Johannes Radebe of Strictly brought South African culture, carnival pride and dazzling costumes to Blackpool with his sensational show Freedom

“I’m totes emosh,” cried Johannes, fanning himself as 800 people at Blackpool Opera House sang him happy birthday. The Strictly Come Dancing pro has become a household name since joining the BBC show in 2018, but tonight Blackpool learned how he went from poor South African village boy to dance sensation televised.

He paid homage to his roots, humbly saying that there are “much more talented dancers back home who don’t get the opportunity”, and took a receptive crowd on a deep dive into African culture.

From Idlamu – a fearsome Zulu warrior dance, to sultry Kizomba, tonight was a melting pot of dance styles that all inspired Radebe along the way.

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Johannes Radebe – Freedom

Then there was a vibrant rendition of Kofifi – a joyous swing-style dance associated with freedom after the end of apartheid.

Each dancer brought something different to the stage – Lowri Evan rocked the Fosse medley and Jefferson Santos sizzled on the Latin routines.

With her dancehall sass, Natasha Scrase stood out on the track Amapiano – a kind of South African street dance that has recently been all the rage on TikTok.

And the singer, Anelisa Lamola, showcased her impressive range – from traditional African vocals to jazz and belt club anthems.

Johannes entered like a warrior and ran away like a queen – and dazzled from the start.

He used his platform to talk about LGBTQ+ rights and his pride in seeing a drive to become a more tolerant society – recalling the backlash when he danced with [male dancer] Giovanni Pernice in 2018.

And to get the message across, he then performed a superb homosexual Argentinian tango.

Freedom is being free to express yourself without fear, Radebe explained. And as the show drew to a close, it felt like a party – dancers emerged in shiny sequined jumpsuits and led the Opera House into a larger-than-life carnival. Disco anthems got the whole crowd dancing, taking me back to my clubbing days.

Johannes didn’t just bring incredible choreography – he left Blackpool with a real taste of its culture, its influences and the things that shaped him as a performer.