The stars of Strictly Come Dancing are set to take part in a glitzy and ground-breaking new series for BBC Three that will see them unite wheelchair users and celebrities in a dance competition with a difference.
Wheelchair Dance Sport is something many British people have never heard of, although it originated in this country. Dancing On Wheels hopes to change that and put the sport back on the UK map!
The lead choreographer, coach and expert on the show is Brian Fortuna, a professional ballroom dancer and semi finalist in this year’s Strictly. He has been teaching wheelchair dancing for the past eight years and will be putting the couples through their paces with help from his professional dance partner Kristina Rihanoff, who danced with Joe Calzaghe in this year’s competition.
Their challenge is to produce a pair of dancers good enough to represent the UK at the European Wheelchair Dance Sport Championships in Tel Aviv – in just nine weeks.
After an intensive five weeks of training, the couples will perform weekly before a panel of judges: presenter and Paralympian Ade Adepitan and Strictly’s professional dancers – James Jordan, and his wife and reigning Strictly champion, Ola Jordan. They will decide each week which pairs stay in the competition and, ultimately, who will be the couple selected to represent Britain in the European Championships.
The celebrities taking part are singer Heather Small, gold medallist swimmer Mark Foster, actress Michelle Gayle, actor Kevin Sacre, rugby legend Martin Offiah and presenter Caroline Flack. They will partner wheelchair users from around the country. And none have ever attempted wheelchair dancing before.
The wheelchair users are: Simone, a 22-year-old Cambridge graduate; Diana, a 49-year-old magazine editor and mother; 27-year-old Carolyne, who enjoys nothing more than a night out; James, a 31-year-old whose impressive acrobatic ability puts most able-bodied people to shame; Paul, a 24-year-old festival-goer who is looking forward to Glastonbury this summer; and 24-year-old Harry, who recently got married to a girl he met while travelling in Thailand.
They will all be learning from scratch the art of Wheelchair Dance Sport, a popular international sport where at least one dancer is a wheelchair user. It is practised widely by athletes in 22 countries, with competitions and championships held across the world.
In Dancing On Wheels the couples will compete in the “combi” event where a standing able-bodied dancer partners a wheelchair user. Through the competition they must learn all the dances, which include the cha-cha, paso doble, waltz, tango and rhumba. The winning couple will then represent the UK at the Wheelchair Dance Sport European Championships in Israel.
Brian Fortuna says: “Dancing On Wheels was the most challenging and rewarding project that I have ever worked on. It touched the lives of everyone involved and I hope that the show will prove to the public that physical disabilities are only as limiting as you let them be.
“Wheelchair Dance Sport is one of the only activities that brings together the disabled and able-bodied worlds. The level of dancing achieved by the couples far surpassed my expectations.”
Danny Cohen, Controller, BBC Three, says: “This is a really important project for BBC Three, and underlines our commitment to covering disability in a mainstream way following the success of Britain’s Missing Top Model last year. The series will be surprising, fun and glamorous.”