Strictly Wales is a unique partnership between Step Change Studios and Leonard Cheshire Disability, and the first national inclusive ballroom programme supporting disabled people to be active through dance.
Over 100 people have taken part in 5 regional dance workshops over 5 months, and 10 people performed in a grand finals which took place in Cardiff in April. Most participants had never danced before and 100% said they would like to keep dancing.
Jonathan Woodward was chosen by the audience as their favourite for the Strictly Wales title. He shares his experience with Disability Arts Online.
My name is Jonathan Woodward and I am 33 years old. I live in Cwmbran with my mum, dad and older brother. I was born with Down’s Syndrome, and weighed 8 lb 12 oz. I am very fortunate to be born without any medical conditions so I don’t have any medication at all. When I was born, they didn’t know if I would walk before I was about 4. I surprised everyone by walking at 18 months.
I had no problems with learning to talk but I do have a stammer. I went to mainstream primary and secondary school with support. I won an award for making most effort. After school I went to Crosskeys College then Crumlin annex to do horticulture. I still meet up with some of my college friends on Saturdays for lunch and then go the cinema or play pool or snooker in a local club. I love music and really enjoy my time on the internet radio station Able Radio. I am in the Cool Crew at Noon. I do a feature about all kinds of music.
I decided to enter Strictly Wales because the area heats were held in the Able Radio building. It was great to get this chance as I always watch Strictly on television. I was a little apprehensive at the workshop and audition as I didn’t know what to expect. There were quite a lot of people, some wheelchair users. Then they played some music and mum and I watched some of the others dancers learning samba. Then it was my turn. They played the Ricky Martin song La Vida Loca and six of us stood in a line and copied the dance teacher in front of us. Next we danced two at a time, then they chose me as the winner. I couldn’t believe it. Everybody clapped and I felt really proud of myself.
My teacher asked me what song I would like to dance to in the final and I picked Despacito. We were dancing a salsa for the finals – before Strictly Wales I had not heard of Salsa. I have a black Labrador called Monty and when I was practicing the steps at home for the finals he was at my side raising first one paw then the other. He must be the only Salsa dog.
The day before the grand finals in Cardiff, there was a celebration dinner for all the finalists. My dad and I both enjoyed it but it wasn’t the same without mum who couldn’t come because she was ill. On Saturday morning I had a rehearsal at the Cardiff Masonic Hall where the competition was taking place. When I went into the hall I felt very excited. It was very nice with a glass domed ceiling, chandeliers and very artistic windows in blue and gold. All the staff were very nice and helpful. My friends from the organisation My Mates and Able Radio had arrived to support me.
I went back into the green room to wait my turn to dance. I couldn’t wait to get started. I went out with my professional dance partner Hannah. She went to one side of the room and I went to the other. She sat down looking bored and wearing a coat. I came over, tapped her shoulder and offered her my hand to dance. She got up and I pulled the belt from her coat revealing a sequined blue dress matching my shirt. We waited for the judge’s to give their marks. We had 3 scores of 10 and one 9. We had lovely comments and I was really pleased and I felt as if I really was on Strictly.
After all the finalists had danced, the audience voted for their favourite dancer. The winners were announced in reverse order. I thought no, it can’t be me, first? But it was. I received the trophy and then I realised I really had won. I was really proud and my mum and dad and all my friends were clapping cheering and shouting. My friend Dan was almost crying.
This is my story and it was very enjoyable and exciting and I hope this is just the beginning of my dance journey. I would encourage anyone thinking of competing next year to have a go. They will definitely enjoy it and it is such good fun and great exercise. It has been a wonderful experience and my trophy has pride of place.
Watch the Strictly Wales highlights: www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5NxSP1Iu_E