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Strictly speaking

Posted on November 25, 2013


Week 9 

There are great episodes of Strictly, there are terrible episodes of Strictly, and there are those so generic, so lacklustre, so totally devoid of meaning that they fail to make any discernable impression whatsoever. The Ed Milibands, if you will.

It was inevitable we’d suffer a comedown from last week’s kerr-azy Blackpool hijinks (well, all apart from Bruno, who is incapable of operating at any level beneath “Mildly psychotic flirtation with a side order of hysterical puppy dying to go out for a wee”), but this was the comedown to end all comedowns. It was almost as if all the energy in the universe was being sucked up by some other BBC phenomenon, leaving us with forgettable routines, half-hearted puns and the scoring equivalent of beige.

Best in Show

Who am I kidding? For this week only, it’s Most Mediocre in Show

  • Most mediocre performance: Ashley’s waltz It comes to something when the best (least mediocre?) male celeb in the competition struggles to land a patented Jordan cheeseball waltz. IN WEEK 9.
  • Most mediocre costume: Natalie’s tango dress Could this be a series-defining performance? Oh. She’s wearing a wipe-clean Ribena oilcloth. Probably not, then.
  • Most mediocre move: Patrick’s botched fusion finale Floor spin! Running splits! Kitchen sink! It’s almost as if Anya sensed this would be a sadly tedious end to a sadly tedious show and tried to save us all.
  • Most mediocre line: “Something something something, tenuous Doctor Who link.” Cheers, Len.

In other news:

  • Never mind the fluffed gags – this was a Brucie performance of alarming haziness. Insert requisite regeneration joke here…
  • Awful, awful song choices across the board. Either the pros have lost the plot or there’s a daft, meddlesome producer heading straight for a sequinned wicker man.
  • General exposure of most celebs’ lack of versatility this week: Ben relying on brute strength; Ashley on sheer exuberance; nearly all the girls on trained or NON-DANCER natural lyricism. Of course, we do have champions with a limited repertoire (I’m looking at you, Chris “Charleston” Hollins), but shame not to see more pros pushing their partners out of their comfort zone. There’s only so much music you can make with one note.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Tess is getting married! On a beach! In the ’90s!

Susanna and Kevin – Dog day afternoon

5171924-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soWe’re back to the pointless field trip VTs. Joy of joys. This one involved Susanna doing cha cha walks on a balance beam (à la Dirty Dancing and the log), but no “Well, look who it is!” ex-champ Louis Smith sightings. It’s perhaps surprising that it’s taken this long to establish Susanna basically can’t do rhythmic Latin – the Indiana Jones guff distracted from her samba back in Week 4, and she’s yet to face rumba. She compensated by mainly dancing with her face – I haven’t seen such a range of open-mouthed cartoon expressions since Finding Nemo – but couldn’t hide sloppy footwork and general awkwardness. They lucked out getting this now rather than in a critical week like the semi-final.

Song: “Hound Dog”, Smokey Joe’s Café version (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ricky Whittle and Natalie)

Judges’ comments: Len liked the timing and mix of steps, but legs weren’t straight and not enough hip action. Bruno praised her for selling it, but agreed on the hip action. Craig loved the vampy opening, but “too mumsy”.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Overall: Uneasy.

Ashley and Ola – Head over heels

5171961-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soSpeaking of Nemo, Ashley’s school took him to the aquarium so he could sketch clownfish in crayon on an awkwardly angled clipboard. Oh, and “learn to be weightless”. How this translated into the most emotionally manipulative number Ola has ever birthed I really couldn’t tell you. Let us all grab our sick bags as we recall the waltz dress made of Barbie pastel scraps, exaggerated showmance and lurching pivots to accompany the key change like a Simon Cowell boy band leaping off their stools. Also, Ashley’s head is unintentionally HILARIOUS – like a bobble-head dog nodding in the back window of a rally car.

Song: “I Will Always Love You”, Claudia Streza version (COPYCAT KLAXON: Colin Jackson and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised his poised dancing to such difficult phrasing. (That would be a waltz danced to a song in 4/4 time, which… Ugh. #sequinwickerman) Ashley’s head drives Craig mad. Darcey thought it was slick, but agreed on the head. Len liked the footwork and translated his initials as “Attention. To. Detail!”

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Overall: Syrupy.


Natalie and Artem – Supernanny


5171974-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soIn his continued quest to prove Natalie is not an evil ringer Stepford dancer, but a super-nice, voter-friendly human being just like you and me, Artem took her to play with some kids. Kids love Natalie! We should love Natalie! Ironically, she didn’t need twee VT tricks to dilute her virtuosity this week, as tango showed some chinks in her armour. Lots of Artem broodiness, but she didn’t translate the dark drama through her movement – knees not bent enough and missed some heel leads, so lacked drive, and too blandly lyrical in both physical and emotional interpretation. Come to think of it, too kid-friendly. Destroy them, Natalie! Destroy them all!

Song: “Where Have You Been”, Rihanna (Yet more Rihanna. Artem, what’s going on with you? Do we need to TALK?)

Judges’ comments: Craig noted her left hand faced up, she hopped in the pivots and it lacked drama. Darcey loved the intensity, but wants a more exaggerated topline. Len thought she lowered her head too much, but fabulous. Bruno: “You set off like the tango express! Destination: the final!”

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 – 37

Overall: Underwhelming.


Mark and Iveta – Mad about the boy


5171057-low res-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleThis brilliantly baffling pair continues to vacillate wildly between earnest effort and compelling, crowd-pleasing nuttiness. Earnest: Mark serious about technique. Mark doing a degree in foxtrot. Nutty: Mark wakes up in an upside-down bed, in tails! Iveta slaughters a flock of flamingos and flaunts their carcasses! Earnest: Nice, if plodding, basics and decent oversways. Nutty: Giant sunflowers projected onto floor for no apparent reason! Mark wearing the manic grin of a serial killer who’s just added to his severed finger collection! In pure ballroom terms, just OK; in WTF? terms, still this year’s guilty pleasure.

Song: “It’s A Beautiful Day”, Michael Bublé

Judges’ comments: Darcey found it charming, with improved topline, but wanted more flow and travel. Len likes the cheeky moments, but compared him (sigh) to a Dalek: he’s a pitiless cyborg who can’t handle stairs. No, wait – he moves smoothly, but lacks swing and sway. Bruno loved the theatrical side-by-side sections. Less good in hold, but pleasant. Craig thought it was missing too much technically, but fun out of hold.

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 7, 7 – 28

Overall: Affable.


Sophie and Brendan – Art attack


5170927-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soPoor Brendan. He sold his soul to the Mephistopheles of light entertainment back in Series 1, and he’s only just realised he can never get it back. “We tell stories! I don’t want to give filthy, dirty rumbas!” he bleated at the judges after they pointed out his deeply emotional, artistically meaningful, bestowing peace upon all mankind rumba was, in fact, kind of a snooze fest. I appreciate the sentiment, but this is neither the time nor place – nor partner, much as I admire Sophie’s Arctic detachment. (There’s someone who took the “Dance like nobody’s watching” maxim too literally.) Tediously gentle, not much hip action, I think – hard to see under the shroud – and came a cropper on the turns.

Song: “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, Amy Winehouse version (COPYCAT KLAXON: Craig Kelly and Flavia)

Judges’ comments: Len said it was pretty, but lacked flair and chemistry. Bruno agreed – almost balletic, not raunchy enough. Craig said it was cold, except for the odd moment of Sophie randomly grinning (“A finger for Mark!”), and she needs to spot in her turns. Darcey wants her to over-exaggerate – lacked intensity and sensuality. But beautiful lines.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Overall: Dainty.

Best moment of the show: the transition here from Brendan’s tantrum about artistic integrity in place of slutty vote-mongering to Bruce’s “Oooh err, here comes Big Ben with his ample cleavage out, ladies!” Irony, thy name is Strictly.


Ben and Kristina – It’s a man’s man’s man’s world


5172165-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleKristina brought in a mime artist to transform Ben’s performance, because Kristina is a woman of both boundless optimism and grim determination. Why they needed to mime “being pregnant” is beyond me – I’ll leave that for The Sun to squawk over. The whole “Ben is a big sports-playing manly man” thing is wearying, as is Kristina’s decision to highlight it in every dance. We’ve seen muscular sportsmen like Darren Gough growing into fantastic dancers on this show, which has inspired a nation of normal blokes to have a go at ballroom; let’s not reverse that now by confusing Ben’s range of motion (somewhere around half-built Ikea shed) with the capability of “all men”. This circus strong man Charleston was limited and flat-footed – that does not mean men can’t dance unless they’re built like Ken dolls, nor that Ben’s gender excuses his marked lack of progress.

Song: “No Diggity”, Minimatic

Judges’ comments: Bruno wanted sharper swivel action, but wonderful for a guy of his size. (Bleurgh.) Craig noted the lack of cross swivel and no freedom of movement. Darcey liked the storytelling and lifts, but too careful. Len agreed, but: “You’re a time lord – right on time!” Oh, Len.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Overall: Insipid.


Abbey and Aljaž – Killing me softly


5172139-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soAbbey was feeling the pressure after her (arguably undeserved) 10s, so she played the gran card. Family prop points: +6 for solid gran adorableness. More important, she was also struggling with the fierce paso character, and she never quite found it, although, in fairness, everything was working against her: Avatar-blue Victorian high-necked gown and Princess Jasmine bobbly plait; overly lyrical music; vague choreography relying, once again, on Abbey’s natural grace and the couple’s natural moody sexiness. (I mean, no one’s complaining about a topless Aljaž, but still…) Lots of Blue Steel glares, but movement too soft, and lacked dynamics and conflict. Most worryingly, her performances all starting to look the same – not enough stylistic differentiation.

Song: “You Got The Love”, Florence and the Machine (More unhelpful Florence. What gives, Aljaz?)

Judges’ comments: Craig wanted better body tension and too cutesy, but loved it. Darcey praised the drama in her face, difficult content and nice shapes, but not different or dramatic enough. Len noted she lost control. Bruno liked the seductive twist and thought her NON-DANCER achievement was impressive.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32

Overall: Flat.


Patrick and Anya – Verse and worse


5172246-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soFor never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo. Well, when Romeo is being played by – ahem – a man of a certain age, in a shoddy VT on a celeb dancing competition, it really is a new level of woe. Plus it was a performance with about as much passion as… well, everything else Patrick’s done. Olivier can rest easy. Anya overcompensated in their Viennese with fluttering wrist hankies and a proper diva wind machine moment, plus lots of dramatic spinning while Patrick stood still and strenuously emoted. And/or fought to break wind. In hold, frame constricted and footwork could be crisper, plus somewhat disaaaahstrous ending. Bit of a step back for Patrick.

Song: “A New Day Has Come”, Celine Dion (COPYCAT KLAXON: Chris Hollins and Ola)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the content, but noted his shoulders went up. Len thought the movement was good, the standing spins bad and the ending ugly. Bruno said he was gliding well until he crash-landed. Craig liked the rhythm, but head position unclear and an accidental lift.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32

Overall: Muddled.




Natalie and Artem – 37

Ashley and Ola – 35

Abbey and Aljaž – 32

Patrick and Anya – 32

Susanna and Kevin – 31

Sophie and Brendan – 31

Mark and Iveta – 28

Ben and Kristina – 27

Natalie stays on top as Ben hits the bottom for the first time. Ashley gets the same score, but improves his position through everyone else getting lower marks. Woohoo! Sort-of victory for Ashley!




One of the most grating pro numbers we’ve seen this series, and that’s saying something. Random Masterchef element (Watching doesn’t get tougher than this!), tween cupcake tutus, Mary Berry cameo (Hey, she would have been a good booking! Is it too late to swap?) and so sugary it physically hurt to watch. I’m off to get a filling redone.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Unflattering jumpsuit in Laura Ashley sofa fabric. Claudia in Miss Piggy’s oversized sweater, and a chef hat and apron for a time. Let us speak no more of that.

Il Divo sucked the soul out of “Tonight”. Haven’t we filled our series quota of bland “popera” warbling accompanied by frenetic lyrical with major FEELINGS? I feel like we have.

Len’s lens highlights:

  • Bruno struggling to… err… spill his glitter over Mary Berry. Don’t worry, Bruno, it happens to every guy.
  • Darcey earnestly defending Ben’s storytelling and dance content while a clip showed him randomly flexing his muscles, totally dead-eyed.
  • Bruno making crazy faces during Darcey’s explanations. Bruno needs a lie-down. I think we all need a lie-down.

In the dance-off: Mark and Iveta, and Ben and Kristina – the public sticking with the judges again, amazingly. Bottom two veteran Mark generally serene, bar a small slip; Ben noticeably out of sync in the only two lift-free sections. Craig saved Ben, Darcey Mark, Bruno Mark and Len’s casting vote went to Mark due to Ben’s glaring errors.

What did you make of the performances? Did anyone wow you? And did the judges eliminate the right couple? Leave your thoughts below or visit me on Twitter: @mkmswain

Join me next week for musicals (JAZZ HANDS!) as we get down to the wire. 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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