Dance fever hits U.K.

Webs suit up in spandex to cheer chilly auds

These are cheerless days in the U.K., shivering through the worst winter weather for at least three decades.

No wonder, then, that feel-good entertainment in the shape of dance shows is flourishing across free-to-air and pay webs.

The granddaddy of them all, “Strictly Come Dancing” (known in the U.S. as “Dancing With the Stars”), wrapped its seventh series in December with 11.3 million viewers (a 45% share) for the dance-off — a huge aud even if it was the show’s least successful result since 2005.

When it sashays back across Blighty’s screens this year it will have competition.

Leading the charge is the arguably long overdue U.K. version of “So You Think You Can Dance,” co-created for U.S. auds by Nigel Lythgoe and Simon Fuller back in 2005.

Following six seasons on the other side of the Atlantic, the BBC bowed the show Jan. 2 on flagship network, BBC1.

The program is holding its own, with 6.9 million viewers (27% share) tuning in to episode two.

The day after “So You Think You Can Dance” bowed on the BBC, pay channel Sky One, which increasingly is attempting to take on terrestrial rivals, launched “Got to Dance.”

Like “So You Think You Can Dance,” the series is aimed at a younger demographic and offers wannabe hoofers the chance to win a £100,000 ($162,000) cash prize.

Both shows feature auditions filmed around the U.K. followed by studio shows and live finals in February decided by public vote.

Commercial broadcaster ITV1 isn’t missing out on the trend. Its “Dancing on Ice” debuted on Jan. 10 with 9 million viewers and a 30% share.

This outbreak of smallscreen dance fever is a response to renewed interest in amateur dancing throughout the U.K.

The BBC tapped into this in 1949 when it bowed “Come Dancing,” a rather staid TV ballroom dancing competition show that ran until 1998, being pushed into ever later slots.

The pubcaster made ballroom dancing officially cool with the bow of “Strictly” back in May 2004.

Caroline Miller, the director of Dance U.K., an association that promotes dance, recently told The Times, “There has been a crescendo building to this moment where dancing has become more and more hip.”

It is this hipness that Sky One aims to reflect in “Got to Dance,” one of whose judges is Ashley Banjo, leader of Diversity, the street-dance act that won “Britain’s Got Talent” last spring.

People are really passionate about dance,” says Sky One head Stuart Murphy, who commissioned “Got to Dance” as part of an attempt to turn up the heat at the web.

He explains, “I want to make Sky One warmer and dance is warm and expressive. It is universal and not demographically restrictive. Dance is also joyous, innocent and celebratory…it can help cheer people up.”

Whether the feel-good vibe Murphy is attempting to foster translates into a second series of “Got to Dance” remains to be seen.

What is clear is that what Guardian journalist Stephen Armstrong called “the crop of dance shows spreading across our screens like a spandex fungus” look set to remain.

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