In 2017 former dancer and competition dance judge Shirley Ballas was unveiled as the new head judge on the BBC’s heavyweight Strictly Come Dancing replacing the outgoing Len Goodman. This was just another accolade in a glittering career in dance which has spanned four decades. A soaring passion for dance from the age of seven encouraged Shirley to realise her calling and was quick to make moves in the dance arena. At such a tender age, Shirley had no idea what her dance potential would have in store but just knew that dance was something when captured her imagination. Fascinated by the by the cha cha cha and the waltz, never missing a dance lesson, Shirley was quick to realise that if she wanted to make waves as a dancer she would have to work incredibly hard at it. Her mother always instilled a good work ethic into her which Shirley has never forgotten.
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At the age of fifteen she moved to North Yorkshire to unite with dance partner Nigel Tiffany. Two years later she was persuaded to audition to partner Sammy Stopford; a union which would prove successful both personally and professionally as the couple married in 1985. Together with Sammy, Shirley owned her first dance studio where she was able to teach for the very first time. Proving a successful partnership both on and off the dance floor, the pair came second in the 1982, 1983 & 1985 Professional World Latin Dance Championships and went on to win the 1983 International Latin American Dance Championships and were the 1984 UK Open Champions in Professional Latin. Being in such a competitive world taught Shirley the vital lesson of defeat and that occasionally defeat can be a very useful process. This gave her the determination to succeed.
Having been right at the top of her game, Shirley then met dance partner Mark “Corky” Ballas and relived the highs and lows of competitive dance all over again. Based at the Starlight Ballroom in Streatham surrounded by a powerhouse of dance talent including Mark and Karen Hilton and Bill and Bobbie Irvine. It would take over a decade to return to the top of the dance world but in 1995 the couple won the Latin American International Championships which meant a great deal to Shirley, making her the only professional dancer to win a major competition with two different dance partners. Just a year later, Shirley decided to retire from competitive dance and enter into the world of coaching. At the age of thirty six, Shirley knew that it was time to hang up her dancing shoes and made the decision to bow out in probably the greatest dance arena of Blackpool Tower Ballroom. She had a great run and cherished every moment of being surrounded by great friends and support but just knew that it was the right time to bow out and concentrate on her coaching career.
The offer of replacing Len Goodman on Strictly in 2017 came as a substantial shock to Shirley. It was a role she wasn’t expecting, especially being a woman in her mid fifties in an industry dominated by inequality. Having known Len for the entirety of her working life, the idea of superseding such an iconic figure in dance seemed like an impossible task. Yet as she likes to think, her dance slippers sit nicely alongside Len’s and while it’s clear that there will never be another Len Goodman, Shirley believes that she has put her own stamp on the show and is looking forward to the prospect of her second series. Excited by a stellar line up, she can’t wait to return to the ballroom.
It was a great pleasure to speak to Shirley Ballas and wish her the very best of luck with the rest of her glittering career.