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Strictly speaking

Posted on November 28, 2011


Week 9

I can’t lie. I spent this week’s “Strictly” sadly swaying, waving my sparkly lighter, mourning the noticeable absence of our dear departed Russell and “Flav”. Well, not literally. That would make typing rather difficult. But definitely figuratively. Figuratively, I was a beacon of sadness in north-west London. A Saturday night Zone 2 lighthouse.

I wasn’t the only one in mourning. Given the number of mentions it got, you would have thought Wembley was some magical place where everyone’s dreams come true – Oz meets the Mirror of Erised in a sequinned universe far, far away. Seconds into the show and we already had three hits on the Wembleyometer: Ding! Wembley in the intro. Ding! 6,500 people. Ding! Wembley from Bruce and Tess. How could the poor BBC studio compete? On the upside, no one was forced to yell from the bottom of a pit via a crackly Skype connection.

In other news:

  • Rentapro now offers multiple coverage options judging by the number of eliminated pros hovering like vultures in Tess’s area. Be careful on those stairs, guys…
  • The dance lottery proved particularly divisive this week in terms of studio audience appreciation. How can you fail to win over the crowd with a Charleston or a quickstep? Trickier options: cha cha, foxtrot. Oh wait. Not just the studio audience, then…


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Oh dear. Depressed. Hot-pink Topshop reject boob tube, stretchy blue jersey skirt, hideous gold belt and hair curiously scooped onto her right ear – possibly to block out Bruce’s jokes?

Anita and Brendan (and Robin) – On the town

web_anitasimply_so_soDing! Wembley. Ding! 6,500 people. Poor Robin’s foot infection meant the reappearance of Sir Brendan (no horse this time thankfully, but we were subjected to a “hilarious” suit of armour). Clearly our Kiwi pro is determined to win this series one way or another. If I was Pasha, I’d be using a food taster. Despite Camilla’s royal 9, Anita looked rather shaky in her cha cha, selling the character but fudging the footwork. I enjoyed mechanic Brendan’s clean routine, but Robin’s zany camp might have done a better job of covering up Anita’s failings. Also in need of being covered up: Brendan’s singing attempts and Anita’s fake-tan-coloured dress with giant pink sash. Repeat after me: “I am not a six-year-old…”

Song: “Uptown Girl”, Billy Joel

Judges’ comments: Len thought Anita showed personality and did some nice solo work, but she didn’t straighten her legs and thus the hip action was limited. Alesha had the same issues as last week – messy in places and not quite “embodying the dance” – but she coped well with the partner change. Pun-tastic Bruno: “The uptown girl doesn’t mind a bit of a grease! And there’s still plenty of fuel in the tank.” He liked the amount of content and observed that Brendan goes with everything – “like Parmesan”. (Does this mean women are essentially pasta? If so, I’d like to be considered lobster ravioli.)

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 7, 8 – 30

Overall: Solid effort.

Holly and Artem – Sexy mamma

web_hollystrictly_sensationalArtem is back and so is his hat-at-a-jaunty-angle! (Does he have Phantom of the Opera-esque disfigurement on one side of his forehead? Or maybe a really big spot?) Ding! Wembley. Holly FINALLY noticed she’s had the same critique for eight weeks, so it might be time to act on it, but she has trouble “letting go”. Cue a painful re-enactment of her school disco, asking cool kid Artem to dance and getting rejected. (Sidenote: Artem looks hot in school uniform. Work this into a routine. Or a calendar.) Holly escaped the curse of the feather boa, producing her most dynamic performance so far. It was still sleepy in parts and lacked consistency, but hey – there were slinky moments! There was a semblance of character! There was channelling of Kristina channelling Jessica Rabbit! These are all good things. Perhaps Artem and his leather assassin gloves scared her into improving? Or perhaps – and I believe this in my heart – the spirit of the Grant was with her.

Song: “Mamma Knows Best”, Jessie J

Judges’ comments: Bruno: “You sassy teaser!” He compared her with Gypsy Rose Lee (Russell!) and commended her for being sexy in the side-by-side work and pulling it back while in hold. Craig was concerned by the music choice, but they won him over. Unfortunately they didn’t win over Len, despite him “being a bit of a funkateer once”. (No, Wikipedia has nothing. It suggested “funkmaster”, which made me happy). The self-professed “Timex watch in a digital age” wanted more traditional music, but liked the bit of pure foxtrot they did.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34

Overall: Improvement! WOO!

Alex and James – Funny girl

alexsimply_so_soDing! Wembley. Alex was amazed with last week’s nice comments and high scores, and the Charleston is the dance she was most excited about doing, but actually learning it proved challenging. Luckily, James was on hand with constructive criticism like “Almost, almost. It looked AWFUL, but…” Uber-permed Alex came dressed as mint toothpaste and translated Charleston as fly-catching, leaving her mouth hanging open throughout, while James has picked up Lulu’s annoying lip syncing habit, otherwise their routine was mainly fun, including an homage to the Chris Hollins swimming move. However, Alex didn’t master the swivel action and never really finished off any of her movements.

Song: “Me and My Baby” from Chicago

Judges’ comments: Bruno: “Alex the funny girl!” He enjoyed the vaudeville and goofiness, but she lost timing and the swivel wasn’t sharp enough. Craig: “You took a major step backwards.” He wanted more precision, finishes, swivel and “extreme” dancing, labelling it “med-i-ocre”. (Next week: jiving on a CLIFF! With a RATTLESNAKE!) Len thought it was fun, but lacking in detail.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 – 29

Overall: Just OK.

Robbie and Ola – Strictly come stripping

web_robbiestruggles_sparkleDing! Wembley. Robbie apparently felt like Robbie Williams when he opened the show last week. Remember? MY MATE FAMOUS ROBBIE. This week’s vote-grabber was the home visit and dancing with mum, who was surprisingly unfazed by the sudden appearance of super-sequinned mahogany dancers in her living room. In a shock diversion from their usual strategy, Robbie was wearing a whole shirt and Ola’s skirt was almost knee-length at the back, but it was business as usual in the moves – gyration, bum-grabbing and graduation to fully-fledged Chippendale as Robbie ripped off his trousers at the end to reveal football shorts. Remember that Fully Monty scene? No, not the end one where they can all actually strip and look almost suave – that brilliant farcical practice session in the middle which ends in public humiliation, injury and arrest. Well. Yes. There we are.

Song: “You Sexy Thing”, Hot Chocolate

Judges’ comments: Craig thought the samba bounce was way too exaggerated and his fingers “look like they belong in a bowling ball”, while his “gratuitous, inane reveal” was “inessential”. Len labelled it a “shamba” (a Sean Connery samba?) – some promising content, but then “you get possessed and reveal yourself”. Bruno, in an over-share, said he prefers briefs and compared Robbie’s grace with that of a lead-footed kangaroo, “but you can always go on stripping”. At Bruno’s birthday party.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 6 – 25

Overall: Note: when the “Strictly” judges feel you may have gone too far, you really have crossed a line.

Chelsee and Pasha – And when she was good she was very, very good

chelseestrictly_sensationalDing! Wembley. Samba Spice was thrilled to top the leaderboard last week, though still doesn’t feel she deserves good scores. (Endearing? Annoying? What do you think?) I lost all sympathy for Chelsee when she complained it was difficult to summon passion while tangoing with Pasha. I mean, honestly… The pair’s Argentine featured – of course – an atmospheric lamppost (they’re required by law) and some intricate, complicated choreography, impressively well executed, but almost an Artem-and-Holly-level lack of chemistry. The pair LOOK great together (well, not in this instance, but then Chelsee was saddled with a purple gym leotard and glittery dandruff), and she’s supposedly an actress, so it was all a bit baffling. Still, her technique is definitely improving and she’s now dancing well independently.

Song: “Una Musica Brutal”, Gotan Project

Judges’ comments: Len wanted more intensity, but thought it was the best performance of the night so far. Alesha praised her technical ability and wants her to lose her inhibitions. (That’s basically been the theme of the series – Chelsee, Holly, Alex, Harry, Russell…oh, wait.) If she succeeds, she’ll “go through the roof, to the next level”. What’s the next level after the roof? A passing plane? Bruno thought she was too “goody goody little girl” and wants her to be “badder”, but praised the execution of intricate footwork.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Overall: Great performance, shame she couldn’t fully commit.

Jason and Kristina – Be my baby

web_jasonstrictly_sensationalDing! Wembley. But this wasn’t a magical dream-making land – this was the venue for Jason’s terrible jive mistake SHAME. Cue sad music. But tomorrow is another day and the manic Charleston was a perfect fit for our super-charged Aussie, as proven by his VT about Jason the TV salesman. Wha…? Oh, wait, it’s a reference to my “Strictly” Shopping Channel! Clever boy. (I may sue.) Loved the set-up to their routine, Jason scanning the promenade through his binoculars and coming across gorgeous flapper Kristina (all set for the sea – just check out her sequinned swimming cap!), and he certainly doesn’t lack energy, selling every aspect of their routine through every part of his body. It’s show time! The odd error sadly, but a great performance.

Song: “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby”, Ace Brigode

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the high energy, exuberant slapstick and mad expressions – “No one can accuse you of using botox!” Craig was “willing it to be perfect after last week”, but despite the mistakes, thought it was a real Charleston. Len: “Truly fabulous. Well done!” Alesha said he’s a hard worker and it’s paying off.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36

Overall: Jazz hands! Fab-u-lous.

Harry and Aliona – Make me sway

web_harrystrictly_sensationalDing! Wembley. Ding! 6,500 people. “D’you know, quickstep’s hard, because it’s just so quick.” Harry was also struggling with the different rhythms, but Aliona had the perfect solution – mess around on a giant keyboard! (Ah, do you remember Claudia’s brilliant pro challenges?  Particularly loved Lilia’s brilliant reaction to getting zero points.) Dubious costuming aside (Aliona in Worst Dress of the Night – unfortunate colour Superman blocking), the pair turned out a superb performance in a shock traditional routine from Aliona – no props (yes, NO PROPS!), straight into hold, loads of content and only one silly drumming motion at the end. It’s a miracle! So good to see him being challenged technically and find out what he’s capable of – astonishing sway from a male celeb. Plus, he was wearing clothes. Clothes! I just never saw this coming.

Song: “Don’t Get Me Wrong”, The Pretenders

Judges’ comments: Craig, AKA Mr Glass Half Empty: “You have a lazy left foot – it’s oddly sickled and pigeon-toed. Otherwise, there was nothing wrong with it.” Len loved Harry’s flat back, wide elbows, great movement and sway, and teased that he could be getting a 9 tonight. Alesha: “My favourite moment as a judge is to be able to sit back and enjoy the show.” So, every week, then? Bruno praised his assurance, detail, sophistication and movement – “you can sway away with anyone!” (How does he make everything sound dirty? It’s a real gift.)

Judges’ scores: 9, 10 (Ooh, Len, you trickster!), 10, 10 – 39

Overall: His best dance BY FAR.


Ah, the unfortunately named Swingathon – stick your keys in the glittery bowl. Len did a sterling job amping it up: “Battle of the ballroom!” “There are no rules!” (Err…) “It’s a war on the floor!” Bruno, who didn’t get the memo about macho military metaphors, squawked: “It’s like a catfight!”

Tricky for the humble viewer to judge this round as the camera cuts from one couple to another all the time, so you don’t really get the full effect of them dancing side by side. In the far more important battle of the dresses, Chelsee won with her dalmation number, while Holly tried to be cool in pinstripes again and Artem found another hat-at-a-jaunty-angle. (Or the same hat? It works for all dances! Vers-HAT-ile.) Lots of great gymnastics on display, particularly from just-hand-him-the-trophy-now McHarry, while Jason repeated his Wembley-trauma jive section. This week is essentially Donovan’s broadcast therapy session. 

Elimination order:

Robbie and Ola

Anita and Brendan

Holly and Artem

Jason and Kristina

Alex and James

Chelsee and Pasha

Harry and Aliona

This helped (BBC employee) Alex overtake Anita on the leaderboard, pushed Chelsee above Jason and crowned Harry LORD OF ALL (even wearing clothes).



(out of 47)

Harry and Aliona – 39 + 7 = 46

Chelsee and Pasha – 35 + 6 = 41

Jason and Kristina – 36 + 4 = 40

Holly and Artem – 34 + 3 = 37

Alex and James – 29 + 5 = 34

Anita and Brendan – 30 + 2 = 32

Robbie and Ola – 25 + 1 = 26

Robbie, unsurprisingly, gyrated his way to the bottom of the leaderboard and it was business as usual with our top four, Holly not quite bothering the top three. Gosh, who will our finalists be?



pasha_and_katyaOoh. Moody. Monochrome costumes and Adele for a pro ballroom/sexy time mash-off (hello, “Glee” fans!). Can Pasha pull off a white tailsuit? I’ll be honest – it’s a stretch. Does Katya’s see-through white dress/underwear-flashing styling detract from her dancing? Well, someone has to court the male viewers in Ola’s absence.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Tess and Alesha must have been engaged in a deadly sparkle-off – nothing else could explain those monstrosities. Claudia firmly abstained.

The recap happened. Britain rearranged its spice rack.

The first safe couples: Harry and Aliona, Chelsee and Pasha, and Jason and Kristina. In the bottom two: Holly and Artem. “Not again!” sighed Holly. Surprising after her first remotely engaging performance of the series. Cruel, people! Cruel!

cee_lowGems from Claudia:

Shock at discovering Chelsee hadn’t seen Shrek and thus didn’t realise she’d be green and have big ears next week. “She is still a princess though?” Haha. Can we all go round to Claud’s for a DVD sesh? I’d suggest a double bill with Toy Story. Jason’s clichéd “It’s about the journey, not the destination” comment swiftly sent up – “I’m having a t-shirt made”

Cee Lo Green’s dancers (pictured left) were SO “Strictly” – sparkly leotards and tinfoil catsuits! Ola was taking notes – but not too sure about his shiny tracksuit. We don’t do casual dress on this show, love. The predictable track looped around two lines and will doubtless be used as a Week 1 cha cha next series.

Claudia, the judges and Len’s lens:

  • Brendan’s wasted on this show – a record deal awaits! Or at least a karaoke appearance
  • Harry’s jetés were really stunning in slo mo and sent Len into a reverie – and Craig 10-baiting
  • Holly’s kicks were equally impressive, as was Artem’s look – “He’s wearing a leather hat!” whooped Claudia
  • “Chelsee could have had freedom within her legs,” said Craig, explaining the benefits of the A-frame hold in the Argentine tango. “What? Freedom within your legs? That’s napping.” I miss you, Claud
  • Alex’s Charleston: “Ooh, Finding Nemo!” cried Bruno. And off he went, swivelling and high kicking, much to Len’s “disgust, dismay – and bitter jealousy”
  • Amazing stank face from Ola when they were kicked out of the Swingathon. Do NOT cross a Jordan…

A god-awful “hilarious” trailer for next week’s Movie Night. Hmm, where does nutmeg go?

Final safe couples: Alex and James, and Robbie and Ola. In the bottom two: Anita and Brendan. Who is voting for Robbie? WHO? SHOW YOURSELVES!

Does somebody have a tour coming up? Anton and Erin gave us a good old-fashioned Viennese waltz – Anton in top hat and tails, Erin in the giant princess dress that took up most of Tess’s area throughout Saturday’s show.web_anita_leaving

Bottom two chat: Holly was happy to do a good number and get positive comments from Craig – “It happens so rarely.” Claudia observed that it was the second time in the bottom two for both of them – “We could form a club!” – and Anita proved, once more, what a lovely pro she is. Also, these are Brendan’s two rentapro partners – IS BRENDAN CURSED? The conspiracy theory begins here.

And the couple going home… Anita and Brendan (and Robin). Heartbreaking phone call from Robin, ringing from Canada by the sound of the connection, and much mutual love before Brendan became the first pro to be eliminated twice in one series. Ouch. Look forward to seeing him selling popcorn next week.

Coming soon: Movie Night! Which problem dances will be buried in a movie theme? (My prediction: Harry and rumba.) Who’s in danger of going home? Which films would you like to see “Strictly”-fied? Will Robbie and Ola use Full Monty, Striptease or Showgirls, or blindside us with Witness? See you next week for all the silver-screen madness. 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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