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Strictly speaking

Posted on October 3, 2011


Week 1

“We’re going from the red carpet to the red-hot ballroom floor!!!” Enough of the understatement, Tess. Actually, how often do breakfast TV sports editors, ex-footballers and impressionists get to hang out on the red carpet? Never mind, they’re on “Strictly” now! Instant fame awaits! (I’m ignoring the weird intro bit that started with Jason Donovan barbecuing and went, via some bacon jokes, to Anton’s silver service in the studio. What, you wanted helicopters and private islands? What do you think this is, “X Factor”?)



web_tb_friBruce and Tess started at ground level, as per last series – neither his hips nor her shoes can take the descent. Tess explained yet another innovation to him: “witty” red-button commentary with Karen Hardy and Katy Brand, which left him appropriately horrified – he doesn’t want wit interfering with his jokes!

In a new “Strictly speaking” feature…

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Depressed. Why did her purple frock have a cape at the back? Fashion-cum-paso?


Holly and Artem – The eye candy lacks bite

web_hollysimply_so_so“Neighbours” alum and “pop temptress” Holly apparently had lots of songs, not just that “Kiss Kiss” one. Who knew? Artem had fun last year – he won and got a girlfriend! – and wants to repeat his success…presumably just in the former category. The lack of clothing and sultry choreography suggest they know their target audience, but the “pop temptress” surprisingly lacked sensuality in her cha cha, and the ridiculously good-looking pair have yet to find their chemistry.

Song: “Who’s That Chick”, David Guetta feat Rihanna

Judges’ comments: Len thought it was one of the best first dances he’d ever seen (really?!). Alesha’s insights included pointing out that Holly looks great and is probably nervous. Bruno enjoyed the “tasty eye candy” and extensions (with a visual aid), but she needs more bite and strength. Craig wants sharper arm placement, cleaner finishes, stronger hip action, more dynamic lines and better walks. The usual.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 7 – 28

Overall: Kara rests easy.

Dan and Katya – The Adrian Chiles of dance

web_dansimply_so_soDan endeared himself by explaining he’s doing it for the boys – the ones who hang out on the edge of the dancefloor, terrified. He’d really rather be doing “Strictly Come Going Down The Pub With Your Mates” (sounds good to me – show of hands?). He claimed not to notice Katya’s allure, which she rectified by rubbing her boobs and gyrating during her intro. She also resumed her caring teacher role, responding to his struggles by telling him to shut up. Despite the ghastly cheesiness of this routine (a rose! A bench! A ruffled bridesmaid dress!), Dan fared better than expected, maintaining a decent frame and a likeable air of British male sufferance throughout.

Song: “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”, Elvis Presley

Judges’ comments: Len thought it was wooden but praised his good hold and footwork – especially for a tall man. (Wait, isn’t that a jive comment?) Bruno called Mr Lobb-b-b technically accomplished but gloomy, a la Adrian Chiles. Craig disagreed with Alesha’s positive assessment of his lead and criticised his hideously rigid topline and “crumbly” transitions (no, me neither).

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 7, 6 – 24

Overall: A dark horse? Let’s wait for the Latin…


Lulu and Brendan – I may not have the dance in me

web_lulustruggles_sparkleLulu was nervous of Brendan’s bad boy reputation. We know he has one because his intro was accompanied by “Rebel, Rebel”. The “ball of energy” struggled more than Brendan expected and still hadn’t quite grasped this whole dancing thing by performance night. In between the desperate illegal lifts she bounced around gamely with little reference to timing, technique or, you know, cha cha cha.

Song: “I’ve Got The Music In Me”, Kiki Dee

Judges’ comments: Alesha thought she “got the party started” despite “going a bit wrong”. Bruno treated us to his song stylings before howling that she forgot all the steps but “nobody cares” because of her “great energy”. (Except you, of course, when you score her.) Len got his first puns in: “Plenty of boom bang-a-bang but nothing to shout about. You can’t go wrong, that’s the first rule.” The second should probably be “Don’t wear ruffles.”

Sidenote: loved the sequinned cushion they hid behind during the scores. “Strictly” Shopping Channel?

Judges’ scores: 2, 5, 5, 5 – 17

Overall: Rather disappointing.

Audley and Natalie – King Kong of the dancefloor

web_audleystruggles_sparkleI was affronted by the Olympic Gold medallist’s claim that he was “the biggest “Strictly” celebrity ever” (we may not have the “Dancing with the Stars” cast list, but not one up-and-coming/over-the-hill soap actor has escaped our grasp!) until I realised he meant physically big. The size-17-feet star was busy being starry in LA so only had three days’ training with Natalie, and unfortunately it showed, despite her commendable “Don’t look at my partner’s feet, look at my breasts!” costuming approach. There was something rather adorable about his earnest commitment, and Natalie gave him her usual first-class choreography, but lyrical ballroom and Audley may not be a match made in glitterball heaven.

Song: “Angel”, Sarah McLachlan

Judges’ comments: Bruno delivered the best backhanded compliment of the night: “You’re surprisingly graceful for someone the size of Everest!” Craig fretted about hands, hands, hands, trotting out his amazing term “spatulistic”. Yes, I will be using that frequently. Len used his term for “special” dancers – “There’s a charm about you” – and begged him to punch out Craig.

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 6, 6 – 20

Overall: Well, there’s still the Latin. Oh god, the Latin.

Robbie and Ola – Bad, but not in a good way

web_robbiestruggles_sparkleThe “dirtiest player in the premiership” loves stripping off, so he should find “Strictly” a natural home. He also adapted well to Ola’s dog-training approach (“No!” “Good boy!”). Unfortunately, he had to dance her choreography, which involved him stomping around being ballroom gangsta in a sleeveless hoodie. Albeit one you wouldn’t mind hugging – he came off about as street as Sloane Square. As if that wasn’t enough, Ola incongruously used him as a pole for her sexy-fringed-parrot exotic moves. Oh, and did I mention the hoodie had “Bad boy” stamped on it in big glittery letters? In case the musical interpretation (of “Bad Boys”) was TOO SUBTLE?

Song: “Bad Boys”, Alexandra Burke

Judges’ comments: Craig delightfully labelled it “all very Abercrombie and Fitch”. Len said he stood still while Ola flew about “like a wasp at a picnic”. Alesha gave him an A for effort and sympathised with a manly bloke doing Latin (have you seen his highlights?!). A smitten Bruno thought the “savage” left the cha cha “ravaged” by going at it “like a wrestler” and admired his cleavage. Ola thought he meant her. Merriment ensued.

Judges’ scores: 2, 6, 6, 5 – 19

Overall: I’d like a cha cha please, Carol.

Anita and Robin – Queen of the waltz

web_anitastrictly_sensationalAh, the 1980s. The glamour. The poodle perms. I was charmed by Anita’s tale of finding a man whose ’do matched hers (namely Brian May), but less so by her recollection that they looked “like brother and sister”. Easy on the Greek tragedy. Robin set up a ballroom boot camp, complete with L plates, and their hard work showed in a clean, fluid waltz with graceful lines and just the odd hint of nerves. Anita also won Dress of the Night with a pretty white number, marred only by swirly tinfoil bodice detailing.

Song: “Three Times A Lady”, Lionel Ritchie

Judges’ comments: Alesha called her “beautiful to watch” and labelled it the most sincere performance of the night. Bruno thought the dance was elegant, poised and beautifully acted, but warned her to watch her topline. Craig told her to sort her head placement but otherwise found it “gorgeous”.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 – 28

Overall: A lovely treat. Will her Latin be as winning?

Russell and Flavia – A star is born

web_russellstrictly_sensationalAh, save the best for last. After an evening of lacklustre debuts, Russell Grant happened. The “high priest of camp” embraced the “fabulous labyrinthine Byzantine energy of the Arts” – and brought feather boas to rehearsal! In a gloriously odd-couple routine, serious, taciturn Flavia oozed sex appeal while Russell LIVED. After making a Gaga-esque entrance emerging from a seashell, he shimmied his way into our hearts with his silver eye shadow and camp Elvis costume. Widdy who? This year’s guilty pleasure has arrived. I’m already envisioning his showdance – “Dancing Queen”, or possibly “It’s Raining Men”, rainbow flags, Vogue-ing, legwarmers, “Glee”’s Brittany painting a glittery pink unicorn backdrop and a Louie Spence cameo. We must make this happen, people. This is democracy in action!

Song: “Venus”, Bananarama

Judges’ comments: Bruno likened it to “Frankie Howard doing Bananarama – it couldn’t be camper if you tried!” Challenge accepted. Craig thought it was the birth of something – “certainly not Venus.” Well, never mind the critique – Alesha just wants to go clubbing with him. Get in line!

Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 6, 6 – 21

Overall: Fab-u-lous


web_tb_satTess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

50/50. The long half was nice, the bizarre Mummy wrappings and short half less so. Not sure BBC teatime calls for avant garde.

Harry and Aliona – He’s got the beat

web_harrystrictly_sensationalNow, I must confess I’m not a big McFly person. I agree with Bruce that they could be a Scottish budget airline for all I care. Still, they seem to have a sizeable fan base, so I imagine we’ll be seeing Harry for a while, unless Aliona manages to squander all that potential through crazy routines, OTT styling and… Oh. Anyhow, because he’s a drummer, clearly putting sticks in his hand will help his cha cha cha. Either that or we’ve formed the Strictly Marching Band! Despite Aliona’s odd take on “training”, Harry turned in a great performance, showing natural musicality and great rhythm, though he struggled in the whole spontaneous, flirty cha cha performance area.

Song: “Moves Like Jagger”, Maroon 5

Judges’ comments: Len threw in a Dirty Harry quote (what’s next week – When Harry Met Sally? Harry Potter? Harry Hill?) and thought it was “blooming good”, if a bit mechanical. Bruno frothed at the mouth as he praised Harry’s “fit, tight, muscular, masculine performance, full of confidence and spunk.” (6pm!!!) Just to really make his day, he’d like more sinuous crotch…err hip action. Craig thought he deposited (unfortunate) the steps rather than dancing through them.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 7 – 28

Overall: An early favourite.

Rory and Erin – I’m ready for my close-up

web_rorysimply_so_soRory wants to make the right IMPRESSION on the dancefloor. He’s worried Erin’s used to sportsmen and he has more of a darts physique. Long-suffering Erin doesn’t even pretend she still harbours hopes of winning. Rory threw in a million impressions and made up little rhymes in training. Erin humoured him, like a good-natured carer. He started his waltz with a Tony Blair simper, which slowly grew into a terrifying Cheshire Cat grin, but other than the Valium haze he executed his solid Erin routine nicely.

Song: “Weekend in New England”, Barry Manilow

Judges’ comments: Bizarrely, Alesha loved the smile and said it was beautifully played, if “rough around the edges”. Bruno thought that, as first IMPRESSIONS go, it wasn’t at all bad, but the overdone-Botox facial expression reminded him of Norma Desmond. Craig and Len both pointed out his exaggerated heel leads and protruding bum, but were otherwise pleasantly surprised – and he did a first-class IMPRESSION of a waltz.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Overall: Exceeds expectations. In ballroom, at least.

Alex and James – Heavy on the starch

web_alexstruggles_sparkleAlex is in this for the bling. She was mesmerised by the “Strictly” trophy when it visited “The One Show” and she’s determined to outdo Matt Baker. Modest ambitions, then. James brought his usual self-deprecation and sensitivity to the table. Amusingly, he couldn’t understand a word she said and his crazy dance counting similarly confused her. Translator? Alex hasn’t quite found her sexy Latin style yet – at the moment it’s more I’m-only-one-drink-in, these-heels-are-for-sitting office party bopping. All slightly cringeworthy.

Song: “When Love Takes Over”, David Guetta

Judges’ comments: Alex’s armography reminded Bruno of a stewardess – “right exit, left exit, airlock”. Craig pointed out yet another illegal lift and labelled her “starchy and stiff”, saved only by remaining in hold for most of it. James attempted to win hero points by telling Craig it’s their first week (really?), but undid the good work afterwards by snarkily telling Tess how crap Alex was when they started. Len thought it was “excellent” for a first dance – rather generous, but then she is part of the BBC mafia.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6, 6 – 22

Overall: Matt rests easy.

Chelsee and Pasha – Off she went with a trumpety-trump

web_chelseestrictly_sensationalThe “Waterloo Road” schoolgirl thinks ballroom is elegant and posh and not for the likes of her. Thus her “J word” begins. New boy Pasha started dancing to get girls, but it’s “strictly professional” between them. (Well, for now. Publicity doesn’t grow on trees, you know.) Chelsee felt like a “baby elephant” learning the waltz, so the producers cruelly but brilliantly played “Nelly the Elephant” over their footage. She also got stuck with the Worst Dress of the Night – Barbie goes to Prom – but was surprisingly fluid and graceful in hold, coping well with most of Pasha’s ambitious, well-thought-out choreography. Her barely restrained energy gives me high hopes for next week’s salsa.

Song: “See The Day”, Girls Aloud

Judges’ comments: Craig called her a “whirling dervish” but praised her “excellent phrasing”. Len thought she started off like Petula Clark (anyone? Google says she sang “Downtown” – was she known for being elegant?) but ended up Lady Gaga, which can only bode well for the Latin. Alesha cooed over the “little princess” and thought she managed to be both dramatic and romantic. Bruno delighted over her fluid phrasing and musicality.

Judges’ scores: 7, 6, 7, 7 – 27

Overall: A confident debut.

Edwina and Vincent – My eyes, my eyes!

web_edwinastruggles_sparkleEggwina wants to show the world the sophisticated lady beneath her tough exterior. The world politely declines. She also wants to take Vincent home and cover him in icing and… ICK. 6pm, people! Also… so very, very wrong. Vincent points out he’s the reason we’re paying our TV licence. Unfortunately, you also need widescreen to accommodate his ego. Vincent told Edwina to “make love to the camera”, but her stompy, hide-behind-the-cushion cha cha suggested she was mad at the camera, or possibly thought the camera was a sure thing. Her droopy red dress, chandelier choker and glittery décolletage didn’t help matters. Nor her end pose, legs akimbo, desperately trying to recapture Widdy’s glory. Sorry, love. Russell got there first.
(Sidenote: loved the shot of her fellow celebs weeping with laughter.)

Song: “Build Me Up Buttercup”, The Foundations (surely better for a jive or swing?)

Judges’ comments: Len called her a “red-hot curry” and Alesha diplomatically praised her rhythm. Bruno delighted in the “cougar and the toyboy”, particularly her “testing the merchandise”, but thought the dancing was flat-footed and messy. Sadly, we skipped Craig, who looked ready to poke someone’s eyes out. Mine first.

Judges’ scores: 2, 5, 5, 5 – 17

Overall: Ouch.

Nancy and Anton – Birds of a feather

web_nancystruggles_sparkleThe “former first lady of football”? When did this happen? Was I away? Who’s the current first lady of football, then? Surely it was always Posh? Anyhow, in the clash of the egos, purring tigress Nancy smothered Anton in training while he nervously fiddled with his tie and tried to get the camera back on him. Their routine was unintentionally hilarious, suffering a farcical wardrobe malfunction in the form of a malevolent feather boa. (Russell, I’m looking at you.) Even without the trip-ups, the dancing looked drunken and half-hearted, with Anton fighting to remain the comic star while Nancy and her admirable curves filled the spotlight.

Song: “In Napoli”, Dean Martin

Judges’ comments: Alesha “loved the acting” – if she meant Nancy vamping it up with a fan on a chaise longue, teasing her hapless prey, I think it could more accurately be called documentary. Bruno wasn’t sure if it was La Traviata or Craig in drag and likened her to “a curtain stuck on a spin cycle”. Len derided the “messing about” and told Anton to play it straight.

Judges’ scores: 1, 4, 3, 4 – 12

Overall: Mamma mia.

Jason and Kristina – So glad we made it

web_jasonstrictly_sensationalSuperstar Jason Donovan – he can sing, he can dance, he can act and he’s everyone’s favourite neighbour! (He’s certainly up there, but my lovely upstairs neighbour plays “Glee” on a merry loop and bakes brownies weekly.) Jason is deliciously mad, attacking training with the zealous spirit of the true fanatic. His performance fully delivered on that promise, Kristina’s fun-filled routine showcasing his manic energy, cheesy musicality and total lack of inhibition. Best music choice of week 1 and most satisfying (talent and entertainment) performance.

Song: “Gimme Some Lovin”, The Spencer Davis Group

Judges’ comments: Craig is Australian! I forget that when he’s drawling “dah-ling” in RP incessantly. No idea what he said to Jason, but it seemed to be praise. Len called it the best dance of the night and Alesha said it had everything we want to see.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32

Overall: Ah, that’s why you’re grinning like a loon, Kristina.


Jason and Kristina – 32

Holly and Artem – 28

Anita and Robin – 28

Harry and Aliona – 28

Chelsee and Pasha – 27

Rory and Erin – 27

Dan and Katya – 24

Alex and James – 22

Russell and Flavia – 21

Audley and Natalie – 20

Robbie and Ola – 19

Lulu and Brendan – 17

Edwina and Vincent – 17

Nancy and Anton – 12

A few surprises there – Anita, Rory and Dan all did rather well this week, but the Latin could be an issue. Lulu, Robbie and Nancy still have a chance to redeem themselves. Edwina’s my pick for first exit next week.

But don’t just listen to me – listen to Russell! I don’t believe a word of this stuff, but he’s my new favourite and these “predictions” are fairly entertaining, particularly Lulu and Brendan…

See you all next week. In the meantime…keep dancing!

Nicola Rayner was editor of Dance Today from 2010 to 2015. She has written for a number of publications including The Guardian, The Independent and Time Out Buenos Aires, where she cut her teeth as a dance journalist working on the tango section. Today she continues to dance everything from ballroom to breakdance, with varying degrees of success. Her debut novel, The Girl Before You, was published last year in paperback, ebook and audiobook.

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