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Strictly speaking

Posted on October 10, 2011


Week 2

It’s Week 2 on “Strictly” and that can only mean one thing. It’s knockout time! (Get it, Audley?)

After last week’s gentle opening, the celebs have to face the harsh reality of the ballroom world as one of them is cruelly cast out into the non-sequinned wilderness. Or something equally melodramatic. (Actually, “reality” doesn’t really apply to a world ruled by Queen Russell and plagued by evil feather boas.)


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Mainly impressed. I know, I’m shocked, too! Following Zoe’s “It Takes Two” approach (more sequins! MORE SEQUINS! I MUST OUT-SPARKLE CLAUDIA!), Tess went for a blinged-up strapless number. It did look slightly as though someone had attacked her with glitter and a glue gun, but at least it was flattering. Shame about the bed hair.

Sidenote: yet another uncomfortably homophobic joke from Brucie. I know he’s visiting us from a different era, but could we maybe censor some of these?

As the competition with the “X Factor” live shows begins in earnest, last week’s most-talked-about contestants (Russell, Nancy, Harry and Jason) were kept till the end, so we started with…

Chelsee and Pasha – Fringe benefits

web_chelseestrictly_sensationalChelsee, like me, didn’t know what Len’s Petula Clarke waltz critique meant, but was delighted with all the princess comments. However, she goes down in my estimation for being in a room with Pasha and constantly staring at her phone. While in a room, WITH PASHA! Clearly, the wardrobe mistress was similarly aggrieved, as she dressed Chelsee in carwash mega-fringed leggings and a sparkly Wonderbra. Despite that handicap, she started her salsa with confident exotic dancing on the judges’ desk (Len’s eyes nearly popped out) and launched into a sexy, natural, daredevil routine. Love that Pasha hit so many accents and included impressive armography. However, Chelsee does need to refine her dancing (it’s a bit Louisa Lytton-ish – obvious talent but casual execution).

Song: “Higher”, Taio Cruz

Judges’ comments: Len was “chilly round the willy”, but Chelsee warmed him up. TMI. He found it too full on – “Calm down, dear” – but otherwise great. Alesha disagreed – better to go for it than hold back. (Can’t believe I’m going to say this, but if you look at Chelsee vs cautious Holly, I’m with Alesha on this one. I KNOW! Check for icebergs in Hell!) Bruno loved that she had “the energy of a wild kitten” and praised her underarm passes. Craig thought it was too bouncy (there’s only so much that Wonderbra can do), but loved the spins and lifts.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 7 – 29 (Bit stingy?)

Overall: She’s a serious threat in Latin.


Edwina and Vincent – Table scraps

web_edwinastruggles_sparkleEdwina was shocked that last week’s routine was deemed comedy (perhaps she should take it as a compliment), and her VT revolved around traumatising “cougar action” – my therapist says I shouldn’t try to talk about it yet. Their foxtrot, set in “Vincenzo’s Café”, was pure am dram in the old folks’ home – cheesy, old-fashioned, earnestly executed and deserving of a round of sympathy applause, not Saturday-night viewers. Special mention must also be made of Edwina’s “Doctor Who”-monster fascinator, which rivalled Beatrice and Eugenie’s for its comic yet sinister properties.

Song: “Buona Sera”, Dick Brave and The Backbeats

Judges’ comments: “That could be the last supper,” quipped Len. He disliked the “messing about” at the dinner table and wanted more content. (Edwina then tried to cue a Vincent joke, which fell flat. It really wasn’t their night.) Bruno snickered about them playing footsie under the table (UGH) and said that instead of a smooth foxtrot, it was like a bendy bus negotiating a tight roundabout.

Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 5, 5 – 19

Overall: Check, please.


Audley and Natalie – Shake your groove thing

web_audleysimply_so_soAudley dismissed Craig as a pantomime villain but was determined to respond to the judges’ constructive criticism. His enthusiasm in training was infectious, so I was all set to root for him during his performance, but I spent the first 30 seconds transfixed by his strange mustard-coloured jacket. Ah, I believe it was meant to be a Michael Jackson reference. Unfortunately, it looked more low-budget “Star Trek” costume. Fun, uplifting routine that showed Audley’s rhythm and eagerness, if lacking in refinement.

Song: “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough”, Michael Jackson

Judges’ comments: Bruno found it more disco than salsa but praised his energy. Craig called it flat-footed, but pointed out two good things: the groove and the hip rotation. Len noted that, for a big guy, he was surprisingly neat – “orderly Audley”. (I wonder how long he spends on his puns and rhymes each week? I can picture him on the plane coming back from LA, scribbling away on his cue cards, while Bruno boogies along to Footloose beside him.)

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 6 – 23

Overall: Respectable performance.

Alex and James – Have you met Miss Collins?

web_alexsimply_so_soThe Welsh lass was petrified last week and discouraged by the judges’ comments. She also struggled in training when it came to left and right. Luckily, James was on hand to offer constructive support as a partner and teacher. Only kidding. He made her wear wellies, mocked her and then electrocuted her. (How much do the celebs get paid?) Despite his Jack Bauer approach, their foxtrot was charming and sweet, with some nice showgirl pizzazz and a fascinating trajectory from John Prescott to James to Bruno (who totally worked it). Two big costume negatives: feathers (have we learned nothing, people?) and an unforgiving pink/orangey-red costume pairing, which would make even Kate Moss look like an ASOS reject.

Song: “Have You Met Miss Jones?”, Frank Sinatra

Judges’ comments: Bruno called her “a glamour puss” and “a young Joan Collins”, which I can only hope means shoulder pads next week. She lost her frame, but otherwise he was pleasantly surprised. Craig suggested working on pivots and finishes but noted ballroom suits her more. Alesha went all movie-of-the-week: “Just BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!”

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 7, 8 – 29

Overall: Definitely more at home in ballroom.

Dan and Katya – Lobb the builder

web_danstruggles_sparkleDan, unsurprisingly, didn’t know what to make of Craig’s “crumbly transitions” analysis. He’s also rather a sensitive flower, so may not have found his natural partner in Klaxon Katya. Their training VT consisted of Katya gyrating on a tennis court in short shorts while Dan demonstrated “positive reinforcement”. Good luck with that, Dan. The “Strictly” gymnastics made (in my view) an unwelcome return with Dan’s opening handspring. Their lifts were strong, but the “sexy” salsa was nonexistent – more like a father and daughter bopping at a wedding, reinforced by Dan’s shirt and bowtie and Katya’s little-girl pink frock-cum-negligee.

Song: “Upside Down”, Diana Ross

Judges’ comments: Craig liked the handspring and smile, but the rest was “lumpestuous”. I thought his hands were spatulistic, too. Len called it “penguin-ish” but this is the dance that’ll suit him least, so the only way is up! (Really? What about rumba? Samba? We’re not out of the woods yet.) Alesha thinks her mum will approve. Maybe she should have a crack at this judging business. Bruno thought “Lobb the builder” slung Katya round like a bag of cement.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6, 5 – 21

Overall: Not a Latin natural.


Lulu and Brendan – You can dance if you want to

web_lulasimply_so_soAnother week, another baseball cap in training. Brendan reached a new point of desperation when trying to solve Lulu’s memory problems: bringing in peculiar brain food. Anyone for fish and berries? Yet more feathers crept onto the floor (I guess Nancy wasn’t enough of a cautionary tale), this time in a very “Come Dancing” collar for poor Lulu. The “Strictly” bird slaughter continues. I didn’t quite get the story with the giant mirror – was Brendan a fantasy? A ghost? Should there be pottery involved? – but at least she remembered most of her steps.

Song: “Breakeven”, The Script

Judges’ comments: Alesha noted Lulu can’t stop singing (Brendan looked pained), but she was much more focused and in control. Bruno: “You played it with the emotional fragility of a teenager in love! It needs polish, but you can dance if you want to!” Craig thought she was chasing Brendan and kept looking at his chest (can you blame her?), but praised her pivots and standing spin. Lulu then followed up her incident-free performance by being the first to trip on Tess’s Stairs of Doom.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 7, 7 – 25

Overall: A big improvement.

Holly and Artem – In limbo

web_hollysimply_so_soHolly hated being first up last week (a last-minute decision to ease Alex’s timetable…) and was desperate to impress, but struggled with the salsa in training. Artem wanted her to act it. You know, because she’s an actress. Slash singer. Slash FHM sexy lady. Yet more feathers (on her tail, for her to shake) and she only had half a skirt, while Artem’s shirt buttons were confiscated. Shame. A step up from last week, though still a bit Bambi-ish and paint-by-numbers. But we all totally sympathise with her for not feeling sexy. (Right? RIGHT?)

Song: “Mas Que Nada”, Sergio Mendes

Judges’ comments: Alesha told her to BELIEVE IN HERSELF. And don’t be afraid. Or something. Bruno thought her top-of-the-range-equipment had gremlins and told her to do a few laps to get her F1 engine going. Why use one metaphor when two makes things so much clearer? Craig wanted more from her “limbo straddle” (ahem) and better timing. Len, taking this F1 business and running with it, thought all the flying through each others’ legs meant they were mechanics checking for oil leaks. Well, that’s what Artem told Kara…

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30

Overall: Good, but more to come.

Rory and Erin – It’s shexy time

web_rorysimply_so_so“IMITATION is the sincerest form of flattery!” Because, you know, he does IMPRESSIONS. Rory took on board last week’s comments and attacked the shexy shalsha with all the vigour of Sean Connery, who Erin apparently has the hots for. Has she been to the cinema in this millennium? The pair pulled off a fun, energetic routine, although Rory hasn’t quite negotiated a major hurdle: middle-aged, self-conscious Brit doing Latin. On the upside, his chest rug rivals Anton’s and Erin’s abs of steel are more than a match for Flavia’s. COME ON.

Song: “Vehicle”, Ides of March (Unfortunate – Matt and Flavia used it for their breakthrough Latin)

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought Rory roared (clever!) into action with a “full-frontal attack”, but he pushed it too much and lost the flow of hip action. Craig drawled: “You were like a rat caught on a sticky strip.” Now, has anyone ever seen rat sticky strips for sale? Is this an Australian quirk? Or did Craig feel like he had to upgrade Rory from fly? Len noted Englishmen in their 50s don’t often “flaunt our wobbly bits”. Bruno looked nauseous.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6, 6 – 22

Overall: A for effort.

Robbie and Ola – Doing it for kicks

web_robbiesimply_so_soRobbie was gutted after last week’s debacle, particularly getting the 2. Sympathetic Ola told him to man up. (She should borrow her husband’s electrocuting machine.) Adored the unintentionally hilarious opening to their routine, with Robbie strutting his stuff and giving Tyra Banks fierce eyes. Did he really used to play football? Nevertheless, he definitely worked his sparkly brolly (add to “Strictly” Shopping Channel want list) and kudos to Ola for her jazzy routine, but he looked rather gloomy in hold – would be great to see a sustained performance. On the upside, Ola’s dress had splits practically up to her ears.

Song: “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head”, Dean Martin

Judges’ comments: “You little beauty!” roared Len, who promised marks for kicks. Jive week should be interesting. Bruno felt Robbie had gone to Hollywood – “hair glistening like spun gold, teeth sparkling like piano keys!” I think it might be love. Craig criticised his head placement, but loved the showmanship.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 7, 7 – 29

Overall: Massive improvement – in choreography as well as execution.

Anita and Robin – Seeing spots

web_anitasimply_so_soAnita had a dreamy start last week and happily embraced the madness of Robin’s salsa. Loved his Pavlovian training – he makes strange sound effects and her body responds involuntarily. I feel this could have a higher purpose, somehow. In other news, Robin’s vest collection continues to grow. I couldn’t decide whether their alarming costumes were a deliberate part of their kitsch, utterly barmy number or whether they’d lost a bet. Either way, the combination of Anita in pick ‘n’ mix-coloured mad clown dress and fascinator and Robin in polka dots with a plunging neckline certainly made them unforgettable. Well done to Anita for fully committing to his psychedelic vision, but did he go the quirky route to cover up weaknesses in her Latin?

Song: “Jump In The Line (Shake, Senora)”, Harry Belafonte


Judges’ comments: Len pointed out “one or two incidents” but thought it was “fun, fun, fun”. Their performance put Alesha in the mood for cocktails (yes, it made me want to drink, too). Craig called it “Bonnie Langford being chased by a barking dalmation”, but thought she danced it brilliantly.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 – 28

Overall: Genius or insanity? Hard to call.


Jason and Kristina – I’m just drawn that way

web_jason2strictly_sensationalThe fact that his debut last week was “one of the great moments in my career” probably says more about Jason’s career than it does about “Strictly”. Kristina, having suffered through John Sergeant and the wooden Welsh boxer, was thanking all the gods that she’d reached the top of the leaderboard. The pair headed to London’s Rivoli Ballroom to get in the mood for their Hollywood foxtrot – all great fun except Kristina calling him “Mr Cool”, which made it feel slightly seedy. Their routine was, once again, the dance of the night and Kristina also landed Dress of the Night with her vampy red number. I loved their sultry, jazzy routine, which had a clear story, a sustained mood and gorgeous musicality. My only negative is that Jason tends to hit accents with his face.

Song: “Why Don’t You Do Right?”, Peggy Lee (and Jessica Rabbit) 

Judges’ comments: Alesha was totally seduced by Jason the showman. Bruno loved the Jessica Rabbit pastiche – “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way”  – and the L.A. Confidential vibe. Craig and Len pointed out Jason’s incorrect head position but loved the performance.  

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 8 – 33

Overall: Still the one to beat.

Nancy and Anton – The morning after

web_nancystruggles_sparkleAfter last week’s disaaaaster with the feather boa constrictor, Nancy and Anton could have really focused on technique in their training. Or, alternatively, Anton could make lascivious comments while Nancy tried to teach him Italian. Unfortunately, last week was not a one-off. The start of the routine – Nancy purring at Len before Anton wrenched her off the judges’ desk, giving us a delightful crotch shot – pretty much set the tone for a woeful, messy, drunks-at-a-wedding salsa. Is she really that hopeless or is Anton more interested in vaudeville than teaching? His ridiculous sequinned jacket suggests the latter. Nancy harped on about a mystery injury – beware the Second Coming of Kate Garraway… 

Song: “Papa Loves Mambo”, Perry Como

Judges’ comments: Bruno said she danced like she’d drunk two gallons of champagne. (Sidenote: several alcohol refs tonight. Has the Green Room been restocked or did Bruno collect those mini bottles on the plane?) Craig went through the Fs: “frenetic, frantic, frenzied”. Len’s favourite part was when he looked up Nancy’s dress. I could really have done with not knowing that. Alesha, bless her, asked if they’d meant to be funny. 

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 2, 4 – 14

Overall: Tragic.

Harry and Aliona – Not so amazing

web_harrysimply_so_soLast week, Harry got the show off to a McFlying start! (Get it?!) His bandmates came into rehearsal, possibly with one of their songs playing in the background – I honestly couldn’t be bothered to Shazam it. Said bandmates are supporting Jason and Holly. Harsh. Aliona (in yet more feathers – honestly, I’m watching from behind a cushion) probably should have spent more time on Harry and less on the other McFlies, given that their foxtrot was perfectly pleasant but noticeably lacking in technique, particularly the hold. And why was Harry wearing a strange shirt with black collar and cuffs? He looked like a “Downton Abbey” extra at a funeral.

Song: “Just The Way You Are”, Bruno Mars 

Judges’ comments: As Aliona had idiotically proclaimed on “It Takes Two” that she never listens to the judges, Len pointedly addressed his remarks to Harry. SNAP. He thought it lacked finesse and quality of movement, the frame needs work and he had his chin down. Alesha pointed out – in case we hadn’t noticed – that he’s one of the best dancers in the competition, thus the judges will be tough on him. Bruno feels there’s something very special about Harry (steady) and he could be fantastic with the right nurturing. And yet he’s with Aliona.  

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 8, 7 – 27


Overall: Could do better.


Russell and Flavia – Having the time of your life

web_russellstrictly_sensationalRussell was blown away by the rapturous reception last week, particularly the standing ovation. His wonderful training attire continued (Hawaiian shirt, sequinned waistcoat), as did his gloriously improbable platonic love affair with Flavia. They wore feather boas. They rolled down a hill. I hear wedding bells. Russell’s ruffled salsa outfit did not disappoint (Julian Clary called – he wants his sleeves back), nor did Flavia’s dress, which actually contained several deadly feather boas! They’re playing with fire here, kids. Another glorious performance – Russell is comedy gold (loved how his tics rippled through his whole body, ending with a giant head toss), but he can also dance, and Flavia is doing a great job of combining the two elements. Bonus points for the fabulous rainbow glitterball in the background.


Song: “Dancing Queen”, Abba (I called it last week!)

Judges’ comments: Len: “What it lacked in technique you made up for in fun and entertainment. You put the boy in flamboyant!” Bruno thought it had more joy than a carnival float, and even Craig approved: “It wasn’t without flaws, but dancing queen you were tonight.”


Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 6, 7 – 25

Overall: My love knows no bounds.


Jason and Kristina – 65

Holly and Artem – 58

Chelsee and Pasha – 56

Anita and Robin – 56

Harry and Aliona – 55

Alex and James – 51

Rory and Erin – 49

Robbie and Ola – 48

Russell and Flavia – 46

Dan and Katya – 45

Audley and Natalie – 43

Lulu and Brendan – 42

Edwina and Vincent – 36

Nancy and Anton – 26

Nancy is the favourite to go, although Edwina’s a close second. Russell may be hilarious but he’s also scoring decently, ending mid leaderboard. Exciting top four (Jason, Holly, Harry and Chelsee), plus Anita hanging in there for now.


Another pro dance, another Lady Gaga track, this time “The Edge of Glory”. The girls wore fringed bikinis held together with bondage straps and the guys all bared their delightfully faked-tanned chests. Some exciting lifts and solid formation cha cha.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Depressed – wrapped in bandages and sporting a robotic comms unit on her arm.

But never mind that – it’s our Claudia! Oh, how I’ve missed her and her crazy ways! Yes, she looked a bit Addams Family, but she was back, and she had silly new segments, like “dance dissection” in “Judges’ Legs”. Even better, she knew they were silly and didn’t try to sell them in a nervy, woohoo-Saturday-morning-telly way (sorry, Zoe).

web_will-youngAfter a fruitless recap (no new judges’ comments), it was time for the scary music and spotlights to descend. The first safe couples: Robbie and Ola, Lulu and Brendan, Jason and Kristina, Alex and James, Holly and Artem and Chelsee and Pasha. In the bottom two: Audley and Natalie. Alesha was bitterly disappointed – he’s not the worst dancer! Perhaps she hasn’t watched this show before.

Claudia, in her inimitable interviewing style, observed that Robbie hated his sparkly brolly, to the point that, if it rained now, “you’d just go out and let it play havoc with your hair!”

Will Young (pictured above) “treated” us to his latest dreary ballad and some swaying (he couldn’t move much – they shoehorned him into those trousers). He offended me instantly by bringing his own dancers (what’s wrong with ours?!) and making them dip their costumes in pea soup – even hot young pros can’t pull off green socks and braces. Plus the day-glo lighting effects made it look like a 1980s Reebok ad. One dancer’s braces slipped off. That was the most exciting part of the performance.

Back to Claudia, who’d enticed the judges into Tess’s area for “Len’s lens” – otherwise known as slow-mo recaps. Much as I enjoyed this time with Claudia and the panel, shouldn’t this be on “It Takes Two”? Was Zoe not deemed worthy?

What we learned in this segment:

  • Nancy’s car-crash salsa in slow mo ain’t pretty
  • Len had his claws out: “Nancy’s doing a salsa, Anton’s doing a foxtrot!”
  • Nancy is delightfully delusional, claiming the judges were completely wrong. “She’s barmier than I am!!” howled Bruno. And that’s a dark place
  • Alesha sees Chelsee as her natural successor, labelling her Beyonce
  • Robbie’s hair in slow mo is a thing of beauty, a wild creature hovering on the wind. Because he’s worth it
  • Anita is a true pro, smiling through mistakes. Take notes, Mad Nancy
  • “The Grant”, in slow mo, is nothing short of magnificent. “High as a kite!” gasped Bruno. “Give it to me, Russell!”

Next up: a truly cringeworthy “comic” VT about Broadway Week. I’m not going to dignify it with comment. Oh, but why is it Broadway Week? Do we not have musical theatre in London?

Jason hadn’t been exposed to Claudia’s interviewing before. She asked him what he’ll do next week – maybe he’ll be a cat? She made cat motions and yowled. He backed away, regrouped and answered hopefully that he’s doing a tango.

web_waitingThe final safe couples: Anita and Robin, Rory and Erin, Dan and Katya, Harry and Aliona, Russell and Flavia and… Nancy and Anton. God help us. In the bottom two…Edwina and Vincent.

Len was upset – what if old-Currie-leaving-in-a-hurry gets a dance that suits her next week? What dance might that be? Answers on a postcard, please. A miffed Edwina thought Len should have marked her higher if he wanted her to stay. She’s not familiar with polite pre-elimination remarks. Fellow-bottom-two-er Audley was gutted in a macho, man-of-few-words way.

And finally, it’s THE MOMENT OF TRUTH. The first couple leaving is…Edwina and Vincent. Phew. We don’t have to endure any more “hot cougar action”. Edwina gave a gracious farewell speech. Vincent responded thus: “I had so much fun, which I didn’t expect, because you’re a politician.” Tell it like it is, Vincent. Meanwhile, Bruce and Len tore up ten weeks’ worth of curry jokes.

What are your predictions for Broadway Week? I’ve got my fingers crossed for Nancy as Evita, Anita and Robin doing Cabaret, Russell in La Cage Aux Folles and Robbie as Sandy from Grease.

Ooh and breaking news – apparently Len is taking a week off and will be replaced with a pro. I’m guessing Karen, given that she’s the red button resident. Wonder how the current pros will feel about that…?

For the inside track (pun intended) on the life of the “Strictly” band and singers, read their blogs and news.

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

In this month’s issue of Dance Today, Marianka Swain celebrates the moves, outfits and corny lines of dance movies and interviews Latin superstars Michael Malitowski and Joanna Leunis, and Riccardo Cocchi and Yulia Zagoruychenko in the run-up to the International Championships. Claire Saul interviews our cover star: new “Strictly” pro Pasha Kovalev. Buy a copy here.

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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