Shirley Ballas is set to grace our screens on Saturday as the new Strictly Come Dancing judge. Replacing head honcho Len Goodman, Shirley, 56, will have the power to give the casting vote in the dance-offs. She was considered one of the outsiders to take on the position, with many fans assuming the role would go to a former Strictly dancer. But Shirley is said to have impressed BBC bosses with her vast experience as a dance coach and her work on hit US show Dancing with the Stars. So what exactly do we know about the 'Queen of Latin'?
Shirley is nicknamed the 'Queen of Latin'
What is Shirley's dance experience?
Originally from Merseyside, Shirley began dancing at the age of seven when she took her first lesson in a local hall. She began competitively dancing aged eight, and when she was 15, Shirley moved to North Yorkshire to compete with British ballroom champion, Nigel Tiffany. The pair got engaged when Shirley was 16, but never ended up marrying.
Shirley specialises in Latin dance, earning her the nickname the 'Queen of Latin'. "I love ballroom dance, my favourite style being the Argentine Tango. I also love the Viennese Waltz and the way it can be done the American style where it breaks apart. But of course my heart lies with Latin, I love the Latin," she said.
Shirley retired from competitive dancing in 1996. She is a three-time British Open to the World Latin American champion, ten-time United States Latin American champion, and multiple-times British National champion. Shirley, who says she was "born to dance", is now an acclaimed and respected international coach as well as an adjudicator for ballroom and Latin American competitions, judging all around the world.
The newcomer with regular judges Bruno, Darcey and Craig
What is Shirley's TV experience?
Shirley has previously appeared on Dancing with the Stars in the US, giving masterclass lessons and commentating on the show. Her big TV debut in the UK will be Strictly, which she is a huge fan of. "When I was told the news, I did actually fall to my knees, I couldn't believe it!" said Shirley. "The first person I called was my son, Mark, and as soon as he answered he said, 'You got it didn't you?' I didn't even have to say it out loud! Mark was the one who had encouraged me, he always said 'You can do this' and 'It's going to be an amazing journey'." Shirley added: "I find the show so inspiring. There could be young or old people out there who are watching and they will also be inspired to take up dancing and I find that so special."
Is Shirley married?
The dancer married Sammy Stopford, her dance partner at the time, in 1980 but later divorced him in 1984. A year later in 1985, she married ballroom dancer Corky Ballas. Together they won the International Latin American Dance Championship in 1995, which Shirley describes as one of her "proudest dance moments". Shirley and Corky have a son Mark, 31, who is a professional on Dancing with the Stars. "Aside from dancing, the biggest and proudest moment of my whole entire life was when my son Mark was born," she said. The couple divorced in 2007.
Shirley and her son Mark Ballas
What kind of judge will Shirley be?
As head judge, Shirley will have the power to give the casting vote in the dance-offs. Describing what kind of judge she'll be, Shirley said: "It's all about the four F's; fun, firm, feisty and fair. I may look and come across as quite strict, but I want the celebrities to know that when they are stood in front of me my heart will be pumping a thousand miles an hour for them in that moment and I'll want to give them comments to inspire them. But saying that I can also be strict. If I ask them to do something and they don't deliver it the following week I'm not going to tell them that it's ok, I'm not that kind of judge. I will be expecting things from them and I hope that they will be expecting things from me, to be as honest and as forthright as I can to help them become the best dancer they can be."
What is her relationship with Len Goodman?
Shirley has known Len since she was a young girl aged nine, when he would judge some of her shows. "However, our paths properly crossed when I was about 15 or 16 when I actually trained with him as a dancer," Shirley revealed. "We have remained friends and at any dinner party we were at together, he was the life and soul of the party. Len always had great things to say about my dancing and I'm a big fan of his sense of humour and his insight into ballroom dancing."