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Strictly Come Dancing winner Joanne Clifton joins cast of Top Hat

Twelve months ago, she won the Strictly glitterball, but now she's at Upstairs At The Gatehouse in Highgate

18 October, 2017 — By Richard Osley

Joanne Clifton and Ore Oduba compete in last year’s Strictly

WITH a quickstep and a tango, she delighted Britain’s new wave of ballroom enthusiasts by waltzing off with the Strictly Come Dancing crown less than 12 months ago, alongside news presenter Ore Oduba.

But this Christmas, Joanne Clifton, a former world champion ballroom dancer, will be swapping the expansive BBC studios and the biggest show on TV for somewhere altogether more intimate: a fringe theatre above a pub in Highgate village.

In a coup for Upstairs At The Gatehouse, the 34-year-old dancer will take on the part of Dale Tremont in Top Hat – a role made famous by Ginger Rogers in Irving Berlin’s musical. Auditions for other parts in the annual Christmas musical are continuing, with the chance to work with Ms Clifton now an added attraction. Asked about the change of scene, she told the New Journal she was “pursuing a dream” by trying to make her way in musical theatre, and it had led her away from Strictly Come Dancing. “I want to be good but I want to start from the bottom,” Ms Clifton said. “I understand that I get roles because of the profile you get from Strictly, but I have not had training in musical theatre and I want to learn. Out of respect for people who have been doing it for a lot longer than me, I want to start from smaller shows.”

Ms Clifton won the contest at only her second time of trying with Mr Oduba last December. She announced she would not be returning for another series over the summer and has been starring in a tour of Flashdance. Her Highgate performances will begin on December 13, round about the time her successor as Strictly champion will be announced.

“When I won the world championships, we were dancing to the music of Top Hat and I wore the feather dress that Ginger Rogers had made famous – so I’m excited to be wearing one again for this,” she said. “I like the idea of how intimate it will be because you can really interact with the audience, see them right up close. I’m a little worried about being so close for the tap but there are lots of ballroom numbers.” She added: “I didn’t expect to win Strictly, you can see that on our faces, but the time just seemed right to change. You get a few twinges as you get older and I would love to take on some of the dancing roles of musical theatre before I get too old for them.”

The success of Strictly has created a nation of armchair dance experts, but Ms Clifton, whose brother Kevin and sister-in-law Karen still star in the show, said ballroom dance championships would be unlikely to get the same ratings without the famous, amateur competitors, adding: “People love seeing celebrities give it a go. They love seeing people like Ed Balls trying it. It has done wonders for getting younger people interested, and more boys dancing.”

Upstairs At The Gatehouse is preparing to celebrate its 20th birthday in January. Next Saturday (October 28), it hosts a ‘chat show’ live on stage with Alison Steadman and Judith Chalmers as a fundraiser for new equipment. Theatre manager John Plews said: “It’s great we’ve got Joanne coming but we need the audience to be able to hear her because she is a fantastic singer as well – so we do need get new mics and music stands.”

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