In conversation: Johannes Radebe
Johannes Radebe, this year’s Strictly finalist, and half of the first male same-sex partnership on the show, answered the Zoom call with a smile. The energy he brings to the show (yes, in THAT iconic Pose routine) was clear when he talked about it too. Joining Strictly three years after they originally spotted him in 2015, “it did feel like a dream coming true.”
But this year was even more important to him, “the opportunity to authentically live my life like that on national television, primetime television – it’s something I wish I had seen as a young boy”. Johannes said he felt like it was healing to him, personally, but the way he spoke about visibility with purpose and poise showed that this year’s Strictly journey went far beyond his and John’s experiences.
“People as well felt seen for the first time, and it was just a statement to say there’s nothing wrong with two people who just want to dance. So I know that our partnership has influenced a lot of people to really start dancing; there’s been an increase in same-sex partnerships throughout the world,” he said with a hint of pride and emotion.
But on a week-to-week basis on the show, it was a bit more difficult. Strictly is known for its formula, from the one-liners “FAB-U-LOUS” to the classic steps which mean everyone becomes an armchair judge, how did they manage it when that formula was largely stripped away?
“We had to find a template that works for John and I, because the dynamics are different – we didn’t have a beautiful ballroom gown to swish around the floor.”
This, Johannes revealed, was reasonably tricky for him: “I was still in my head about what it’s supposed to be. And when I let that go, as a teacher, as a choreographer, I realised the potential of what it could be.”
He’s grateful to John for his patience: “I realised that I’ve got somebody to try things out with and make beautiful. And I think that’s why it worked, because we had an open mind and open heart, and it was absolutely gorgeous. We’ve changed. We’ve written something.”
Whilst Strictly gave Johannes and John the freedom and platform to explore and dance together, Johannes acknowledges the professional dance world as a whole, whilst it has come a long way, “we still have a long way to go.”
But there’s a movement, “there’s been associations that people don’t know about where people in same sex partnerships can go and compete around the world. There’s championships for it, you know?”
Every word felt considered and thoughtful as he talked: “with that visibility, a lot of people were empowered.”
The warmth he exuberates came through on screen, which bodes well for his future career goals as “standing in front of the camera is something that I really would like to pursue moving forward.”
But before that, Johannes has a new show, Freedom, which is coming to Manchester Opera House for one night only: “For the first time I get to dance to my own beat, paying homage to my African roots and the dance genres that have made Johannes the dancer that he is today.”
It’s his first show, and it promises to be uniquely him – with the iconic cha cha cha, samba, Viennese waltz, foxtrot, “and the heels and fan might make an appearance.” Beyond his Strictly experience, the show highlights his childhood and continues to promote visibility: “I’ve never seen African influences put together like that in a beautiful theatre setting.”
“I want people to be standing up in the aisles at the end of the show and celebrating with me for the fact that it is what it is, we are who we are, and all we should do is love each other.”
Whilst Strictly was his dream, dance has always been his passion, and the way he lights up when he talks about it made me want to take up dancing! “There’s a feeling of joy that overcomes me when I dance, and it’s a gift because however I feel I always used dance as an expression. And obviously to overcome a lot of things but, like I said, that feeling that dance has given me as a young boy, I think that’s what I’ve always held on to.”
“Dancing is all about relationship building and understanding another human being not so much with words. I’d encourage anybody to go and do it, because it really does release the happy endorphins.”
Those happy endorphins will be filling Manchester Opera House this April as “Dance has got a special way of connecting the audience and the performers … and I think that if they come with an open mind and open heart they honestly are going to have a fantastic evening and experience a dance extravaganza.”
For those who can’t make it to the show and dance in the aisles with Johannes, don’t worry, he should be be back on your screen this year: “I want to come back to Strictly Come Dancing this year; I want to do it for as long as they will have me.” And as he said with a booming laugh as I was ending the call, “You better vote!”
Johannes Radebe’s Freedom plays at Manchester Opera House on 6th April for one night only, before continuing its UK tour until 1st May.