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Strictly speaking

Posted on November 18, 2013


Week 8 

BREAKING NEWS: while our stars were distracted by feathery fans, camp cowboys and dizzying hyperbole, their Blackpool dressing rooms were beset by seaside bandits. Possibly pirates. Rumours that their haul included all of the judges’ low scoring paddles remain unconfirmed.

Yet how else to explain Saturday’s WTF marking? Of course, the judging process is hardly infallible – even on a good day, the panel basically treats it like a Dadaist poem, chucking numbers in the air and seeing where they land (“For your samba, you shall receive 6, 10, 38 per cent and a pound sign!”) – but this week included the following egregious bafflements:

  • Three perfect scores for a quickstep with more gaps than a Times cryptic crossword attempted by Wayne Rooney.
  • Three 9s for a smidge of samba during Big Bird’s cross-dressing wardrobe malfunction dramarama.
  • Four 8s for a smooth in which Ben pulled a Derren Brown and performed the majority of the dance through the medium of OTHER PEOPLE with the POWER of his BIG MANLY MIND.
  • Three perfect Charleston scores purely because Darcey like totally goofed and left Natalie’s “So glad you’re not dead smiley face!” card in Brighton.

By the end of the night, our esteemed judges were reduced to a giddy knot of six-year-olds, high on jelly beans and one slice of birthday cake away from vomiting into their Peppa Pig party bags. The only bright spot in this unholy mess was Background Brendan’s growing fury as he realised that Sophie’s comparatively low (if fair) score doomed them to leaderboard ignominy. That’s the trouble with going on first – the sugar rush has yet to kick in.

In other news:

  • Backing dancers – huh? Yes, it’s a big floor to fill, but that’s part of the challenge. At best, they’re vaguely distracting living props (without the inestimable charm of old friends like the Wobbly Lamp-post); at worst, they show up the celebrities. Badly.
  • Particularly hyper “comedy” VTs. Oh honestly, producers, we’re all thrilled you saved up enough pocket money for a field trip, but just calm down, will you? And no, you can’t have another party bag, not until you’ve eaten your carrot sticks.
  • Normally I’d have a go at Bruce for his Grumpy Old Man routine, but honestly it suited my mood. You go, Eeyore! Let’s rail at the ephemeral nature of human existence together!

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Susanna’s paso More fab traditional choreography from Kevin and major blue steel from Susanna, staring down her partner as if wrangling over the last portion of quinoa houmous in Waitrose. Added tension from the open flame in close proximity to oodles of hairspray.
  • Best costume: Anya’s sentient tail feathers seeking revenge Like a Baz Luhrmann remake of The Birds.
  • Best move: Mark and Iveta’s dinosaur arms One for It Takes Two devotees there. And/or hardcore Hairspray/Jurassic Park crossover fans.
  • Best line: Craig’s claim that the judges are all about the technique Oh Craig. Such a wag.




Aggravating vox pop montage, followed by the dance equivalent of covering all bases. Several times. And once more for luck. Adorable kids! Stately old people! Dishy pros dressed as hot air balloons! Gurning celebs dressed as giant Philip Treacy flying saucer creations-cum-floral Teletubbies! (Not sure to whom that last one appealed  – I can only assume someone’s been diligently scouring the message boards, and in the process lost all grip on reality.)

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Long, black, slashed to ribbons. Is her new stylist Wolverine?


Sophie and Brendan – Dine and dash


5131362-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soOur Lady Sophie of Ellis-Bextor turned to the Blue Peter weep-a-thon AKA Mum for performance tips over – naturally – civilised afternoon tea, possibly with a minor royal. Family prop points: +7 for pure Sophie-ness. Brendan carried this dining theme over to their dance, with props galore and a gaggle of over-familiar waiters. Lots of praise for her storytelling, which as far as I could tell was simply: “Argh, there’s a bloomin’ table in the way of my quickstep!” Not exactly War and Peace. Covered the floor well, if skippily, topline a bit bouncy, loose tresses hosting the anarchic, rhythm-less spirit of Hairy Dave, but nice attempt.

Song: “The Lady Is a Tramp”, Shirley Bassey version (COPYCAT KLAXON: Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan. “Trying to recapture my glory days? Who, me?”)

Judges’ comments: Len thought it was full of character, fast, clean and clear. Bruno said Blackpool worked its magic – performance level much improved and good technique, but topline problematic. Craig loved the story, but agreed on topline – too loose and jagged.

Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 9, 9 – 34

Overall: Pleasant.


Patrick and Anya – What not to wear


5131375-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soSomething with drummers and… Oh, look, I’ll be honest. I watch Patrick diligently, and seconds later it’s been erased from my brain. He’s like the Silence. However, Anya did make their performance memorable by warring with her costume for the second week in a row (perhaps she should eschew clothing altogether – she’s pretty much there already). What samba we could see around the edges of that was rhythmical and confident, if flat-footed on occasion and thus lacking bounce.

Song: “Copacabana”, Barry Manilow (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jill Halfpenny and Darren, Patsy Kensit and Robin)

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the variety of steps and bemoaned the “incident”, still hailing Patrick as one of the best male samba dancers on Strictly. Craig agreed, but said it “all went horribly wrong”. You know, in an 8 kind of way. Darcey liked that it was gimmick-free. Len called it a “wham-ba”, because he has a sideline writing cracker jokes. And/or it had the surreally disastrous quality of someone driving headlong into a Snappy Snaps.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Overall: Regrettable.


Ben and Kristina – Keep holding on


5131499-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleKristina decided to rouse Ben’s latent competitiveness with a game of Twister. (It’s worked wonders for her partners in the past…) When that failed, she cunningly created the illusion of improvement by burying Ben in dry ice, recruiting three shadow Ben-a-likes and choreographing the American smooth as one would a stage punch: hurling herself around while he barely did anything. The Viennese in hold was decent; out of hold, we had Kristina giving her best “DRAMA! PASSION! FIRE!” while Ben pondered whether there was enough milk left in the fridge.

Song: “Fallin’”, Alicia Keys (COPYCAT KLAXON: Gethin Jones and Camilla. But did Camilla literally FALL during the FALLIN’ parts? I THINK NOT! Point to Kristina.)

Judges’ comments: Craig praised the speedy Viennese, but it needs more style. Darcey liked his attentiveness during the lifts. Len patronisingly praised Kristina for trying to teach him heel leads, but wanted him more dominant out of hold. Err, as he is in hold? Bruno loved the warmth, but wants extended lines and flow.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32

Overall: Overwrought.


Ashley and Ola – Brokeback Mountain


5131538-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so so“Oh good, it’s that Wild West camp-fest paso I’ve been dying to see!” said nobody. Yes, it’s the return of faux fusion and Ola’s continued efforts to turn Ashley into a sex symbol. Sadly, he looked more small child dressing as Woody from Toy Story, complete with unhelpful converse trainers and Daddy’s Tie Rack olive neckerchief, while Ola, hilariously, went full-on saloon ho and yet covered far more skin than she normally does. Lots of posturing and aggression, decided lack of Spanish lines and accurate footwork.

Song: “You Give Love a Bad Name”, Bon Jovi (COPYCAT KLAXON: Kelly Brook and Brendan)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the shaping and attack, but wanted more drama. Len said it got stronger and stronger, and enjoyed the “whip in and wait” approach. Len’s wife’s a lucky woman, isn’t she? Bruno liked the light and shade. Craig found it bizarre, but in a good way. I think. Hey, why am I looking for sense? It’s Blackpool Week!

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Overall: Preposterous.


Fiona and Anton – We’re experiencing some turbulence


5131634-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleThe attempt to craft a mini “J word” narrative, from Fiona struggling with lifts through to glorious performance triumph, failed dismally, despite everyone’s best efforts and Anton joining British Airways so as to invite “We have lift off!” judges’ comments. Fiona, dressed as a bedazzled mudslide, actually did nicely in her solo tap sections, but sticky in foxtrot and succumbed to (cabin) pressure during the awkward, laboured lifts. In totally unrelated news, she hasn’t referred to Anton as “Mr Wonderful” for a while now, has she?

Song: “Come Fly with Me”, Frank Sinatra (COPYCAT KLAXON: Phil Tufnell and Katya)

Judges’ comments: Len: “Attitude first class, movement business class, lifts economy.” Bruno liked the elegance and solo work, but found the performance inconsistent. Craig wanted it to be smoother, noted she got out of time and the last lift was “a complete and utter disaaaahster”, but enjoyed the soft-shoe shuffle. Darcey said the preparation and positions in lifts need work.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 – 29

Overall: Bumpy.


Abbey and Aljaž – Beach babes


5131660-low-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalI would hate to be the kind of cynical viewer who sees a celeb sincerely bonding with charming elderly people and thinks about the aloof WAG/model who was recently voted into the bottom two, BUT… Family prop points: +10 for use of 50 people’s grans and granddads. Also brilliantly strategic: Aljaž’s preppy painted-on white trousers and Abbey’s angelic lacy dress; use of happy happy song, happy happy buoyant choreo and happy happy beach holiday associations via deckchairs and weirdly giant bucket and spade (suggestive of tiny toddler relative to larger objects so as to evoke our happy happy childhoods? Shout-out to Dali fans?). Packed content, great energy, loose frame and colossal gapping.

Song: “Walking on Sunshine”, Katrina and the Waves (COPYCAT KLAXON: Matt Dawson and Lilia)

Judges’ comments: Bruno called it “out of this world”. Craig noted gapping, chin too far down and frame abandoned during jetés, but loved it. Darcey said her elbow went up and down, but she travelled with control. Len: “If you look hard enough at anything, you can find fault!” Yes, it’s called judging.

Judges’ scores: 7, 10, 10, 10 – 37

Overall: Breezy.


Mark and Iveta – Welcome to the ’60s


5131767-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soI lost track of the trajectory of this VT, but as far as I could make out, Mark was worrying about his knees in training and so Iveta dragged him to the side of the road and made him jive in the dirt. At night. For hours. IVETA KICKASS TEN-DANCE CHAMPION. Mark was firmly in his comfort zone in this Hairspray routine, having done the show earlier this year, so there was a joyful abandon to his performance, though the pure jive sections were flat-footed and casual. Extra points for Iveta’s poker-faced Amber Von Tussle and Mark dressing as a luminous post box.

Song: “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray (COPYCAT KLAXON: Austin Healey and Erin, Anita Dobson and Robin)

Judges’ comments: Craig said it looked like Mark had flippers on the end of his legs – entertaining, but lacking in technique. Darcey called it “a show-stopping performance” with lots of dance content, but wants his weight forward in Latin. Len compared it with the Wurlitzer: “Big, brash, noisy, fabulous to watch.” Bruno loved the feel-good factor, but wanted sharper kicks.

Judges’ scores:  – 5, 8, 8, 8 – 29

Overall: Jubilant.


Susanna and Kevin – Olé!


5131793-low-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalSusanna’s only experience of Blackpool is covering boring old party conferences (boo!), not dancing in layers of fake tan (yay!). GENIUS IDEA: why not combine the two? There’s nothing that can’t be improved by sequins and shimmies, even the black hole that is British politics. Unlike most of the night’s routines, this was pleasingly trad and gimmick-free, giving it a Strictly Ballroom climax” feel. And a Spanish paso works rather well – who’d have thought it??? Kevin, adorable toy matador in skin-tight red and gold brocade and guyliner; Susanna, rippling her ruffles with menacing intent; gradual build-up of flamenco duel; explosion into life; Kevin leaping around like an electrocuted bunny; random dancers covering them in a scarlet blanket to denote DEATH. Magic.

Song: “Toreador Song” from Carmen (COPYCAT KLAXON: Julian Clary and Erin, Russell Grant and Flavia)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised Susanna for stretching herself and loved the drama and dynamics. Len called it a “buffet of Spanish tapas – tasty morsels right the way through”. Bruno, likewise, savoured the “flavour of Spain”. (Get these guys a sandwich.) Craig said she channelled Chita Rivera – “fab-u-lous!”

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Overall: Electrifying.


Natalie and Artem – Walking wounded


5132017-low-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalHave you had an accident at work that wasn’t your fault? Natalie’s bad back and fainting spell might have dominated the VT, but it’s partner Artem who is the Jamie Redknapp of ballroom, now afflicted with a Comedy Neck Injury. It didn’t stop him packing their super-cool Charleston with tricks, and we got another slick, skilful performance from Natalie. However, the routine felt rather overloaded, what with the scene-stealing extras and jerky stop-start movement, accompanied by Dave Arch’s wonderful orchestra doing themselves a mischief in an attempt to pin down Great to see them back, but a tad jarring and ran out of steam.

Song: “Bang Bang”,

Judges’ comments: Len thought it was like the Blackpool illuminations: “Spectacular!” Bruno loved the “Josephine Baker at a Great Gatsby party” vibe – “your party could go on forever”. Craig enjoyed the modern twist and called it “sensational”. Darcey said she always gives us beautiful details, but this time added character and personality. “A joy to watch.”

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Overall: Stylish.




Natalie and Artem – 39

Susanna and Kevin – 39

Abbey and Aljaz – 37

Patrick and Anya – 35

Ashley and Ola – 35

Sophie and Brendan – 34

Ben and Kristina – 32

Fiona and Anton – 29

Mark and Iveta – 29

Natalie retakes pole position, joined by Susanna, while Patrick drops slightly. The rest of the leaderboard stays the same, but a marked increase in scores due to Overexcited Blackpool Syndrome.




Break out the Come Dancing meringues! Competition-style pro number with actual quickstep – well, for a few seconds, anyway, until the inevitable descent into grating skit. Highlights: Susanna giving simmering paso fierceness while encased in purple tulle; Kristina grasping for the glitter ball with “method” desperation; and Joanne Clifton stealing the show while partnering Brendan.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Hideous glittery bronze Quality Street wrapper with unflattering bow. Claudia in – you guessed it – black. Garish Blackpool hen party vibe maintained with the addition of “Kiss me quick” cowboy hats.

Andre Rieu and his ballgown-toting minions gave us an earnest rendition of Lloyd Webber’s “Music of the Night” (yes, you read that correctly) while Iveta and Anton did some pleasant old-school twirling.

Len’s lens highlights:

  • Darcey’s epic disco fist-pumping during the mad opening number
  • Darcey panting over Ben’s lifting prowess
  • Abbey’s quickstep yelping

JLS. Sigh. Didn’t they split up? Why are we being subjected to this? And why no dancers? What a waste of the lovely big Blackpool floor.

In the dance-off: Mark and Iveta, and Fiona and Anton – another amazing week of the public agreeing with the judges. It’s like peace in the Middle East. Our first actually a bit tense dance-off of the series, in theory, but full-on, crowd-pleasing performance from Mark, while Fiona looked jittery and made a few errors.

Craig saved Fiona, Darcey Mark, Bruno Mark and Len, finally getting to use his Head Judge vote, thought Mark upped his game, while Fiona succumbed to nerves. Mark’s dance-off experience perhaps helping him out there.

What did you make of 10-happy Blackpool Week? Do you think the right couple left? And who’s looking like a finalist? Leave your thoughts below or visit me on Twitter: @mkmswain

Join me next week as the competition hots up – figuratively and literally, as our couples fly south for winter. 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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