Last December, more than 13.1 million people tuned in to BBC1 to see Joanne Clifton and her partner Ore Oduba lift the glitterball trophy in the final of the 2016 series of Strictly Come Dancing.
For the girl from Grimsby it was a moment of triumph but it was also a stepping stone into her career as a star of musical theatre. Now she is playing Alex, the steel welder-cum-nightclub dancer in Flashdance The Musical, currently on tour across the UK
Q: What’s your earliest dance memory and did you want to put on the ballet shoes and tutu or throw yourself into body popping?
A: My earliest memory is being at my mum and dad’s dance school. When they couldn’t find anyone to babysit us they used to take me and my brother Kevin along. We were just toddlers but Kevin would join in and as soon as he did I would copy him.
Then mum put me into ballet but I was just awful at it; they used to call me the ‘pregnant plug’ because I wore the little black leotard with the pink tights and I was one of these kids that the belly really stuck out! And I just looked like a little pregnant plug. No, I was absolutely rubbish at it and I hated it. So I stopped the ballet but I did ballroom, Latin and then we did disco and little group dances. And then we started entering competitions when Kevin was five and I was four. Quite a lot of people think we’re twins but there’s a whole year and 11 days between us!
Q: 2013 was an amazing year for you; you won the World Pro Ballroom Show Dance Championships, the World Dance Sport Games and you performed at the Kremlin. The Kremlin? How was that? And what are Dance Sport Games?
A: It was an amazing experience but they weren’t, like, the loudest audience in Russia, but it was great to be able to say ‘I’ve done that’. The World Sport Games are basically all the kind of sports that are not in the Olympics but are on the waiting list to be included.
It’s always difficult with something that’s based on opinion rather than who crosses the line first or who jumped higher, although Ice Dancing is in the Olympics so dance could make it into it one day.
Q: You joined Strictly Come Dancing in 2014 and won to massive popular acclaim in 2016 with Ore Oduba. What was your favourite dance routine during that series?
A: It was Singing in the Rain because I thought that was a turning point for me and that style is just my thing. The audience seemed to love the jive; I’m not keen on Latin but I’m glad they enjoyed it. But probably equal with Singing in the Rain was the ballroom show dance we did at the end. They’ve both got all that Hollywood glamour which I love.
Q: In Flashdance, you have to perform several dance routines that are so well known they have become iconic movie moments. How are you feeling about that?
A: Ahh, I can’t wait! Let’s do it! Yeah. I absolutely love it. I think the audience will get the same feeling as me. When the music starts, particularly Maniac and What a Feeling, even if I’m tired after a day of rehearsals and the director says ‘ok, let’s do it from the top’, as soon as that music comes on I get an absolute buzz and I can’t wait to do it.
But in the script, for the Maniac routine it says ‘there are gallons of water’, well there aren’t gallons but there is water in a bucket and I will be pulling this bucket of water down onto myself. I am contemplating whether I should ask for the water to be quite warm or whether it should be cold because by that time, I will have danced. So I’m thinking, maybe cold water would be good… but then again, I’m not sure about the thought of a big bucket of cold water coming down on me… oh god!
Q: You’re appearing in the show up until December, are you feeling fit and ready to take that on?
A: I think so. I’ve danced since I was four and been trained the hard, sports way in Italy. Obviously I am older now, I’m 33 and I’m playing a 19 year old, but I know how to train for it and I know how to eat so that I’ve got enough energy but can look good in a leotard and, touch wood, my dancing experience will help me through it.
Q: What is it about Flashdance that will really appeal to audiences?
A: Again it is such an iconic movie, such iconic songs and scenes, everybody knows Flashdance, everybody knows What a Feeling and everybody knows the Maniac water scene, it’s going to be great for those moments and I just say ‘come and see it’!
•Flashdance is at Sunderland Empire from September 11-16. Tickets from 0844 871 3022 or www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland