Source: Daily Mail
Strictly Come Dancing star Brian Fortuna quit the show last night after BBC chiefs demoted him and four other professional dancers and replaced them with younger stars.
Mr Fortuna, Ian Waite, Matthew Cutler, Darren Bennett and Lilia Kopylova – who are mostly in their 30s – were offered roles in a ‘professional dance troupe’, meaning they will no longer compete in the show or be paired with celebrities.
Mr Fortuna himself is only 27 but the announcement will reignite claims of ageism at the BBC as the three new dancers brought in to replace them are nearly a decade younger than their predecessors.
The changes to the Strictly format, which will also reduce the number of celebrity contestants from 16 to 14, are seen as a desperate attempt to sex-up the show, which has fallen well behind rival The X Factor in the ratings.
Among the new recruits are 28-year-old Artem Chigvintse, a Latin champion and US So You Think You Can Dance graduate, Jared Murillo, a 21-year-old High School Musical dancer and Swing Youth winner and 30-year-old Burn The Floor star Robin Windsor.
Some of the other professional dancers are now said to be considering their positions on the show after what they regard as a blatant snub after years of service.
Mr Waite, 39, Mr Cutler, 34, Mr Bennett, 33, and Miss Kopylova, 31, have been offered roles in a dance troupe performing ‘show-stopping dance spectacles’ each week on the show.
Mr Cutler won the show in 2007 with singer Alesha Dixon, Miss Kopylova triumphed in 2005 with cricketer Darren Gough and Mr Bennett was the champion in 2004 when he was partnered with actress Jill Halfpenny.
But last year’s shake-up of the female professional dancers saw the BBC accused of ageism when former winner Karen Hardy, then 39, was replaced.
Last night Mr Fortuna, an American professional dancer, said he had stepped down from the show to concentrate on the stage show Burn The Floor which is he currently starring in with his former dance partner Ali Bastian.
The couple, who have been dating since they were partnered on Strictly, join Burn The Floor when it opens at the Shaftesbury Theatre in central London.
Mr Fortuna said: ‘I really enjoyed working on Strictly over the years – loved the fans and loved all the people I got work with - but there are changes planned for the next season so I’ve decided not to return to the show.
‘Both Ali and I are looking forward to seeing all our fans at the Shaftesbury Theatre.’
Strictly bosses have repeatedly been accused of ageism since the show began.
Thousands of viewers complained to the BBC when bosses axed 66-year-old Arlene Phillips and replaced her with 30-year-old Alesha Dixon on last year’s series. Critics claimed that it was further proof that the corporation was ageist against older women.
Last year’s dance series was also accused of being stale and of recruiting a host of barely known people as contestants. But by reducing the role of much loved dancers like Matthew Cutler and Ian Waite the show’s bosses once again risk a backlash from fans and accusations of ageism.
A BBC spokesperson said: ‘This series sees the addition of a professional dance group, dedicated to performing routines on a scale never before seen on Strictly.
‘The group will comprise Strictly regulars and some new professional faces. The group routines promise to deliver show-stopping dance spectacles.’
He added: ‘We respect Brian’s decision to leave Strictly and would like to thank him for all his hard work over the last two series and wish him well for his new venture.’
And just hours after the announcement was made, online petitions had sprung calling on the BBC to reinstate the dancers to their former roles. On Twitter one said: ‘I can’t believe they have got rid of Ian Waite, Lillian and Darren they were so nice.’
Another wrote: ‘Why the hell are my three favourite dancers Ian Waite, Matt Cutler and Brian Fortuna only doing the group dance.’
A Strictly insider added: ‘The BBC seems to invite criticism for ageism over its actions.’