It says a lot that Katya Jones is winning Come dance strictly in 2017 is arguably the least interesting thing that’s happened to her since she joined the show. Along the way, the Russian dancer has faced scandals, divorces and arguments with her partners, while honing her talent for turning untrained celebrities into dancing diamonds. Where some pros who can now sit on the jury would be grouped with a ‘kidding’ contestant like, off the top of my head, Ann Widdecombe, and accept that stereotype, giving them unchallenged choreography and even, say, dragging them around the floor (cough, Anton Du Beke, cough), Jones never does. For her, there are no “joking” candidates. Not Ed Balls. Not Tony Adams.
On the first day of her debut season in 2017, the pro was dropped into the depths. Associated with Balls, a former shadow chancellor famous, among other things, for tweeting the words “Ed Balls” without any explanation, she chose to swim. Instead of whining about confusing song choices when the pair were forced to salsa dance to “Gangnam Style,” Jones choreographed one of the most imaginative dances ever. Strictly story, turning Balls into, dare I say it, an impressive dancer. Matt Hancock wishes he could look this dignified on reality TV.
In just one season, Jones has established herself as this pro, unafraid to push his partners to their full, untapped potential. The following year, she won with City of Holby actor Joe McFadden, although he’s not the best dancer on this show (not to be all “Alexandra Burke woz robed”, but she was). People loved McFadden and, just as crucially, they loved Jones.
Then in 2018, things fell apart. Jones was pictured kissing her celebrity partner Seann Walsh (who is currently befriending Matt Hancock with chilling ease on i am a celebrity… ) on his girlfriend Rebecca Humphries’ birthday. Overnight, their lives became tabloid fodder. In an apparent move to preserve the show’s image, the judges placed them at the bottom of the rankings and the audience rejected them. Katya and her husband Neil, also a pro on Strictlystood together for a year, but announced their separation the following August after six years of marriage.
“Kissgate” was arguably the biggest scandal in Strictly‘s, no small feat for a show so associated with cheating allegations that it has its own “curse,” which has bewitched everyone from Joe Calzaghe to Stacey Dooley. But it was all the more infuriating that with Jones, Walsh had begun to look like a good dancer. After a hesitant start, his Matrix– the themed paso doble was one of the coolest dances the show has ever seen (and I rarely use the c-word about a show where Corri the stars learn the waltz).
In the years since that kiss, Jones never had the chance to Strictly glory again. Some fans even claimed that she partnered with celebrities who would clearly never win the show as punishment for damaging the show’s reputation. But if so, Jones never approached it that way. Of BBC breakfastFrom Mike Bushell to swimmer Adam Peaty, she’s taken non-dancers and transformed them. His 2020 appearance in the series’ first competitive gay partnership with Nicola Adams might have been his redemption arc, if their time hadn’t been cut short by an unfortunate Covid fight.
Which brings us to this year and Adams. Despite having the least natural dance skill of any of Jones’ partners, our pro pushed the former footballer with uncompromising routines filled with dance content. In the montages of Strictly training sequences, you’ll typically see Jones barking at his partners and metaphorically cracking the whip. She doesn’t see Adams, or any of the celebrities, as a lost cause and knows she can get a good dance out of it.
Which is why the sight of the pair arguing after last week’s shoddy salsa doesn’t surprise me. Adams had risen to the occasion and proven he wasn’t that “joke” after all, so to see him mess up and fall back into that mindset was as disappointing for Jones as it was for the audience. But I don’t think one dance will necessarily mean the end of their Strictly journey. Professionals and celebrities are very popular with the public and they want to see them back in shape. No other pro would have taken Adams this far in the competition — which could be a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. But Jones is the best thing that can happen Strictly and one that should be more appreciated.
‘Strictly Come Dancing’ continues Saturday 12 November at 6.55pm on BBC One