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Strictly speaking

Posted on November 1, 2010



Week 5

“Who’s going to give us ballroom entertainment TO DIE FOR?” That was the big question for this first-ever “Strictly” Halloween special (WOOOO!). That, and just how many spooky puns and gags would the audience be subjected to? Watch (or read) if you dare…


As Claudia would say, it’s the dream. Or possibly the nightmare. The mirrorball has become a giant evil pumpkin! There are cobwebs on the chandeliers! There’s enough smoke to asphyxiate the entire front row! There’s eerie green lighting! And there are inexplicably shirtless and greased-up male dancers strutting their stuff! Never mind Halloween. Christmas has come early.week5_artem

The highly anticipated themed show got off to an ab-ulous start with our male pros (totally pulling off eyeliner) treating us to some passionate paso. Not sure why they used striped tablecloths as capes, but hey. There was much to enjoy.

Tess rose to the occasion with a truly scary dress, a glittery monstrosity with a super-high split and an action-hero utility belt. And sacrilege! The audience responded to Brucie AKA Fearsome Forsyth’s “Nice to see you…” with sustained booing. Delayed reaction to his gags last week, perhaps?

But the title of Halloween Highlight goes to Dave Arch, who stepped far beyond his normal repertoire of “nodding genially” and “nodding bashfully” to peer out gamely from behind a creepy cloak and almost keep a straight face beneath his jaunty top hat. Go Dave!

Kicking off this “spooktacular” show, and hoping to “bewitch” us with their ballroom abilities and “spine-tingling” routine…

Pamela and James – Hell hath no fury like a Jordan scorned


Sequin-o-meter: 2week5_pamela

Song: “Devil Gate Drive”, Suzi Quatro

Judges’ comments: Speaking from behind the judges’ themed desk (adorned with pumpkins, cobwebs and spiders), Len admired Pamela’s pivots and said it was a shame she got into a pickle after their throw, but, as always, she brought high energy. Alesha praised her strong basics but thought it was messy and “tippy-toeing”. Bruno roared that he didn’t realise hell could be so much fun, but thought she made too many mistakes.

Judges’ scores: (OMG, the judges’ paddles are now pumpkins! Will the excitement never end?) 6, seh-ven, 7, 7 – 27

Pamela’s fiery tango last week inspired an amusing good-luck message from Robin Williams, who urged her to use her, ahem, assets. James continued to justify his playground abuse as a legitimate teaching technique, and was finally given a costume to match his teaching persona, but not sure golden girl Pamela has earned devil horns. They opened their jive on the mezzanine level and Pamela impressed enormously by jive-kicking her way down the stairs. Wow! Most of us would struggle with just walking down in heels. Unfortunately, things went downhill from there (and not just literally). Great enthusiasm but very wild and messy, and the (illegal) lifts were slightly ropey.

Overall: Shock horror! Perhaps Pamela was spooked by the show. There’ll be hell to pay when James gets her back in the studio…

Tina and Jared – Hopelessly devoted to you



Sequin-o-meter: 2

Song: “Beautiful Monster”, Ne-Yo

Judges’ comments: “You kinky kitten,” smirked Bruno. “You go very well with rubber.” Come on, people, this is a family show! He thought it was her most focused performance to date, but it needed more drive and hooks (to demonstrate, he violently hooked Alesha). Craig called her outfit “the Gothic version of Olivia Newton-John” and thought she needed more swivel in her back ochos and connection through the solar plexus, and that it was “stoppy and starty”, which bored him. Len, in contrast, said he could see ‘the dancer emerging’. The award for worst pun of the night goes to Tess, who seemed to be high on Halloween: “Full moon and you change into a more intense version! You put the Tina into Argentine(a) tango!”

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 7, 7 – 28

Tina was delighted to come back strong with the Charleston after her illness. The cutesy-cute couple love all the dressing up, but Tina got embarrassed about the sultry nature of the Argentine tango. She got over that to some degree during their routine, but never mastered the dominant role. Real shame, as this was the first time she was allowed to try something other than adorable baby doll, but she didn’t make the most of it – nor did Jared help enormously. Strong lifts, especially the end pose.

Overall: A missed opportunity.

Kara and Artem – Hitting the high notes



                                      Sequin-o-meter: 3

Song: “Phantom of the Opera”week5_kara

Judges’ comments: Bruno adored the luscious drama, “oozing with passion”. Craig loved it and was delighted that she finally showed some passion. Len said the last two weeks had shown a bit of a spark: tonight, a fire. He called it her best dance.


Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 9 – 37 (First 10 of the series)

Kara’s dancing to Phantom of the Opera and thus wants to bring more fire and passion, but that’s translating into a major crisis in her “marriage” with Artem. (Boy, are these two moving fast.) Can a trip to the theatre save their relationship? Tune in next week! Or, well, right now. And yes, it can! Here they are again, training happily in masks. The uber-sexy couple looked great as always, with Kara in a fabulous red dress and Artem rocking a phantom mask. Dynamic opening out of hold, going into a strong routine with lovely musicality and superb shapes. I thought Kara’s expressions were still slightly limited – she tends to use the same one all the way through – but definitely a big improvement.

Overall: Really strong performance – she’s back in the game.


Patsy and Robin – Boot camp (as a row of tents)



Sequin-o-meter: 2

Song: “Monster Mash”, Bobby Pickett

Judges’ comments: Craig liked the tongue-in-cheek choreography, and said he wished it was that easy to make a man who looked like Robin. (Steady.) Liked the side-by-side work, though noted Patsy got a bit stuck coming through the legs. Alesha thought the hard work paid off. She admired Patsy’s “natural swing”, musicality and storytelling. Bruno (who was on fine Carry On form) squawked: “I love it when you’re camp! You can do comedy, you pitch it just right;  that was the sharpest you’ve ever been.”

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Patsy’s concerned about her stamina after last week’s Charleston, so Robin’s decided to work her hard. Cue awesome 1980s-style training montage! Great opening to their routine, with mad-scientist Patsy working in her lab to create monster Robin (well, that was certainly a monstrous skin-tight green top – not dissimilar to the sprayed-on t-shirt that flummoxed Craig while he was watching their training footage). Really fun and cheeky routine, great character throughout and more technically sound than past weeks. Extra marks for enthusiastic shimmying.

Overall: Moving on up.

Felicity and Vincent – Strangers in the night. Again




Sequin-o-meter: 2

Song: “Second Waltz”, Shostakovich


Judges’ comments: Alesha loved the opening but said the walk down the stairs was wasting time and the actual Viennese waltz was jerky and lacked any real movement. Bruno enjoyed “the two strangers meeting, dark society, Da Vinci Code”, but said they didn’t carry the story through. Craig agreed that the beginning showed great promise, but it then unravelled because of the footwork errors and “lumpy” travelling splits.

Judges’ scores: 6, seh-ven, 6, 7 – 26

Felicity has been struggling with her Viennese waltz spins, which seem to result in her slamming into doors. Vincent calls in help in the form of his toddler son Luca. Luca takes them to the roundabout in his local playground, where Vincent is training him in “the family business”. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t help Felicity at all, though Luca is adorable and may garner votes – clever move, Simone. Captivating opening on the mezzanine level, playing out a meeting at a Viennese masked ball, but their descent did seem to take up about half the music, and the waltz was choppy and rushed. Bendy Felicity’s travelling splits were certainly impressive, but didn’t fit smoothly into the piece, and they missed the end note.


Overall: Could be in trouble.

Jimi and Flavia – Something evil’s lurking in the dark




Sequin-o-meter: 3

 Song: “Thriller”, Michael Jackson

 Judges’ comments: Alesha (with her usual grammatical relish) exclaimed: “Them eyes are amazing!” She praised the drama and passion and said Jimi “gave it 110%”. Tsk. Save that kind of mathematical inaccuracy for the OTHER Saturday-night entertainment show. Bruno loved Jimi as “the flesh-eating living dead” and advised him to “stay in that character”. (Really? Every dance? Zombie samba? Zombie American smooth?)  Len said it was as though he’d “crept out of the crypt” straight into character and loved the lift, but the “cape wafting” got on his wick.


Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30

Jimi was upset by the judge’ comments last week, but, with his usual sunny-side-up enthusiasm, is delighted to be here for another week and dancing a paso doble to his idol, Michael Jackson. I was completely freaked out by his yellow contacts and creepy make-up, and I loved his fully committed acting (take note, Gavin). Great routine by Flavia, including an interesting lift with the cape. Occasionally his movements were slightly too lyrical for paso, but overall it was a brilliant performance – and an exciting transformation from the usual jovial, joking Jimi.

Overall: He’s back!

Michelle and Brendan – It’s just a jump to the left



Sequin-o-meter: 2

Song: “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show


Judges’ comments: Bruno adored the “delightfully demented Wonderwoman unleashed upon the jive”. Craig called it lobotomised “in a good way” and noted that “you’ll love or hate it – because I’m from a theatrical background, I loved it”. Len, of a ballroom background, wasn’t convinced: “The first half was proper jive, but the last three-quarters was all time warp.” Bad Boy Brendan wasn’t having that: “No way, it was only the last 20 seconds. Get to Specsavers!” Len roared back: “Turn up, keep up and shut up.” Afterwards, Brendan pouted that they’d done a proper jive and were one of the few couples not to do illegal lifts (true). Perhaps this is karmic retribution after the Kelly Brook American smooth incident?

Judges’ scores: 7, 6, 8, 8 – 29

Michelle’s pleasure in having Brendan back was short-lived, as she injured her ankle and they lost two days of training, to her bitter disappointment: “I wanna jive, man!” She soon bounced back though, and even had time for some crazy hairography in training. I must admit I couldn’t quite concentrate on either her (in some kind of pumpkin-orange dress) or the start of their routine, because Brendan’s transformation into Riff Raff FREAKED ME OUT. Riff Raff doing jive kicks, Latin hair tosses and sexy shrugs: WEIRD! Amazing energy and character, lots of quirky moments and really felt like Michelle threw herself into it.

Overall: Will this be her rehabilitation dance?





Gavin and Katya – You’re so vain




Sequin-o-meter: 2

Song: “Uprising”, Muse

Craig sighed that the hand shaping was bad, there were musicality problems and it was all a load of posturing, but, finally, there was a hint of “perso-nality”. Len liked the knee walks but thought it lacked a bit of passion, which Alesha (who was transfixed by his abs) disagreed with. “Body – I mean Gavin,” gasped Bruno. “I love when you come out of your shell. Reveal more of yourself!” Seriously, Bruno, you’re not in Hollywood now. Think teatime BBC thoughts…

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26

Gavin was gutted after his mauling last week: “I realised I am human.” Seriously? Is this news to you? That’s some ego. He’s been trying to get into the paso spirit, but this has translated into “having a go at Katya”, who returns the favour. Poor Gavin goes to stare at his abs to cheer himself up. (Wow. I mean…WOW.) Katya brings in an acting coach to call him “a Welsh twerp”, and here we go again – topless Gavin looks amazing, and even throws in a bit of yelling, but the storytelling and passion are still notably absent. He looks as if he’s repeating what Katya’s told him to do, but can’t figure out why on earth he should be doing it. Shame.

Overall: Less painful than past dances, but still a long way to go.

Scott and Natalie – In sickness or in health



Sequin-o-meter: 3

Song: “I Put a Spell on You”, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

Judges’ comments: Len said last week Scott was good, this week he’s great, and added that it was absolutely spellbinding. Alesha said he hypnotised the whole room and called it magical. Bruno moaned: “Scotttt-T, you bewitching warlock! You created dance magic!”

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, (finger drum roll) 10 – 39. Sorry, Kara.

“The tango beast” even intimidated Natalie last week, but things aren’t looking so great in training, as poor Scott is sick, and the mucus situation (TMI) isn’t helping his Viennese waltz. Watch out, front row! It could be a Halloween slime fest. But, on the night, Scott proved what a pro he is by putting all of that behind him and creating a near-perfect performance. Even though he was covered in talcum powder, he looked strong, confident and in control throughout in another beautiful, musical routine by Natalie. Mesmerising and highly deserving of the amazing scores.

 Overall: Fab-u-lous!


Ann and Anton – Drag queen




Sequin-o-meter: 2

Song: “Wild Thing”, The Troggs

Judges’ comments: Alesha noted their humble entrance this week and said the only criticism she had (“Only one?” squeaked Ann) was the counting out loud. She liked Anton dragging her around “like an appliance”, very entertaining. Bruno was still recovering from said drag, which he said looked like Anton the tugboat trying to free HMS Astute from the Clyde. Craig: “I only have three letters: O-M-G.” Len said it was a bit like an accident on the motorway – “you don’t really want to watch but you can’t help yourself”.

Judges’ scores: 2, 5, 5, 4 – 16

Their inspired VT featured Ann flying to “Walking In the Air” – truly beautiful. Ann is amazed by the extent of “Widdymania”, which includes a reference to her wirework by David Cameron. She’s genuinely excited about doing the paso, so approaches training with great gusto, supported by the adorable kids in the dance school where they’re practising. Their performance was more serious than normal (apart from Anton’s camp expressions and flourishes), although livened up by the mini lifts and drag that kicked John Sergeant into the dust. Also loved Ann’s yellow dress with giant frills and red Spanish cape version of her usual cardie.


Overall: Ole! Irresistible, as always.

Matt and Aliona – Bitten off more than he can chew?




Sequin-o-meter: 2

Song: “Bat Out of Hell”, Meat Leaf

Judges’ comments: Bruno enjoyed watching “Matt out of hell” and called the lifts incredible. Craig noted that at times he looked shaky and made an error in his ganchos, but the lifts were great. Len disagreed, saying he didn’t think the lifts were in keeping with the dance. Alesha could feel his nerves, but still thought he was sexy.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34

Matt was thrilled with his three 9s last week and amazed that the audience booed the 8. Their rather odd VT included a “Mr Darcy” photoshoot among the hay bales (um…really?), which led into him explaining that he wants to lead this week and be strong. I’m not sure his eyeliner and hairstreaks really helped in that endeavour (although definitely less creepy than the moustache). Sharp footwork, exciting lifts (although I agree with Len that they didn’t all feel like tango lifts) and great accents, but he definitely seemed more nervous and unsure than past dances. Not a “dis-aaaaster” by any means, but he’s set himself a high standard.

Overall: Not as clean as usual, but still a great performance.


Scott – 39

Kara – 37

Matt – 34

Patsy – 31

Jimi – 30

Michelle – 29

Tina – 28

Pamela – 27

Felicity/Gavin – 26

Ann – 16

Interesting shake-up, with Kara coming through, Patsy and Jimi improving, and Pamela and Felicity plummeting into “the twilight zone”.


Be afraid…be very afraid!

Glowing pumpkins – scary; dancing skeletons – more scary; our pros in radioactive green dancing to Ghostbusters – super scary! And was Anton really wearing a sequined boiler suit? Shudder. I think there may have been some dancing under all that, but it didn’t stand out as much as the mad costuming. As fun as the themed stuff is, I must admit I’m pining for the days of a “strictly” ballroom-based top-notch pro demo, rather than spectacle and tricks.

Then it was onto the judges’ recap:

Pamela: Len: Disappointed, her kicks weren’t sharp enough

Tina: Bruno: The “pretty girl” needs to “give it to me”, but never quite gets there

Kara: Bruno: “For the first time, I felt she was living every moment”

Patsy: Alesha: “She’s a better dancer than she realises”

Felicity: Len: “All that messing about on the stairs, do me a favour.” Alesha: “I’m a bit bored watching her”

Jimi: Len: “He comes out and has a go. Better to die a sheep than a lamb” (?!)

Michelle: Len: ‘I’d like more pros to come back at the judges like [Brendan]”

Gavin: Alesha to Craig “Was you watching his chest, not his face?” (Pot calling kettle black…)

Scott: Len: “He’s right up there, everyone’s gunning for him”

Ann: Len: “I love the anticipation. Watching her is always a pleasure, never a chore”

Matt: Alesha: “He saw those 10s flying about and got nervous”

Tess announced the first safe couples: Michelle and Brendan, Scott and Natalie, Ann and Anton, Kara and Artem and Matt and Aliona. In the bottom two: Tina and Jared (“OOOH” from the crowd).

We were then treated to a “hair-raising” Viennese waltz from the showdance troupe to Joe Cocker’s “Never Tear Us Apart”. This was my favourite performance of theirs so far. Loved the masked-ball setting and OTT costumes and hair, the eccentric storytelling and nice formation work, plus a few fantastic lifts scattered among solid Viennese sweeping around the floor. Some of the sync work wasn’t quite spot on, but, overall, a really wonderful piece.

More couples were put out of their misery: Patsy and Robin (fantastic semi-fit/Oscar moment from her, followed by emotional hugging), Jimi and Flavia, Gavin and Katya and Pamela and James, leaving Felicity and Vincent in the bottom two.

week5_tina_sundayAt this tense juncture, where better to go than a performance from Claudia’s style icon (apparently) Alice Cooper, who was on Dancing with the Stars last week advising contestants to “grab them by the throat, and don’t let them go until they vote for you”. Is he doing the ballroom circuit? Watching James, Ola, Robin and Kristina doing a semi-rock paso to his rendition of “Poison” was one of the more surreal moments in “Strictly” history, particularly the cringe-worthy air guitar moments and the girls crawling ‘seductively’ towards the camera.

And finally, it was the moment of truth…and a surprising moment it was, with Tina and Jared leaving, drawing a shocked “Awww!” from the crowd. How will the legions of High School Musical fans react? Interesting result, seeing veteran actress Felicity, who’s given committed performances during every dance, up against sprightly Tina, who has bags of dance potential that she’s never realised. I’m not sure Jared was the right partner to bring it out of her (how might Darren Bennett have fared?), and being ill probably didn’t help her either. Ultimately, I have to say I’m looking forward to seeing more of the weird Felicity and Vincent double act, while I was growing bored of seeing bland performances from Tina and Jared. Shame she couldn’t break that pattern when given the chance with her dominatrix-style tango.

Also interesting to consider that, after the ageism battle “Strictly” has been embroiled in, we had a woman in her sixties beating out one in her twenties, and lots of this series’ highlights have come from the other two women in their sixties (Pamela and Ann). Take note, BBC…

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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