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Strictly speaking

Posted on October 21, 2013


Strictly speaking

Week 4 mercifully spared us an official theme, but Len-lovers might well it christen it Messin’ Abaht Week. The VT field trips grew increasingly pointless, training footage increasingly elusive, and the routines and music choices increasingly bizarre. No wonder Bruno fell off his chair in a fit of mild hysteria.

It could have been a total scoring bloodbath, but the judges instead displayed Roman emperor levels of capriciousness, deciding, on a whim, which content/technique-lite dances to pardon or wildly overmark and which to throw to the lions. Sometimes, that frustrating inconsistency came within the scoring for one contestant, as with Mark’s 3 from Craig and 8 from Len and Darcey. Or perhaps poor Craig was just suffering from hip (hop) pain. There you go, Bruce. You can have that one for free.

Speaking of which… Bruce has always said he’ll keep doing Strictly as long as he’s enjoying it; on the basis of this week’s show, methinks his presenting days are nearly over. When his mangled punchlines and fuzzy links failed to garner a satisfactory response, he began snapping at the audience, and his wrath extended to the poor camera operator trying to guide him to the right mark…

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Abbey’s tango/Sophie’s foxtrot In a night of lunacy, the odd proper ballroom routine was a welcome sight. Neither of these were total wows, but at least they were recognisable
  • Best costume: Mark and Iveta’s “urban” stylin’ On its own? Amusing. When paired with Iveta’s steely poker face? Weirdly genius
  • Best move: Iveta’s inexplicable slo-mo leg lift/crotch flash
  • Best line: The judges’ well-meaning sound effects Let’s hope Ashley found some kind of critique in all the “oomphs”, “arghs” and “guuurs”



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Tess raided Claudia’s wardrobe to procure this black Gothic number with incongruous sparkly sleeves – Morticia Addams meets Julien Macdonald.

Sophie and Brendan – Astaireway to heaven


4949505-low-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalIt Takes Two dared to question Brendan’s masculinity in their “comedy” VT, so the Formerly Bad, Certainly Still A Boy Of Ballroom made sure to moan, groan and snooze through Sophie’s vintage shopping spree. Irritating intro aside, this was a pleasant Old Hollywood foxtrot complete with Fred ‘n’ Ginger side-by-side grapevines and some nice basics in hold. A little stiff, unsteady frame and possibly some fudged footwork, though it was difficult to see under her flock of stuffed flamingos and Canada geese.

Song: “Cheek to Cheek”, Irving Berlin

Judges’ comments: Len: “Loved the music, loved the routine, loved the dancing.” Bruno praised the “exquisite elegance” and musicality, but thought the topline needed work. Craig agreed and spotted missed heel leads, but loved the grace and clean pivots. Darcey thought she handled a hard routine with ease, but wants her shoulders down on the standing spins.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Overall: Classy.

Fiona and Anton – Bad romance


4948362-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleWhile superfan Fiona was watching Strictly with her mum and daughter, who should pop in but Mr Wonderful himself? Gran’s murmured “Ooh” truly was Anton’s Beatles moment. Unfortunately, their rumba was rather less wonderful. Latin is not Anton’s forte (as one could guess from his choice of grey slacks as seduction attire and Westlife as “sexy” soundtrack), and while his partner fared better in the sensuality department, the slow pace exposed her balance issues and discomfort with floor work.

Song: “World of Our Own”, Westlife

Judges’ comments: Bruno noted her fluidity and balance problems, and wants a more sustained performance. Craig thought her hip action was stiff and plonky, her floor spin exit was bizarre and she lacked rhythm and connection. Darcey praised her slinkiness, but she lost focus and broadcast her mistakes. Len noted the slow movement magnified her errors, and chippy Fiona then claimed she’d only gone wrong once. If she really believes that, she has a bigger problem.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6, 6 – 22

Overall: Distressing.

Mark and Iveta – A touch of madness


4949701-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soCan we just take a moment to salute Iveta’s casual training attire of skin-tight leopard-print jumpsuit with matching loafers? Of course, that was topped by their rap-tastic performance looks (not sure which I loved more: Mark’s MC Hammer wardrobe and oily quiff or Iveta’s fountain ponytail, off-the-shoulder mini dress and copious bling, including hoop earrings and anklets). Would have been great to see some more cha cha in there, given that Mark is a capable dancer as well as a joyously committed entertainer, but their Abbot and Costello double act is pretty glorious.

Song: “U Can’t Touch This”, MC Hammer

Judges’ comments: Craig found it flat-footed and stompy. Darcey thought it was brilliant, particularly all the details. Len noted there were some cha cha basics and asked for an encore. Bruno said it was “unique, different, memorable, and very very funny”.

Judges’ scores: 3, 8, 8, 7 – 26

Overall: Goofy.

Ashley and Ola – Fallen angel


4949740-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleStill not sure why Ashley and Ola went to a cinema to watch an awkward reel of him snogging in his various classy thespian endeavours (insert “This is as close as Ashley gets to a film career” gag here), but he was certainly on board with her syrupy Viennese waltz. Sadly, the performance couldn’t conceal his occasionally stompy footwork, awkward transitions and strange hand movements, as if frantically shooing invisible mosquitos. This week’s chicken-and-egg question: did Ola’s stop-start open choreo highlight his flaws, or did she choose that approach to avoid his weaknesses in hold?

Song: “Angel”, Sarah McLachlan (COPYCAT KLAXON: Rachel Stevens and Vincent, Audley Harrison and Natalie)

Judges’ comments: Darcey said it was too safe and placed, and asked for more drive. Len liked the romance, but found it both wafty and stiff and lacking gusto. Bruno agreed. Craig thought his arms out of hold were “unnatural” and “bizarrely stiff”.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Overall: Lacklustre.

Julien and Janette – Shouty Spice


4949753-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleSalsa’s had a fairly poor showing on Strictly, with barely concealed disdain for the style from judges and pros alike, and unfortunately salsa specialist Janette couldn’t challenge that while saddled with both Julien and wardrobe’s rainbow acid trip. I mean, the dead flowers stapled to the squawky one’s shoulder were bad enough, but Janette’s motley straw clumps were more Ambridge harvest festival than Miami. Their routine had a nice mix of basics and tricks, with Julien improving marginally in his timing but coming horribly unstuck in the armography and finishes.

Song: “Spice Up Your Life”, Spice Girls (COPYCAT KLAXON: Mark Foster and Hayley, Chelsee Healey and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Len liked the attack, but it needed more control. Bruno thought he was channelling all the Spice Girls at once (including, apparently, Spicy. Nope, me neither), adding: “You can’t force yourself upon a dance.” Craig said it lacked musicality. Darcey found it fun and thought it was nearly all in sync.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 7, 6 – 23

Overall: Messy.

Rachel and Pasha – Crime doesn’t pay


4949779-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleAh, bless Pasha and his glaring inability to deliver scripted lines – it almost made their contrived VT bearable. Sadly the deception sapped his choreographic skills, resulting in a hectic, messy quickstep routine with a vague gangster heist plot, and wardrobe added to her woes with a squashed beret, leopard-print waistcoat and giant banana trousers. Tactical error, as Rachel scores easy points while in angelic princess mode. Plus feathered dresses hide a multitude of sins, but banana trousers almost literally highlight them, so her falling behind the music and fudged footwork were horribly obvious.

Song: “Johnny Got a Boom Boom”, Imelda May

Judges’ comments: Bruno suggested working on control and strength. Craig noted topline problems and wants her to tighten her bum cheeks when doing a slide. Darcey told her to strengthen her core. Len muttered something about Craig tightening his bum cheeks during his hip operation, which, a tad harsh, but it brought a hooting Bruno crashing to earth. Strengthen that core, Bruno!

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26

Overall: Chaotic.

Ben and Kristina – Locked and loaded


4949831-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soWhat do you do when you’re struggling with Latin? Why, you bring in Matt Dawson, who famously reached the final on the strength of his ballroom! Dodgy logic aside, the visit seemed to bolster Ben’s confidence, as he sold the hell of this salsa(-lite) routine. Truly, it was a bid for the first winner of Strictly Come Lifting With Bulging Guns, and/or Kristina’s stealth attempt to secure a choreographic gig for Magic Mike: The Musical! Still, you can’t dispute the entertainment value of Ben tossing his partner around like a rugby ball before she climbed him like a tree. It may not be Victor Silvester, but it sure is vote-garnering.

Song: “Hard to Handle”, The Black Crowes

Judges’ comments: Craig revealed the “dirty oiled mechanic” ticked every box. (Of his profile.) Darcey said he handled Kristina with ease, which earned her a kiss. Len: “You’ve got the guns and tonight you had the ammunition.” Bruno: “Surprisingly smooth for such a big bruiser. I want to see more of you.”

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 7 – 31

Overall: Studly.

Deborah and Robin – Nul points


4949857-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleWho wants an invite to Robin’s camp-tastic Eurovision party? Good news – the party’s coming to us! Not so much a jive, though. (FYI, at this point of the show, the ratio of guff to ballroom content stands at roughly 50:1.) I understand the temptation to include Bucks Fizz pastiche clothes ripping, but did poor Deborah have to dance the whole thing hampered by a hidden pencil skirt? That’s just cruel. Speaking of which: Robin’s wig, which made him look like the lost member of ABBA. Nice smiley performance from the dragon as usual, otherwise stumbling, hazy and underwhelming.

Song: “Making Your Mind Up”, Bucks Fizz

Judges’ comments: Darcey said it wasn’t her dance. Len: “Plenty of fizz, but buck your feet up.” Bruno loved the Eurovision fun, but agreed the technique wasn’t strong enough. Craig said her steps lacked spring, the kicks were lame and the ball changes flat-footed.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 6 – 23

Overall: Insubstantial.

Natalie and Artem – Walking wounded


4950149-low-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalINJURY PORN KLAXON. This VT served a dual purpose: eliciting sympathy, and reassuring us that Natalie has a human back, just like you and me. She’s no ringer! She’s just a poor crippled celeb limping bravely from Harley Street accompanied by X Factor soaring strings! Artem cheerfully ignored the company line while choreographing a challenging, experimental quickstep with fast sync cane work, subtle jazzy accents and spine-crunching head rolls (enhanced by his partner’s massive stegosaurus hair), and Natalie executed everything with slick professionalism. So… err… yes. Next week, she’s only allowed to train one day. While blindfolded. In a lake.

Song: “Yeah!”, Usher

Judges’ comments: Len thought there wasn’t enough in hold (unlike the previous routines…?!). Bruno said she captured the spirit of the dance and praised her nuanced work. Craig loved the quickstep/jazz fusion. Darcey was amazed she delivered so much content, but suggested taking it easier in future to avoid further injury. Which is TOTES Artem’s plan.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 8, 9 – 35

Overall: Dazzling.

Patrick and Anya – Clean bill of health


4950188-low-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalAnya won a trip to Casualty, but no useful injury porn for her – just the chance to interact with Patrick’s equally charismatic colleagues. Fortunately, the melancholy male-celeb-leader-by-default FINALLY injected some personality into a routine, bringing strong rhythm and style and improved performance to their cool, sexy cha cha. Could be sharper and more precise in his footwork (especially when dancing next to Anya), and still lacking connection – not a coincidence that their strongest sections were the side-by-side work rather than the supposedly flirtatious interactions – but, in a strange night, one of the happy surprises.

Song: “Mercy”, Duffy (COPYCAT KLAXON: Andrew Castle and Ola. Ah, Ola and her oil-slick catsuit)

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the cheekiness and called it his best dance yet. Craig: “Absolutely brilliant.” Darcey praised his confidence out of hold and “inner groove”. Len: “You were steaming, I was beaming.”

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 8 – 33

Overall: Enjoyable.

Abbey and Aljaz – GI Jane


4950284-low-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalIn yet another tenuous VT, Aljaz herded Abbey through an army assault course, possibly in retribution for Liverpool. It didn’t give her enough aggression to completely nail this tango (the racoon eye make-up and tomato tent dress did a lot of the work), particularly with the odd wobble in her frame and baffling choice to pause every few bars for a sexy staring contest, but much better attack and conviction than the past couple of weeks – she’s definitely more secure in hold. Nice to see an actual ballroom routine free of gimmicks and props, apart from Aljaz’s fluttering boho scarf, quietly signifying the fragility of human connection.

Song: “Spectrum”, Florence and the Machine

Judges’ comments: Craig said she used the accents well and her movement was sharp and staccato. Darcey praised her improved shaping and strength. Len noted they’re a formidable couple in ballroom and loved the punchy, dynamic delivery. Bruno found it “snappier than the crack of a whip” and enjoyed their chemistry.

Judges’ scores: 9, 8, 9, 9 – 35

Overall: Simmering.

Dave and Karen – The reform act


4950297-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleThis week was the arrival of the sober Hairy Waltzer, solemnly endeavouring to deliver a proper routine. Upside: a no-hoper committed to improving is what the show is all about etc etc. Downside: bit late for a 180, a ponderous beginner shuffling through basics is no fun to watch, and he has destroyed Karen’s plans for Sergeant-esque domination. With the entertainment stripped away, all we had left was plodding, skippy footwork, gapping and some saccharine storytelling round the edges.

Song: “Take It to the Limit”, Eagles (COPYCAT KLAXON: Zoe Ball and Ian, Peter Shilton and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Darcey loved the clean look, but he didn’t travel. She recommends ballet, because Darcey gets a generous finder’s fee for every ballet convert. (That has to be it, right?) Len: “The only failure is the failure to try.” Bruno thought he scrubbed up well, but the waltz was still minimal. Craig said it was placed, lacked musicality and needed more movement, but nice to see him being serious.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 6 – 23

Overall: Humdrum.

Susanna and Kevin – Pulp fiction


4950360-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soSusanna’s no fool. She’s seen this show before. She knows the havoc samba can wreak. So, time to bring out the big guns AKA adorable sons re-creating the judging panel with teddy bears. Family prop points: 10! Highlights of their adorkable Indiana Jones routine include : Kevin giving in to public demand and wearing his spexy glasses; the terrible, terrible boulder graphics; Susanna’s dreamcatcher dress and Diana Ross hair; Susanna fluffing said hair to Miss Texas beauty pageant dimensions; and the most drunken samba rolls ever seen on Strictly. Not their best, but cunning navigation of a potentially dangerous dance.

Sidenote: It was silly. It could have been worse…

Song: “Whenever, Wherever”, Shakira

Judges’ comments: Len said she came out “all bounce, bum and bongos”, but it was messy. Bruno: “If you’ve got it, flaunt it!” Loved the attack, but agreed with Len. Craig found it muddy (they did go overboard on the fake tan) and she lost her neck. Just OK – he wants her to go further. Darcey liked the energy, but fuzzy finishes.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 – 29

Overall: Fun.



Natalie and Artem – 35

Sophie and Brendan – 35

Abbey and Aljaz – 35

Patrick and Anya – 33

Ashley and Ola – 31

Ben and Kristina – 31

Susanna and Kevin – 29

Mark and Iveta – 26

Rachel and Pasha – 26

Julien and Janette – 23

Deborah and Robin – 23

Dave and Karen – 23

Fiona and Anton – 22

The girls rule the board again, but Susanna slips, Patrick improves and Fiona ousts Dave from the bottom.



All you need to know about the opening pro number is that Iveta was given a ghastly poodle perm and Kristina did some awkward Dita Von Teese martini class writhing in the background. Really capturing that teatime family audience…

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Cath Kidston-y off-white floral sofa cover refashioned into the most middle class of mini dresses. Claudia once again risked colour with a shiny navy number.

Someone from The Voice (which I have studiously ignored) did a tuneless, funereal cover of Dancing in the Dark while Pasha and Anya gave us a moody semi-rumba with sexy tricks galore.

Len’s lens highlights:

  • Once again, a celeb was undone by the slo mo while being praised (this week, Patrick going slightly off time in his cha cha)
  • Natalie’s crazy eyes during her cane twirling
  • More tedious bickering about Ashley’s arms
  • Slo mo of Bruno tumbling off his chair – admittedly pretty hilarious

Posho popsters Keane warbled. Artem risked the life of another foolhardy partner by whipping tiny jumpsuit-clad Janette around as though trying to air out a rug.

In the dance-off: Julien and Janette (totally expected), and Rachel and Pasha. OOOOOOH SHOCK RESULT KLAXON. Well, ish. They were in that deadly middle of the leaderboard spot, didn’t give people much to vote for and are in danger of coasting. Too many talented and/or entertainingly loopy celebs this year to risk that.

Unsurprisingly, it was a clean sweep for Rachel and Pasha. Another essential dance-off there. Farewell to Julien (MORE IRKSOME SHOUTING, failed to thank his partner) and Janette (lovely, gracious, able to speak at human pitch).

What do you think? Were the right people in the bottom two? And was it Julien’s time to go? Leave your thoughts below.

Join me next week for more fun and games. In the meantime… keep dancing!

Simon Oliver has been production editor of Dancing Times since 2010 and is highly experienced in design across print and online magazine production. Throughout his career, Simon has worked on a diverse range of subjects including music, family history, book collecting and poker.

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