalise this change of direction. Strictly attracts a wide audience, and the Adams-Jones partnership will undoubtedly aid the dismantling of heteronormative ideas within both younger and older generations.

Although, the question must be asked: why have same-sex pairings never been seen previously? Aside from Johannes Radebe and Graziano Di Prima’s coupling for one professional dance in 2019, the show has never before seen a competitive same-sex pair. Perhaps one explanation is the possibility of a negative reaction. The Adams-Jones partnership has not attracted wholly positive attention, with celebrities such as Graham Norton claiming it would “muddy the waters” from a judging point of view and that inviting “openly gay” contestants to take part in the show was enough.

In 2018, when the possibility of same-sex couples was initially discussed, many supported the BBC’s decision to refrain from introducing a same-sex pair for fear it would “alienate” older viewers. This view has also arisen in recent weeks: Len Goodman, ex-head judge on the show, predicted before the season began that the Adams-Jones partnership would “turn off” older viewers who have “traditionalist” ideas. He even implied that the pair may not be favoured in the voting process, and it is because of this that it is a good thing that “most older people” don’t vote. But what of people who identify as LGBTQI+? Has it never been considered that the show’s failure to showcase a same-sex couple before now has, for 17 years, alienated a large cohort of the Strictly audience, and it is the traditionalist views that Goodman speaks of that have re-energised exclusivity within the industry?

In opposition to the possibility of a same-sex pair, one particularly strong-minded viewer tweeted the following in 2018:

“If you can’t see the damage Strictly not allowing same sex couples does to children raised by same-sex parents because it’s not “traditional” enough then you are part of the problem. Children need to see what they see at home represented on tv. It creates normality”

Such a hetereonormative stance is fiercely disrespectful to individuals who are part of the LGBTQI+ community and is completely unrepresentative of how society has progressed in recent years. It is views such as these that are, to use the viewer’s rhetoric, “part of the problem” of isolating members of the LGBTQI+ community. Being horrifyingly ignorant to the fact that everyone should be accepted, regardless of how they identify is reinforcing the problem of heteronormativity within ballroom dancing, and is why it was so necessary for the BBC to support same-sex pairings in the hope that it will reduce the toxic heteronormative ideology viewers such as this are promoting.

Many viewers have also observed that, despite maintaining that same-sex coupling will not affect the dances, Adams and Katya have yet to show the romantic side of their dancing in the same way the other couples have already done in the series. People have described their dancing as “platonic”, their routines reducing them to “gal pal” status and eliminating any form of romantic chemistry within the dances. Such insinuates that the heteronormative outlook on dancing that Adams desperately wanted to dismantle has been reinforced, which some viewers suggest were a tactic to tackle potential homophobic criticism from viewers who found their coupling uncomfortable at the start of the competition.

Regardless of the criticism the couple has attracted, this year’s Strictly competition is a refreshing indication that, in their support of Adams’ desire to form a same-sex couple, one of the nation’s most beloved shows is promoting inclusivity and challenging archaic views that have permeated the professional dancing scene since its very inception.

2020 marks a necessary shift to promoting same-sex couples on the dance floor, and Nicola Adams has become the beacon for this change. Her partnership with Katya Jones highlights that the ballroom is a place for everyone, regardless of gender, identity or sexual orientation, and the show’s commitment to normalising same-sex coupling will hopefully spark a recognition across the entire entertainment industry that diversity, inclusion and acceptance is a vital part of creating a harmonious community.

This article was originally published by UCL Pi Media. The original article can found here: https://uclpimedia.com/online/nicola-adams-and-strictly-come-dancing-a-refreshing-sign-of-changing-times

Featured image courtesy of Jiroe on Unsplash. Image license can be found here. No changes were made to this image.