FOR the first time in her life, professional dancer Oti Mabuse isn’t worried about putting a foot wrong.
After years foxtrotting around the world, her competitive dance days are behind her. And it’s a change she is revelling in as a detective on The Masked Dancer, where not knowing her next move is all part of the fun.
In an exclusive chat about the ITV series, Oti said with a happy screech: “You don’t have a number, you’re not critiquing, all you are is just playing a game.
“I feel like I'm learning new skills. And it’s ok to lose! Wahhhhh!
“To be like ‘oh I didn’t get it right’ and everyone being like ‘that’s ok’ – because nobody is getting it right.”
Oti, 32, left behind the sparkle of Strictly Come Dancing after six years in 2021, but has found a new showstopper in The Masked Dancer alongside Davina McCall, Jonathan Ross and brand new panellist Peter Crouch.
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So far celebrities including Desperate Housewives’ hunk Jesse Metcalfe, footy legend David Seaman and documentarian Stacey Dooley have been unmasked.
On Saturday the final three – Onomatopoeia, Pearly King and Scissors – will be revealed in a madcap mix of hidden celebs and dance.
And it’s right up Oti’s street.
She told The Sun: “I love the show. I really, really, really love it. I love that it’s about what you say and your guesses.
“People are on your side or they’re not on your side. It is also me speaking more, which is something that’s really new and fun.
“I sit in the moment and I’m like, you know, I am really lucky. I am really, really lucky.
“I’m really grateful to have all these things and be a part of it.”
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While she’s best known from her time as a Strictly pro, Oti has featured on BBC’s The Greatest Dancer, Celebrity Masterchef, Morning Live and Lorraine.
She has a huge role on ITV’s Dancing on Ice's judging panel and made her solo presenting debut on quirky dating format Romeo & Duet.
We’re unlikely to see her staring up at a scoreboard again, though.
Oti, whose last professional dance contest was in 2014, laughed: "My competition days are long gone! Now I'm only competitive with Jonathan.
"It is about the laughs, the enjoyment, the chemistry that we have and have people enjoy it as well. To sit back and watch and be like ‘this is a good time’.
“Everyone goes ‘Oti you’re a dancer, you have the advantage’ but it’s Jonathan, his job is to research them and then talk to them and then they become friends and then they go to his Hallowe’en party and then they are really close.
“Then he’s like ‘oh I went out with this person’ ‘oh I went to America with that person’. I wish I was like him! He knows everyone.”
Jonathan may have a phone book filled with celebrity friends, but Oti does know her dancing.
She added: “I am looking for when they walk, do they have straight legs or bent legs. Are they sitting or standing when talking to Joel. Do they have an upright posture or are they slouchy?
“Their mannerisms, one of the characters, this character is very tactile, so then I was like ‘I know this, why do I know this ‘ism’ that you’re doing.
“It’s little things like that where I go ‘ohhh this is why I know that’.”
It turns out there were more than a few familiar figures in this year’s batch.
Canny viewers have noticed that three of the nine acts unmasked so far happen to be alumni of Strictly – Kimberly Walsh, Stacey Dooley and Denise Lewis.
And there were five Strictly celebs in series one, including judge Craig Revel Horwood and eventual winner, Louis Smith as Carwash.
Oti thinks any opportunity for more dance on TV is a good thing.
She said: “I think for me, especially being a dancer, it's so important that we get more dance out there, we get more arts out there.
“So if there are more opportunities for dancers, that’s really great.”
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Tomorrow night Onomatopoeia, Pearly King and Scissors will dance for the final time and Oti has weighed in with her final thoughts.
She added: “Pearly King is wild. They deserve their own show with Joel Dommett because they are just wild together.
“They may not be the best dancer of the competition but definitely the best character.
“Scissors is a brilliant dancer. They are just fantastic. They have the most beautiful body that I’ve ever seen.
“They are sassy and soft and can emote and yet it's a pair of scissors. It’s utterly brilliant.
“Then Onomatopoeia is a brilliant dancer. Their highlight for me was when they did a brilliant musical number.
“They're entertainment galore who really knows how to put on a show. They are wonderful to watch.”
Watch Oti in The Masked Dancer final, tomorrow night at 6.30pm on ITV.
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