Strictly starto panto pro
Barbara Young talks to dance professional Ian Waite ahead of his role as Sultan Cha-Cha-Cha in this year’s festive pantomime, Aladdin at Lincoln’s New Theatre Royal.
As A highly regarded professional in the dance industry, Ian Waite is best known for taking part in eight series of BBC TV’s Strictly Come Dancing.
Following his success as an audience favourite in last year’s NTR’s panto Cinderella, in which he played the Fairy Godfather, Ian is looking forward to returning to Lincoln’s theatre stage in December.
Stepping into his role as Sultan Cha-Cha-Cha, Ian will be joining Olympic gymnast medallist and winner of Strictly Come Dancing and ITV’s The Masked Dancer, Louis Smith MBE– who is starring in his first ever pantomime as Abanazar – together with eminent stage actor Roger Wright as the iconic Genie of the Lamp.
“So far, I’ve appeared in two pantos, both were Cinderella but as different characters,” says Ian.
“In the first panto I played Dandini and last year at the New Theatre Royal, I played the Fairy Godfather. I enjoyed them both, but obviously it was the same story so I’m really excited to perform in Aladdin this year.
“My character, the Fairy Godfather, last year was very flamboyant, camp and outrageous and this year the Sultan is also camp and outrageous, but I think I’ll be a little more poshly spoken and reserved. I’ve decided I’m going to be the daddy of all daddies!
“My entrances are going to get bigger and bigger as we go along, so I’m channelling Liberace.”
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Ian says he relishes the opportunity to combine acting with dancing on stage once again.
“There’s a lot of script to learn whereas normally for me it’s just steps that I was learning for a dance show. But now with acting, you’ve got to remember lines and timing is very important too, just as it is in dancing.
“This year I’m also in character for the whole run, whereas last year I only did two weeks after sharing the role with Jake Quickenden, so this time I feel I can really get to grips with the character. The audiences are so warm and giving in Lincoln, so I’m looking forward to performing in front of them.
“Panto is really enjoyable, and what’s so great about it is that you can converse with the audience and you know that if you go wrong, it’s not such an issue. As a performance, it’s very forgiving and the audiences always like it when something goes wrong – I do love that aspect of it!”
Ian is also excited to have the chance to return and explore the city, accompanied by his mother and his two dogs, and has plans to remain in Lincoln over Christmas.
“I’m so excited to be back in Lincoln, it’s one of my favourite places to be. I love the cathedral, I love the castle, and most importantly I love the theatre. It’s steeped in history, and it feels like I’m coming home to family. I can’t wait to see the brilliant Lincoln audiences again soon, they have always been so wonderful.
“Normally, I would go home for Christmas, but as my mum’s up here with the dogs, I think we’ll just stay and have a day off, which will be lovely. In between performing, I shall be walking with the dogs, and going out for lunch and dinner with my mum in the various different, gorgeous places in Lincoln.”
Born in Reading in 1971, Ian started dancing at the age of 10 when his father attended classes and dragged an initially reluctant Ian and his brother along.
“When I first started, I didn’t want to dance. My father asked me and I said no, because my friends wouldn’t appreciate it and I was very impressionable!
“After my mother and father got divorced, dad was told that there were lots of single women at the local dance school, so he thought ‘hey up, I’m going to go along there’!
He loved it so much that he started going four or five times a week! I think he loved the social side of it and that’s why he got me into dance.”
It didn’t take long to see just what a natural born performer and dancer Ian was. Just three years later he was dancing on the open competition circuit and went on to become a Latin American champion.
Ian’s early achievements included winning the European Youth Championship and with his dancing partner Camilla Dallerup (with whom he teamed up in 2004), the partnership reached the semi-finals of the International Championships at the Royal Albert Hall, as well as the final of the British National Dance Championships.
“Dad, who went on to marry his dance teacher, was a massive influence to me because throughout my entire career I’ve always seeked my father’s approval. Whenever I got great results, like winning the European Championships, or getting a great score on Strictly, I would be calling my dad first, before anybody else.”
Ian’s stepmother ran two dancing schools, one for ballroom and one for performing arts.
“I only went to the ballroom school, but now I wish I had gone to the performing arts school, as it would have really helped me with all of the theatre that I do nowadays. I feel very grateful that I get the chance to do this on stage and to try different things like acting and singing.
“Unfortunately, I never went to panto as a child, but I went to numerous pantomimes later on in life as an adult, as I had many friends in them and I’d always go along to support them.”
Ian first joined BBC TV’s Strictly “family” in 2004 as one of the professional dancers in series two, reaching the final with sports presenter and athlete Denise Lewis.
The following year, Ian reached the final with radio and TV presenter Zoe Ball, finishing in third place.
He went on to appear in Strictly for eight series, and subsequently featured on Strictly: It Takes Two, with his own popular segment ‘Waite’s Wednesday Warm-Up’.
Since then, Ian has toured with various dance productions, including The Ballroom Boys and The Ballroom Boys Act 2, which both performed at the NTR, appearing alongside fellow Strictly professional Vincent Simone.
“One of my favourite memories from Strictly is making the final for the first time with Denise when the final was held in Blackpool, which was really rare.
“Also, dancing with Zoe on the show and working with her on It Takes Two, we just had a very special chemistry.
“I also performed two dances with Darcey Bussell. I knew Darcey as a prima ballerina and had seen her perform as a ballet dancer, so for me it was such an honour to be able to dance and perform with her. I was specifically asked by Darcey to dance with her, so I’m very grateful for that opportunity.
“Zoe and I still keep in contact, we go for dinner and we’re all getting together for an It Takes Two reunion.
“Strictly was a great time, but I did it for 10 years and feel like I’m moving onto different things such as my tour, shows like The Magic of Dance, and also Dancing with the Stars in Australia earlier this year, which was 20 years after I did my first series on Strictly, so I feel I’ve gone full circle.”
Stage and screen
Ian says that rather than having to overcome nerves when performing, he feels excitement before stepping in front of an audience.
“I still get excited, which I think is a good thing and I love to perform in front of an audience. I think that’s where I excel, and where I’m at my best, I’m just a big show-off really!”
Looking ahead, Ian says he would like to explore more television presenting opportunities.
“What I do with Vincent Simone on stage is amazing, just incredible, and every night people come up to us and say ‘You should be doing this on TV!’.
“I do feel as though there is a gap in the market for old school comedy duos, and we don’t have enough of those, so maybe one day we’ll get an opportunity to show what we do on TV!
“Looking back I feel I’ve been very lucky in my career. I’m a hard worker and really enjoy everything that I do.
“I give everything and I think that has helped me with my career, for which I’m hugely grateful.
He adds: “I love performing and I don’t want to stop because I feel that as soon as you stop, that’s when people start to grow old and lose their purpose. I don’t want to lose my purpose in life, which is to perform on stage.”