“Ed - You may not be the best dancer but you are definitely the most fun!"
Strictly Come Dancing’s Len Goodman’s critique of Ed Balls’ The Mask-themed Samba spoke for the nation a few weeks ago. Ed Balls has defied expectations to become one of the most popular contestants on the show.
Despite coming bottom of the leaderboard throughout the series, Balls and dance partner Katya Jones have escaped elimination each week.
“Even those who didn’t like him before are warming to him now” Jones says. “He’s just a normal human who came in knowing nothing about dance, and he’s trying so hard.”
According to Jones, he is defying expectations week on week. “From day one he said to me: ‘I don’t want to be the joke act. I want to improve and try my hardest […] even if it’s just a little bit of improvement each week.’”
Ed Balls may not be the best dancer in the Strictly cast, however he is hard working and has natural rhythm, his partner says. “Every week he’s getting softer and more fluid. You can see in his body shape, and the toning up and posture change… He’s becoming a dancer!”
The next dance sees Balls heading Stateside for his American Smooth to Is This the Way to Amarillo. “He loves it, so we really get into the character and the groove of the song” Jones shares.
This week will see a combination of elements in the dance: Jones's American Smooth choreography combines elements of the Foxtrot in hold with some exciting lifts. “I think it’s going to be a good week, definitely. What is great about [Balls] is whatever dance we do, he brings his own style to it. Even with the Paso, which was a bit of a dip, he still brought his own thing” she says.
For Jones, Balls is the best partner she could have hoped for in her first series dancing on the BBC’s sequined TV juggernaut. “I’ve learned a lot from Ed, I must say. It’s been really helpful. He’s been in the public eye for ages so he knows how it works. He always helps me – which is great for my first series.”
Katya Jones and her husband Neil are both new to the show this year, with a WDC World Championship win and a combined 50 years of experience between them.
The pair began their professional partnership in 2008 when they were introduced by one of Jones's dance trainers, none other than Strictly’s own Karen Hardy. “We always loved performing and doing shows,” she says, “compared to the competition side of it.”
What stood out to the Strictly pro was the appreciation and love that the dancers get from public. “It was quite shocking that people are like ‘I love your dancing. You’re such a great dancer.’ Oh wow! We never get so much love [usually.]”
The downside of competing, Jones reflects, is that you are constantly critiqued and told to improve which is often disappointing. That’s why the pair are so delighted to be part of the Strictly cast. “It’s massive! What can be better than being part of Strictly?” she laughs.
“When we first joined, [the producers] told us it’s like a family, but you only understand fully when you begin this intense process,” Jones reflects. “It’s a massive machine, but it’s a family and everybody tries to do their bit to the best of their ability – all the contestants between each other, but also the whole production.”
As every Strictly fan knows, the hardest part of the series is losing a contestant every weak. Katya Jones agrees: “It’s become so hard every time somebody leaves. It feels like something’s missing. As much as everyone is competitive, they just adore each other.”
Like fellow Strictly pro Gorka Marquez, Jones will not be drawn on who will be the ultimate winner of the series. “It’s funny because there’re people who are so good, there are people who are improving, there are people who have great characters. It’s not easy to see [who will win] because it’s all up to the audience.”
She doesn’t know how far Ed Balls can make it in this year’s competition, however if he goes out, it won’t be for lack of trying. The pair rehearse between five and eight hours a day, and the dancer sets Balls homework in the form of videos to teach him the dance. “Apparently he’s dancing in his sleep” she reveals. “He’s kicking.”
She laughs, “he was even practicing on the train once. We were on the train from Manchester and he was practicing in the corridor. I was like ‘Oh my god!”
What is it with the Labour Party and trains?