Strictly Come Dancing 2023: What dance experience does each contestant have?

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Strictly Come Dancing is back on our screens and fans are once again dissecting which contestants have an “advantage”, thanks to their previous dance training or experience.

The first live show proved to be a high scoring week, with multiple competitors getting impressive eights from the judges for their debut dances.

You can read about the biggest talking points from episode one here.

As many of the celebrities competing on Strictly are actors, singers and presenters, a large number of them will have trained in dance or theatrical performance. A large portion have also appeared in musical theatre roles in the West End or on tour.

Below, we’ve broken down just how much dance experience each of Strictly’s 15 celeb contestants have, and what they’ve said about it.

Nigel Harman

Rising to the top of the leaderboard in week one was Casualty star Nigel Harman, who scored a lofty 32 out of 40 for his Paso Doble.

While Harman is best known to many for his dramatic stint as Dennis Rickman in EastEnders, Harman is also a seasoned musical theatre performer who trained in tap and jazz when he was younger.

After training at drama school, the 50-year-old starred in the original West End production of Mamma Mia! and appeared in musicals on cruise ships. He would later play lead roles in Michael Grandage’s production of Guys and Dolls, as well as Harry Hill’s short-lived X Factor musical I Can’t Sing!.

Harman dances the Paso Doble with Katya Jones (BBC/Guy Levy)
Harman dances the Paso Doble with Katya Jones (BBC/Guy Levy)

In 2012, Harman picked up an Olivier award for his performance as Lord Farquard in the West End production of Shrek the Musical.

However, Harman was quick to downplay his dance experience, saying: “I’m very good from the waist up… big face and good arms. Waist down is shocking… no elasticity, nothing!

“I did some musicals in London when I was first starting out, I would understudy the lead, so I had to dance well enough to do the ensemble stuff, but I would always head for the back. Very enthusiastic but not great. I haven’t really danced in 20 years though!”

Layton Williams

Layton Williams (BBC)
Layton Williams (BBC)

He might be only 29, but Layton Williams has been performing in the West End for more than 15 years. In 2007, he starred in Billy Elliot the Musical, and soon earned a scholarship to attend the prestigious Sylvia Young Theatre School.

Williams later appeared as a young Michael Jackson in the West End production of Thriller, and attended drama school Italia Conti. He toured with Matthew Bourne’s The Car Man, Hairspray the Musical and Rent, before taking over the lead role of teenage drag queen Everybody’s Talking About Jamie in the West End.

Of his experience, Williams said: “I trained in jazz, tap and ballet to a certain degree. I’m absolutely not a ballet dancer, but I’ve done shows that I’ve had to play characters that are. I did work for Matthew Bourne’s company a good few years ago.

“So dance is in me, it’s a core feeling and I love it and it’s my passion. But this world of Latin and Ballroom is completely new to me, so that’s what I’m excited to explore.”

Ellie Leach

Ellie Leach (BBC)
Ellie Leach (BBC)

Ellie Leach hasn’t professionally danced before, but the Coronation Street star studied tap, ballet and street dance when she was younger.

She added that she was “in no way shape or form trained in Ballroom or Latin”, adding: “I wish I was because that would be amazing. But no, I’m not.”

Bobby Brazier

Bobby Brazier on ‘Strictly Come Dancing' (BBC/Guy Levy)
Bobby Brazier on ‘Strictly Come Dancing' (BBC/Guy Levy)

Bobby Brazier might have danced a smooth Foxtrot during the first Strictly live show, but the EastEnders star says he has no previous dance experience.

“I mean, I just love dancing so if I’m at a party, I dance, if I’m at home I dance… I’m always dancing,” he said.

Amanda Abbington

Strictly judges praise Amanda Abbington and Giovanni Pernice’s ‘beautiful chemistry’ after feud rumours (BBC/Strictly Come Dancing)
Strictly judges praise Amanda Abbington and Giovanni Pernice’s ‘beautiful chemistry’ after feud rumours (BBC/Strictly Come Dancing)

Sherlock star Amanda Abbington is no stranger to the stage, but her theatre work has featured plays rather than musicals.

She danced from the ages of five to 17, doing ballet at her town hall before attending a musical theatre school when she was 17.

“I got an injury so I stopped dancing,” she said. “I dance at weddings and parties and in the kitchen.”

Angela Rippon

During Saturday night’s show, viewers were amazed by 78-year-old Angela Rippon’s impressive high kick. But Rippon’s background in dance stretches back beyond her time presenting Come Dancing.

Rippon trained as a classical ballet dancer until she was 17, and went on in 2000 to be appointed as the chair of the English National Ballet.

Angela Rippon and Kai Widdrington dance during the first live show (BBC/Guy Levy)
Angela Rippon and Kai Widdrington dance during the first live show (BBC/Guy Levy)

“Like a lot of people, I went to dance classes when I was young,” Rippon said. “I’ve always been too tall to be a dancer, too tall to be a ballerina. My mother wouldn’t let me go and be a [member of dance troupe the Bluebell Girls] so that was it… I knuckled down to education!”

Rippon’s association with dance largely stems from her appearance in a Morecombe and Wise sketch.

“For that, the show producer asked what I could do, could I sing? I said, ‘No, I would empty the studio in 30 seconds flat… but I can dance a little bit’, but that was the first time I really did any proper dancing in 20 years, and I was 37 at the time,” she said. “But I’m flexible, and they choreographed what would work for me!”

Annabel Croft

 (BBC/Ray Burmiston)
(BBC/Ray Burmiston)

Annabel Croft danced ballet when she was very young until tennis came into her life.

“When I was four I did some ballet classes, I did them for a few years until tennis came into my life,” she said. “I remember the ballet very well, and I loved it.”

Angela Scanlon

Angela Scanlon and Carlos Gu on ‘Strictly' (BBC)
Angela Scanlon and Carlos Gu on ‘Strictly' (BBC)

Growing up, TV presenter Angela Scanlon trained in Irish dancing. Aged 18, she was a dancer with the O’Shea Irish Dance Company and performed in the show Irish Thunder on tour in the US.

Scanlon, however, isn’t sure that will help her on Strictly. “I did Irish dancing when I was younger, where you’re expressly told to remain stiff as a board from the waist up,” she joked, “so I’m not sure how that’s going to go down in Latin or in Ballroom?”

Eddie Kadi

Growing up in a Congolese household, Eddie Kadi was always surrounded by music and dancing. However, the comedian has no formal dance experience.

“We loved dancing at church and dancing in clubs with my friends,” he said. “My dancing experience is just weddings.”

Krishnan Guru-Murthy

Like Kadi, Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s experience dancing is largely limited to clubs.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy and partner Lauren Oakley dance for the first time (BBC/Guy Levy)
Krishnan Guru-Murthy and partner Lauren Oakley dance for the first time (BBC/Guy Levy)

“I used to be the 20-something who would dance at night clubs and at parties. I think that kind of stopped in my thirties,” he said.

“So I have no dance experience really. My sister reminded me the other day, that I think when I was about five, I went into the back of her ballet class, and I probably took part in some way, but that’s it.”

Jody Cundy

Jody Cundy (BBC)
Jody Cundy (BBC)

Paralympian Jody Cundy might have gold medals, but he’s the first to admit that his dance experience is “zero”.

“The closest you can even get to dancing is in Rio, when I won the one kilometre time trial,” he said, recalling how he then decided to a dance suggested by comedian Alex Brooker on the Channel 4 show The Last Leg.

“I was just doing this dance and I’m laughing my head off,” Cundy said.

Adam Thomas

While many actors have experience in musical theatre, Adam Thomas’s stage past is limited to a five-day stint in the touring production of Nativity the Musical.

“No dance experience whatsoever, I have never danced before,” Thomas said. “ I have had no dance experience so this is definitely a first for me but again, I am excited to learn and get out there and do my thing.”

“I said this to my wife the other day, the fact that my wife is a dance teacher, and I have never learnt how to dance just baffles me, but then she said to me that I haven’t taught her how to act either.”

Zara McDermott

Zara McDermott Strictly Come Dancing (BBC)
Zara McDermott Strictly Come Dancing (BBC)

Love Island star and documentary maker Zara McDermott also has no professional dance experience.

She said: “I went to a sports college and we had to do a physical activity for GCSE and you either had to do PE or dance. I didn’t want to do PE, so I did dance and I could just tell my dance teacher was looking at me like, ‘Oh, no, no’.

“She did give me a C to be fair, I just scraped a pass, because I think I did everything right, I just think I didn’t look great!”

Nikita Kanda

‘Strictly Come Dancing’ contestant Nikita Kanda (BBC)
‘Strictly Come Dancing’ contestant Nikita Kanda (BBC)

Before she was a radio presenter for the BBC’s Asian Network, Nikita Kanda too performed in the West End, appearing in productions of The Wiz, Bugsy Malone, Annie and Pocahontas.

Kanda, however, insisted that her she’s more of a “raver” than a dancer and that learning technique will be her “biggest challenge”.

“I’m not a natural dancer. I’m more like a raver in the club or wedding or something,” she said, before describing herself as a “terrible” dancer.

“I’ve done acting and a bit singing in the past, but never dancing. Like I said, I’m just a bit of a raver. I was in Ibiza recently and I’m just like one hand up in the air. That’s all I could do, so I’m looking forward to seeing how this goes.”

Les Dennis

Les Dennis and Nancy Xu on ‘Strictly’ (BBC/Guy Levy)
Les Dennis and Nancy Xu on ‘Strictly’ (BBC/Guy Levy)

Like many of the other Strictly stars, Les Dennis also has a lot of experience working in musical theatre. The comedian and all-round entertainer has played lead roles in West End productions of Chicago and Me and My Girl.

On tour, he’s appeared in Hairspray, High School Musical 2, Legally Blonde the Musical, and The Addams Family.

In 2021, Dennis returned to the West End for two shows at the London Coliseum. He once again played the role of Wilbur Turnblad (played by Christopher Walken in the 2007 film) in Hairspray, and later appeared in the English National Opera’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore.

Dennis said of his previous dance experience: “I did Me and My Girl in 1991 and I had to learn to tap dance and I ended up tap dancing on a table in front of 2000 people every night. So, I have a little.... I can do a time step.... a tap time step.

“I work with Bill Deamer, who is the choreographer on 42nd Street recently so I do move. If I do Hairspray or 42nd Street I usually have the comedy number that’s got a little shoe shuffle in. So that’s about the most I’ve got, no Ballroom at all or Latin.”