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Strictly speaking

Posted on October 25, 2011


Week 4

After befuddling Broadway, it was back to ballroom basics for Week 4 of “Strictly”  – except the training VTs, which get more David Lynch each week.

In other news (and in the absence of coherent judging), from now on I will deduct sequinometer points for the following infractions:

  • Stairography Yes, this is now a word
  • Repeated songs This week’s offenders: Harry and Aliona (John Sergeant’s waltz), Chelsee and Pasha (Denise Lewis’s quickstep), Russell and Flavia (Louisa Lytton’s tango)
  • Unimaginative use of prop Sitting on bench, miming trumpet playing, going to bed without a comedy teddy bear…
  • And, last but not least, more than ten per cent of dance suspiciously resembling a completely different style.

Oh and on a happier note…Len’s replacement on November 5 is Jennifer Grey – no one puts her in a corner! Prepare the “Dirty Dancing” bingo pad.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Depressed. “Buffy” fans – is it just me or did Tess raid Willow’s wardrobe during her Season 4 budding wicca/lesbian phase? I know, right? For those not versed in Slayerdom, the skin-tight purple eyesore was of course the love child of a hippie throw and a condom.


Jason and Kristina – Poor, poor Jason, what’cha gonna do?

jasonsimply_so_soJason does an admirable job of pretending not to care about getting good scores and being on top. He’s totally going to take this week’s setback in his stride. IT’S ALL ABOUT THE LOVE OF THE DANCE! That and wearing a 1970s pornstar moustache to the supermarket. The golden couple’s paso had a lot to live up to (we were all thinking Sergeant, weren’t we?) and unfortunately fell short, though you can’t fault Jason for his demented level of commitment.

Song: “I Want It All”, Queen 

Judges’ comments: Len praised his firm buttocks (really), but thought he lacked technique. Bruno said he tried to make a big meal out of it and got indigestion. Craig suggested keeping his shoulders down and following through on the lines, but said the intention was there.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Overall: The favourite falters.


Alex and James – Playing it safe

alexsimply_so_soHow to get Alex into the sexy spirit of the rumba? Call on the official prop of Season 9: the feather boa! But not even the power of The Grant could coax Alex out of her shell, nor the lacy tights-cum-Ola catsuit. She maintained her usual pleasant lyrical flow, but looked awkward throughout, particularly in the endless, unoriginal floorwork (Torvill and Dean called – they want their choreo back).

Song: “Run”, Leona Lewis 

Judges’ comments: Alesha said she played it too safe. Bruno thought she looked “sinfully sexy”, but her performance was too demure and hesitant. Craig called it “sexless, cold and stiff” and lacking in hip action. James countered by saying “Let the public decide”, which made NO sense. They do decide – they have 50 per cent. The judges have the other 50 per cent. What can be gained by yelling at the people who are about to award you scores? Len coolly reminded James that the panel have spent years watching, teaching and judging, hence it’s worth listening to them. (Not true in Alesha’s case, but still!) He also criticised the endless kneeling and asked for more content. The ball’s in your court, Jordan…

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 7, 7 – 25

Overall: Nice. That’s all.


Rory and Erin – Cha cha choalition

rorysimply_so_soRory’s response to Erin trying to get him into red-hot Latin mode? “You’re going against the habits of a lifetime.” Yes, he’s not exactly a natural dance lothario, but his ability to laugh at himself and coin the excellent term “pre-emptive cringe” was wonderfully endearing, as was his decision to follow in Russell’s footsteps by taking the Barbra approach (could Rambo cha cha like this? I think not!).

Song: “Dance To The Music”, Sly & the Family 

Judges’ comments: Bruno compared him with a “cocky rooster” and enjoyed the comedy, but wanted him to take steps on the ball of his foot and stay in time. Craig called it gauche, gawky and flat-footed. Len tried political satire: “It’s like the government – a lot going on, not all of it’s good.” He wasn’t wild about the gyrating, but enjoyed it otherwise.

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 6, 7 – 24

Overall: Well, it made me smile.


Audley and Natalie – Ballet boy

audleysimply_so_soYoga. Ballet. Breakdancing. Is there nothing Audley won’t do in his quest for ballroom perfection? Our “can do” celeb’s hard work paid off in his foxtrot, which was far more controlled and graceful than I was expecting. He also has a lovely gentle lead and a genuine connection with Natalie. Because I like them, I’m trying hard to ignore the cheesy use of flower-covered bench and Nat’s flamingo-carcass dress.

Song: “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”, Dusty Springfield 

Judges’ comments: Craig praised his improvement, but wants more swing and sway. Len noted it’s hard to judge the celebs when they’re doing so many different styles (indeed!) and Audley coped brilliantly with the hardest ballroom dance. Bruno spotted a strained grin and a few errors, but thought he did well.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 6, 6 – 25

Overall: Another solid performance.


Nancy and Anton – Lift city

nancystruggles_sparkleNancy’s sky-high self-delusion, exhibit A: she thought she performed brilliantly last week and was universally admired. Nancy’s sky-high self-delusion, exhibit B: she thought Anton’s field trip (on a BBC budget) was to Madrid. Ah, Nancy. He’s SO throwing you a carnival for samba! The field trip involved an actual field and a bull, which gave their VT a delightful “I’m A Celebrity…” feel – can we vote for Nancy to stay in the pen? Oh yes, and there was some dancing – the usual drunken-looking lurching, illegal lifts and mix of high camp and 3am party girl (knicker flashing, “sultry” squint, eye make-up visible from space).

Song: “Rodrigo’s Guitar Concerto”, Joaquín Rodrigo

Judges’ comments: “She’s not much good on her feet, better on her head,” observed Len in response to the lifts. Alesha is still intrigued by the “rag doll”. Bruno howled: “You’re fabulous with your legs in the air, especially when you’re wrapped around him like cling film!” He noted she was visibly counting but still went off time, which is seriously impressive. Craig thought it was a paso set in Oklahoma, given the “skipping and hoedowning”, but believes there may be talent under the surface. How far down, Craig? We only have till Christmas.

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 5 – 18

Overall: Sigh.


Lulu and Brendan – It’s my party and I’ll go upstairs if I want to

lulusimply_so_soAh, Brendan kind of jinxed it. The pro (unrepentant after last week’s liftgate) marvelled at how quickly Lulu picked up the difficult samba – this is her dance! It’ll break the curse! (He’s gone out on samba with Sarah Manners, Claire King, Kelly Brook and Jo Wood.) Lulu definitely had a good feel for the party vibe, but her steps and technique were, as always, somewhat hazy. They were also one of several couples to feature a pointless, time-wasting jog up the stairs – odd if Brendan was really confident in it being Lulu’s dance.

Song: “Sir Duke”, Stevie Wonder 

Judges’ comments: Bruno enjoyed her bubbly performance, but was anguished that she made yet more mistakes. “Stop it, Lulu just stop it!!” Craig wanted more content and less stair climbing, but praised her bounce action and feel for the dance. Len thought it was repetitious and shouted down a heckling James with “Turn up, keep up and shut up!”

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 7, 7 – 25

Overall: Fun but flawed.


Holly and Artem – First past the lamppost

hollysimply_so_soHas Artem been taking advice from his Pygmalion star girlfriend? This week, he subjected Holly to etiquette lessons in order to improve her grace and elegance. Unfortunately, Holly didn’t have giant lampposts in etiquette class, which might explain her hesitancy in their Viennese obstacle course performance. Interesting concept from Artem that became irritating rather quickly. Also, I’ve always found it hard to portray elegance while wearing day-glo pink and yellow. But that’s just me.

Song: “Cry Me Out”, Pixie Lott 

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the romanticism of it but wants Holly to focus and “give it even more”. Craig found it bumpy and pointed out an error, but loved the storytelling. Len got fed up with the poles (cue uncomfortable racist joke) and wanted more heel leads.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30

Overall: Still great potential, but not quite delivering.

Chelsee and Pasha – Flying high

chelseestrictly_sensationalHas anyone seen “Waterloo Road”? It seems to involve a school and Chelsee wearing the world’s ugliest wedding dress. Pasha gained a newfound respect for her workload after visiting her on set, while Chelsee experimented with accessorising (this week: unflattering hat with giant bow). Their airline-themed quickstep rescued what was fast becoming the most lacklustre show of the series – kudos to Pasha for the combination of great theme and jam-packed ballroom routine. Chelsee’s air hostess look may have been more “Mile High” than “Pan Am”, but her lack of fringe and frizzy hair made a nice change. (I admit to a moment of added excitement at the end when she started to wrench Pasha’s clothes off, but alas she was just reaching for his ticket.)

Song: “Sing, Sing, Sing, Sing”, Louis Prima 

Judges’ comments: Craig: “Two words: first class.” Len: “Pasha, you checked in; Chelsee, you’re not going to be checking out.” Alesha praised their chemistry and her only criticism was that it ended too soon. Bruno: “Chelsee the pocket rocket is off!”

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36

Overall: My favourite of the series so far.


Harry and Aliona – Whispergate

harrystrictly_sensationalHarry struggled with the old-fashioned waltz (because he’s like so young and cool and in this totally awesome band), so cue hilarious black-and-white guide! This was a fun segment, but maybe more of an “It Takes Two” gag? I miss having a decent chunk of training footage in the VTs. (“Back in my day…”) Their waltz was lyrical and beautifully played, with Harry showing glimpses of true talent, but Aliona’s routine was frustratingly light on the waltz, breaking hold frequently and taking time out for a bout of whispering on the stairs.

Song: “Come Away With Me”, Norah Jones 

Judges’ comments: Len was distraught – he thought the first half was fantastic, with “more rise and fall than Jordan jogging”, but then they had to wander up the stairs. Alesha confusingly said she wouldn’t penalise Harry because he has to dance the choreography he’s given. (Yes, but you’re scoring the couple’s performance, surely? How can you mark Harry purely on his dance ability, not what he actually dances? Is that how you marked his jive last week?) Bruno purred: “You can whisper in my ear any time!” He loved the phrasing, but wants Harry to work on his lines. Craig started a screaming match with Len and Alesha over the stairography. Bruno, meanwhile, invited Harry to “practise the shadow steps together”.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 10, 9 – 35 (Should the first 10 of the series go to such a controversial performance? Leave your thoughts below!)

Overall: Top marks for Harry. Aliona…I give up.


Anita and Robin – Poster girl for smooth

anitasimply_so_soAnita, this series’ cheerleader, had a wonderful time doing the “Hairspray” jive and adores the Hollywood glamour of the American smooth. Shockingly, she and Robin dressed like adults this week (I know!), though Anita’s blue dress was paired with an unfortunate ruffled cream shrug. Another fun idea, with Anita stepping out of a movie poster to dance with suave man-about-town Robin. Great heel turns and daring lifts, but some awkwardness and skippiness in the actual foxtrot.

Song: “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”, Frank Sinatra 

Judges’ comments: Alesha thought the dance suited her brilliantly and loved the lifts, but she needs to straighten her legs. Bruno renamed her “Anita Hayworth”. Craig noted some mishaps and a lack of body contact, but loved the sophistication – “You’re a consummate pro.” Len praised the heel turns and elegance.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32

Overall: Beautiful in the ballroom dances.


Robbie and Ola – Because you’re worth it

robbiesimply_so_soThere was a VT involving performing in front of football fans. Meh. Ola reclaimed her fringe crown from Chelsee by draping tinsel strategically over herself (and glittery discs that dislodged when Robbie spanked her – all rather Dita Von Teese). Robbie’s performance was about as jivey as Harry’s jive last week (yes, that is now the benchmark for lack of jive), but boy did he sell it! He reminded me, not unpleasantly, of Link from Shall We Dance?

Song: “Love Man”, Otis Redding (anyone else go to Dirty Dancing?)

Judges’ comments: Bruno hasn’t seen someone work their golden locks like that “since Jerry Hall”. Technically not perfect, “but god I had a good time!” Craig called it “stompy, ploddy and sloppy” but adored the characterisation. “We’re love men!” roared Len. “You loved it, the people loved it, I loved it!”

Judges’ scores: 5, 8, 7, 7 – 27 (8, Len???)

Overall: Mad, bad and dangerous to know (if you leave your hair products unattended).

Russell and Flavia – Because they’re tired little teddy bears

russellstrictly_sensationalI think you had to be at least two glasses in to fully appreciate this segment. AT LEAST. The dream sequence. Frolicking in a meadow, on a cliff. Flavia still wearing her banana dress. “I’m on top of the world!” I mean…wow. Russell was back to his gloriously nutty best – who else provides teddy bear cuddling, Joan Crawford facial expressions, Carry On gasps and guyliner IN ONE PERFORMANCE? Oh and also does some tango – not brilliantly, but there was definitely content (well done, Flavia). I can’t wait to see him in panto.

Song: “Sweet Dreams”, Eurythmics 

Judges’ comments: “It’s good you’re giving machismo a go, darling,” drawled Craig. He wasn’t sure about the shoulder shrugs, but admitted it was entertaining. Len complained Russell’s head was like Churchill’s (“Ohhhhh, yes!”) and it was too whimsical and airy-fairy–- as though this was a new development. Alesha said he was too nice to tango, but he’s already a “Strictly” legend. Bruno said it went from Sleeping Beauty to night terrors – “the horror, the fear!” Russell was delighted that he “got it”.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 7 – 24

Overall: He never disappoints.


Chelsee and Pasha – 36

Harry and Aliona – 35

Anita and Robin – 32

Holly and Artem – 30

Jason and Kristina – 27

Robbie and Ola – 27

Alex and James – 25

Audley and Natalie – 25

Lulu and Brendan – 25

Rory and Erin – 24

Russell and Flavia – 24

Nancy and Anton – 18

Interesting pack in the middle – makes for a slightly more nerve-racking results show. Big tumble for Jason and a few shift depending on whether they get ballroom or Latin (Anita: up; Alex and Rory: down). Was Robbie overmarked? Bear in mind Len gave him an 8, just one point less than he gave Jill Halfpenny for her jive. Falling standards?



Can you make see-through sparkly tops look macho? That was the challenge for Artem, Pasha, Robin and James. Similarly, can you make luminous yellow and pink dresses sexy? Well, Katya, Ola, Kristina and Aliona had a good go. Oh, and they were shakin’ it to Pitbull’s “I Know You Want Me”. For a more wet and wild interpretation, check out this “So You Think You Can Dance” group number.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Depressed. Argh, another body stocking! This time, black fragments on nude with polka dots. And a Croydon facelift. Has she had a row with her stylist or is this some kind of “Comic Relief” stunt?

caroSafe couples: Chelsee and Pasha, Audley and Natalie, Anita and Robin, Harry and Aliona, and Lulu and Brendan (I swear he’s more tanned than he was on Saturday). In the bottom two: Rory and Erin. Shame.

Ooh, Claudia’s broken into the colour section of her wardrobe! Ah. She’s copied Lulu’s tomato-red dress. Yes, there should definitely be more of them.

The fabulous Caro Emerald (left), also in tomato red (I didn’t get the memo!), performed “That Man” and people actually played trumpets, which is so not the “Strictly” way. Pasha and Katya did a jive, Charleston and quickstep medley – it soon became apparent there really wasn’t space for quickstep, but Pasha in braces grinning his way through the Charleston completely made up for it.

What we learned from Claudia, the judges and Len’s lens:

  • Len had a go at the prop trumpet
  • Anita’s lift was just as impressive in slow mo, though she probably should have closed her legs
  • Robbie’s thrusting is frightening in HD
  • Slow mo Nancy mounted Anton with a menacing snarl
  • Russell. Oh, Russell. Have we ever had such an expressive celeb? Poetry in motion (limericks, perhaps)

Next week is the Halloween special. This necessitated a “funny” horror spoof VT. Moving on.

Final safe couples: Russell and Flavia, Holly and Artem, Robbie and Ola, Jason and Kristina, and Alex and James. (James deserved a scare after his tantrum, but poor Alex looked nauseous.) In the bottom two: Nancy and Anton. Craig admitted to taking sadomasochistic pleasure in Nancy’s awfulness. That explains her voting block.

rory-and-erinGone from the show, but not from our hearts – for the second week in a row, Vincenzo got to strut his stuff with Flavia, this time doing Argentine tango. Even Flavia was in tomato red, but that didn’t detract from their astonishingly intricate, coolly effortless performance. How much do we want to see Russell’s Argentine tango? Keep voting, people!

Rory gave a lovely pre-emptive farewell speech, praising Erin as “an ambassador for dance”. Bless! Nancy was disappointed, because she KNEW she could have danced better. Anton’s face twitched alarmingly. Nancy, AKA Morticia Addams, really doesn’t need to be here for Halloween Week, but the couple going home is…Rory and Erin. Nancy has officially become the Rasputin of Series 9. Poor self-deprecating Rory. This is a blow for Britishness.


Prepare for scares in the Halloween special next week! Can Nancy get any scarier? Will Russell go Rocky Horror or Young Frankenstein? What’s Robbie’s idea of horror – only two shampoos and generic-brand conditioner? Leave your predictions below. See you next week, and 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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