Free Time

Interview: Kristina Rihanoff

On 2 March, ex-Strictly professional Kristina Rihanoff brings her dazzling show Dance to the Music to the Cresset. Hosted by heartthrob Jake Quickenden and with a dynamic troupe of dancers, it traces the entire evolution of modern dance – and music – from foxtrot to hip-hop. Moment editor Toby Venables talked to her

This show was first put together in 2017 and has been a huge success. But how did it come about?

It’s something I’d been quite passionate about for some time. Obviously, during my years on Strictly I’ve done a lot of choreography for group numbers and always really loved the creative process, so when I left I thought it would be nice to finally create my own show. I wanted to make it similar to Strictly, to appeal to every age and type of person who likes music and dancing. I was always interested in how music and the big musical icons influenced our styles of dancing, so that’s how the idea came about to show the evolution of dance from the 1920s to the present day. The show includes everything from Charleston and foxtrot to tap, to Lindy hop and jitterbug, rock’n’roll, into the 70s with funk and disco, then into the 80s with breakdancing, then into the 90s and the last decade of club hits. It’s just something for everybody! I wanted to make it a family show that people can watch and enjoy with grandparents, grandkids and everyone in between. The grandparents go for the 40s – the GI Joe stuff – and the kids love the tap and the breakdancing, and then there’s also the Ballroom and Latin that everyone sees on Strictly. I don’t dance all those styles myself – I do a lot, but not everything! – so I have a great group of dancers who can do pretty much anything. It’s about finding that versatile cast who can do all those styles. My host and singer is Jake Quickenden, who I am sure people will know from X Factor, I’m a Celebrity, and Dancing on Ice. I wanted someone who could hold the stage and had a great, versatile voice, because there’s such a range of different tunes. Jake is amazing, and I was always a fan of his voice. He can dance a little bit too, although maybe better on ice! It’s hard to put something like this together, because there’s so much to think about, from the props and costumes to the script and all the logistics, but I’ve just loved doing it – and seeing everyone in the audience enjoying the show is just a wonderful experience. For a performer there’s nothing like it, and I think for me it’s even better than doing TV.

Dance has become hugely popular in the UK thanks to Strictly, but is it true that it’s always been massive in Russia?

Ballroom dancing is very popular in Russia – it’s literally the number one sport for kids! It’s constantly on TV and I grew up watching tournaments and competing every single weekend. I think that in the UK Strictly woke up a sleeping giant, really, because it’s always been there, with a massive community around the world, but Strictly lifted the curtain and showed people that it was for everyone – it doesn’t matter what age, size or ability you are. We’ve seen disabled people dancing and I myself did a programme on BBC 3 about wheelchair dancing. There is a dance style that will suit anyone, and I think Strictly has helped to show that. What’s great is it’s inspiring young people to do something great – to dance and to perform – which helps with self-esteem, helps with confidence and with learning teamwork, and obviously I am a very big advocate of all that!

What do you think it is about Strictly, particularly, that has so grabbed audiences?

I think we’re all fascinated by the journey. I know that’s a phrase everyone uses, but we’re all fascinated to see how people will develop and what they will do. It’s an enormous amount of work and everybody who comes on the show has their own army of fans, so the show is always going to be popular, because you start with that massive fanbase behind each celebrity. Strictly is always going to win the ratings war – sorry, it’s just the way it is! But the other great thing is that it’s a family show which you can watch with your children, and there is something for everybody. The third part, which I think is quite important, is that it’s also a bit of an escape. It’s a very glamorous show, and let’s face it, our lives are very stressful and we’re all running around doing thousands of things, and this is just an outlet – a magical world with beautiful costumes, fun, singing. Just pure entertainment. You can’t beat that.

Do you have favourite moments from Strictly?

Everyone always asks ‘Who is your favourite partner?’ but honestly, every time you partner with someone and you go through that intense rehearsal period, then get on stage and performwell and see the person developing in their ability, it’s always incredible. Every year there was a highlight of some sort, because as a teacher it is all about seeing that other person performwell. But… I have to say, my first year on Strictly with John Sergeant was my favourite! It was my first one, my first steps into showbiz from a very competitive world which was all completely about technique. And John was just amazing – a proper English gentleman, and we had so much fun. We just laughed and laughed during rehearsal, and the show has to have characters like him. There’s always going to be space for an Ed Balls or Ann Widdecombe! He had the perfect attitude and never took himself too seriously, and when it all got a bit negative with the press, where good dancers were leaving and he was still there, that was when he said: ‘Look, it’s just not fun any more…’ and he decided to step down. But he is always going to be my favourite person to talk about!

This show is a great opportunity for people to experience something of that fun and glamour live – perhaps people who have never seen live dance before…

It’s fascinating to see people move in front of you – for me too, with styles like breakdancing and hip-hop which I could never do. It’s just amazing to see what the human body can do, and I think we all appreciate the level of skill. We all move and express ourselves through movement before we can speak, so it’s very deeply rooted in us and people are always going to be attracted to it.

What are your personal highlights in Dance to the Music?

There are a lot of special moments. One of them is showing how you can choose a piece of music that is not exactly traditional, but can still work with a traditional dance style – Argentine tango to a Michael Jackson song, for example. Then there are also parts dedicated to big icons such as Elvis, Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire, going back in time and recreating those styles. Again, it’s not exactly what we do in Ballroom or Latin so I really had to research to make those dances accurate, but it’s a really special thing, performing something like that, because you kind of feel you’re going back in time. I think people love the fact that they’ve got a bit more out of it, that they’ve been educated about dancing a little. There are also lots of fun things within the script, lots of anecdotes and quite a bit of banter between me and Jake!

Dance to the Music The Cresset 2 March, 7.30pm

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