John Whaite and Johannes Rabades: Strictly Queer Joy

John Whaite and Johannes Rabades have become true fan favourites in this year's 'Strictly Come Dancing'. But could the team behind the popular competition show be doing more to become truly inclusive?

Ruby Taylor
21st October 2021
John Whaite and Johannes Rabades’ dances on this year's Strictly Come Dancing have been a festival of queer joy. Silhouetted by the dramatic blue ballroom lights, their first dance, a Tango to Blue Monday by New Order, was a triumph to see on the screen. 

What is so exciting about John and Johannes' performances is the celebration of queer culture taking place on the Strictly dancefloor.

Their week four American Smooth Foxtrot was to I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) by George Michael and Aretha Franklin. Their week two dance was a flamboyant Cha Cha to Starstruck by Years and Years, a solo band created by gay musician Olly Alexander. He left a message for the couple, with Johannes crying out in response: “He said our names!”  

Additionally, they are both extremely skilled dancers.

In just week three, they received a score of 39 out of 40, the highest in the 2021 competition so far. 

Johannes’ choreography plays with who is leading because they can break free from heteronormative gender roles, making the dances richer for it. In their week four Foxtrot, they could experiment with Johannes being lifted rather than lifting for the first time in his professional dance career. As such, their Pirates of the Caribbean Paso Doble felt like they were engaged in a real battle, as they both could have moments of power and submission in the dance.  

John Whaite and Johannes Rabades’ dances [...] have been a festival of queer joy.

Though their partnership is a step in the right direction for the show, Strictly still has a long way to go to be fully inclusive. The glitter and attitude of the Strictly ballroom capitalises off queer culture, without having same-gender couples until very recently. 

Before Nicola Adams and Katya Jones were partnered together last year, there had been no same-gender couples in the 17-year run of Strictly Come Dancing. In 2019, gay contestant Dr. Ranj Singh was denied when he requested to be in a male-male partnership. The same year, the show received hate for the same-gender pairing Johannes and Graziano Di Prima together in a professional dance. There is still only one same-gender couple out of the fifteen partnerships on the show. It is a point of celebration that we are now seeing same-gender partnerships shining in Strictly. 

However, it still has a long way to go to deconstruct this history of appropriation and prejudice.  

The glitter and attitude of the Strictly ballroom capitalises off queer culture, without having same-gender couples until very recently. 

John and Johannes are using Strictly as a platform for queerness to be celebrated in a wonderful, flamboyant, joyful way, and it means so much to the LGBT+ community. 

Matt, an LGBT+ student at Newcastle University said when I asked him about what their dancing meant to him: “so many people will be looking up to them and seeing them excel through the competition whilst breaking barriers and discriminations. This is exactly what I needed as a child.” 

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AUTHOR: Ruby Taylor
First year English Literature and Creative Writing student.

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