Strictly choreographer reveals the secrets behind the show

Strictly choreographer reveals the secrets behind the show
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Richard Marcel has been put helping the Strictly couples through their steps for ten years

When those exciting opening bars of the Strictly theme tune begin on a Saturday night, we get set to snuggle in for an evening of sparkle, sass and sensational routines. But as the Strictly carnival whirrs into life it can be easy to forget that this out-of-this-world spectacle doesn’t just happen by magic. Hours and hours of gruelling hard work, a whole family of different people and a fair sprinkling of tears, injuries and frustration mix together to make our Saturday night telly show.

And one person who knows the ins and outs of the Strictly process that goes into making one stonking live show is Richard Marcel, a former backing dancer to the stars, who’s now a dancing guru and specialist choreographer for the celebrity couples on Strictly. 

 Richard Marcel

Richard Marcel

Having first got involved in the show when he was invited to be a dancer on the first series –an opportunity he turned down to focus on his choreography career, Richard has now been on the Strictly team for ten years. Whilst he originally choreographed group dances, today he focuses on helping the couples on their individual routines, using his multi dance style experience to offer advice on specialist dance styles such as Salsa and Charleston. 

“Sometimes I choreograph the whole routine or sometimes I come in to help the couples with the authenticity of that particular style of dance once the pro has choreographed most of it. It really depends on what the professional dancer wants,” says Richard. “Then I usually help out with the camera rehearsals on the Friday night and am in the audience for Saturday’s live show.”

 Richard often helps couples out in the rehearsal room

Richard often helps couples out in the rehearsal room

In ten years, Richard says some of the inner workings of the show have changed a lot. 
“In the early days I would help come up with the theme for the couple and even the decision of what music to have and where it’s cut. But now they have a production team who decide these kinds of things like where the dance is set and what the storyline is.

“My job then is about deciding what kind of moves go where. So how strong you want the opening to be, where you want it to finish, if it interacts with the audience and the judges and which cameras you’re going to play to.”

Richard has choreographed some of the most unforgettable Strictly routines during his time on the show but he says his most memorable dance is the Salsa Eastenders actor Jake Wood and his dance partner Janette Manrara performed to Mambo No 5 in 2014. 

“I worked really hard on his styling,” says Richard. “The people on Strictly don’t have the benefit of having learned how to dance so you have to make very quick fixes. You’ve got to place their body into all sorts of positions and angles so that it looks right. 
“On this occasion Janette had choreographed most of the routine and I just came in to add some authentic salsa moves and work on lifts.

“Jake was evidently in his element doing that routine and it all worked really well.”
That dance became one of the best-loved routines of that series as well as receiving amazing scores from the judges.

 Richard helped Jake and Janette with their incredible lifts

Richard helped Jake and Janette with their incredible lifts

“For me as a choreographer, the main thing you want is for the celeb dancer to just get through the routine, deliver it and enjoy it so the score doesn’t matter. But obviously when they do get good marks you feel it’s a real achievement for them.”

“I love working with cameras and being on set. I love music and I love dance more than my life so it’s a big honour for me to be able to share what I’ve learned and share my passion through Strictly and elsewhere as a choreographer. This is what I’ve wanted all my life and what I used to dream about at school so I feel very at home backstage at Strictly.”

  • Want to follow in the footsteps of the stars and take a lesson from Richard yourself? He’s hosting a special salsa class at newly-launched Bar Salsa! in Temple, London on November 30 2017. For tickets, click here.