A dating show in which choosing partners is based on their dance movess is silly and hammy – and I love it
Television has spent years honing the format of how best to pair up two people seeking romance: blind dates over dinner in a restaurant; blind dates over dinner cooked at a person’s own house; game shows; reality shows; fake online identities; sunny holidays with strangers; sunny holidays with other people’s partners; even agreeing to get married at the same time as meeting (spoiler: judging by subsequent tabloid reports, this has not proved to be a great idea). I have watched them all. Flirty Dancing is waltzing into a crowded market with an idea brazenly grafted on to a name that probably existed before the concept did. It is awful and I think I love it.
This is a fantastically gaudy collage of other television shows. Ashley Banjo, leader of the dance troupe Diversity, whose notoriety was forged in Britain’s Got Talent, is expanding his talents to become a relationship guru, although he is sticking to what he knows best and giving advice largely through choreography. So it is a bit like Dinner Date, but instead of eating, they have to perform a dance routine together, Strictly-style. The twist is that the two volunteers have never met and come together only to dance, having learned their parts separately. They are not allowed to speak. Only after the routine is completed, somewhere public and scenic – to make it look like La La Land, if La La Land had to contend with British weather and a Channel 4 budget – are they allowed to decide if they would like to see each other again.
Hannah and James dance to Ella Eyre on the roof of an observatory in Bristol, and Luke and Dan whizz around a London art gallery to Sigrid. There’s some ropey psychology about moves that symbolise pushing them away from their old bad habits, but it is largely an excuse to see if they fall over or fancy each other, or both, or neither. The fact that it exists is incredible.
Banjo is a kind and charming mentor who knows how to listen, and he opens people up, although given that they have volunteered to shimmy their way around a city on television with someone they have never met as a way of “trying something new”, you do wonder how much opening up they actually need. This is being pushed as a return to a more innocent time, at least in terms of looking for love. Tinder, Bumble, Grindr and the rest may have turned dating into a rapid-fire game of, to quote the great Ariana Grande, “thank u, next”, but in the olden days, we are told, courtship was conducted on the dancefloor. As if to emphasise Flirty Dancing’s good, ol’ fashioned romantic heart, the whole thing is bathed in so much pillowy soft focus that I began to worry there might be none left for ITVBe.
And yet, as much as it tries to say it is about authenticity and finding the real thing in an increasingly torrid digital wasteland of fleeting encounters, it is just as merciless as the most merciless of matchmaking shows. When Naked Attraction first appeared on the TV dating scene, it seemed like the point at which all other romantically inclined programmes should button up their blouses and go home alone, with a microwave meal and a mini-bottle of chardonnay. Naked Attraction gets a lot of stick for cutting to the chase – full-frontal nudity and then a date – but at least they are actually allowed to talk to each other first, once they have written off some people based on entirely fabricated reasons such as “skinny ankles”. Flirty Dancing says that, by making people dance together, it is all about chemistry. Of course it is, but so is choosing someone based on whether you like their skinny ankles. They do not even get to hear each other’s voices here, only to form a snap judgment based on whether they can shimmy in time to an Ella Eyre ballad or not.
This is a very silly programme, based on a hammy and overstretched premise that is treading the same path as any number of other shows in which makers claim to have found a new way of potentially solving the mysteries of love. I devoured it, obviously, and I look forward to watching every single future instalment, probably more than once.
The show is as merciless as the most merciless of matchmaking shows
Dan and Luke strut their stuff in Flirty Dancing; Hannah and James (below)