Strictly Come Dancing's Ian Waite on his new stage show and the 'Strictly Curse'
Ahead of Saturday’s Strictly Come Dancing launch show on BBC One, Ian Waite – a regular on the programme, and its off-shoot, It Takes Two, since 2005 – speaks to the Cambridge Independent.
Having danced his way into the hearts of the millions who watch the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing each week, Ian Waite will soon be displaying his flair for ballroom dance on stage in Cambridge.
He will not be doing it alone, however, as joining him at the Corn Exchange will be another Strictly favourite, Vincent Simone, a master of the Argentine tango.
The pair – the critically-acclaimed Ballroom Boys – will be joined by two professional female dancers and a vocalist for a special night packed with dances, songs and old school banter.
Expect dances like the waltz, quickstep, paso doble, foxtrot and, of course, the tango – surely one of the most electrifying of all routines.
Ian, 48, appeared on Strictly for seven years from series two as one of the professional dancers, before moving on to the show’s companion programme, It Takes Two, presented by his friend and one-time dance partner on the show, Zoe Ball, where he does his own section called ‘Waite’s Warm Up’.
“It’s been great, I’ve been doing that for seven years now,” says Ian, “so I’ll be doing that in the autumn and working the tour around it.”
“I’ve been connected with Strictly since the beginning, so it’s been an exciting journey – and who would have known that it would be still so popular to this day?”
The 2019 line-up of one of TV’s glitziest and most glamorous prime time staples includes a range of well-known and not-quite-so-well-known figures from the word of sport and entertainment, including TV presenter Anneka Rice, ex-England goalkeeper David James, former England and Arsenal footballer Alex Scott, social media star Saffron Barker and Olympic rower James Cracknell, who has been studying at Peterhouse, Cambridge.
There have been comments about the relative lack of star power in this year’s Strictly, which has previously featured contestants such as Esther Rantzen, Lulu and Felicity Kendall.
But Ian says: “I think the celebrity booker has done a brilliant job in finding lots of different people from different backgrounds, with different fan-bases, to make it another massive, popular show.
"We’ve got the social media girl [Saffron Barker] and then we’ve got somebody from RuPaul’s Drag Race [Michelle Visage]...
“We’ve got somebody from CBBC [Karim Zeroual], a DJ from Radio 1 [Dev Griffin], stars from soaps like Coronation Street and EastEnders [Catherine Tyldesley and Emma Barton] -– they’re literally covering all areas, which is fantastic.
“We had Joe Sugg last year, which was a fantastic sign-up because he had more than five million followers on social media – and it created a whole new audience of teenagers, I think, that wouldn’t have been necessarily interested in Strictly. So we gained a lot of viewers there.
“This year we’ve got David James, which will get the football fans watching. It’s having all of those big fan bases that helps bring people to the show.”
So who is Ian’s early tip for the famous glitterball?
“It’s difficult to say, isn’t it, because you can’t tell whether somebody’s a good dancer by just looking at them.
"Obviously, being young and fit helps and having some dance experience helps.
“I know that Michelle Visage has some dance experience, so it will be interesting to see how she gets on...
"It also depends on who they get partnered with – let’s hope Anton [du Beke, professional dancer] gets a good one this year!” says Ian, who will be appearing in panto in Cinderella this year in Worthing.
One darker aspect of the fun, family-friendly show is the ‘Strictly Curse’, where the professionals and celebrity couples paired together have developed romantic feelings for each other, causing the high-profile break-up of marriages, relationships and families.
“There’s bound to be close relationships formed because you do really create a massive bond with your partner over a three or four-month period, so it’s inevitable in some cases,” suggests Ian, “but being a professional dancer, you’re used to dancing with somebody... it’s like actors really, it doesn’t mean to say that you’re going to sleep with them just because you’re dancing with them and getting close to them – because from a dance point of view, that’s just what we do.”
Ian believes that you don’t necessarily need natural ability to do well on the programme.
“We’ve had people like that in the past who have actually won the competition,” he recalls, “like Chris Hollins, who wasn’t particularly talented and had never danced before and ended up winning.
"It shouldn’t necessarily mean that because you’re a great dancer, you’re going to win.
“Sometimes it’s about the journey, that ‘j’ word that they keep on about, it really depends on that.”
Ian looks back on some of the most memorable contestants the programme has welcomed to the floor since it began in 2004: “We’ve had some amazing boys, actually,” he says.
“Jay McGuiness and Harry Judd – both pop stars and very, very talented.
"They seemed to excel and seemed to be able to do anything, which is really what you want.
“We’ve had a lot of good girls too. I think girls tend to dance more, so they’ve probably had more experience in dance, so people will always assume that the girls have the advantage.
"And I must say we’ve had some fantastic girls, like Kara Tointon and Zoe Ball – and Pixie Lott, who didn’t make the final but is a very talented dancer.
“Last year, we had Ashley Roberts, who was absolutely brilliant, and Faye Tozer – both of whom had had dance experience.
But ballroom dancing is very different than doing ballet or modern or jazz, so it’s a definite skill which you have to learn.”
This brings us nicely on to Ballroom Boys, which will call into the Corn Exchange on October 8.
Ian admits that he misses his “good friend”, the “inspirational” Sir Bruce Forsyth, who co-hosted Strictly from 2004 to 2015.
The showbiz legend passed away in 2017.
“I loved his humour,” says Ian, “and we try to put a lot of that old school humour into the Ballroom Boys show.
"I do a lot of banter with Vince, which is very much like Morecambe and Wise.
“I think that style of comedy has definitely still a place in the British public’s heart, so we want to try and keep it alive if we can.”
Is the banter scripted or off-the-cuff ?
“A bit of both really,” says Ian.
“We have a lot of scripted stuff, but obviously every night it’s a different audience and every night we try and change it up a little bit.
“We do have a lot of funny moments. There’s a lot of stuff where we have the audience interacting with us.
"They will come on stage at some point and they throw things onto the stage – hopefully not rotten tomatoes – so it feels like the audience is involved.
“We have purposely chosen smaller theatres because there’s only five of us in the production, and if it’s a smaller venue, then it feels more intimate and cosy.”
The idea for Ian and Vincent to pool their considerable resources and come together for this entertainment extravaganza actually came from one of Ian’s relatives.
“I’ve been touring the last three or four years with my own show – the first two years with Natalie Lowe and then last year with Oti Mabuse.
“And this year, I was thinking who could I tour with and it was my father who rang me up and said, ‘Why don’t you do it with one of the former [Strictly] pro boys? You can sell it on ‘we are the original ballroom boys’'.
"I got thinking about it and then I heard that Flavia Cacace, Vincent’s dance partner, was taking some time off.
“So I phoned Vincent up and he loved the idea.
"He loved the name ‘ballroom boys’ and he was really up for it from the word go.
"We wanted to get the audience involved, to get to know us a little bit more, to get to know Vince – because he really is one of the funniest people I know.
“Then we got to it, to choosing the music, and we wanted to make sure that we had our massive iconic dances in there, like a big opening tap number that we wanted to put in because our singer is a tap-dancer as well...
“We’ve got a bit of everything in there.
"You don’t have to be a Strictly fan to enjoy our show because there’s so much variety.”
Ballroom Boys will be on at the Corn Exchange on Tuesday, October 8, at 7.30pm.
Tickets: £30-£58. All tickets include a £3 booking fee.
VIP tickets include a pre-show meet and greet with the boys for autograph and photo opportunities.
The new series of Strictly Come Dancing starts this Saturday (September 7) on BBC1 at 7.10pm.
It Takes Two with Zoe Ball will return on Wednesday and Thursday evenings on BBC2.