Strictly Come Dancing fans are gearing up for another series of essential viewing. The dance programme is a firm favourite amongst viewers who want to get their fix of music, sequins and celebrities. Strictly has also earned praise for its inclusivity and this year welcomes Paralympic and MBE Will Bayley as one to watch. With the success of Strictly going some way in making those with disabilities more visible on our television screens, could this help change wider perceptions of disability?
A New Face
This year’s line-up welcomes Paralympian, Will Bayley as a contestant. Will is the world number one in Paralympic table tennis and kick-started his Paralympian career during the Beijing games in 2008. His career skyrocketed after he won a gold medal during the 2016 Rio games. Will was born with arthrogryposis, which is the Greek term for curvature of the limbs. The condition mainly affects Will’s feet and hands and as such, his balance is also affected. However, having lived with the condition, Will feels that his condition doesn’t affect him as much.
Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way
Strictly will be Will’s first foray into the world of dance and with no prior experience, he is relishing in the challenge ahead. Will has so far been keeping his social media followers up to date with his training for the series and wants to work as hard as he can to waltz off the coveted Glitterball trophy. Even if he doesn’t finish the series as the victor, Will wants to leave an inspiring legacy for viewers. Will recently said in a statement;
“I’m so proud to be on the show. I have no dance experience at all, but I hope I can do well. I want to inspire people with a disability- that would mean a lot to me. I want to prove to people I can do this” (Express.co.uk, 2019).
While it could be argued that there is still a lack of diversity in mainstream television, Strictly Come Dancing has in the past few years, focused on including contestants with visible differences. In doing this, it has garnered a reputation for being one of the most inclusive and progressive television shows on our screens. The first disabled contestant to be on the show was the Paralympic runner, Jonnie Peacock who wore his running blade for several dances. The following year saw Lauren Steadman, a Para triathlete with a missing forearm, compete and make it to the semi-finals. Lauren explained the benefits of using Strictly as a platform to help normalise seeing those with visible differences on our screens. She explained to the BBC website;
“Before, kids and adults used to look at me and see my arm before they saw me. Now, they don’t even see my arm – it’s been normalised.” (BBC, 2019)