FREEDOM. What better title could South African dancer and ground-breaking Strictly Come Dancing star Johannes Radebe give his debut British tour.
“It is the freedom to dance to my own tune for the first time,” says 34-year-old Johannes, ahead of his itinerary opening with a Yorkshire show at Bridlington Spa on Wednesday (16/3/2022) before playing the Grand Opera House, York, on April 12.
“I’ve danced in many productions around the world but I’ve never been able to capture on stage where I came from, and I never thought I’d be able to go on my own tour, so it’s a very welcome surprise.”
Radebe (pronounced Ra-dee-bay) was catapulted to new heights of popularity by bonding so exhilaratingly with 2012’s The Great British Bake Off winner and TV chef John Waite as the first all-male couple in 2021’s series of Strictly, pipped for the Glitterball by first deaf contestant Rose Ayling-Ellis and professional partner Giovanni Pernice.
“It was liberating and healing as well,” says Johannes. “I’ve got a better relationship with my mum now, as we can talk about my sexual orientation – and people’s lives have changed for the better too.
“In a world where two men still can’t be free to be together, I hope to be able to educate the masses, and if people had a glimpse of that with me and John dancing together, then they can think about it.”
Such was the appeal and dancing brio of both partnerships, each marking a first for Strictly, that many would have loved them to have been declared first equal. “I’m with you!” says Johannes, bursting into laughter. “John kept saying, ‘it’s fine if we don’t win’, and yes, it is s fine! At the finale, we both stood there as couples thinking ‘it’s fine’. That’s the friendship that comes through the show.”
After touring the world in Burn The Floor, Joahannes was head-hunted to join the Strictly professionals for the 2018 series, first moving to Britain that year. In his second season, when partnering Catherine Tyldesley in 2019, he danced the first same-sex routine with fellow Strictly pro Graziano Di Prima.
Last year was to be even more significant. “My decision to finally dance with another man in the competition came about after I lost a friend of mine within our community. He was murdered, and the last words that were uttered to him by his killer was that he was a ‘faggot’,” says Johannes.
He paused, consumed again by the pain of what his friend had suffered, then said: “I get a moment to highlight it in the show. This is something that needs to be done, to give it that platform, and it’s important to keep being flamboyant – but that does require bravery.”
Freedom marks Johannes’s return to the Grand Opera House for the first time since sharing the York stage with Strictly alumni Kevin Clifton and Graziano Di Prima in Burn The Floor in July 2019.
On tour from March 16 to May 1, Johannes Radebe: Freedom is billed as “a celebration of music and dance, from African fusion to fiery Latin, from classic dance arrangements to huge party anthems”, as Radebe and his dancers take the audience on his personal journey, from starting to dance at seven to leaving South Africa at 21 to travel the world, winning international titles and electrifying Strictly Come Dancing.
Now he will be expressing himself to the full in Freedom. “I’ve been on a quest to find Black dancers in this country that are versed in all dance styles, but not many of them are ballroom dancers, whereas where I come from everyone can do the Cha-cha-cha,” says Johannes.
“I’ve chosen everyone through auditions. I had to be in the room to feel their energy, to see if they move me as a dancer, so I’ve found beautiful, individual dancers, which will make it feel a different show.
“It’s a show designed to be representing everyone, and it will be so beautiful to have audiences that support our artform – and I know we have that privilege because of the Strictly audience.”
Johannes has a theory as to why dance and TV audiences feel such a strong connection with him. “It’s because I have no inhibitions. I know that I come alive when I dance. Something takes over. It’s a feeling as an artist that I can’t explain but people connect with it,” he says.
In a nutshell, Freedom. “Absolutely! Nothing is going to stop me. It’s about the joy that my dancing has brought to my mother. Nothing was more important to me than to see my mum be happy when often she would be sad,” says Johannes.
“I was only a child and so I didn’t understand the magnitude of it when she carried me on her back, telling everyone I’d got a prize in a dance competition. She was so proud, even though it wasn’t first place. But that’s the thing. That talent was nurtured from a young age, and though my mum couldn’t support it financially, everyone else contributed.”
Johannes Radebe’s pathway to Freedom was set in perpetual motion, and hopefully another Strictly series awaits too. “We haven’t had the phone-calls yet, but I’ll gladly do it for as long as they will have me,” he says.
Might he look to do another all-male coupling? “Well, you never now. I’m just glad to have kicked down that door.”
Johannes Radebe: Freedom, Bridlington Spa, Wednesday, 7.30pm; Grand Opera House, York, April 12, 7.30pm. Box office: Bridlington, 01262 678258 or bridspa.com; York, 0844 871 7615 or atgtickets.com/York. Further Yorkshire performances: Sheffield City Hall, April 3, sheffieldcityhall.co.uk; Bradford St George’s Hall, April 9, bradford-theatres.co.uk; Hull City Hall, April 23, 01482 300306 or hulltheatres.co.uk.
Copyright of The Press, York