BWW Interview: Robin Windsor on STRICTLY, Choreographing and New Tour KEEP DANCING
Professional ballroom and Latin dancer Robin Windsor became a household name through stage and screen hits like Burn the Floor, Puttin' On The Ritz and Strictly Come Dancing. He's now touring the UK with his new show Keep Dancing.
First of all, happy birthday! Are you getting a chance to celebrate?
Well, I get a double show day for my birthday, so it's a busy one! But I've got lots of friends coming tonight, so I'm sure we'll celebrate afterwards.
How would you describe Keep Dancing?
It's a dance extravaganza with ballroom and Latin at the heart, but we've also added styles like hip hop and contemporary to keep it fresh for the audience. It was developed with Spirit Productions - I did Puttin' On The Ritz with them last year, and that was a huge success, so they saw what we could do with someone from Strictly. They'd never done a pure dance show before, and weren't that familiar with ballroom, so they let me take the reins.
What was it like collaborating with Emma Jones, who has more of a jazz and musicals background?
It's been absolutely brilliant intertwining our different styles. The same with the company: we've got commercial dancers doing ballroom and Latin, and vice versa. It's good pushing them outside their comfort zones - dancers always want to keep learning and challenging themselves.
What's the structure of the show?
It's a succession of different dance numbers. Some have a story to them - when I'm dancing with Anya Garnis, we always have one. In particular, I choreographed our rumba with someone close to me in mind, so I can think about them every night. They were in the audience on press night - I hadn't actually told them, but I think they could tell, so that was lovely!
How does it compare to your past choreographic experiences?
It's been the hardest challenge of my life. I've choreographed a group dance here or there, or the celebrity dances on Strictly, but this is creating a whole dance show in a short space of time - 28 full-on numbers. Emma's a pro at this; I've been learning! Now it's finally up and open, I'm so proud of what we've achieved.
Do you think it'll appeal to wide range of audiences?
There's such an array of music and dance styles, it'll be great fun for someone whether you're eight or 80. There's MGM-era numbers, current music like Fleur East's Sax, hip hop, everything. Strictly is such a phenomenon, and there isn't much wholesome TV like that you can sit down and watch with the whole family - three or four generations together - so it's great seeing them now come out to the theatre as a family.
What's it like having all the different Strictly special guests coming in?
It was fantastic to open in Bromley with Lisa Riley. We had such a great time on Strictly, and she became one of my best friends. Now, she's lost all this weight. She was always quick on her feet, but she's even more agile, her turns are faster, it's brilliant - and she's put in her famous splits! Jay and Aliona are the current champions, they're doing these exciting new routines, and I can't wait for Louis Smith - fresh from the Olympics. He's working really hard with Anya.
Due to BBC copyright, we have to do different material, but that's actually a great opportunity. It's meant I can explore new things with Lisa - whereas on Strictly she was the first female celebrity to live her partner, now I can lift her. We never got to do our showdance sadly - I'd planned out this whole piece to "Love Is In The Air", where we'd come down on half a heart each and join together. Maybe we can resurrect it, on a Christmas special or something - never say never! But now we get to do brilliant performances that have a showdance energy, like this great number to Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer's "Enough is Enough".
What's it like dancing alongside live musicians?
Dave Arch and his orchestra are just phenomenal - out of this world - and there's nothing like dancing with live music, so we knew we wanted that element. We've got two percussionists keeping rhythm for us all the time, and three amazing singers.
Are you more mindful of your health since your injury?
Yes, it took me a while to get over my back operation, but I did a full tour of Puttin' On The Ritz last year, so I'm back to full health. It's all about maintenance of the body, especially at my age - it's a lot harder at 37 than 21. I used to be able to do a show, go straight out, have a few glasses of wine; now, I sit in the theatre and stretch for two hours, drink lots of water, and sleep!
What's it like taking dance to different places outside of London?
Touring gets better and better the further away you get from London in terms of the audience response and what it means to people. They see Strictly on TV every week and support us so much, so it's our chance to give back and show how grateful we are by bringing what we love to them. There's nothing like seeing dance live - the energy is completely different - and people don't always get that opportunity, so that's hugely important to me.
And you get a chance to inspire young dancers around the country
Definitely. Fifteen years ago, I was embarrassed to say "I'm a ballroom dancer" - it was something your grandparents did. Now, there are so many young boys interested, because they've seen Louis Smith or Harry Judd in sparkles dancing cha cha, so it's OK to get involved. I fell in love with ballroom as a kid, so the fact that all these people are now just as passionate about it, that leaves me speechless.
Would you also like to keep advocating for same-sex dance? You support means a lot to the community
I'm a firm believer that anyone should dance with anyone - you just need a leader and follower, and mutual respect and trust. It doesn't matter what gender they are. In this show we've actually got an all-male paso doble, and it's the big showstopper. It might help that all the guys are dancing shirtless! But every night, there's this amazing response - it's everyone's favourite. When we put the show together, even the producer David King said, "That's one of the best numbers I've seen in any of my shows."
What else have you got planned? More performing or teaching?
This show is booking up to June, so fingers crossed that should keep me busy. Then yes, I'm excited to see what comes along and keep being involved in dance every way I can.
Have you had a chance to watch the Strictly launch show?
It's tricky as it's on when we're performing! But I offer my full support to everyone there - there are great new pro dancers this year, and some incredible bookings on the celebrity side, so it's going to be an amazing series. I'm a big fan of Tameka Empson - I always thought she'd be wonderful, as she's a good mover and a brilliant character too. Daisy and Aljaz look fantastic together. But my money's on Louise Redknapp.
What advice would you give them?
Enjoy every second. Everyone is so nervous on that Saturday night, but it's just a minute and a half, you're only doing it once (unless you land in the dance-off!), so just cherish it.
And what advice would you give to budding dancers?
Believe in your dreams, no matter what. I was this young boy from Ipswich who wanted to dance, and all my teachers and everyone said "Why do you want to do that? It won't take you anywhere." I persisted, and I've done West End, Broadway, primetime telly. I followed my heart and followed my dreams.
How big a part did Burn the Floor play?
If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing now. We worked so hard as a company to get to Broadway - that was a real lesson in perseverance and commitment. Then after Strictly, they invited me back to perform in the West End. I'd always had this dream of seeing my name up in lights, so the day the signage went up outside Shaftesbury Theatre, I burst into tears. That's one of my favourite moments in my career.
Do you have lots of family and friends visiting on the tour?
My family will come at some point, and tons of friends - it's very busy while we're at Wimbledon, as lots live in London. I'm looking forward to them understanding why I've been an absolute stress head the past few months! And it was great to see the Strictly pros - loads of us were in Burn the Floor together as well, so we all keep supporting each other, which is lovely.
Finally, what sort of experience do you think audience members will have?
It'll be a great night out - amazing dancing, fantastic music. You'll pay for a seat, but you won't use it much, because you'll be up dancing!