Who cares if Strictly's Layton Williams has dance experience? He's a joy

Alexandra Burke. Proud Mary. Jive. 2017.

I’ll never forget it.

It remains one of my favourite ever Strictly Come Dancing performances.

The atmosphere was electric. Alexandra was having the time of her life, losing all inhibitions. She was bouncing off her pro, Gorka Marquez, and the judges scored her a near-perfect 39, reducing her to tears.

Alexandra didn’t lift the glitterball trophy, of course. 

But, she embodied all things Strictly and was a winner in my eyes.

Fast forward to 2023 and I see the same happening with Layton Williams.

Partnered with Nikita Kuzmin in another ground-breaking same-sex coupling, the Bad Education star has already made it clear that he won’t ‘butch it up for anyone’, and is determined to do Strictly as 100% himself.

Alas, as we see every year, the trolls have been in full force, seemingly getting a real kick out of discovering he has past performing experience, just like Alexandra.

But for me, I couldn’t care less about whether Layton has dance experience, because he embodies everything Strictly is about.

His first performance was sensational. A Samba to Touch by Little Mix blew the roof off the BBC studios and had my flabbers well and truly gasted from the sofa at home.

The sequin jumpsuit, the heels, the splits, the body rolls, the sassy facial expressions, the chemistry with Nikita… as far as week one performances go, this one had it all.

However, despite Layton proving himself to not only be a true Strictly fan and one worthy of the experience, as well as a phenomenal entertainer, viewers continue to criticise him for… knowing how to move?

‘Not fair, he’s actually a dancer’

‘He’s a West End dancer since 12!!!’

‘How is Layton Williams allowed to be on Strictly?’

First of all, the kind of ‘dance experience’ Layton has is very different to being professionally trained in ballroom and Latin on par with the actual Strictly professionals.

Aged 29, Layton has been performing in the West End for over 16 years, starring in Billy Elliot the Musical in 2007 when he was *checks notes* 12.

He later secured a scholarship to attend the prestigious Sylvia Young Theatre School and appeared as a young Michael Jackson in the West End production of Thriller, as well as touring with Hairspray, Rent, and Everybody’s Talking About Jamie.

Speaking about his experience, Layton said, ‘I trained in jazz, tap, and ballet to a certain degree. I’m absolutely not a ballet dancer, but I’ve done shows that I’ve had to play characters who are.’

I, too, have danced in the past. I spent nine years of my life doing ballet, tap, jazz, and street dance, competing, winning little trophies, performing at events, and putting on shows.

But if you asked me to do Strictly Come Dancing (hey, a girl can dream), my so-called experience would hold absolutely zero weight. Put me in a dance studio with some of the world’s top professionals and I haven’t got a scratch on their expertise.

People who haven’t danced often assume that all dance is the same. In reality, being able to do a pirouette is very different from mastering a Charleston and being able to kickball change doesn’t mean you know how to cha cha.

So no, being a West End performer doesn’t grant Layton Williams a golden pass to the Strictly final.

By this logic, you’d be saying that his partner Nikita should be able to deliver a polished performance of any role in a West End play, simply because he’s been on stage before.

It doesn’t work like that. If anything, Layton has more obstacles to tackle by unlearning everything he’s known about performing and changing his habits, while also overcoming expectations and judgements from viewers.

Having said all that, I really couldn’t care less about Layton’s past experience because that isn’t what Strictly is about.

Layton represents everything I think of when I think of Strictly. The glitz and glam, the excitement and passion, the flamboyance, and being unapologetically yourself.

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He is everything we need to see on our TV screens on BBC primetime, especially at a time of such darkness.

As a queer person myself, just existing is both exhausting and frightening right now, with our community, especially our trans siblings, under constant attack. So, if Layton can add a bit of sparkle to those dull moments and show people that we’re brave, we’re bold, and we won’t be silenced, I am all for it.

Over the years, the Strictly performances I’ve remembered most or been touched by vary. Sure, sometimes it’s Jake Wood shaking his samba hips to Mambo No5, or Hamza Yassin throwing his pro in the air during his fiery salsa. A personal favourite will always be Judi Love’s Sean Paul samba.

But it’s also the Ashley Roberts jive in Blackpool, the Alexandra Burke cha cha, and the Debbie McGee Argentine tango.

I don’t care if a celebrity has ‘past dance experience’ when they can deliver performances like that, not only entertaining us and making us smile but reminding us of the magic of dance.

Strictly isn’t supposed to be serious. It’s not the Olympics where an actual unfair advantage should make national headlines. 

Strictly is an escape. It’s two hours a week of live music, dazzling costumes, awe-inspiring routines, and the biggest smiles from contestants as they achieve something they never thought possible.

I watch Strictly because it warms my heart, and I have no criteria for who gets to do that or how.

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