'Strictly Come Dancing' Star Oti Mabuse Is Soaring to New Heights Beyond the Dance World

Kristyn Burtt

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Photo credit: BBC.

When viewers heard that Oti Mabuse won her second consecutive glitterball trophy on Saturday's episode of "Strictly Come Dancing," that confirmed her place as the show's biggest star, and probably one of the most famous dancers in the U.K. right now. The best part of her success is that her talent is being recognized overseas as well. American fans often talk about her charisma that draws you into each dance — it's a big reason why she helped 55-year-old comedian Bill Bailey go home with a win this season.

He summed up his exciting win in a highly competitive season by praising his partner after their win, "I have the most extraordinary teacher, the most extraordinary dancer. Someone who believed in me right from the beginning and she found something in me and turned me into this — and turned me into a dancer."

There was not a dry eye in the studio as Mabuse's face was streaked with tears because she was so moved by their win in a year that wasn't easy for anyone. COVID safety protocols ruled the day and a looming shutdown in London beared down on them once the show wrapped for the season. The cast cheered from socially distant places in the ballroom, but you could see that they were happy the couple won "Strictly Come Dancing."

For Mabuse, being the first back-to-back champion on the show is an incredible feat, but not one she takes lightly — she understands the hard work to make success "possible." “The only thing I feel is that now it’s possible. It’s possible to be a young girl from a third world country and come here, work hard and do it," she said on the 'Strictly' finale podcast. It’s possible for professional dancers who are on this show, to think, ‘I won it once, I can do it again.’ It’s possible. I can’t believe it’s happened… but it’s possible.”

Her first partner

Mabuse's star wattage goes beyond the "Strictly" ballroom, though, and that's an important part of the story. Viewers can't get enough of the 30-year-old performer because she exudes a light that makes you not want to look away. One person who has known about her talents for decades is her former dance partner and current "Dancing With the Stars" pro Keo Motesepe.

He raved about her in 2017 on "To The Pointe," "She's amazing. We were partners for 12 years. Oti is family to me and I will always be there for Oti." He revealed that they collaborate and often share ideas or offer feedback on choreography during their respective seasons — it's a partnership that has endured well beyond their years growing up in South Africa.

Even though Mabuse is only 30 years old, her dance journey is a long one with her competitive years with Motsepe taking up their childhood and university days. Their success on the ballroom floor made them the top couple in South Africa, but their partnership ended after Motsepe was asked to join the "Burn the Floor" cast by "Strictly" choreographer Jason Gilkison. It was an emotional end to their competitive journey.

"Oti lost it at our last competition where they read my [goodbye] letter to the [South African ballroom] federation and we had to dance a Rumba — a farewell, goodbye to our favorite song, "Satisfy My Soul,' " Motesepe described their final performance. "They played that song and that's when she lost it. We hugged for at least 15 minutes."

TV stardom

While big things were in store for Motsepe, there are also life-changing events happening for Mabuse. In 2015, she headed to "Let's Dance," the German version of "Strictly Come Dancing," where she spent two seasons as a pro. She might not have won the top prize on the show, but after her first season, she caught the eye of the BBC, who brought her over to "Strictly" for the thirteenth season. It's an experience she has deemed "really special" because it continues to be one of the top-rated shows in the U.K. and she gets to do what she loves each and every week for millions of viewers.

And of course, she hasn't been alone on her television journey because big sister Motsi Mabuse has been along for the ride as a judge on "Let's Dance" and "Strictly Come Dancing." It's made her success even sweeter because they can share it together.

"My family plays a big part in my role as a dancer and my sister was my first trainer," she told the BBC in 2019. "She's still my role model and inspiration until this day. She was my first trainer, she taught me my first steps."

Besides sharing the incredible experiences with her sister, Mabuse has always crossed over from dance star to television personality with BBC's "The Greatest Dancer." She's now a judge, alongside Matthew Morrison, Cheryl and Todrick Hall, trying to discover the next generation of dance talent. In the second season, she guided Latin dancers Michael and Jowita to a major win on the show. Like Bailey and her season 17 celebrity Kevin Fletcher, she knows how to mentor talent on and off the dance floor.

"I know first-hand what it’s like to be judged and to have someone criticize your creativity, your hard work and your art. Being on the other side is completely different because I’m on the side where I get to appreciate and inspire and motivate and nurture acts," she explained. "I think what’s really special about 'The Greatest Dancer' is that the mentors actually work hand in hand with the acts and our aim and goal is to make them better. We create a whole supportive atmosphere."

It's that enthusiasm to teach that made a huge difference in creating a winner out of Bailey, the oldest contestant to ever go home with the glitterball trophy. She made him into a dancer, yet she turned herself into a bigger superstar — not only in the U.K, but the global dance industry. It makes you realize that Mabuse's reality is probably going to exceed her dreams — and we are here to support that.

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Kristyn Burtt is a commercial dance journalist, TV host and producer. She was the West Coast correspondent and host of "To the Pointe" on Dance Network for five years. Her coverage of "So You Think You Can Dance," "Dancing With the Stars" and "World of Dance" is popular with dance fans across the globe. Kristyn's love of dance began early in her life. She trained at the Boston Ballet School, danced with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in "The Nutcracker" and won a dance scholarship to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. She currently serves on the American Dance Movement’s Marketing & PR Committee and is a member of the Television Academy and SAG-AFTRA.

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