TV presenter Sophie Morgan has been lined up for this year’s Strictly Come Dancing, and insiders say BBC bosses are thinking “very carefully” about which pro to pair her with.
The Saturday night show has a proud history of inclusive casting when it comes to the celebrities invited to take part, who have previously included Paralympian runner Jonnie Peacock, triathlete Lauren Steadman and swimmer Ellie Simmonds.
Now they are planning their boldest move yet – to include a wheelchair-user among the stars learning to dance.
One source said: “There’s been a lot of discussion about how best to do it. Picking a pro who is adaptable and open-minded about being paired with a dance student in a wheelchair is something producers are thinking very carefully about.”
Award-winning expert Gary Lyness, who runs Strictly Wheels and competed for GB alongside wheelchair user Paula Moulton for many years, said that a pro competing with a wheelchair dancer on the BBC show would need to have “great control and skill”.
He explained: “There is no denying there are limitations with dancing in a wheelchair, in that it can move forwards, backwards and do turns. You can’t move sideways.”
But he said there was plenty to work with. “In wheelchair ballroom and Latin, as with non-wheelchair dancers, the two disciplines are very different. The pro partner needs to be someone who can think out of the box with their choreography.”
He said that the seasoned pros working on the show, who include Kai Widdrigton, Johannes Radebe and Gorka Marquez, should not find this too difficult.
Gary and Paula started competing regularly for GB in wheelchair dancing competitions in 2013, the year after they reached the semi finals of Britain’s Got Talent.
He said that there were key differences between Latin and ballroom for the dancer on wheels.
“With Latin the wheelchair dancer tends to dance more solo, with less hold, so there is much more freedom to move and spin and flick,” he explained. “Here, it’s about creating the patterns and style of the Latin rhythms.
“With ballroom, which is mostly in hold, the pro will have to adapt their hold position to match their wheelchair partner working within their centre of gravity. There’s no dragging around the floor – which some people might think – the wheelchair dancer is just being pushed and pulled around.
“It’s about using body weight to transfer power to the wheelchair dancer to move effortlessly across the dance-floor. It takes great control and skill to keep your wheelchair in line and work with your partner.”
Sophie’s participation may be a first for Strictly, but wheelchair-using stars have already been successfully incorporated into international versions of the show. In Holland, Bibian Mentel danced all the way to the final in 2019.
The following year, in Norway, Birgit Skarstein lasted eight weeks on the show and in 2022 Aron Anderson finished fourth in Sweden.
Sophie, 38, who has presented on TV for the past 20 years, was reported to have signed up for Strictly earlier this year.
As well as fronting the Paralympics and documentaries relating to her disability, caused by a car crash when she was 18, Sophie has also worked on travel films plus The One Show and Loose Women.
Paralympian David Weir said he would be watching. “It’s a great thing for inclusion and it will be nice to see someone getting a platform and profile on a massive show like Strictly.
“I don’t think people in wheelchairs are appreciated enough. I feel like we are a forgotten entity so hopefully this will help. It should be celebrated.”
Gary agreed that having a wheelchair user on Strictly was long overdue. “We’ve been shouting about this for a long time. As we say at Strictly Wheels, it’s ability, not disability, that matters.”
Last year Nikita Kuzmin won an army of fans thanks to the incredible routines he put together for partner Ellie, who has dwarfism. After being voted out in week seven, she said: “I never in a million years expected to be in for this long and to experience it so fully.”
Nikita said he had loved working with the swimming star. “Ellie has taught me so, so much – I’ve learnt so much in these seven weeks. You are just such a wonderful human and I am so glad I’ve had the chance to dance with you.”
Last night a BBC spokeswoman declined to comment on “speculation” surrounding this year’s contestants, which are thought to also include Les Dennis, Angela Rippon and Josie Gibson.
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