Only Connect – #Strictly, fandom and social media …

I distinctly remember the excitement of receiving my first autograph from a Strictly professional in the post. I remember every detail of the handwritten envelope and nestled inside was a thin sheet of photo card signed by Camilla Dallerup. I proceeded to skip to school and show everyone I knew. It had taken about four weeks to arrive since I’d received the email from Camilla herself replying to my original correspondence, there was no way of telling if it would take days or months to arrive but the waiting was over and I now had the first piece in what would turn out to be a thoroughly extensive collection of Strictly memorabilia. Even then it struck me as a long winded process to feel that bit closer to the Strictly world.

That was 2004, eleven years later social media has completely changed the dynamics of fandom and how we interact with those we admire. Now fans have their own personal relationships with their idols and are able to instantly connect with them through Twitter, they’re able to share their every success and failure of their career as well as see what they’re having for dinner. Some fans have forged such strong relationships with their chosen professionals they now have a personal bond of their own. In essence, social media has allowed a level of access to their idols fans have never truly had before. I’ve spoken to a selection of Strictly fans about how social media has helped them further their relationship with the Strictly stars.

Fan of the newly married Cliftons, Chantelle (@shnicky4eva), wholly credits social media for the strength of her relationship with her favourite dancers, “I think social media has played a big part in my relationship with them both, especially Karen. I’ve met Karen a few times now, and even from the moment we met, they both knew who I was which is a good thing as I’m a naturally nervy, shy person so didn’t have to overcome that barrier. Karen also follows me on Instagram. She has a tendency to like some of my cat pictures – another shared interest of ours is that we’re both cat lovers!”

So far, so lovely, but I’m more interested in the unique (and at times slightly mad) opportunities that have arisen from these particular fandoms. 20-year-old Stephanie’s experience is perhaps a perfect example of what’s possible. Stephanie (@strictly_steph), has been a loyal follower of Janette and Aljaz since they debuted on Strictly in 2013, however she was to get the surprise of her life the following year, by which time her dedication had certainly be noticed by them both. “The most unexpected thing happened last year in November” she tells me. “I received a message from Janette and it was a video of her and Aljaz telling me they’d love to invite me to come to London to see Strictly Come Dancing Live Quarter Finals (as their guest)!” That’s one way of bypassing the 4.8 million fans who applied for tickets for the current 2015 series. Janette and Aljaz’s generosity didn’t end there either, for Stephanie’s twentieth birthday earlier this year she was thrilled to receive a surprise bouquet of flowers from the Strictly stars themselves, the handwritten message on the card accompanying them reads, “You’ve been amazing and with us since day one …” It strikes me that such acts really reinforce that fandom is a two way street. At one time, Strictly professionals were far from household names and even now with their 50,000+ Twitter followers it’s heartening to see they make time to invest in their fans through these unique acts of appreciation.

Of course these special gestures don’t just happen without total dedication, time and effort being invested. Logon to Twitter today and you’ll come across a wealth of fan pages not only for each professional individually but for each Strictly couple from series past and present, they are all religiously updated by a hub dedicated fans who each September think up a host of zany team names for their favourite couples. My favourite from the current series include Team Glita for Anita and Gleb, and Team Der Beke for Katie and Anton. I asked the fans why they feel so motivated to put so much effort into social media like this. “I like spending time supporting them by running team pages.” Chantelle tells me (also co-responsible for Team Clifton Vineyard … think about it). “I find it rewarding because I know they appreciate any support they get, and I enjoy doing so as I love watching them on the show. I also like to help ‘spread the word’ if you like, by sharing info that other fans may have missed. The fan-site (for the Clifton’s) in particular is a great place for this, as I can post news stories, share videos, upload pictures to the massive gallery we have and so on.” The more I delved into this world the more it feels like both parties are benefitting equally. For the fans investing such effort is a form of escapism which is simultaneously appreciated by a wide audience of more casual Strictly fans, for the professionals they have a 24/7 PR machine free of charge.

Dorothy, perhaps known best in the Twitter community as @Dilly4, is a passionate fan of Vincent and Flavia. Her relentless promotion of them via social media has even resulted in her being personally invited by the Argentine Tango dancers to have a backstage tour of their stage show Dance ‘Til Dawn. “Without social media I probably wouldn’t have gone to any of the early shows they did before they started touring, so would have been unlikely to meet them face to face” she explains. “It wasn’t something I did in my ‘normal life’ and  it was only through speaking to other dance fans via social networking that I started meeting up with like-minded ‘social media friends’ and attending the workshops and dance evenings that Vincent and Flavia were part of.  Platforms like Twitter have made direct correspondence them possible and yes, I would say that it has definitely changed my relationship with them (Flavia in particular). I can ask her things there about everyday life, her shows, her costumes etc. and it is up to her if it is something she would like to reply to.” However in this open forum of communication, Dorothy is also mindful of her favourite dancer’s privacy too. “I don’t ask personal questions or things that she wouldn’t feel comfortable being asked on a public platform” she says.

Dorothy’s commitment to the tango champions and promotion of their various stage shows through social media is something she has done so successfully she is now even credited in the programme for The Last Tango, Vincent and Flavia’s final stage show. “I enjoy doing (it) immensely. It was something I had created back when they started their Midnight Tango tour in 2011, and it has progressed through their subsequent shows, and is mainly used for tweeting news, reviews and general show information.”

It’s been exciting to see how much pleasure the fans I spoke to get from what they do whether it be blogs, videos or Twitter pages, and as technology moves on I can’t help but wonder where it will end. What will be “close” enough and how timely the maintenance of social media for the dancers at the centre of the fandoms will be? For now however, fandom has reached a good place where both parties benefit. Ten years ago, we sent long emails to agents that often got ignored, these days Camilla Dallerup tweets me that she liked my review of her book.

First published in Dancing Times, December 2015

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