You’ve seen them partnered with celebs each year on BBC One’s top-rated Strictly Come Dancing.
So popular have they become that they’re now as big a draw for audiences as the famous faces they whirl round the dance floor each year on the TV show.
And here’s your chance at last to watch the professionals on their only official Strictly tour in a 35-date UK tour, calling in at Portsmouth Guildhall next week.
Strictly Come Dancing – The Professionals features 10 of the show’s multi award-winning world class dancers performing a stunning array of beautifully choreographed Ballroom and Latin routines in a succession of dazzling costumes – and live on stage!
Show director Jason Gilkison couldn’t be looking forward to it more.
‘It’s so exciting to have the pros going out on their own tour,’ he says. ‘When we sat down to talk about what it would be, we really wanted these amazing dancers to show what they do best. They’re all incredible choreographers and teachers – we see that on the TV show – but, first and foremost, they’re the best dancers in the world.
In fact, many of them have been world champions so this is their chance to show everybody what they can do.
‘This tour is like the “rebellious little sister” of the main show – even the Strictly band has had a makeover. The pros will be showing their Strictly fans numbers that have never been seen before and a few of their favourite group routines from past seasons. We’ll also get to know the pros just a little bit better as they chat to the audience about their professional lives.
‘When I work with these pros – without their celebrity partners, you get to see why they were chosen to be on Strictly. They express themselves incredibly to music with a work ethic second to none. To have them all on stage performing together is going to be exhilarating to watch. Their energy together in rehearsal is so infectious that I’m sure audiences are going to be jumping out of their seats.’
This spectacular extravaganza will cover more than 50 separate dance routines, each one performed to a live band. But how’s it going to be for the professionals themselves?
‘I love touring,’ says Giovanni Pernice, 28. ‘It’s always such good fun. And I also love meeting the fans in the flesh and dancing for so many people. It’s a completely different experience from doing the TV show. When you’re in a theatre, you can see the faces of the audience out front. That gives you a real buzz.’
So which are his favourite dances? ‘I love the jive because it’s cheeky, it’s fun, it needs a lot of stamina and I’m quite good at it. And the tango because it’s passionate and I’m Italian. And I’ll be having the time of my life because I’ll be dancing every single day.’
Gorka Marquez, 28, agrees with Giovanni. He’s particularly looking forward, he says, to the fact that the Professionals tour will be in theatres up and down the country. ‘Dancing in arenas is a real adrenaline rush with the crowd and the noise.
‘But it’s much more intimate in theatres. The audience can get much closer and see what we’re capable of doing to 100 per cent of our ability. Also, we dancers will be able to feel the energy of the music which isn’t always possible in an arena setting.
‘And, if you’re surrounded by really talented dancers, it makes you raise your game.’ So there’s no rivalry then? ‘Not when the pros are all dancing together. But on the TV show, yes. Each of us wants to carry off that Glitterball. So you can’t help being competitive.’
For Pasha Kovalev, 39, this tour will be extra-special, he says, because it will be the last time he dances with his fellow professionals having recently announced his retirement from Strictly.
‘After scoring 93 perfect tens, reaching four finals and lifting one Glitterball with Caroline Flack, it’s time for me to find a new challenge. I’ve decided that 2018 was my final season on Strictly. I’ve had eight fantastic years, full of wonderful memories.’
It’s why he’s keenly anticipating the pro tour. ‘It will show off our skills to a better level. The quality will be higher. It will give us the opportunity to shine and that’s something we welcome because we’ve been perfecting our dancing all our lives.
‘I want audiences to leave the show charged with positive energy, an experience that has taken them out of their everyday lives and transported them into the beautiful world of ballroom dancing.
‘It will be amazing to be able to dance for two hours on a daily basis in front of audiences who know us from the TV show. You’d think you might get tired. But the opposite is true: it’s an amazing workout but it’s also really exhilarating to be performing live.’
Originally from the Ukraine, Nadiya Bychkova, 29, lived and danced in Slovenia, training at the same school in the capital, Ljubljana, alongside Aljaz Skornajec. ‘He and I had the same teacher.’
She started working in the UK when she joined Strictly in 2017. Now she divides her time between the two countries alongside her fiancé and her two-year-old daughter, Mila.
‘One of the reasons I’m so looking forward to this tour,’ she says, ‘is because I’ll be visiting towns and cities I’ve never seen before. It will be a great way to get to know the UK.’
Dianne Buswell, 29, has slightly mixed feelings about the tour. Personally, she says, she’ll miss boyfriend Joe Sugg with whom she fell in love when he partnered her on last year’s Strictly. But he’s going to take in as many performances as possible ‘even if he does have to come in a disguise,’ jokes Dianne
But, professionally, she’s relishing the chance to improve with each performance. ‘You’re dancing the same dances each night so you get better and better as the tour progresses. And I respond well to a live audience without the competitive element getting in the way. It means all the enjoyment with none of the pressure. I’m really looking forward to it.’
Life is busy, busy right now for South African-born Oti Mabuse. A dance captain on BBC1’s recent The Greatest Dancer, she’s now gearing up for the pro tour.
‘I love meeting the fans of the TV show,’ says Oti, 28. ‘When I was on the Strictly tour with Danny Mac two years ago, I almost cried at every single venue because of the overwhelming reception we got. And I really like the fact that it seems to be popular with whole families from grannies down to young children.’
The purely pro show will be different again. ‘Director Jason Gilkison has come up with an incredible concept which gives each of us the opportunity to tell our individual stories through dance. We all have different tales to tell but we’re all driven by the same determination, the same ambition. I really feel I’m living the dream.’
AJ Pritchard, 24, also loves to perform for a live audience, he says. ‘The adrenaline rush you get is exactly what got me into dancing in the first place. And the great thing about the brand new Strictly pro tour is that it will show all of us off at our best. We can really let rip. There’s no limit. Audiences will see what makes us tick, how we channel our energies.’
He’s never felt more physically attuned, he says. ‘My New Year resolution was to do more stretching and that’s how I now start each day. Then I take in some fresh air on a walk. And I always feel better for both. It’s a tonic both mentally and physically – and it costs nothing.’
For Karen Clifton, 36, the tour is less pressured than the television show. ‘On TV, you can’t make a single mistake because then you’ll be marked down by the judges.
‘On the tour, though, you get to dance the same numbers night after night and the standard gets higher and higher as a result. We turn it
up from 100 per cent to 150. And that means you fall in love even more with what you’re doing.’
Karen was born and raised in Venezuela but can’t get home as often as she would like. By way of compensation, she has her fulfilling work in the UK. ‘And the pro tour is yet one more beautiful new chapter in a story that keeps on giving. I am so looking forward to it.’
For Katya Jones, 29, the tour will be a unique experience. ‘I’ll be dancing with my husband! And that’s the best. There won’t be a moment’s worry because Neil and I know each other inside and out.
‘We’ve been dancing together for 10 years now. I know him so well that I can sense what he’s going to do next. And that means we’ll be able to go out on stage and dance our hearts out.’
Neil, 36, agrees. ‘Dancing with Katya is like dancing with no one else. I know exactly how she’s going to throw her weight, how I’m going to catch her in my arms. We have a shorthand which makes it easier for each of us.
‘We have a joke when Katya has been dancing with her celeb, leading him around the dance floor. Then, if she dances with me in a group number, I have to remind her that she doesn’t have to lead me. I know what I’m doing.
‘That’s why I’m so looking forward to this tour. It’s just us professionals showing audiences our best moves. And it will also be nice to dance on the same stage again with Pasha.’
Strictly Come Dancing – The Professionals UK Tour comes to Portsmouth Guildhall on Tuesday, May 21. For tickets go to strictlytheprofessionals.com