Strictly’s Darcey Bussell almost quit dancing as a teenager

Strictly Come Dancing judge Dame Darcey Bussell almost quit classical ballet as a teenager because she did not think she was good enough.

She joined the Royal Ballet School at 13 – two years behind her peers – and for the first year struggled to catch up.

But, with perseverance and determination, she was soon spotted by choreographer Kenneth MacMillan and became the Royal Ballet’s principal ballerina at 20.

Her passion for dance began as a five-year-old at Saturday morning ballet lessons, which took her to stage school where a love of classical ballet won her a place at the Royal Ballet School.

“I got a shock because I was really rubbish and I thought I was really good and it did take me another two years to catch up with my peers,” the 49-year-old said.

“I nearly did leave but I was so disappointed with myself and I did feel sorry for myself for much of a whole year before I suddenly realised I did have the courage and determination to catch up.

“It gave me the resilience to fight a bit harder.”

Sir Kenneth MacMillan
The Royal Ballet’s principal choreographer, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, directs Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope during rehearsals for his work The Prince Of The Pagodas in 1989 (PA)

As a child she also struggled with dyslexia and found written work difficult.

“I never regretted having dyslexia and I hated using it as an excuse and never mentioned that I had it,” she said.

“It did give me a massive amount of resilience because I could take the punches in a better way and I needed that in classical ballet big time.”

Dame Darcey retired from ballet in 2007. She joined Strictly Come Dancing as a judge in 2012 and has remained a firm favourite with fans of the BBC One show ever since.

“It’s 15 years it has been running for and I am in my seventh year and I wouldn’t have ever imagined that,” she said.

“I was terrified when I first came on it. It’s great and everybody that goes on there, however tough it is to be thrown off, their experience has been joyful, extraordinary, magical and out of this world.”

Dame Darcey said her panel colleagues – Bruno Tonioli, Craig Revel Horwood and former head judge Len Goodman – were so nervous when they filmed the trailer for the 2012 series.

Dame Darcey Bussell joined Bruno Tonioli, Len Goodman and Craig Revel Horwood on Strictly in 2012 (Dominic Lipinski/PA).
Dame Darcey Bussell joined Bruno Tonioli, Len Goodman and Craig Revel Horwood on Strictly’s judging panel in 2012 (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“They were so nervous, even Len. They had sweaty palms and they were shaking,” she said.

The dancer, who was made a Dame in the New Year Honours, told the Cheltenham Literature Festival that she found it a challenge to move from classical ballet to a range of different dances – likening it to when she was at stage school as a child.

“I just loved doing those dances. It is terrifying on that dancefloor, which I why I know how unbelievably scary it is for those celebrities out on it,” she said.

“I’ve always watched the show and always loved it but I had no idea what it felt to be part of that and how it affects people.

“I love being part of a show like Strictly, even though it is a reality show and it’s live and it’s terrifying, it is still celebrating dance. I couldn’t be happier.”

She also said that her judging style is to try to be as supportive as possible to the contestants and to give them encouragement.

Dame Darcey Bussell tries to be positive in her judging style (Kieron McCarron/BBC/PA).
Dame Darcey Bussell tries to be positive in her judging style (Kieron McCarron/BBC/PA)

“You have a couple of seconds to produce your one-liner or say anything that can help and inspire that person to come back next week and to feel confident and not to just go ‘That went wrong and that went wrong, I’m really sorry’,” she said.

“You have to try and lift their spirits and highlight the good things, which is much harder.

“It’s a really interesting world and I’ve loved it and I love working with the people. It’s like working with a dance company again, which is great. It’s like a different West End show every week.”

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