Shirley Ballas Reflects On 'Revolting' Criticism She Received During Dance Competitions

"It wasn't like it is today," the Strictly Come Dancing star admitted.
Shirley Ballas pictured last month
Shirley Ballas pictured last month
Mike Marsland via Getty Images

Strictly Come Dancing judge Shirley Ballas has spoken candidly about one of the more harsh critiques she received during her own competitive dance career.

After giving birth to her son Mark back in 1986, the former championship dancer – nicknamed the Queen of Latin within her industry – admitted in a conversation with the Radio Times podcast that she was deliberately marked down due to her visible stretch marks.

“It wasn’t like it is today, where everybody’s got to walk on [eggshells] to tell you something,” she recalled.

“I went back to dancing six weeks after having my baby. I was told: ‘I marked you third, as I refuse to look at the stretch marks on your back. I find it revolting’.”

While the comments are obviously totally unacceptable by today’s standards, Shirley has admitted she wasn’t too put out by the undisclosed judge’s harsh words.

She added: “I just accepted it, moved on and did what I needed to do – for me, it was character building.”

Shirley with her fellow Strictly judges pictured ahead of this year's series
Shirley with her fellow Strictly judges pictured ahead of this year's series
BBC/Ray Burmiston

Later in the conversation, Shirley revealed that she had to adapt her own judging style before taking her seat on the Strictly panel.

I had so many walls up from working in the industry for years. When we critique someone there’s a frown and you’re very direct,” she explained, before noting her son helped her present her critiques in a certain “way”, rather than telling the celebrities, “your footwork sucks”.

In an exclusive interview with HuffPost UK last month, Shirley credited Strictly with helping to embrace her body, after decades of performing in the dance industry took a toll on her self-esteem.

“It’s given me better body confidence, and helped me to realise that all women are different shapes and sizes, and that everyone is beautiful,” she revealed.

“Whereas maybe before, I just lived in this dance industry, where everybody tells you you’ve got to be as thin as a rail.”

The Strictly panel in 2021
The Strictly panel in 2021
BBC/Guy Levy

And it’s not only her body image that has soared since joining the BBC entertainment show – as Shirley also added that she has “found her voice” through being part of the panel.

On the advice she would give herself in hindsight before starting her new Head Judge role, Shirley said: “My industry is mainly run by men, and I would say to be a super strong female, and not be afraid to stand up and say how you feel, and what you think.

“Whereas before, I think I tended to just take everybody’s shit and take a back seat. But now, I think I’ve found my voice. It might be a bit late in life, but I’ve found it.”


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