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Shirley Ballas: Strictly’s new head judge

Posted on May 9, 2017

Strictly Come Dancing has announced its new head judge: Shirley Ballas, the Latin dancer and international coach, will replace Len Goodman on the panel of the BBC show.

Born in Wallasey in 1960, Ballas had a glittering competitive career: three-time British Open Latin champion, ten-time United States Latin American champion. By the age of 23, she had won all major titles worldwide with her partner Sammy Stopford. In 1983, she moved to Texas with her new partner, Corky Ballas, becoming the most successful Latin American champions in US history. She is the only person to have won the British Open Latin at Blackpool with two different partners. She retired from competition in 1996, and is now a renowned coach and adjudicator at ballroom and Latin competitions around the world.

Ballas also has a strong family connection with Dancing with the Stars, the American edition of Strictly Come Dancing. Her son Mark Ballas has won the programme twice as a professional dancer. She was also guardian to the professional dancers Julianne and Derek Hough during their childhood in London.

Ballas will take over from Len Goodman as head judge on the Strictly panel, and will have the casting vote in the dance off. She said: “I am so excited and over the moon to have been given this wonderful opportunity. I can’t wait to get in to the ballroom and be part of the incredible and respected judging panel. Strictly is so loved by the British public, I have always been a massive fan. I just can’t wait!”

Charlotte Moore, director of BBC content, said: “Len’s are big shoes to fill, but the ‘Queen of Latin’ is the ideal new Strictly judge. Shirley Ballas is a British ballroom expert whose credentials speak for themselves: she’s going to be a fabulous addition to the best judging panel in showbiz!”

Ballas’ fellow judges welcomed the announcement. Darcey Bussell said: “I look forward to meeting Shirley and welcoming her to our Strictly team. Her years of experience in Ballroom and Latin dancing are impressive and I’m sure she will be a great addition to our judging panel.”

Craig Revel Horwood said: “Fantastic news that Shirley will be joining me and the other judges on the panel. I look forward to working with her on the next series of Strictly!”

Bruno Tonioli said:“I know Shirley well – she is an incredible Latin dancer and trainer and I am sure she will be a great addition to the Strictly team.”

The news has been welcomed by Strictly fans, including our regular blogger Marianka Swain, who tweeted: “This is excellent news – I’ve interviewed Shirley Ballas a few times and she’s a) v. knowledgeable and b) fabulously forthright”.

You can read Marianka’s Dance Today interviews with Shirley Ballas here and here.

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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