Ipswich School of Dancing’s Emma Hawley is pleased the BBC has decided to give Nicola Adams a female partner on Strictly this year.

Ipswich Star: Due to the popularity of Strictly Come Dancing, more men are also taking part in dance classes and competitions Picture: Guy Levy/BBCDue to the popularity of Strictly Come Dancing, more men are also taking part in dance classes and competitions Picture: Guy Levy/BBC (Image: WARNING: Use of this copyright image is subject to the terms of use of BBC Pictures' Digital Picture Service (BBC Pictures) a...)

Ahead of its anticipated return later this month, BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing will mark a first in its long-running history – one that’s already sparked complaints and controversy.

Olympic boxer Nicola Adams is set to become the first British contestant to perform with a dance partner of the same sex, as the Beeb breaks with tradition, joining the sports star with Katja Jones in the 18th series.

The inclusive move follows a one-off dance routine from 2019’s series, which saw two male professional dancers – Graziano di Prima and Johannes Radebe – performing together during a results show.

An estimated 10.5 million viewers tuned in to watch the episode, and while many heralded the stunning performance, the BBC received just under 200 complaints from viewers who found it ‘offensive’.

In response to the reaction, Graziano told Attitude Magazine in January this year: “We weren’t worried about it. Okay, there were 200 complaints, but there were millions of people writing to us, sending us videos saying thank you, and celebrating our friendship. And for [Johannes], as a gay man, it means the world. There were thousands and thousands of people saying: ‘Thank you guys for doing that, it means the world’.”

“Those 200 people, you will see that in the future they will change their minds. It is such a silly thing because dancing is for everyone. As long as you feel the energy that dance can give to you, you can dance with whoever you want,” he added.

Ipswich dance school leader and teacher Emma Hawley of Ipswich School of Dance certainly agrees – as she welcomes the inclusion of same-sex dance couples both within the industry and on TV.

“Since Strictly started, we’ve seen a rise in the number of young men and boys wanting to dance now, and I think that’s actually down to having some masculine contestants on there. Previously, you’d find boys would get bullied for taking dance classes, but I think Strictly and its varied cast has managed to quash that.”

Ipswich School of Dancing – which has been based in the town centre for over 70 years – specialises in Latin and ballroom dancing for all ages and standards.

Latin and ballroom dance routines have typically been performed with two partners of the opposite sex – but when there’s no men around, the show must go on, and has done so since the war.

“When all of the men were away at war, the women would have to partner up with each other at dances,” explains Emma.

“Since then, we now have dance competitions which have all-female categories, and that’s been a thing for a very long time, simply because there weren’t enough men interested in dancing or competing. As I said, dancing wasn’t a thing men particularly wanted to do, so there’s always been all-female categories at most major events.”

In the last 10 years however, due in part to more male interest in the hobby, there are now categories strictly for male competitors. “More often than not, you will now see two men dancing together in competitions, which was never really seen before.”

Over at Ipswich School of Dancing, same-sex dance couples prior to lockdown were not only welcomed, but highly encouraged if there were not enough participants within a class.

“We want people to do whatever they feel comfortable doing, really – it’s a customer-based experience. If people want to come and dance with their partner of the same sex, that’s absolutely fine, and if they want to dance with a partner of the opposite sex, that’s also fine.

“In a pre-Covid world, we actually provided helpers for people to dance with, and usually that would be a woman with a woman. Women would come along to a dance class with their friends, as a different kind of night out, and more often than not would pair up with each other. A lot of the time, the husband won’t want to come so two women will come out and have a night out together.”

With Nicola Adams and her dance partner Katya Jones due to take to the Strictly dancefloor at the end of the month, Emma – along with many others - cannot wait to see the show’s inclusion of its first-ever same-sex couple.

“Two women can make a dance look quite spectacular, in a different way to what a man and woman could do. It’s all about the choreography and what you do with it, and I honestly thought they would have done it long before now.

“This might open the door, and make people realise that dance schools are very open to it, and it’s actually more common than previously thought.”