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Johnnie Peacock being on Strictly will better reflect our society
Date posted: 05 September 2017
Paralympian Jonnie Peacock featuring on this year's Strictly will reflect a more truthful representation of our society, blogs People Dancing's Louise Wildish, Producer & Director of our strategic touring programme 11 Million Reasons to Dance...
Louise Wildish - Producer & Director, 11 Million Reasons to Dance
In his tribute to the late Sir Bruce Forsyth, TV executive Michael Grade said that as well as being a special performer, Sir Bruce was a master at choosing the right show. One of those shows, of course, was Strictly Come Dancing, which is about to embark on series 15, after launching in 2004.

What Brucie saw in the show was its warmth, humanity and popular appeal. The chief reason why the show can attract an average audience of more than 11 million viewers is not the quality of its dancing but its inclusiveness and its ability to connect.

While the previous series showcased the impressive movement of Ore Oduba, Danny Mac and Louise Redknapp, not to mention all the professionally trained dancers, Strictly has always thrived on the efforts of a diversity of people with all their varying experiences of dance. Think of Strictly and images of Ed Balls, Jon Sergeant and Ann Widdecombe continue to come front of mind, stepping clumsily yet affectionately on the toes of those more comfortable on the dance floor.

Now the show has announced Paralympian Jonnie Peacock to be in its 2017 line-up.
He is the competition’s first disabled “celebrity”, unlike the US version where, in 2016, Nyle DiMarco won as a dancer who is Deaf. With two sprint gold medals under his belt, it would be unwise and naive to see Peacock as an underdog in the show. He will certainly not be lacking the competitive spirit. Apparently, after contracting meningitis and having to have his right leg amputated just below the knee, the sports-mad five-year-old won a 100m hopping race in the first school sports day after his operation.

Yet, whether we’re admiring the lither moments of the more experienced movers, or laughing along with those more comedic characters who are shorter in technique, the impulse of all of us to move creatively, with passion and commitment, lies at the root of the show’s universal appeal. 

It is essential the BBC and other programmers, leaders and producers ensure diversity and disability is represented on our TV screens and in the wider media. We have started to see a slight shift towards this but there is so much more work still to be done around diversity. 

With Strictly being a dance programme and dance conjuring up a certain 'aesthetic', organisations like People Dancing are working hard to spread the word that dance IS for every body and that the old fashioned idealism of what a dancer looks or feels like is long gone. Fact is, people in all their diversity, people with a whole host of different bodies and impairments dance – whether it’s professionally, for their health, or for fun.

Jonnie Peacock being on Strictly will undoubtedly generate discussions in living rooms across the UK, discussions about disabled people and dance and discussions about disability in general. This can only be a good thing. I assume what Peacock won’t want is to be seen to be waving the disability flag, or to get the 'aren't you brave' and 'didn't he do well' comments (sorry Bruce). No, he will be in it to win it. After all, he’s a world class athlete! But win it or not, Peacock will undoubtedly have an experience that is equal to that of his fellow contestants and will fall in love with and enjoy the challenges and highs of dancing.

I have been fortunate to produce People Dancing’s 11 Million Reasons to Dance project, a photography exhibition and dance programme that was conceptualised in 2014 to positively profile Deaf and disabled people who dance. Most importantly, it set out to change perceptions that exist around disabled people and dance.

There are more than 11 million disabled people in the UK, and thousands of disabled people across the country who dance on a regular, often daily basis! The project commissioned Sean Goldthorpe to photograph 20 iconic images showing Deaf and disabled people centre stage as they re-imagine iconic dance moments in film, from Singin’ in the Rain to The Red Shoes (the image featured above shows the dancers reimagining Cell Block Tango, from Chicago).

Jonnie Peacock being on Strictly will also reflect a more truthful representation of our society in 2017.

Louise Wildish – Producer & Director

Louise has worked on the 11 Million Reasons to Dance project from conceptualisation through to managing the tour and then the strategic tour of the work funded through Arts Council England. Louise came up with the artistic concept, managed shoots and was art director. Louise has extensive experience generally in the arts in directing, managing events and producing films. She has more than 25 years’ project management experience and 5 years’ producing.

This blog was first featured by HuffPost UK