If there’s one thing indisputable about this year’s Strictly Come Dancing, it’s that Maisie Smith is a natural born star.
After finding herself in the bottom two in week four after entering the contest as a runaway favourite, despite being as close to a professional dancer as I’ve ever seen on Strictly, the 19-year-old EastEnders star refused to rest on her laurels and came back fighting with the full force of her extraordinary talent.
She flipped, she was thrown around partner Gorka Marquez’s shoulders like a perfectly poised rag doll and shook hips that would rival Shakira.
As judges Shirley Ballas, Craig Revel Horwood and Anton Du Beke suitably rewarded the actress with three straight nines – leaving her second on the leaderboard – I sat back knowing full well she would be breezing through to the following weekend with ease.
Turns out there was nothing Maisie could have done on the dance floor to win over the Strictly fan base because no one watching on at home could fault her performance.
No, there’s a much bigger issue at hand, and sadly Maisie isn’t the only female celebrity to fall to the real Strictly curse – the reluctance to celebrate confident women.
Last week, for International Men’s Day, we gave the gents in our lives a pat on the back and encouraged them to embrace vulnerability, dive head first into their emotional pool – take a leaf out of a woman’s book, so to speak without generalising half the individually minded population.
Why then, are we so hesitant to congratulate a woman when she shows the same attributes we’re constantly applauding men for? Because this isn’t a two-way street.
Of course, Maisie isn’t alone when it comes to women tearing up the dance floor like a Beyonce in the making and being rewarded by ending up in the dance-off.
In 2017, Alexandra Burke owned that Strictly stage. She earned the first 10 of the series for her impeccable jive to Proud Mary and arguably pulled off one of the best Vienesse Waltz’s in the show’s 15 year history but was a regular in the bottom two.
Off-camera Alexandra was also plagued by unfounded reports she behaved like a ‘diva’ behind-the-scenes. All of this, by the way, came just weeks after the death of her mother, Soul II Soul singer Melissa Bell.
Opening up about her time on Strictly in a painful video on Instagram earlier this year addressing her experiences, the X Factor winner said she was painted out to be ‘an utter and complete b***h’. Rarely do we hear male stars of the show echo the same complaints.
Ashley Roberts, formerly of The Pussycat Dolls, and one of the more harmless celebrities on the showbiz spectrum, again, found herself constantly dancing against incomparable rivals in the dance-off, despite regularly achieving 10 after 10 after 10 from the judges.
Tip the scales, however, in recent years alone, Jay McGuinness, last year’s champion Kelvin Fletcher and even current contestant HRVY have all enjoyed riding high on leaderboard with praise from the judges which has only been reflected in reception from the public.
In last week’s OK! magazine, Maisie recalled breaking down in tears after landing in the bottom for the first time. Little did she know she’d end up there again.
‘Some people have had it in their heads that because I’m a good dancer that I would be safe every week. But that’s so not the case,’ she told the publication.
A substantial chunk of Strictly Come Dancing’s audience is made up of small children, young girls, who look up to the family-friendly series and its cast much more than you may realise
‘It was so, so scary. It wasn’t a nice feeling at all. You didn’t see it on camera, but as soon as I was saved, I just burst into tears… It knocked my confidence.
‘I’ve been trying so hard – we all have. But I’ve had to keep reminding myself not to take it so personally.’
Rather than build up Maisie’s confidence – like the star says herself – we chose to knock it. We chose to penalise someone for their talent, instead of rewarding it.
A substantial chunk of Strictly Come Dancing’s audience is made up of small children, young girls, who look up to the family-friendly series and its cast much more than you may realise.
My niece is nine-years-old and swiftly moved on from Peppa Pig to Strictly Come Dancing before she was six.
Hypnotised by the sequins, salsas and Shirley Ballas, few things bring her more joy, but entering perhaps the most transformative years of her life, I don’t want her to watch successful women being penalised for being talented, I want her to watch them lift glitterball trophies.
To think of a young girl like Maisie be told each weekend, ‘you’re great but the public don’t like you’ is shattering.
A Strictly audience includes women from six-years-old to 96, and we are telling all of them to park determination and bin their competitive streak to be ‘endearing’ instead – because clearly being hungry for the win and being likeable can’t go hand in hand.
I hope Maisie escapes the clutches of the bottom two this week, and not just for the sake of a dance competition but because I want girls like my niece to know that when she finds her talent she should run with with it.
I will never know what it’s like to have to fight for approval in the same way my female friends, colleagues and family do – ever.
But to watch a teenager be denied that approval in front of millions of viewers for two consecutive weeks says much more about our apprehension to hold strong female in the same esteem to men than it does about Maisie.
Strictly Come Dancing continues Saturday at 7.15pm on BBC One.
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