Exclusive Interview: Motsi Mabuse

Motsi Mabuse Interview


Strictly Come Dancing’s Motsi Mabuse on taking her first dance steps, understanding the power of words and finding work-life balance

Words Liz Skone James

Photography by Lesley Edith

Styling by Hebe Fox

Hair by Alisha Dobson

Make up by Marcos Gurgel

Motsi Mabuse is back in the swing of another season of the nation’s favourite dance show, flying back and forth to London every weekend for filming; the South African dancer and Strictly Come Dancing judge lives in Germany with her husband, dancer Evgenij Voznyuk and their young daughter. I wonder if she finds the constant back and forth stressful. “I mean, it’s my fifth year – I just don’t see it as a problem,” she shrugs. “I don’t know, people get stressed out with travelling, I just… I don’t! Maybe I’ve gotten immune; what bothers me is maybe sometimes I feel like I could sleep a little bit longer,” she laughs.

Motsi Mabuse Interview Motsi wears: yellow sweater and sequin skirt, both by Luisa Spagnoli; and jewellery by Boodles

This has been, she says, a very interesting series so far. “I feel like our group of candidates are so lovely,” she tells me, candidly. “Each and every one of them is so nice. I’ve never had a season where you feel like everybody brings something that is so special to the show. So, it just gets even more difficult losing them each week.” Does she have any idea about who might win, I ask. “I think I know, but let’s wait,” she grins. “We might be surprised. Yeah, I’m not gonna say…”

I wonder if she has an instinct for these things. “There’s been so many, so, so many of these moments for me on Strictly,” she reveals. “Rose and Giovanni’s dance when the music just went quiet – I’ve seen it before in Germany, but the way they did it, both of them, and the wind blowing and everything, it was absolutely excellent. And also, I enjoyed the very first time Oti came out for the Samba with Kelvin, and we didn’t know what was going to hit us – that explosive moment was really nice. And with Hamza and his Salsa last year!” she exclaims. “There was such a bang in the room, where you were like, ‘This is special!’. And when that happens, the connection is so perfect that you are kind of like, “Okay, I know this person’s going to win’.” Still, she will not be pressed on who is giving her those feelings this year – a judge’s job is to remain impartial.

Dancing has been a huge part of Motsi’s life for almost as long as she can remember. Before she started dancing, she recalls being a showgirl – “always performing at home”. Then, having watched a ballroom dancing show on holiday and thinking it was “cute”, her mum lined up some lessons. “She knew a few people who were ballroom dancers, so, she got them together,” Motsi explains. “We went to a kindergarten that she was working at, and we moved all the kids’ stuff to the side, and that’s where we took our first dancing steps.” Motsi was six at the time, by the age of 11 she was dancing competitively. “It was just a hobby, to start with,” she says, “but it sparked something in me; it just went insane.”

Aged 19, Motsi decided to abandon her degree – she was studying law at the University of Pretoria and had been expected to go into the family business. What did her parents make of her decision? “Oh, they would have rather that I, you know, finish my education,” she recalls. “But, as time went by, they kind of relaxed…” It was all they could do, Motsi’s mind was made up; in pursuit of her dancing dreams, she moved to Germany in 2000. There, she continued dancing professionally and launched her own dance school, transitioning from stage to screen in 2006 for the show Let’s Dance (the German adaptation of the Strictly Come Dancing format), first as a professional dance partner, then as a judge, a role she still holds.

Motsi Mabuse Interview Motsi wears: black dress by ALEMAIS (available at Matches Fashion); necklace and bracelet by Boodles; and Cartier ring from Susannah Lovis

How did she feel when the BBC offered her the job on Strictly here? “It felt like God said: ‘Okay, girl, you’ve worked so hard. Here you are!’,” she exclaims, happily. “You invest so much in being good at what you do, and you love it, but sometimes it feels like you’re not being seen, you are part of the furniture. Being called for Strictly was like, you know, like the hard work paid off. Like I’d been seen in some way.” And her time on the show has more than lived up to initial expectations. “It brings joy to people; it brings joy to us. It is wonderful to be part of, to know that you are part of people’s happiness,” Motsi says.

Guinness World Records named Strictly as the world’s most successful reality television format in 2010, and its popularity seems to grow with every year that passes. What does Motsi think is the appeal of the show? “I think everybody has an opinion about dancing,” she hypothesises. “I feel like everybody has a connection to music; music moves us all in a way. And it’s one of the shows that you can trust that you will be able to watch with the whole family. It brings us together, and also it offers escapism – for a few hours, you get to just forget what’s going on in the world, and just enjoy that moment.”

Initially, Motsi was working with her sister Oti, who was a professional dance partner on the show between 2015 and 2021. “The first year was a good year,” she recalls, fondly. “Everybody was going, ‘Oh, wow, here come the sisters!’.” Did she find it difficult having to judge her own sister? “Not at all! Oti and I got into this very interesting professional relationship,” she reveals. “You could say, in a way we were representing each other. So, I wanted to be good for Oti, and be fair, and be non-biased like I was with everyone else. And you know, it was the same with Oti, she wanted to be good in her job, so that I couldn’t say, ‘Girl you didn’t work for that’. She wanted to give it her best. It helped both of us.”


“It brings JOY to PEOPLE; it brings joy to us. It is WONDERFUL to be part of, to know that you are part of people’s HAPPINESS” Motsi Mabuse
Motsi Mabuse Interview Motsi wears: red suit and shirt by Luisa Spagnoli; heels by Giuseppe Zanotti; and jewellery by Boodles and Susannah Lovis

The pair worked together for three seasons. Does Motsi miss her now that she is gone? “Yes, I miss her, but she’s still on the show, because she watches the show,” she says. “We’re always communicating by phone. Like if there’s a break, I’m connected to Oti. And sometimes, she’s like, ‘Fix your hair!’, or like, ‘What did you just say?’. It’s like she’s there with me. Being without her was what I was afraid of, but she’s there with me. So, she really never left Strictly. She might not be there in person, but her presence will always be felt. And she’s doing a bit of choreographing as far as I know – as much as she says to herself that she’s gone, I don’t think she’ll ever leave Strictly,” she laughs.

Motsi is not just mindful of what Oti will think of the things that she says as a judge, she is constantly aware of how her words are going to be interpreted by whoever they are addressed to. “I really, really, really, really am careful about what words I use,” she reveals. “That is one thing that’s important to me. So, even if I have to tell somebody that it didn’t work out, I’m careful of how I say it, because I do feel like words have power, and we have power sitting there; the way you use words matters.”

Testament to her measured judgments, perhaps, is the fact that she says she has never received online abuse from disgruntled fans with noses put out of joint by their favourite star’s scores. “The viewers are so sweet, I mean if they do write things, they don’t write it to me,” she tells me. “You can check my Instagram page after Saturday, Sunday. I just get people loving all our looks, and laughing about the funny bits, and reposting stuff… Actually, I get a lot of new people following me every week, it’s interesting.” This may, though, be more reflective of Strictly fans on the whole, Motsi believes. “I mean, just look at how much love we’re all receiving in comparison to maybe two or three people complaining,” she says, “If you concentrate on all the positive comments, you see that it outweighs by far the negative stuff: there’s more of a love-storm than a shitstorm.”

With such passionate fans, and such a huge audience in both countries, being recognised undoubtedly goes with the territory. Does Motsi take it in her stride? “It depends on the situation,” she says. “When I’m shopping with my daughter, or we’re somewhere on holiday and people are pointing at us, I feel my protective side come out. But everything else that comes with it… I know people have a lot of love and appreciation and support for me – so, it’s never a problem, it’s just that, like I say, when I’m with my girl, and I’m in mum mode… I’m very protective.”

The Motsi we know from the show is very much a glamour puss, does she enjoy this side of the role, and does it reflect who she really is, I wonder. “I do enjoy the glamour. I’ve learned so much about what I love, and fashion, and make up, and who I am,” she nods. “I’ve really grown in that respect, from the dancing girl. I enjoy it, but you know, everything has its limits. If I have to wear make up five times a week, in the end I’m like, ‘I don’t want any make up on my face!’ But I love having it done at other times. Like everything, it’s about balance. But it’s just fun, fun, fun to put looks together. That’s what we do, you know, with the team. We get together and then we exchange looks, we exchange styling ideas, and that’s so much fun, because we start way ahead, and we work out themes, and I feel like this year I am with a team who have put me in looks that, personally, I feel are showing more of who I really am.”

Motsi Mabuse Interview Motsi wears: pink dress by Luisa Spagnoli; heels by Christian Louboutin; and jewellery by Boodles

She has made success look easy, but getting to where she is has been hard work for Motsi. “It was quite intense, building the business in Germany and trying to find my own stability,” she reveals. “Now, I’ve been on the TV there for like 16 years. I’ve got my own dance studio. I’ve started my own cosmetics line. And, obviously, always first is being a mum. It has changed – it’s really changed since becoming a mum. My priorities have changed a lot, which makes things a little bit more difficult for me, and what I mean is that I’m really, really, very, very specific about my time – like where and what I do, and how much time I spend with what. Because, you know, my brother died at a very, very young age. I was young and that kind of shocked my system. So, I always feel like I have to be with my daughter all the time. She’s so young, so I guess that’s understandable. And so, it’s always about figuring out that balance, for me.”

Does she think she’s there with the balance? “I am trying… I do not believe that there will be a time where I feel like I’m doing everything well,” she says, frankly. “I try to be a good mum. I try to be good in my job. I try to be a good sister. You know, a good friend. And I don’t think I ever get the balance right, as much as I would love to. Sometimes I’m completely a mum, and everything kind of falls way back. I do try, but to feel that you’re 100 per cent absolutely everywhere, that is difficult. Especially for a person who absolutely loves to give 100 per cent everywhere. I have to be satisfied with some things not getting 100 per cent. And that’s difficult…”

It is perhaps because of this that she plans to take some time out when this Strictly run comes to an end. “I’m on a break,” she declares, excitedly. “We will go to Australia. I’m going to soak in the sun. Next year is really exclusively for me, for my family. And that’s the plan, and obviously, if Strictly will have me back, I’ll be back! Otherwise, it will be a year of family and motherhood.” As lovely as that sounds, I can’t help crossing my fingers that Strictly will have her back – the show just wouldn’t be the same without Motsi.