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Strictly speaking

Posted on November 14, 2011



Week 7

Week 7 of “Strictly” and I’ve finally figured it out: Tess’s salary works on a pound-per-pun basis – hence the damp-squib (ha!) firework puns for last week’s EXPLOSIVE show and football puns KICKING OFF this week’s. Either that or she writes cracker jokes on the side.

Also in the headlines (or, you know, in my bullet points):

  • Bruce’s singing wasn’t just random torture – he’s promoting an album! (*Finds Christmas list. Crosses out ‘pony’*). This promises to be the musical equivalent of a scarecrow, so if you have any friends or relatives who linger too long after festive meals, you know what to do…
  • Uncle Len is back, and due to the confusing time difference, his sanity and sense of humour are both hitting snooze in LA. Still, at least no one puts him in a corner (of the globe)! And his Jekyll/Hyde approach to technique had me on the edge of my seat: “Where were the heel leads, YOU DANCE-MURDERER?! I will shame you in the supermarket!! (pause) Oh dear, did Unky Len scare you, widdle one? Don’t worry, you showed up, came up, didn’t throw up – come here and gimme a kiss”
  • Alesha discovered where the producers were hiding her 10 paddle. And her Christmas presents. Under the bed – amateurs!
  • Have there been complaints from asthmatic viewers? Far fewer feather-swathed dancers this week
  • Nancy’s back! You can’t keep “the most important Italian woman in advocacy slash showbusiness slash am v busy and important in international law” away. And her spirit lived on, with her patented knicker-flashing move borrowed by both Holly and Anita
  • “Sways both ways” is now a Thing. It has to be. Help me make it a Thing, gentle readers. Thank you
  • Finally, please exercise your democratic rights and sign this Twitter petition if you want to see an end to the “funny” staged VTs. Just remember that one with Robbie dressed as a schoolboy. And Fully Monty Robin. And Jason the gigolo. THINK OF THE CHILDREN!


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

For some reason I’m really craving Quality Streets. And petrol station imitation Christmas trees. Depressed, natch, but hey – ’tis the season and all that. Stick Tess on the mantle and get the chestnuts roasting!

Alex and James – Dolly mix

alexsimply_so_soBREAKING NEWS: the jive is fast. (Coming up later: the Pope is Catholic.) Apparently this called for a “Let’s Get Physical” spoof, which just proved that James is no Sue Sylvester. Alex dug out her old cheerleader uniform, possibly in an attempt to spice up their partnership, and the pair committed two cardinal sins: ludicrously literal lyrics interpretation (rag doll = rag doll) AND invoking the evil spirit of Dollgate. Have we learned nothing from that shameful incident in our history? Alex’s doll was styled by the “Strictly” team (Jedward hair, Russell amounts of make-up) and had roughly the same level of jive technique as her, although it probably didn’t help that she was wearing trainers and forced to spend the first half of the routine in lindy hop playgroup.

Song: “River Deep, Mountain High”, Tina Turner 

Judges’ comments: Len wasn’t a fan of the doll but thought Alex blossomed and “busted out all over the place”. (I guess the cheerleader uniform did its job.) He noted the kicks could have been sharper and she missed an underarm pass, but it was full of verve and gusto. Bruno agreed, adding suggestively that he had sooooo much fun with her. (I guess the cheerleader uniform REALLY did its job.) Craig thought the doll resembled James – a cheap jibe, but enjoyable nonetheless. He praised Alex’s confidence but wanted more accuracy and precision.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Overall: A fun opening.

Robbie and Ola – Sways both ways

robbiesimply_so_soRobbie is baffled that the judges didn’t see the emotion in his dance last week. Honestly, this guy gives Meryl a run for her money! As if the “Physical” VT wasn’t scarring enough, we were subjected to fairy godmother Ola visiting schoolboy Robbie in a football field of dreams sequence. (Someone in the production team must be in therapy. Or should be in therapy. Or needs to switch meds.) Their number opened with Ola (who came as a Dulux bathroom – mint green and bronzed satsuma) vamping like mad while Robbie sat down and clicked out of time. The lifts improved matters, but turning doesn’t seem to be Robbie’s strong point. Good thing Ola put so much in, then! Oh wait.

Song: “Sway”, Pussycat Dolls version 

Judges’ comments: Alesha noted, once again, that he’s more of a ballroom boy and is “moving in the right direction”. (Up? Forward? Southwest?) Bruno thought he was a “smooth operator”, if “a bit rough still, but that goes with the territory” (Savage – get it?). He also liked that Robbie can “sway both ways”…of course, referring simply to the fact that he can do both ballroom and Latin. Ahem. Craig wanted better arm and hand placement (spatulistic!). Len wondered why he was “on the naughty step”, but thinks he’s getting better and better.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Overall: If you put this dance up to your ear, you can hear it scream “Oscar!” Yes – that’s the level of emotion the Savage puts across.

Audley and Natalie – Don’t worry, be happy

audleystruggles_sparkleAudley remains the recession-proof contestant – no matter what happens, he keeps smiling and giving impromptu motivational speeches. That’s because he’s a survivor! Too subtle? Here’s a clip of him singing “Survivor”. (Sidenote: Are there plans for “Strictly: The Musical”? If not, I’m adding it to my pitch list.) Warbling aside, this was the first actual “Here they are in training” no-frills VT of the night, and for that they should win some kind of award. Costumes with no frills, perhaps. Too late – Nat was saddled with the dress equivalent of cowboy fringed chaps. Audley moved and grooved and had a merry time, but his dancing does remind me of a mime trapped in a box.

Song: “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)”, Stevie Wonder 

Judges’ comments: Bruno really LIKES Audley, but he has no precision, no impact and National Rail has better timing. But he LIKES him! Similarly, Craig doesn’t MEAN to be awful, but Audley was leaden, heavy, laboured and awkward. (Out of curiosity, what’s Craig like when he does mean to be awful?) Len thinks the only way Audley will get to Wembley is on the Jubilee line. Whatever, Len – check TfL, it’s probably closed for Olympic “upgrades”!

Judges’ scores: 3, 6, 6, 5 – 20

Overall: Jolly as always, but not really progressing.

Harry and Aliona – Filthy/gorgeous

harrystrictly_sensationalAre McFly a “buy one, get one free” kind of deal? Yet another visit from the loveable scamps, this time helping Harry’s Argentine tango by dressing as comedy gauchos. I know, right? HILARIOUS! They really get a party started, those McFlies. I fear the real answer is that Harry doesn’t have enough personality for one whole contestant – while he executed Kele Baker’s superb routine cleanly and strongly, he and Aliona still don’t have a proper connection, nor does he convince as anything other than an amiable tween-friendly pop star. How the tabloids created a story around this dance leading to ANGER from his JEALOUS GIRLFRIEND I really can’t imagine. Try Russell and Flavia, guys. I bet there’s something going on there…

Song: “Asi Se Baila El Tango”, Bailonga feat Vero Verdier (which Katya and the delicious Antonio Banderas tangoed to in Take The Lead)

Judges’ comments: Craig thought Harry had authority and command, adding: “It was filth and I loved it”. (Even without virgin chasing!) Len thought it was a “very, very clever routine” but missed the passion and intensity in their performance – it didn’t transport him to his usual club in Buenos Aires. He then demonstrated said passion by calling Craig a “silly little sod”. Alesha went into raptures over Harry’s strong body. Bruno called it “moodier than a thunderstorm in the Pampas” (I initially misheard this as Pampers – anyone else?), and added that he’d never been “stronger” or “more attractive”. Sorry, Robbie – Bruno is a fickle creature.

Judges’ scores: 9, 8, 10, 10 – 37

Overall: Their best dance by far, but the partnership is still lacking.

Jason and Kristina – Spin doctor

jasonstrictly_sensationalYes, the rumba didn’t go well, but Jason’s an Aussie – he fights back! And when I say fight, I mean crawl through the studio window and adopt peculiar voices. This week’s weird, time-wasting activity involved spinning around in a gyro, and you know what that means – a strained rendition of “Spinning Around” (Act II time-filler in “Strictly: The Musical”) and a message from the petite pop princess herself. Of course, she’s actually declared her support for Russell on Twitter, but still – Jason will take what he can get. If we feel like voting for Kylie’s ex, so be it! I’m guessing the wardrobe department accidentally ordered way too much bridal fabric (online shopping can be challenging), but Kristina made the most of her thousand petticoats and hankie wrist adornments. Jason had a good lead and a generally decent frame, though his lines are still erratic.

Song: “Iris”, Goo Goo Dolls 

Judges’ comments: Len praised his footwork, lyrical movement and fleckerl attempt. Bruno loved the drive and thought he was “back in the zone”, delivering Kristina’s intricate choreography and finding meaning in every movement. Craig teased that this was nearly a 10, let down by Jason’s flat hands and inconsistent arms.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35 (So by “nearly a 10”, Craig meant 8.)

Overall: Another strong performance.

We interrupt this programme for a VT of our celebs doing yet more “hilarious” skits while Bruce entertains the Wembley crowd back in 1874. Surely he was WAY more amusing then, back in his glory days of comedic genius? Our survey says: uh-uh.

Chelsee and Pasha – By George, she’s got it!

chelseestrictly_sensationalChelsee (who, let’s not forget, is still in school) has realised that putting in a lot of work can lead to a good result. (Coming up later: lying in bed at night may lead to sleep.) However, the sophistication of the foxtrot was eluding her, so in the second, more overt My Fair Lady VT of the series, she was dressed as Eliza and taken to afternoon tea. The fact that our Russian-born American import was the one teaching her English diction in no way detracted from this very important life lesson. Loved the gentle, lyrical opening to their dance, during which Chelsee made the most of Kristina’s spare 500 petticoats and hankies in her brave solo section, and this was definitely the most precise and mature we’ve seen her. Great job by Pasha.

Song: “Doesn’t Mean Anything”, Alicia Keys 

Judges’ comments: Alesha praised her elegance and control – Chelsee’s equally strong in Latin and ballroom (she sways both ways!), making her “the one to beat”. Bruno purred at “My fair Chelsee”, whose arms were “like the soft wings of a dove” (Act I ballad in “Strictly: The Musical”). Craig noted she was hopping on her last turn, but she’s starting to tick all of his AND Len’s boxes – which, let’s face it, is a Herculean feat. However, Uncle Len would like her to work on her footwork.

Judges’ scores: 9, 8, 10, 9 – 36

Overall: Gorgeous. Next week: samba at Ascot. “Move yer bloomin.. ”

Anita and Robin – It takes shoes to tango

anitastrictly_sensationalIs Anita’s line of 1980s bohemian drama teacher practicewear available on the “Strictly” Shopping Channel yet? I’m seriously coveting those headscarves! But no smiles allowed this week in the serious tango – cue cringe-worthy VT of the pair in the interrogation room, Robin attempting to elicit a chuckle by means of a feather duster, striptease and Queen. I don’t know about you, but I was closer to tears. After the…err…rather Basic Instinct opening, Anita committed fully to her smouldering tango alter ego, and her beautiful chemistry with Robin paid off as they wrung much more emotion from the dance than Harry and Aliona, plus a soupçon of shoe fetish. Bonus! As ever, she wasn’t clean enough in her execution, but I love how this pair sells a performance.

Song: “Tango”, Cirque du Soleil 

Judges’ comments: Bruno rapturously called her “sexy mama, queen of drama – you can tango!” Craig thought she could have responded more to Robin’s lead, but loved her spinning and said the routine was absolutely fantastic. Len, happily settled in his Buenos Aires club, drink in hand, thought it smouldered and liked all the “little touches”. Alesha said it drew her into the story, but wants Anita to shape her body more.

Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 8, 9 – 33

Overall: It’s a post-watershed Russell and Bromley ad waiting to happen.

Holly and Artem and Brendan – Ménage à trois

holly2simply_so_soI do love how Holly maintains her air of Dude-like serenity even in the most trying situation. No, not Artem’s injury – the whole OMG-this-actually-happened Knight Brendan riding up on a white horse thing. A literal white horse. Production team…meds…border between fantasy and reality… Anyhow, back on earth, Holly had not one, but two hunky male pros teaching her the dance of luuuuuurve. I was hoping for some alpha male conflict, but sadly everyone seemed to be getting on well. Boo! Kudos to Holly for showing great professionalism in adapting to a changed routine last week and changed partner this week, and in making that glitterball-and-bubblegum dress look almost sexy. Brendan’s tendency to over-express in rumba made up for some of Holly’s lack of expression, although I’m not sure why there was so much sitting down. Sympathy pain?

Song: “Leave Right Now”, Will Young (Award for Most Ironic Music Choice of the night.) 

Judges’ comments: Craig: “I thought we got rid of you, Brendan, but I’m quite pleased you’re back – I’m loving this new partnership.” Ouch. Showbusiness is cruel, Artem. Cruel as a cossack’s vodka frostbite in the Dostoyevskian depths of a Russian winter. Len said the dance was “nice and precise”, but there wasn’t enough emotion and Holly looked down too much. Bruno thought she moved beautifully and “has sex within her”, but wants to see it come out more. (Say things in your head first, Bruno.) I agree with their assessment that Holly has great potential, but how much longer do we have to wait…and will the public remain patient?

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34

Overall: A decent job under difficult circumstances.

Russell and Flavia – Golden boy

russellstrictly_sensationalHow do you improve on a whirling clifftop dream sequence? Duh – with multiple adorable Russells prancing in the woods, singing “I Am What I Am” at the top of their little voices. (Act III showstopper of “Strictly: The Musical”.) And how do you top dry humping a bull or bursting out of a giant shell? Ah, have faith:  Russell and Flavia never disappoint. This number was sheer, unadulterated pleasure: EVEN MORE eye make-up for Russell (kids: don’t try this at home); Flavia piling up elderly geese on her petticoats; Russell’s sparkly shoes; Russell’s sparkly waistcoat; more steel-abs-drum playing; Russell practically screaming the lyrics with every part of his body; again, some actual ballroom, decently executed; and – of course – THAT finale: the costume change and the triumphant emergence of Russell, Mayor of Quality Street, the golden egg laid by Flavia’s geese. Yes, Russell in drag might have been even more glorious, but this was still the ultimate finale.

Song: “I Am What I Am” from La Cage Aux Folles

Judges’ comments: Len: “I am what I am, you are what you are and that was what that was.” And what’s Russell? A “giant Ferrero Rocher”. Alesha called it a dance of two halves (a presumably unintentional Wembley pun – that’s a pound less for Tess): the first half had a good mix of steps; the second half was like a snapshot of Russell’s imagination. Which is where we’d all be living if we could. Bruno: “You couldn’t wait to get out of that closet – you exploded out of it like a star turn in La Cage Aux Folles!” (In which he will soon be starring, yes?) Craig: “Immortal, darling.”

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26

Overall: Encore!


Harry and Aliona – 37

Chelsee and Pasha – 36

Jason and Kristina – 35

Holly and Brendan – 34

Anita and Robin – 33

Alex and James – 31

Robbie and Ola – 31

Russell and Flavia – 26

Audley and Natalie – 20

Harry tangos to the top and Jason’s back on form, giving us the usual suspects in the top four, while poor Audley sinks to the bottom.

“Strictly” legends

As promised, I’ve been compiling a list of my all-time “Strictly” legends. Whether good, bad or downright Crazytown, these 20 pairings have, in my opinion, defined the show, and with Russell cementing his place in this illustrious company, now seems like the perfect time to unveil it. So, without further ado, here they are!


Ah, how gender appropriate. The gals bring the bows and cuteness, the men do the rugged jumping. A fun jitterbug number to kick off the show, and Katya and Pasha are becoming a winning pairing among the pros.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Close call. Nicely cut white dress and amazing sparkly stilettos, but unfortunate duvet-cover-esque swirly pattern on the dress and a messy side ponytail.

The interminable recap. Breaking news: Aliona disagreed with Len’s criticism. Brendan, with an unfortunate lack of diplomacy, called his dance with Holly his favourite night on “Strictly”. Did Lulu SHOUT at the screen? (Pound-per-pun, please.)

Safe couples: Robbie and Ola (surprising), Chelsee and Pasha, Jason and Kristina, and Holly and Brendan and Artem. In the bottom two: Audley and Natalie. Alesha attempted to express surprise and sorrow at this outcome. Gems from Claudia’s interviews:

  • Robbie has cracked Craig (really?)
  • Chelsee still doesn’t believe she can dance, which would be irritating if she wasn’t so cute. It may yet grow irritating
  • Jason and Holly are apparently from Australia. Who knew? Also, Jason thinks they play football at Wembley Arena

sunday1The lovely Christina Perri (pictured left, who shot to fame when “Jar of Hearts” was used on the US “So You Think You Can Dance” flouted health and safety rules by piling candles on her piano. I had a crossed-wires Elton “Candle in the Wind” moment. Kristina (no shoes!) and Robin (no shirt buttons!) gave us a beautiful contemporary rumba. As much as I love some of this series’ camp madness, it was a pleasant change of pace to see a more emotional piece.

What you need to know from Claudia, the judges and Lens’ lens:

  • Alesha came as a snowdrop
  • Audley “woo-ed!” through his dance – yes, they all want to be in “Strictly: The Musical”
  • Jason Done-a-bun (huh?) and his almost-fleckerl made Len happy
  • Claudia’s attempt to wring praise from Craig for Alex’s jive backfired spectacularly
  • Bruno, post-tangoing-Anita: extravagant slow-mo fanning and a visible “OOOH!”
  • “Little Winkle person” made another doomed attempt at praise-wringing, this time grumpy Len for McHarry, leading to the revelation that Len likes a Brussell (sprout) while Alesha likes a carrot. This may not be a recurring item
  • And finally…the Grant bounded forth like a young gazelle – “a golden glitterball spinning around!” cried Bruno, enraptured

audley_leavingFinal safe couples: Harry and Aliona, Russell and Flavia (victory lap from the Grant), and Alex and James. Ooh! In the bottom two: Anita and Robin. Bruno was “shocked and appalled”. Quite right.

In a pleasing, old-school “Strictly” pairing, Vincent and Flavia waltzed at Silence in the Square in a Remembrance VT, then Anton and Sparkly Erin American smoothed to Andrew Rieu and an orchestra of women in giant ballgowns. See? No naked gyrating and we’re all still watching. You have nothing to prove, “Strictly”.

Anita was understandably distressed to land in the bottom two after getting a great tango score, but the viewers delivered the KNOCKOUT BLOW to fourth-timer Audley. He reminded he us he was 100-1 at the beginning, so at least some gamblers had the chance to make some money on him. And isn’t that what “Strictly”’s all about? (Disclaimer: I don’t think that’s what “Strictly”’s all about.)

Did Anita deserve to drop into the bottom two? What can she do to improve? (My suggestion: redder shoes.) Who’s next for the chop, and who – in addition to the Grant – will wow Wembley? Do share your thoughts below. You can also contact me on Twitter – @mkmswain

See you next week for THE BIGGEST SHOW EVER. 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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