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Strictly Speaking: Week 1

Posted on October 26, 2020

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Marianka Swain reviews the first week of Strictly 2020.
Photographs by Guy Levy, courtesy of the BBC

This first proper competitive show gave us a chance to assess the “new normal” on Strictly – and, for the most part, it worked absolutely fine. Yes, the performances felt a little muted without a raucous studio audience, but that also meant far less pantomime booing and cheering during judges’ comments and scoring, which was a welcome change. I also rather liked the camera cutting to our couples, sitting at their tables in the studio, which kept them involved throughout. As the competition heats up, it’ll create a fascinating game of “Who’s genuinely happy for someone else’s success, and who’s absolutely seething behind that pasted-on smile?”

One irritation was the “action replay” of dances to cover the couples getting to Claudia. It didn’t give the audience any new information (unless you’d somehow forgotten everything you saw ten seconds ago), and was a distraction to the celebs and pros. If it’s going to form a substantial part of the interview, fine, otherwise it just intrudes on that segment. Why not ask couples to record a fun little backstage moment instead? Or show us a bonus training clip?

Otherwise, performances and judging all went smoothly in the new format, and (whisper it) I didn’t really miss Bruno. His pre-recorded, utterly superfluous comments late in the show just reminded us that he’s been phoning it in for a while now – albeit not quite that literally – and we got plenty of varied feedback from our remaining trio. New Strictly: onwards and upwards!

Other hits and misses:
  • An unintentionally hilarious opening montage, basic message: “Arrive grey, leave orange.” MISS
  • The augmented reality projections were woeful, and an annoying distraction, BUT better that than huge clunky set-pieces which physically get in people’s way and restrict the dance floor? HIT/MISS
  • “It’s out of 30!!” Somebody get Claud a T-shirt or sign, so she doesn’t have to keep reassuring us the scores just look low. MISS
  • Hurrah for the NHS frontline workers invited to the show – a really nice gesture, and officially means Strictly has now done more for the health service than the Government. HIT
  • Furiously energetic Afro-Latin pro number – basically a PSA on the dangers of keeping dancers cooped up for too long. Lots of rippling abs and Johannes letting loose, which… not complaining. HIT
  • The Family prop points are migrating to the scoring section. Don’t we suffer enough in the VTs? See also: rando celeb endorsements. MISS
  • Likewise, suddenly every song is someone’s great-grandmother’s best friend’s favourite from the war. Pace yourselves, guys! You want to save that card for a troublesome Week 7 rumba. MISS

Best in Show
  • Best performance: Maisie’s samba Not quite the shock factor of Kelvin “super sub” Fletcher, but still a fab opener.
  • Best costume: Maisie’s hot-pink flock of flamingos Come on, let me see you shake your tail feather! And that one. And that one. And that one. And…
  • Best move: Bill Bailey’s majestic hair-ography Move over, Beyoncé.
  • Best line: Craig telling Jacqui she wasn’t as bad a dancer as Theresa May No, I’m sorry, we can’t get that bar any lower.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Tess came as an oil slick (flee, seals, flee!), Claud as the night sky.

Jamie and Karen – The wrong trousers

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Mr Biscuits returns, and so does the smoke monster – never a great sign. See also: faffing about with a keytar. Lots of timing issues from Jamie, who seemed desperate to actually complete a routine before a light fell on his head. Mind, the wardrobe department sabotaged him plenty with skin-tight trousers – which might explain why, instead of stepping forward into a cha cha walk, he flapped his front foot like a drunk penguin. Also needs to tuck his posterior in and watch the sickled feet. However, plenty of enthusiasm, and though I abhor disco eating Latin on this show, the popular Eurovision track was probably a savvy choice.

Song: “Think About Things”, Daði Freyr

Judges’ comments: Shirley noted his potential, but needs to improve his footwork and lines. Motsi liked the energetic freestyle, but agreed on technique. Craig found it stiff and flat-footed, with wild arms, plus he mouthed the counts.

Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 5 – 14

Caroline and Johannes – On the right track

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I’m trying to be snarky about this emotional overload, but actually seeing someone that moved by dancing was rather lovely. Help, has lockdown ruined me?! So, this American smooth demonstrated how a dance background, in different styles, will benefit Caroline and also give her an extra challenge. She has fab-u-lous expression through her arms, feel for the music, lifts and spins, but she needs to break the ballet posture to get down and drive in ballroom, and step in line rather than turning out. That said, it was a real pleasure to watch, and Johannes is every bit her perfect gentleman.

Song: “9 to 5 (Morning Train)”, Sheena Easton

Judges’ comments: Motsi called her a dancing queen, praising the attention to detail. Craig noted her turned-out feet, but loved the grace and musicality. Shirley said she had exquisite timing, but needs to work on the lower half.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7 – 21

Max and Dianne – Sing out, Louise

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The photography theme: why? It added nothing, other than putting even more of a gulf between a supposedly engaging dance and Max’s dull presentation. In fairness, he did a good job with the tango routine, but just rattling through the steps isn’t enough. He needs to keep his torso with Dianne, rather than twisting his frame on every turn, and drive through her, so they connect at the centre. A routine that doesn’t keep jumping in and out of hold might help (and a better music choice). That should boost power and dynamics, both sadly lacking. Some sort of performance would also be nice.

Song: “Best Fake Smile”, James Bay

Judges’ comments: Craig wanted a better V shape and clearer changes of direction, but very watchable. Shirley liked their chemistry, but wanted more traditional tango in hold. Motsi praised his neck and footwork, but could feel him thinking rather than projecting.

Judges’ scores: 6, 5, 6 – 17

Clara and Aljaž – Starting strong

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What theme have we here? Aljaž, looking out of the window in a mad panic: “CITY!”. Actually, the theme was more “Disco vs Latin 2: The Hustle Strikes Back”, with yet another irritatingly cha cha-lite number, though Clara did a nice job of balancing those elements. That said, it probably did contribute to some technical slackness in the Latin: she kept picking her feet up, rather than keeping contact with the floor, making transitions look stompy, plus she needs to finish her checks and walks properly by straightening her (fabulous) legs. However, fantastic musicality, and great to see she works well with Aljaž but doesn’t over-rely on him.

Song: “Don’t Start Now”, Dua Lipa

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised the rhythm and chemistry. Motsi liked her determination and energy – now needs to work on body awareness. Craig wanted straighter legs, but loved the disco.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 7 – 18

Jacqui and Anton – Losing their deposit

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This was really Anton at his worst, with a lazy routine that essentially turned his partner into one of the many props and cast himself as the long-suffering porter having to steer them around. Certainly, Jacqui is not blessed with natural ability – she has all the mobility of a shopping trolley with a bent wheel, and looked like a haunted puppet during the weirdly brief hat and cane section – but the glimmer of foxtrot after their three-hour intro was at least an improvement on the launch show. Ditch the faff and what might she have learned in that time from a dedicated teacher? More rise and fall, and how to hold her own balance rather than being shoved around, perhaps…

Song: “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, Monty Python

Judges’ comments: Motsi said she needs to express herself. Craig wanted more musicality and energy. Shirley noted the progress, but one or two mishaps.

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5 – 13

JJ and Amy – The weight of the world

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The smoke monster returns, along with a series’ worth of emotional manipulation, from the heartstring-tugging backstory to the moving song, cutesy styling, and Amy giving it full catalogue bride misty-eyed adoration. Whoa there! This is only WEEK 1, and there isn’t even a vote or elimination. Underneath of all that: JJ has definite potential, particularly with the frame, but he needs to commit to his movements, know where he’s travelling, think ahead in transitions, and really use those legs. It’s all slightly tentative at the moment – and we lose JJ himself in the dance.

Song: “What a Wonderful World”, Louis Armstrong (COPYCAT KLAXON: Matt Dawson and Lilia, Ainsley Harriott and Natalie)

Judges’ comments: Craig noted gapping and lack of drive, but simple and beautiful. Shirley loved his frame, but agreed on driving. Motsi said they created an atmosphere.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 7 – 19

Maisie and Gorka – Bird of paradise

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Well, Maisie certainly isn’t looking to hide her ringer-ness, and Gorka is back at full throttle – which is actually kind of refreshing, compared to the “Oh no, I basically just sat down in that West End musical, I wouldn’t recognise a time step if it came up and slapped me in the face” contestants. This samba had ferocious commitment, and a great mix of basics and more challenging steps. Because she’s so strong, I’d love to see her master all the details: really transfer her weight forward and stretch the back leg, create an elegant line from head to toe, and find more nuance in her performance. Also: maybe take the fake tan down a notch from Orangina.

Song: “Samba”, Gloria Estefan

Judges’ comments: Shirley thought she was a firecracker. Motsi loved the girl power and authentic shimmies. Craig said her batucadas need work, but a-maze-ing.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8 – 24

Jason and Luba – Driving me crazy

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Oh Jason. He couldn’t be more American if he sang the national anthem while high-fiving a cowboy and eating apple pie, at Disneyland, while casually suppressing voting rights in Democratic strongholds. FREEDOM! So, this smooth. Once we got past the sheer technical wizardry of the cars (*Fleabag side-eye to camera*), it was pretty much just freestyle and lifts that were, indeed, big, but had all the finesse of someone hoisting a bag into a recycling bin. The teeny tiny bit of foxtrot in hold was stodgy and stiff. Add in a smile that was alarming close to “One more second and I will unhinge my jaw and swallow you whole”, and this was… not my favourite.

Song: “My Girl”, The Temptations (COPYCAT KLAXON: Zoe Lucker and James)

Judges’ comments: Motsi liked the joy, but the foxtrot lacked strong posture. Craig criticised the fusion of styles. Shirley said they didn’t hold back.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6 – 16

Ranvir and Giovanni – Dress to impress

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Well, I’m not yet sold on the partnership of Ranvir and Giovanni (and apparently there’s drama afoot, with Ranvir doing a Brendan Cole Memorial Storm-out during rehearsals), but I’m definitely enjoying the partnership of Ranvir and her skirt. Honestly, we had enough skirt-swishing to fill an entire revival of West Side Story. She had great focus, and the flamenco was well done, but a lack of shaping in her body meant the paso doble in hold looked too blocky and became a little tedious – lose the Spanish line, and the dance descends into marching while looking a bit cross.

Song: “End of Time”, Beyoncé

Judges’ comments: Craig said she used her dress like a diva drag queen (er, thanks?), and loved the port de bras. Shirley agreed her hands were exquisite, as were the basic steps. Motsi said she’s the most improved since the launch show.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7 – 21

Nicola and Katya – Happy place

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First of all: Katya, what?! An INSANELY ambitious quickstep – and that’s before you add in the entirely new element of swapping lead. Given that, Nicola did an impressive job just keeping up: she’s super light on her feet, zipped round the ballroom, and already has a great dynamic with Katya. However, you could also see her thinking at times, and she needs to work on those two different frames: leader and follower. Both bobbled around a fair bit, losing connection, and the follower one needs more extension and expression. On the whole, though, very promising, and such a pleasure to FINALLY see a same-sex routine on Strictly – taken seriously, done well, and with joy. That representation matters.

Song: “Get Happy”, Ella Fitzgerald (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jill Halfpenny and Darren, Kimberley Walsh and Pasha, Frankie Bridge and Kevin)

Judges’ comments: Shirley loved Katya’s work, and said it’s a partnership she’ll enjoy watching. Motsi agreed, and praised Nicola’s strong core – now, she needs to keep the upper body more stable. Craig said it was dynamite.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7 – 21

Bill and Oti – And now for something completely different

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So, I do think Bill is having a serious go at this, it’s just that Bill Bailey on Strictly is such a madly incongruous combination – like pouring tabasco on a baked Alaska. He definitely inhabited the cha cha persona, from the facial expressions to hair stroking and pointing at the judges, plus excellent timing and musicality, sharp turns, and great partnering. However, he took a very peculiar route to lots of the steps – so he did do something approaching a cha cha walk, except he somehow led with the outside of his knee and stomach, and he also introduced the “Trying to pull your socks up while running for the bus” move. Still, thoroughly entertaining. Plus: those yellow trousers.

Song: “Pata Pata”, Miriam Makeba

Judges’ comments: Motsi loved the commitment, but needs to straighten his legs and get the upper body going. Craig said it was like dancing on hot coals after ten double espressos. Shirley said he needs to work on posture and leg action, but it brought the biggest smile to her face.

Judges’ scores: 3, 6, 6 – 15

HRVY and Janette

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Let’s move swiftly past whatever was going on with HRVY and that mic stand (left to bob around on its own like one of those drinking bird on a stick toys), and say: yes, wow, a very confident Week 1 jive. Granted, this was always going to be a strong dance for the small and speedy pair – the real test will come in something like a slow, controlled foxtrot or rumba – but still a great end to an excellent first show. He does need to get his weight forward so that he’s working into the floor through the balls of his feet – that will help with all the Latin dances – and watch he doesn’t go pigeon-toed. However, springy action, cool kicks, and very slick performance.

Song: “Faith”, Stevie Wonder feat. Ariana Grande

Judges’ comments: Craig said it was spectacular. Shirley called it fierce, fast and furious. Motsi said it was the best first dance she’d seen, which… NO MOTSI. What about Kelvin, for one?!

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9 – 25


HRVY and Janette – 25

Maisie and Gorka – 24

Caroline and Johannes – 21

Ranvir and Giovanni – 21

Nicola and Katya – 21

JJ and Amy – 19

Clara and Aljaž – 18

Max and Dianne – 17

Jason and Luba – 16

Bill and Oti – 15

Jamie and Karen – 14

Jacqui and Anton – 13

It’s the youngsters on top this week, and – in more ways than one – politics on the bottom.

Who impressed you in the first show? How are you finding the “new” Strictly? And who’s in danger of going home? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week for our first elimination. In the meantime… keep dancing!


Marianka Swain is a freelance writer and social dancer at several London venues. You can find more of her work at

Marianka Swain is a freelance writer and social dancer at several London venues. You can find more of her work at

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