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Strictly speaking

Posted on October 17, 2011


Week 3

It’s only Week 3 on “Strictly” and it’s already Random New Theme Week.

Now, I’m all for Random New Themes, particularly when they involve loony VTs, psychotic costuming choices and potentially disastrous props, but I’m afraid I have to begin with a mini rant entitled “Why the confused and confusing Broadway Week didn’t work for me”:

  • This is a ballroom competition Since the usually reliable Len has had his head turned by the Americans, it falls to me to point this out. Jason narrowly combined musical theatre and strong ballroom, but only by becoming a dance schizophrenic – none of this week’s routines will go down in “Strictly” history. Conversely, if Broadway Week is all about drama, why weren’t people marked down for doing pastiche routines rather than actually telling a story?
  • It’s too soon I’m still trying to figure out who has ballroom potential and which couples will fall victim to the three Rs of “Strictly” drama (romance, rivalry and resentment). Adding Broadway to the mix just confuses things
  • Compare and contrast? Tricky for both judges and viewers to make sense of such a mixed show. We don’t need to have just one ballroom and one Latin dance every week, but maybe we should for the first few shows to keep it fair. Dan was unlucky to get Viennese waltz versus more crowd-pleasing dances like jives, tangos and quicksteps
  • Scandalous scoring It’s only Week 3! This is a time for Craig 2s and Len 7s, else we’ll be on 100s by the semi-finals. Also, are we marking ballroom dances or wig wearing? Any leaderboard that lands Chelsee (delivered a credible cha cha) below Harry (did approximately two steps of jive), Holly (no tango fire) and Alex (yes, we all love Elaine Page) is clearly flawed

But moving on. Well, kind of. The pros’ Chorus Line opening, Fosse fun though it was, set the tone for a ballroom-lite show. The highlight was the celebs spectacularly messing up the ending – yes, synchronised top-hat work should be left to the professionals. Still, at least Nancy managed not to fall over, get tangled in her hat or flash Len.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Depressed. Morticia Addams with a flowered-curtain cut-out and a hairstyle that could only have been achieved by rolling through a hedge, picking up three to four birds’ nests along the way.

In other news, that damn autocue just kept getting away from Bruce. Don’t you know this man is a knight?! Also, renowned ballroom expert The Fonz was on red-button duty. Next week: Del Boy.

Holly and Artem – Babe behind bars

hollysimply_so_soArtem gets props for Quote of the Night: “I’m not rude, I’m just Russian.” My t-shirt’s in the post. Holly managed to take a cage, matching mesh tops (let’s pimp for votes!), Catherine Zeta-Jones’s wig and arguably the most dramatic and dance-appropriate song of the night and render them all useless through her complete lack of passion. My only explanation is that Kara has threatened her with physical violence if she so much as pretends to have chemistry with Artem. However, credit for dealing calmly and professionally with the skirt-in-heel incident.

Song: “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago


Judges’ comments: Len admired the blood swelling in her bosom. (Steady.) Alesha praised her stunning lines but wants her to be feistier. Bruno begged to join her in jail (surely not a complete impossibility) and thinks she has great promise. Craig wanted more tension in her body but enjoyed the storytelling.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 7, 8 – 30

Overall: Again, just OK.

Dan and Katya – Somebody to Lobb. Hahaha


danstruggles_sparkleBouncing back from last week’s critical mauling by Craig, studded-leather-vest-clad Dan (who also had a Lego man hairstyle) threw himself into his Viennese with laudable abandon. Unfortunately, Katya didn’t give him a clear story, just lots of melodramatic “run and stroke” moments, which he delivered in a frantic, “I’ve lost my car keys!” way. I love his self-deprecating humour and enthusiasm, but it will only get him so far. Katya’s sparkly, ruffled outfit was the first of many bizarre tween looks – I can only speculate that Week 3 was sponsored by Miss Selfridge and/or Claire’s Accessories.

Song: “Somebody To Love” from We Will Rock You


Judges’ comments: Bruno thought he looked less like Katya’s lover and more like a casual acquaintance, and that they didn’t do justice to HIS FRIEND Freddie Mercury’s song. (That noise you hear is the Luvvie Alarm.) Craig criticised his steps out of hold, hand shapes, raised shoulders and flat-footed spins, and thinks Dan has “an awkward nature generally”. Way harsh. Len again gave credit for him moving at all given that he’s SO TALL and thinks the judges want too much. Len, what’s happened to you?!

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 6, 6 – 24

Overall: An OK attempt.

Anita and Robin – Hair-raising fun

anitasimply_so_so Anita acknowledged that she looked like “a liquorice allsort on acid” last week (not unlike my pick ‘n’ mix assessment), and once again this couple had the maddest image, fully embracing the Hairspray goofiness –Anita embodied pink bubble gum and Robin borrowed a scene-stealing uber-wig from the “Let’s Dance For Comic Relief” collection. Loved that they completely sold the dance, though her jive technique didn’t match the performance. Still, I can only hope for more inner child concepts – The Muppets Take Tango, perhaps?

Song: “You Can’t Stop The Beat” from Hairspray (unfortunately inviting comparison with Austin and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Bruno wanted sharper footwork and better timing, but noted Robin’s wig was enough to put anyone off. Craig loved the characterisation and wanted stronger technique. Alesha cheerfully explained that people at home won’t care if you don’t point your toes. Yes, that what the judges are for.


Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27


Overall: Definitely memorable.

Alex and James – Dance deja vu

alexsimply_so_soNow, I have two issues with this routine. Firstly, it ripped off Alesha and Matt’s Viennese TO THE SAME SONG.  Who copies a routine when the originator is on the judging panel? And, let’s face it, nothing’s going to live up to that Elaine Page sighting. Secondly, it relied heavily on the aaah factor – wisps of smoke, lamppost (it’s in the lyrics!), fairy Barbie dress. Alex is pleasant to watch and she executed the routine nicely, but it’s all rather safe – it would be great to see her challenged and judged without the overriding sentiment. However, I was completely entranced by James’s Ribena-coloured tailsuit.

Song: “Memory” from Cats


Judges’ comments: Craig thought James was clever to keep her in hold and keep it simple. Alesha said it was beautiful and told a story (a girl-meets-curling iron tragedy, presumably). Bruno described Alex as “a magical bird stretching its wings, taking us on a wonderful ride”. And she wasn’t even wearing a feathered dress!

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32

Overall: Solid performance, definitely great potential.

Rory and Erin – Hats off to you


rorystrictly_sensationalLionel Blair visited Rory in training this week – the reason was unclear. Still, there he was again in the audience, holding Rory’s props for him, like a dance caddy. Erin produced a wonderful classic quickstep, although she did have an easier task than most choreographing to a distinctly ballroomy musical. To even things out, she had a dress handicap – part lace doily, part gutted swan. Rory dealt brilliantly with the props and had a good feeling for the style of the number, even if the Tony Blair rictus grin made the odd reappearance.

Song:Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” from…er, Top Hat


Judges’ comments: Len praised “the right song, right style and right routine”. Bruno loved the razzle and dazzle, calling Rory “Mr Showbiz”. However, he warned him to “watch the trout pout”. Craig wants him to point his feet and work on his posture but loved the style and confidence.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31


Overall: Great job – he’s definitely a ballroom boy.

Lulu and Brendan – Truly operatic


lulusimply_so_soLulu struggled with the elegance of the rumba in training, so Brendan wisely summoned forth the smoke monster to add instant atmosphere and hide the odd error in footwork. Loved their OTT styling – Brendan swathed in a cloak, which provided a paso cameo, Lulu in a fluffy white dress and embracing flower-power hair – and equally OTT high-voltage performance. They seem to be developing a genuine connection and Lulu throws herself into the characterisation, even if she does tend to use Brendan as a crutch.

Song: “All I Ask Of You” from Phantom of the Opera


Judges’ comments: Bruno can’t believe how well Lulu plays the ingénue and loved her lyricism, though she missed a few steps. Craig and Brendan duked it out over the illegal lift, but Lulu’s granddaughter liked it, so… yeah. Len thinks you have to break eggs to make an omelette and you have to break a few rules to make a routine complete. I know, who saw that coming?!

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26


Overall: Phantasmagorical.

Nancy and Anton – Pizza to go


nancystruggles_sparkleNancy was proud of what she did last week – it’s what the people think, not the judges! (And yet they’re not doing Evita.) She threatened Anton with her shoe in training (I SO called that!) and made plans for the Italian ambassador to join them. Her level of self-delusion is utterly delicious. Presumably Barack Obama will be ringside for her jive. The part of her tango routine that involved sitting down and flashing was fairly decent and she actually did some steps this week, but it was another camp Anton number with limited technique and no chemistry. Loved how she spent the time in hold scanning the studio for a better option.

Song: “Be Italian” from Nine


Judges’ comments: Bruno enjoyed her “peek-a-boo” on the chair but wanted more tango. Craig: “Darling, it was like a plodding mule trudging through mud. The only accents came from Anton throwing you into a position.” Len pointed out that last week was so terrible, anything would be an improvement, but it was all style and no substance, with “the tension of a cold sponge”.

Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 5, 6 – 20


Overall: The last tango?

Audley and Natalie – Hot to trot


audleysimply_so_soAudley is one of those celebs you can’t help but root for – he works so hard and has such an incredible attitude. Who else would quickstep in a Bikram yoga studio without complaint? Not sure his red velvet waistcoat did him any favours (“Can I park your car, sir?”), nor Natalie’s flamenco-meets-belly-dancer outfit (has anyone actually seen Kiss Me, Kate?), but they had a decent frame and sold the fun of the quickstep, even if his Charleston was muted and the use of Artem and Holly’s “oil leak” move somewhat baffling.

Song: “It’s Too Darn Hot” from Kiss Me, Kate


Judges’ comments: Craig wanted more energy in the Charleston, but found it lighter than expected and well acted. Len loved it from the waist up, but wants better footwork. Bruno, in a typical backhanded compliment, thought it was fantastic given that his feet are “the size of surfboards”.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 6, 7 – 24

Overall: Fun and showed potential.

Robbie and Ola – Spray tan-go

robbiesimply_so_soCan we take a moment to appreciate the mini Robbies? His adorable kids (matching blonde manes, gender unclear) were exact replicas! However, not even a family visit was enough to stop him moaning incessantly – a stark contrast to Audley’s sweaty stoicism. Ola made no attempt to justify the use of this Mamma Mia! track for a tango, instead rivalling Nancy in the erotic chairography stakes and powering an equally mahogany, shirtless, glazed Robbie around the floor. Is it still Broadway Week…?

Song: “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” from Mamma Mia!


Judges’ comments: Len praised the aggression and told him off for moaning. Alesha, bafflingly, thinks he’s becoming “one of the strongest contenders in this competition”. Bruno sang a choice Abba lyric to his crush: “How can I resist you?”


Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30

Overall: Solid performance, if lacking in story.

Russell and Flavia – Here comes the sun


russellstrictly_sensationalThe ballroom queen was in his element last week – “like porridge with maple syrup!” I don’t quite follow the logic, but I must admit that’s a winning combination. Almost as good as musical theatre and Russell. Who was dying to join him on his cha-cha-ing tour of the West End? I know I was. That Flavia is a lucky girl. His white suit reminded me of Poirot, summering and crime-solving in Monaco, and he bounded around the floor like a little white bunny. Flavia, meanwhile, is so gorgeous that she can even make a blinged-up banana-yellow dress look good. I loved the mix of playing-it-straight (ish) foxtrot and out-of-hold campalicious step touches and pizzazz.

Song: “Don’t Rain On My Parade” from Funny Girl


Judges’ comments: Russell is Alesha’s guilty pleasure (get in line!) and she praised him for his positive attitude. Take note, moaning Robbie. Bruno said he had the uplifting quality of blazing sunshine and produced a good foxtrot, as well as segueing “from Funny Girl to Gypsy Rose”. Craig, hilariously, advised him to take a more masculine approach – “a little less Barbra and a little more Rambo”. After you, darling. Len said he was “a little white cloud drifting across the floor and your little yellow dickie was the sun. You put the show in showbusiness.”

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 8 – 28


Overall: I literally cannot stop smiling.

Jason and Kristina – There’s a new queen in town


jasonstrictly_sensationalSetting another “Strictly” record, Jason provided us with the campest VT ever – and he followed Russell! I definitely wasn’t ready for him to pop out in full drag, but it was fun to see that side of him after his uber-serious training footage. He and Kristina had the most bizarre combination of the night – Priscilla and tango – so kudos to the pair for making it work. (I look forward to their Kylie paso.) However, this demonstrated the weakness of Broadway Week – we were deprived of an all-out tango from the strongest couple, who instead had to switch character constantly. Imagine what they could have done without the musical-theatre baggage…

Song: “I Will Survive” from Priscilla, Queen of the Desert


Judges’ comments: Craig pulled out one of his one-word, three-syllable critiques: “Stu-pen-dous.” Len called Jason “the midwife – you keep delivering!” Yes, that’s definitely a nickname he wants to catch on. Alesha praised Kristina for her creative “tango with a twist”.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36. (Blimey!! It’s only Week 3!)


Overall: Unstoppable.

Chelsee and Pasha – Fringe fairy


chelseestrictly_sensationalDoes Chelsee have a special fondness for tinsel? Every week, her fringed costumes make her look more and more like a Christmas-tree ornament. Pasha hasn’t yet managed to contain her manic energy, but their cha cha was a definite improvement on last week and contained a nice range of steps, most of which were very well executed. She’s also one of the few celebs to look equally confident and steady out of hold. If she can tidy up her technique and maintain her organic musicality and nice connection with Pasha, she has a real shot at challenging Jason.

Song: “Beggin” from Jersey Boys


Judges’ comments: Craig loved her timing, energy and spirit but thought it was “too disco”. (Whereas Jason’s tango was…?) Len wants more attention to detail but praised her for being one of the few to “give it some wellie”. Bruno thought she had all the cha cha elements: “cheeky, saucy, playful and rhythmical”.

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 8, 8 – 30 (Rather harsh from Craig, given his earlier scores?)


Overall: Another assured performance.

Harry and Aliona – Burning up the quarter mile


harrysimply_so_soLike most boys, Harry always dreamed of being T-Bird. And you know what? On “Strictly”, dreams CAN come true! Aliona fully embraced their source material (Grease car: tick. Grease costumes: tick. Grease choreography: tick), but made an executive decision that jives can just be so, like, JIVEY. Way better to have swing, a few kicks and flicks, Grease Lightning moves and a strategically topless Harry flopping around on the floor like a dying fish. Tragically, none of the judges saw the lack of jive as any kind of impediment to high scores. For, you know, his JIVE.

Song: “Grease Lightning” from Grease


Judges’ comments: Len wanted less messing about, but called it Harry’s best dance. Bruno, I fear, was in a topless Harry daze: “You greased-up, leather-clad, rippling muscles, action-packed expression of youth… I almost hate you!” Craig drawled: “Be careful of Bruno in the bar.” He thought Harry had finally arrived.


Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 8 – 33

Overall: Well, he can definitely do Grease next year.


Jason and Kristina – 36

Harry and Aliona ­– 33

Alex and James – 32

Rory and Erin – 31

Holly and Artem – 30

Chelsee and Pasha – 30

Robbie and Ola – 30

Russell and Flavia – 28

Anita and Robin – 27

Lulu and Brendan – 26

Dan and Katya – 24

Audley and Natalie – 24

Nancy and Anton – 20

Harry moves up, good week for Alex and Rory, Anita takes a tumble, Lulu improves and Nancy, unsurprisingly, finishes last. Meanwhile, Jason’s reign continues.



We opened with a West Side Story tribute from our pros – again, light on the ballroom, but nicely executed.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Depressed. Oh my god, so depressed. Cream sofa-esque one-shouldered studded number that managed to be both frumpy and fetish.

footlooseClaudia (yay, Claudia!) again went with a gloomy palette and didn’t fare much better in a peculiar cloak and heavy eyeliner. Has our Claud gone goth?

After a lengthy recap, the first safe couples were: Audley and Natalie, Alex and James, Rory and Erin, Holly and Artem, Anita and Robin, and Robbie and Ola. In the bottom two: Dan and Katya.

Well, nothing says Broadway like the stars of the Footloose movie! Oh wait. “Dancing with the Stars” (“Strictly”’s American cousin) alum Julianne Hough and Kenny Wormald treated us to a beautiful contemporary routine, danced to the Ella Mae Brown version of “Holding Out For A Hero”, before the main event: a boogie-tastic group number to, of course, “Footloose”. You can read my review of the remake in the November issue of Dance Today.

Claudia, the judges and “Len’s lens” dissected the show:

  • Len defended his pro-illegal-lift position: “Everyone loves an omelette”
  • Alex swept Alesha away
  • Bruno called Craig “bitter for the sake of it” for criticising Nancy. The slow mo took Craig’s side
  • Bruno re: Jason: “He went from mucho macho to mucho campo”. Len fanned himself contentedly with his 9 paddle (mucho campo, yes?)

Russell is our leader! An amusing but random VT showed the other celebs following in his camp footsteps, jazz hands at the ready. Again, “It Takes Two” fare…?

The rest of the safe couples: Lulu and Brendan, Harry and Aliona, Jason and Kristina, Russell and Flavia and… Chelsee and Pasha. Phew. Landing in the bottom two: Nancy and Anton. Bruno thinks Nancy has potential. Potential to destroy us all in a fiery ball of wrongness. Or something to that effect.

dan-leavingMaking the journey from ITV, “worldwide singing sensation” Susan Boyle dropped in to sing “Unchained Melody” very, very slowly, and Vincent and Flavia provided the ballroom highlight of the weekend with a gorgeous lyrical rumba. What with all the props and general campery, I’d almost forgotten how classy this pair could be.

Sidenote: Do the two shows have a producer in common? The “Strictly” results night was a carbon copy of last week’s “Dancing with the Stars”, which also featured the two Footloose numbers and Susan Boyle.

Who kicks a man when he’s down? Katya, of course. “If you come back next week, will you listen to me more?” Anton looked genuinely delighted by the prospect of going out. Unfortunately, the ballroom gods aren’t always fair and the couple going home were… nice guy Dan and Klaxon Katya.

What do you think? Were you shocked by Dan’s elimination? Did Nancy deserve a reprieve? Who was your Broadway star?

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. 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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