15 December 2023

Shirley Ballas: Dancing queen

Interview by Claire Brine

A photo shows Shirley Ballas.
Photo credit: Blake Ezra Studios

In an exclusive interview, dancing judge Shirley Ballas reflects on ballroom moments, Christmastime hope and God’s comforting presence.

Claire Shirley, Strictly Come Dancing has been a family favourite on TV for many years. When you reflect on the show’s history, what particular moments or partnerships stand out in your memory – and why?

Shirley I will forever remember Kelvin and Oti’s samba, which was on the first show in the 2019 series. It took us all by such surprise. I just remember leaping out of my seat mid-dance – I really didn’t know how he was going to top it. He came into the show last-minute, gave it his everything and went on to win the whole series!

And, of course, the beautiful silent dance by Rose and Giovanni in 2021 will forever be etched on my heart. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up as soon as the music stopped – and they still do to this day. I have never heard the Strictly ballroom so quiet, it was just breathtaking.

Claire As the head judge on Strictly, what particular qualities do you try to bring to the table when commenting on the celebrities’ dances?

Shirley Overall, I try to look at the whole package. I bring a combined 55 years of dancing, teaching and adjudicating experience to the table, and it is a real honour to play a small part in helping the celebrities improve each week.

At the beginning of the competition, I like to see the celebrities dance their routines to the best of their abilities, practise good footwork and get some fundamentals under their belts. Then, as the competition goes on, I look for more and more things like technique, rhythm, timing, styling, choreography and performance. It really is the most wonderful job.

Claire In an interview with The Guardian last year, you were quoted as saying: ‘I’m a Christian, so I believe in God. I read the Bible when I have time, though I don’t get to church very often, and I feel guilty when I can’t. Faith is a personal thing; I feel blessed to have that spirit with me.’

How were you introduced to Christianity, and what were your early impressions of God?

Shirley The first time I was introduced to Christianity was as a young child. I’d go to St Chad’s Church in Leasowe on a regular basis and expect the same church service each time. I’d go with my family, and I soon realised that other children went with their families too.

My early impression of God as a child was a person with whom you have to behave and keep quiet. I always remember being in the church and sitting quietly in the pew, scared to distract others around me. I viewed God as a person who was influential and authoritative.

Claire Today, how would you describe the character of God? And what does he bring to your life?

Shirley God is all-seeing, all-forgiving. His presence is everywhere and comforts me when in doubt, overwhelmed or under pressure. God brings the assurance that there’s always a light at the end of any tunnel.

Claire Do you have a favourite Bible story, or perhaps a Christian hymn, which encourages you?

Shirley I think it’d have to be the hymn ‘The Lord of the Dance’, as this combines religion and dance while talking about Jesus’ life. The words resonate with me.

Claire Christmas is coming up, and Christians everywhere will be celebrating Jesus’ birth. What does the story of Christmas mean to you, and how will you be celebrating it?

Shirley If I’m honest, I used to struggle with Christmas because my brother lost his life to suicide during the festive period. So, it was a time that I related with sadness and loss. However, over the years I have managed to heal in order to see Christmas as a time of celebration, rejoicing in the birth of Jesus.

Each year, I am reminded how lucky I am to have friends and family. I spend precious time with them. And I always remember the more unfortunate people who are suffering. I am an ambassador for the Campaign Against Living Miserably charity, and earlier this year I completed three challenges to raise money for them, including wing walking, zip lining and skydiving.

Claire Christmas is also a time of year when many people decide to attend church for a carol service. You mentioned that you don’t get to church very often – but on the occasions when you are able to attend, what do you find enjoyable or comforting about it?

Shirley I find the traditional routine of the church service comforting as it’s similar all over the world. It gives time for reflection and reminds you of other people’s needs and suffering – not always thinking of yourself. Sadly, I don’t have time to go to church as often as I’d like but I sometimes offer my work, particularly my charity work, as a prayer to God.

Written by

A photo of Claire Brine

Claire Brine

Staff Writer, War Cry

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