First Published July 2017
STRICTLY SPEAKING, A STAR IN EVERY WAY
The funny thing is that before last year I had never watched Strictly Come Dancing. I’m sure I flicked onto it sometimes, but only while searching for something I would have considered entertaining! So I’m equally sure I would have, after a quick roll of my eyes or something equally horrible and dismissive, flicked right past it again in a heartbeat. But then, last year happened…..
I don’t know what changed or why, but I happened to chance on the first episode of the series, and instead of changing the channel straight away, I left it on. And I watched the whole show. And what’s more….I LOVED IT! My weekend’s became all about Strictly and making sure I was at home to see it. And yes, I’ll admit it, I missed other events and stood people up so that I wouldn’t miss it. And you know what? I’ll be doing the same thing this year! Friends and enemies alike, consider yourselves forewarned!
One of the stars of last year’s series was the mesmerising South African professional Oti Mabuse, who thrilled fans week in and week out with the stunningly fabulous dance routines she choreographed for herself and her partner Danny Mac. As the hour draws nearer when Strictly fever will once again consumes us, I had the absolute pleasure of sharing some time in conversation with Oti recently. And she sparkles in conversation just like she sparkles on the dancefloor!
I began by asking Oti how special are her memories of Strictly 2016, almost one year on?
“Last year felt honestly like it was my official first year on Strictly as it was the first year where I really got to experience everything truly Strictly. When I say that I don’t just mean the good, I mean the long training hours, the Strictly ‘journey’ everyone talks about, the emotional rollercoaster that we, as teachers and dancers, go through. But most importantly, I got to meet and spend three months with possibly the nicest cast Strictly has ever had. All that put together made for an amazing 2016. Honestly, I wish I could go back, And 2016 was also the year I had my wedding in South Africa, on New Years! So it was an amazing year and it had a beautiful ending to it.”
After working so closely for so many weeks, not just with Danny, but with the whole Strictly team, how hard was it for Oti to say goodbye to everyone when the show finally ended? For anyone who didn’t see it, or may have forgotten, Oti was overtaken by her emotions after her last dance with Danny on the show last year.
“I’m such an emotional person, and I feel like the UK has brought that out of me. I’ve seen myself cry more on Strictly than I have ever in my life because the people here are just that amazing and it’s hard for me not to be honest, especially about how I feel. I put my heart into all my work. I dance hard, LOVE hard, and once I let you in my space or my heart it’s very hard for me to let go without crying. I hate goodbyes! Point blank! Period! After Strictly [the televised show] we all went on tour where we got to know each other even more and we honestly became a closer group of friends. Even today I consider Louise Redknapp, Daisy Lowe, and Rob Rinder my closest mates. I still talk with each of them. They have honestly become the most influential people in my life right now and I intend on keeping them in my life forever.”
Now last year wasn’t Oti‘s first time on Strictly, as she alluded to in her answer to my first question. She danced with Anthony Ogogo in 2015. But unfortunately, Oti and Anthony’s time on Strictly in 2015 came to an early end in week three of the competition. I put it to Oti that she strikes me as a very competitive person, so I wondered if what happened in 2015 really drove her on even more last year?
“I’m very openly competitive it’s no secret! [laughs]. There’s a fire in me that grows when I’m passionate about something. I never got the point pretending I wasn’t when people could see it. And I think the British public are very quick to read people who aren’t being honest. It’s not a bad thing to be competitive, it just means that I am willing to put in 110% more effort and artistry into all my work. With Danny I was so focused on not repeating my 2015 mistake, that I honestly might have given him a tougher time just to make up for it! We went out week three [with Anthony], so week three with Danny was a huge deal for me. It was movie week and I was determined to make it the best dance of that week! And once we got past week three I stayed in fear-mode until the end .I always blamed myself for not taking Anthony further in the competition than he deserved, because he’s such an amazing person and we got along right off the bất. He worked really hard and had the drive for it too, so I took that especially hard when we went out. In South Africa there’s a saying, ‘There are no bad students, just bad teachers.’ So having that in mind – and apologizing to Anthony multiple times – I felt like a disappointment. And I was set not to disappoint Danny or myself again.”
Oti and Danny formed a very special, very close bond, during their time on Strictly last year. And Danny, rightly, gave Oti huge credit for teaching him how to dance. In fact, he referred to Oti as an ‘amazing woman’, and said last year that, “What I’ve done is because of her week after week.” But what I want to know was did Oti think it’s possible for her, or any dance teacher, to teach ANYONE to dance like Danny? Or do people need to have some kind of natural talent, like Danny clearly did? Can passion be enough?
“I strongly believe anyone can be taught how to dance. We saw it constantly with people like Ed Balls, Daisy, and Rob Rinder growing from strength to strength every week, impressing us with their dances. Passion though alone, is not enough, if I’m being brutally honest! There’s a work ethic that is required, a sense fearlessness one must have, and the courage to come out on a Saturday and nail a choreography better than ever before, and in front of millions of people. And not just the UK, but the entire world too. I take my hat off to all celebs who come on the show and embrace that, because it’s not easy and they do it very well.”
Now while Oti and Danny didn’t win the show, their time dancing together did have a very happy ending as they came joint first on the Strictly Tour. I imagined the tour must have been like being in a big band! How much did Oti enjoy it?
“Everything about the Strictly tour is amazing! From the dancers, the celebs, the production, and the food! [laughs]. But taking that trophy home was the cherry on top. It’s got a nice space in my house and I’m super, super honoured and proud to have won it. I can only thank Danny, and even more our partners Marius, my husband, and Carley, Danny’s fiancé, who were our support system for helping with our spirit, focus and perseverance, to help bring it home, especially on tour. Ore was impeccable, and a deserving winner of Strictly last year. I think for me, I realize that winning isn’t as important as it is to leave a mark and being completely memorable. Having broken so many records and made history on Strictly multiple times was completely unexpected and the response from the public has been incredible. I feel so privileged.”
When Oti met Danny first, how quickly did she know how complex or difficult she could make their routines?
“One never knows right off the bat, it always takes a while for a professional dancer to see what their celebrity is like, and what is needed to take it out of them. Some, of course, take longer than others! [laughs]. When I choreograph I go the hardest route first before I make it easy. I like to tell stories and I like to create a bit of drama and suspense. Hopefully I can keep it up, that’s the real tricky part!”
With this year’s Strictly getting closer and closer every week now, excitement is growing amongst fans all over Ireland and the UK who can’t wait for it to start! How excited is Oti for Strictly 2017?
“I’m so excited! I’m excited to meet all the dancers again, and more importantly, to meet my partner and start a brand new journey with him, and start choreographing again. Possibly even jumping off a few things! [laughs] [that’s a reference to one of Oti‘s, and perhaps Strictly history’s, most daring pieces of choreography last year! If you haven’t seen it, look it up! Breathtaking moment!!].
Now, I knew Oti probably couldn’t tell me, even if she knew, but I had to ask! When do the professional dancers first find out what celebrities will be taking part?
“We only find out when the public do! As much as I would love to find out before, nosey nature, you see [laughs]. But when they get released to the public is when we find out too.”
If Oti could pick anyone in the whole world right now to be her partner on Strictly for 2017, who would she pick, and why?
“I love this question! [laughs]. It truly changes all the time. At first it was Prince Harry because he seems like we would have a laugh! But I changed my mind to One Direction member Harry Styles, for obvious reasons! [laughs]. And then I thought I should stop with the Harrys! [laughs]. So now I’m thinking Jimmy Carr or Richard Osman, because why not?!”
A lot of people probably don’t know that Oti actually studied Civil Engineering before she became a professional and award winning ballroom dancer. Before our chat came to an end, I asked Oti if she enjoyed those studies, and was their ever a chance that engineering may have become her full-time career?
“Engineering was never my passion, I just happened to be good at maths and science. I didn’t enjoy going to work and I was starting to feel myself getting a bit depressed because I had to take a break from dancing. It got to a point where I asked myself what I needed to do to be myself, the happy, ambitious joyous Oti that I regularly am. And I had to follow my heart and take dancing as a ful-timel career. Leaving my friends and family was one of the most hardest, humbling and eye-opening experiences I’ve ever had. I had to start from scratch, with no car, no money, no mom and dad. And no communication skills either, as I had moved to Germany and had to learn a brand new language and culture. Looking back, I appreciate my studies as engineering taught me how to analyze situations from all sides and how to always find a solution that serves everyone. I’m the kind of person that loves to learn something from every experience in life, no matter what.”
Nobody knows who this year’s celebrities will be yet, but I can tell you this much right here and right now, I’m on Team Oti all the way!