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‘Strictly Come Dancing’ features first same-sex pairing

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Graziano di Prima and Johannes Radebe (Image courtesy BBC)

“Strictly Come Dancing” – the UK reality dance competition show that was forerunner to “Dancing With The Stars” in the US and other countries – this weekend featured the first same-sex dance routine in its 17-season history.

The hit BBC show has been a frequent target of criticism from LGBTQ advocates for its refusal to pair any of its celebrity contestants with professional dancers of the same sex, despite the frequent participation of openly gay contestants.

Though last season included two professionals dancing together as part of a group routine, this weekend’s installment of the Sunday results show was the first to include a solo spot between two male dancers – Johannes Radebe, who is gay, and Graziano di Prima, who is heterosexual.

Radebe is a professional dancer and choreographer who spent two seasons on South Africa’s version of the program before joining the UK cast in 2018. He had been teamed this season with celebrity partner Catherine Tyldesley before the pair was eliminated from the show last week.

Radebe, who has spoken out about being bullied when younger and the difficulties of growing up gay in South Africa, spoke to UK’s Hello magazine about what being asked to take part in the historic same sex routine meant to him.

“I’ve never felt so liberated. For the first time in my life, I feel accepted for who I am. That says so much about the people of this country,” he said. “To be able to dance with a friend I respect and adore is joyous. There’s bromance galore between us, but there were no male and female roles, just free movement. It was beautiful, classy and elegant.”

Graziano is a Sicilian dancer who also joined the show in 2018. He is an Italian Latin Champion who has also represented Belgium at the World Championships and made the top 24 at the under 21s Latin World Championships.

Both men took to social media to comment on the dance.

Radebe posted photos of him and di Prima, commenting, “Love knows no boundaries.”

Di Prima posted a clip to his Twitter with the message: “REPRESENTATION always matters!?️‍?unforgettable moment, loved to dance with you @johannesradebe.”

Di Prima’s tweet has drawn over 24,000 likes and thousands of comments. Some were negative – with fans of the show expressing disappointment and saying they would not watch the show in the future if it featured more same-sex couplings – but the majority were supportive of the routine.

On his Instagram, Radebe thanked people for their support.

“I see all those messages coming in and I feel the love. I’m going to take time to respond to each and every message. There’s a lot! I’m really grateful and I’m really thankful.”

Last year, “Ballando con le Stelle,” Italy’s version of “Dancing With The Stars,” featured a gay celebrity partnered with a male professional dancer. The same-sex pairing made the competition’s grand final and took third place.

The Israeli version of the show has included a female same-sex couple in its competition and the Austrian version has featured a male couple. Australian drag star Courtney Act danced with a male partner in that country’s version of the show.

In the US, Dancing With The Stars” has yet to feature a same-sex competing – though in 2016, Nyle DiMarco participated in a brief same-sex routine before going on to win the series with his female dance partner, Peta Murgatroyd.

Radebe and di Prima danced to singer Emeli Sande, performing her track, “Shine.” You can watch their full routine below.

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Photos

PHOTOS: Baltimore Pride in the Park

Annual celebration featured vendors, performers

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(Washington Blade photo by Linus Berggren)

Baltimore Pride in the Park was held at Druid Hill Park on Sunday, June 16.

(Washington Blade photos by Linus Berggren)

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PHOTOS: “Portraits”

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performs at the Kennedy Center

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A scene from "Portraits," as performed in a technical rehearsal at the Kennedy Center on Saturday, June 15. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington performed “Portraits” at the Kennedy Center on Sunday, June 16.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Theater

Sophie Zmorrod embracing life on the road in ‘Kite Runner’

First national tour comes to Eisenhower Theater on June 25

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Sophie Zmorrod (Photo courtesy of Zmorrod)

‘The Kite Runner’
June 25 – 30
The Kennedy Center
$39-$149
Kennedy-center.org

Newly single, Sophie Zmorrod is enjoying life on the road in the first national tour of “The Kite Runner,” Matthew Spangler’s play with music based on Khaled Hosseini’s gripping novel about damaged relationships and longed for redemption. 

“It’s a wonderful time for me,” says Zmorrod. “I’m past the breakup pain and feeling empowered to explore new cities. A lot of us in the cast are queer, so we figure out the scene wherever the show goes.” 

What’s more, the New York-based actor has fallen in love with the work. “I love how the play’s central character Amir is flawed. He is our antihero. He has faults. As a privileged boy in Kabul, he bears witness to his best friend’s assault and doesn’t intervene. He lives with that guilt for decades and gets that redemption in the end.” 

“He does what he can to right wrongs. For me who’s regretted things, and wished I could go back in time, it resonates. Watching someone forgive themselves and do the right thing is beautiful.” 

Via phone from Chicago (the tour’s stop before moving on to Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater on June 25), Zmorrod, whose background is Lebanese, happily chats about sexuality, ethnicity, and acting. 

WASHINGTON BLADE: Looking at your resume, I see you’ve been cast in roles traditionally played by men. And have you played queer characters? 

SOPHIE ZMORROD: Oh yes, both. Whether or not they’re written on the page as queer, they sometimes turn out that way. And that holds true for this show too.  

With “The Winter’s Tale” at Trinity Rep, I played Leontes — the king who banishes his wife — as a woman. So, in that production it was about two women and touched on the violence that women sometimes inflict on other women.

And there was Beadle Bamford in Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd” also at Trinity Rep; I played him as a woman who was masculine and wore a suit. It was a great opportunity to explore myself and gender expression. That was a really good experience. 

BLADE: Are you an actor who’s often be called in for queer roles? 

ZMORRAD: Not really. I’m what you might call straight passing. Sometimes I’ve had to advocate for my queerness. To be a part of something. 

Similarly with my ethnicity. I’m called in to audition for the white and Arab roles. It gets tricky because I’m not the exactly the white girl next door and I’m not exactly Jasmine from Disney’s “Aladdin” either. 

This is one of the reasons, I really want people to come see “The Kite Runner,” Audiences need to experience the reality of the wide diversity of Middle Eastern people on the stage. We’re all very different.

And not incidentally, from this 14-person cast, I’ve met some great people to add to those I know from the Middle Eastern affinity spaces and groups I’m connected to in New York.

BLADE: In “The Kite Runner” what parts do you play?

 ZMORRAD: Three characters. All women, I think. In the first act, I’m an elderly eccentric pomegranate seller in the Afghan market, waddling around, speaking in Dari [the lingua franca of Afghanistan]; and the second act, I’m young hip and sell records in a San Francisco market; and at the end, I’m a buttoned-down American immigration bureaucrat advising Amir about adoption.

BLADE:  Your training is impressive: BA cum laude in music from Columbia University, an MFA in acting from Brown University/Trinity Repertory Company, and you’re also accomplished in opera and playwrighting, to name a few things. Does “The Kite Runner” allow you to flex your many muscles? 

ZMORROD: Very much. Playing multiple roles is always fun for an actor – we like malleability. Also, there are instruments on stage. I like working with the singing bowl; it’s usually used in yoga as a soothing sound, but here we save it for the dramatic, uncomfortable moments. I also sing from offstage. 

We are creating the world of the play on a very minimal set. Oh, and we do kite flying. So yeah, lots of challenges. It’s great. 

BLADE: It sounds like you’re in a good place both professionally and personally.

ZMORROD: It’s taken a long time to feel comfortable. But I’m on the journey and excited to be where I am, and who I am. 

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