The stars of Strictly Come Dancing are reuniting for a groundbreaking spin-off – pairing up with ballroom dancers in wheelchairs.
Celebrities including ex-EastEnder Michelle Gayle and M People singer Heather Small will team up with disabled contestants for the new BBC3 series, provisionally titled Strictly Come Dancing On Wheels.
But unlike the original show, their partners will be members of the public who are also novices to the demanding world of wheelchair ballroom dancing.
The couples will be taking part in the ‘combi’ event, where a standing able-bodied dancer partners a wheelchair user.
A panel of judges will decide each week which couples go through to the next round, and the pair who win the final dance-off will then represent the UK at the Wheelchair Dance Sport European Championships in Israel in October.
A team of professionals has started training the dancers, who also include Gladiators presenter Caroline Flack, who was briefly Prince Harry’s girlfriend, Hollyoaks actor Kevin Sacre, rugby legend Martin Offiah and Olympic swimmer Mark Foster. Offiah and Foster have previously appeared on Strictly Come Dancing.
A source close to the show said: ‘It is a challenge and there are different issues that you have to be aware of when it comes to risk of injury for either partner. But this isn’t some sort of a gimmick.’
Strictly dancer Brian Fortuna, a qualified teacher of wheelchair ballroom dancing, is leading the team of trainers.
His role in the show is a source of particular pride as his mother, Sandra, created the first structured method for teaching ballroom dancing to wheelchair users.
She developed the syllabus in her New Jersey studio four years ago when a young couple, desperate to go through with their first wedding dance after a motorbike crash had left the groom in a wheelchair, approached her for help. Brian said: ‘It was something that really touched my life and opened my eyes.’
The dancers will have just five weeks to master everything from the cha-cha to the paso doble.
Strictly Come Dancing On Wheels is being produced by Fever Media, whose managing director David Mortimer said: ‘Wheelchair dance sport is every bit as graceful, glamorous and entertaining as regular ballroom dancing, so we can all look forward to some amazing action.’
BBC3 controller Danny Cohen added: ‘This is a really important project for us. The series will be surprising, fun and glamorous.’
The art of wheelchair dancing began in Scotland in the late Sixties.
By Laura Collins