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Strictly speaking

Posted on September 17, 2012


team-shotCan you believe it? Against all odds, this Saturday teatime, light-entertainment treat involving perma-tanned celebs tangoing to Priscilla and stripping to Hot Chocolate (yes, that really happened), beloved of grannies, kids, dance fanatics and students with ironic viewing preferences alike, has survived general scepticism, format tinkering and the continued onslaught of He Who Must Not Be Named over on that other channel to bring us ten seasons of ballroom bliss.

Ten! Never mind Downton, or Call the Midwife, or the magical summer of sport, or newly human Andy Murray (he laughs! he cries! he’s a real boy!), or even the glorious specimen that is Clare Balding; surely Strictly is our greatest national viewing triumph. Yes, the Americans began later yet have somehow topped us with 15 series of Dancing with the Stars, but time moves differently over there. DWTS is scripted by Steven Moffat, on a sugar high.

I like to think that in 100 years’ time, the Strictly Glitterball will still be an object of desire for the brave citizens of New Atlantis, dodging hybrid animal attacks and struggling for heel leads with their morphing webbed feet while a digitally preserved Len Goodman knocks off marks for “messin’ abaht”.

But never mind all that. Mission control, we are go for launch! And there are some big questions to be answered. Will the Olympians dominate? Will Denise’s experience work against her? Can Len find a rhyme for Darcey other than “classy”? (Woe betide her if she gets on his nerves – I fear “brassy” and “arsey” are in her future.) Has Tess finally fired her stylist? And did said stylist, in a fit of pique, break into Pasha’s trailer and exact revenge on his hair?

Perhaps, most important, has Darceybot acquired a personality between her last unfortunate judging appearance and now? (Spoiler: no.)

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

tess-and-brendanTess courted Olympic goodwill with her sideless white-and-navy Speedo flag number. I’ve never seen flesh-coloured cutout cover-ups in HD before and I’d be wildly happy to never see them again. Meanwhile, Darceybot accessorised her inoffensive purple lace dress with a giant bow, for she is best in show. (Hmm.)

Tess and Darcey aside, this year’s launch was brought to you by the letter F for fringe. From the opening shimmy through Television Centre (clearly green screened, as not once was someone stopped for pass scrutiny or bag check) through the pairings and group numbers, celebs and pros alike sprayed myriad sparkly strands in motion and quivered gently in repose, evoking a breeze wafting through a deserted car wash. Meanwhile, the guys ranged from serious man cleavage (Robin) to boring shirt and tie with a smattering of sequinned dandruff forming bizarre shiny epaulettes. Which was…a look.

The other notable element was the sacrilegious decision to bastardise the beloved theme tune. Words? WORDS? We communicate through the power of dance on this show! (Also, if you’re going to add lyrics, “Ooh, let’s go dancing, yeah yeah” doesn’t exactly get the Novello Awards judges salivating.)

Dear Brucie, still creaking along, pretended to forget his catchphrase. A look of genuine fear crossed Tess’s face; she knows that day will come. We were also treated to the first Olympic gag of many. I’ll keep a running tally. Maybe. There’s a long way to go…

Fern Britton

fernstruggles_sparkleVital stats: Quality giggling on This Morning. Low embarrassment threshold (tap danced on live TV in a silver catsuit, now worn by Ola for casual grocery shopping). Survived the Strictly Christmas special.

Partner: From among the frozen grins emerged Artem, paying his dues after a champion and a contender in the past couple of series. Or perhaps green-eyed girlfriend Kara’s lobbying paid off.

Most likely to… go out early-to-mid-series with a gracious speech about the show’s life-affirming qualities.

Dani Harmer

danisimply_so_soVital stats: “If you don’t know her, your kids will!” Nice to see BBC demographics at work. Star of Tracy Beaker and “sitcom for kids” Dani’s House. Nope, me neither. Strong contestant in Let’s Dance For Sports Relief.

Partner: Vincent. Will this be a return to Louisa Lytton and Rachel Stevens form for the miniature Italian Stallion?

Most likely to… fly under the radar until an explosive, scoreboard-topping jive or Charleston in Week 5.



Victoria Pendleton

victoriastrictly_sensationalVital stats: Winning an Olympic gold medal was the best experience of her life (until she’s recapping her Strictly J word in her finalist VT, that is). Not averse to crying on camera. Queen (Vic) of the dancefloor gags on the way.

Partner: Brendan, who hurtled down the banister in sheer delight. “I’m the luckiest guy in Great Britain right now!” The other male pros looked SUPER happy for him.

Most likely to… struggle with her sexy side, have a mid-series weepathon, discover this is as tough as the Olympics and emerge triumphant.

Our first rehearsal VT. Ah, how I’ve missed you! The celebs donned Brucie masks and robbed a bank as protest against the failing capitalist economic system. Or, err, revealed their identity to the assorted pros. Of note: Louis can do backflips (who knew?) and Fern can do the splits.

Tess attempted some jocular, buddy buddy speed interviewing, which has not and will never be her forte. Where’s our Claudia? She always manages this without the patronising air of a minor royal conversing with a factory worker.

Our pros wowed us with their Latin skills after emerging from perspex shower cubicles to the dulcet tones of J Lo’s “On The Floor”. The new producers have promised skimpier costumes and hotter routines (in a classy, pre-watershed kind of way, obvs…), and the combo of guys in wife beaters and suspenders and girls in lingerie with fringed tails definitely made this a steamy number, if the bird sanctuary boudoir scene in Streetcar was really your thing.

Vivacious new pro Karen Hauer (of the American So You Think You Can Dance and stage show Burn The Floor) is a nice contrast to studiously dour Artem, though we’ve yet to learn much about her other than the sexy sexiness of her sex appeal. Both the BBC and the tabloids have reacted to her casting with all the critical rigour of a14-year-old boy chancing upon a copy of Nuts. Still, she’s a dead ringer for Nicole Scherzinger, should we care at all about competing with that other show. Which we don’t. Because we’re rising above.

Sid Owen

sid-owenstruggles_sparkleVital stats: Played someone on Eastenders –  I didn’t catch the name – and sang something ghastly on Top of the Pops while encased in leather. (My eyes! My eyes! Damn you, HD!) Intelligence conveyed solely through choice of geek chic glasses for interview.

Partner: Ola, who gave one of the least convincing “happy” reactions of the night. Seriously, even the air punch was sarcastic. Don’t give up the day job, Ola!

Most likely to… push the boundaries of forgivable dance attire. Given her less-is-more approach and his evident enjoyment of his skin-tight holiday rep purple shirt with protruding nipples, expect some unforgettable costume choices, if nothing else.

Nicky Byrne

nickystrictly_sensationalVital stats: Are Westlife really third to Elvis and the Beatles in terms of number-one hits? That’s a depressing stat. Feel ashamed, Britain. Feel very ashamed. Oh, and Nicky’s dance experienced is limited to sitting on a stool and rising in a cloud of dry ice for an ear-splitting key change.

Partner: New girl Karen, getting a decent celeb for her first year.

Most likely to… hover in the middle of the pack, struggling to fully express himself, until he connects with a deeply emotional song and whirls around the floor dramatically in an ever-growing cloud of dry ice around Week 7.

Johnny Ball(room)

johnnystruggles_sparkleVital stats: The Carol Vorderman of the Stone Age. Oldest contestant ever (will this be mentioned much? Nah, I doubt it) and, of course, father of Series 3 finalist Zoe Ball.

Partner: “Not me, “mentally willed every female pro on the steps. “NOT ME!” Aliona, like Artem coming back to earth after two strong celebs, landed this affable partner who is nonetheless certain cannon fodder.

Most likely to… charm Len, frustrate Craig, act as a pole for Aliona and make an early, cheerful exit.

Hey, who wants another VT? Early indications from the training room: Colin looks smooth, Michael… less so. Jerry is hilariously high maintenance and there’s no love lost between her and fellow egomaniac Anton. Wouldn’t it be funny if they ended up together? Yes. FUNNY.

Speaking of which, one small gem emerged from Tess’s Strained Balcony of Interview Torture, in the form of Jerry’s answer to a typically uninspired question. “My ideal partner would be tall, handsome and have LOTS OF STAMINA,” she purred, reducing Tess to a puddle of goo. Jerry makes Jessica Rabbit look like a nun.

We interrupt your scheduled programming for the latest instalment of The Darcey Bussell Show! Oh wait. This is a “justified” segment. Darcey, hired to SPEAK and GIVE COMMENTS as a JUDGE, had a crack at a lyrical American smooth with long-lost pro Ian Waite (newly brunette so as to fade into the background more effectively). Moody red lighting and swishing lace curtains provided sex appeal and emotional intensity otherwise sadly absent.

It was all very nice and neat and showed Darcey can learn ballroom choreography (though, crucially, perhaps not differentiate between this new style she will be JUDGING and classical), but otherwise bizarrely pointless. Will she be giving her critiques through the medium of contemporary dance? Will she mime her scores? (Craig: “4.” Darcey: Rolls head, flaps arms up and down, squats on desk and wriggles her toes.) “You’ve passed the audition!” chirruped Brucie, convincing himself if no one else.

Kimberley Walsh

kimberleystrictly_sensationalVital stats: One of the ones from Girls Aloud who’s not Cheryl. “Cheryl’s really pleased for me! Cheryl forced me into it!” she reassured us. Ah, as long as we have Cheryl’s seal of approval. Her career choices are always faultless.

Partner: Pasha. He beamed and winked and bounced up and down like an excitable puppy. His new hair maintained an Ivan Lendl poker face.

Most likely to… surprise us all with her ladylike ballroom, but struggle with training intensity around Week 8 and seek refuge in the arms of our Cheryl, off camera if the cross-channel communication proves as insurmountable as the Berlin Wall.

Jerry Hall

jerrysimply_so_soVital stats: Supermodel and rock-star-name-dropper (Mick Jagger anvil, Bryan Ferry anvil). Remarkable ability to make Strictly dancewear look like the clothing of sentient humans, which could prove key to her survival. Accused of laziness by thankless child – should alarm bells be ringing?

Partner: Joker in the pack Anton, who is still tortured by that eternal question: what the hell does Nancy Dell’Olio do?

Most likely to… produce the series’ best soundbites, eschew steps for quality slinking, send Bruno into a panting paroxysm and struggle with chemistry. I mean, she has labs full of it all on her own, but her partner is ANTON.

Lisa Riley

lisastruggles_sparkleVital stats: Feisty farm girl on Emmerdale and feisty actress in Calendar Girls. Did I mention she’s feisty? Mission statement: doing it for the chubbers.

Partner: Robin – and both are genuinely delighted. Bless Robin, the Miss Congeniality of the pros.

Most likely to… win over the audience with a feisty cha cha, struggle with the moody dances and bow out early-to-mid-series.

Denise van Outen

denisestrictly_sensationalVital stats: TV and West End star, but not in an unfair-advantage-professional-dancer way. Oh no! All she did in Chicago was sit on a chair, Westlife-style! That Fosse was just mad about his sitting down. If anything, she’s at a disadvantage! She’s practically lost the use of her legs!

Partner: James, the real ladette. Cue TOWIE-esque squabbling…

Most likely to… be a big hit with the judges and stay in the top half of the leaderboard, but land in the dance-off due to audience apathy.

Mika sang his new single “Celebrate”. Have you heard a Mika song before? Good. It was just like that one. Only less interesting. Shame, his usual zaniness would be a good match for Strictly Land. His dancers were sadly hard of hearing, remaining frozen in place as they strained to catch their cue. Perhaps the giant balled-up scraps of paper acted as a muffler? Or perhaps their immobile state was a satirical comment on the ongoing GCSE crisis? WHO CAN SAY? (I entertained myself by trying to read the scribbles on their costumes. I made out “Noooooooo! Love, Ola.”)

Michael Vaughn

michaelstruggles_sparkleVital stats: Played cricket, won the world’s smallest trophy. Will he be the next Ramprakash? Or, like Tufnell, will Strictly leave him STUMPED? Most important, will we run out of cricket puns before he’s eliminated?(Spoiler: no.)

Partner: Natalie. Bad luck, Natalie. Still, she has a good track record with retired sportsmen. And she gets bonus points for her outfit, which consisted solely of three carefully placed strands of hot-pink fringe, making her look like a flirty flamingo with alopecia.

Most likely to… be the living embodiment of English reserve and fall victim to Craig’s most withering putdowns.

Louis Smith

louisstrictly_sensationalVital stats: Olympic bronze and silver in gymnastics – how often will he/the judges/Tess/a passing pigeon mention going for gold? (Add it to your Strictly bingo!) Fan of crazy hairdos. DID HE PEER PRESSURE OUR PASHA?

Partner: Flavia, who had almost given up hope of getting a decent one, but the benign spirit of dancing legend Russell Grant smiled down upon her, and he saw that it was good. Then he climbed back into his rocket and flew into a glittery seashell to the strains of “YMCA”.

Most likely to… toss in gymnastic tricks, show off those arms and breeze into the final on a wave of ardent female support.

Richard Arnold

richardstruggles_sparkleVital stats: I genuinely don’t know. Wore a facemask on breakfast telly. Is that a claim to celebrity? Unfortunate appearance on Let’s Dance…, making Strictly disaaaahster Kate Garraway look almost co-ordinated.

Partner: Erin. Alas, poor Erin.

Most likely to… provide comic relief. If unintentionally.

Colin Salmon

colinstrictly_sensationalVital stats: Star of heavyweight Hollywood projects like the Bond films and, err, Prime Suspect. Rivals Jerry in record-breaking name-dropping. So damned cool he even plays jazz trumpet in his spare time. Smooth. Operator.

Partner: Kristina. Yes, she’s the perfect vehicle for Bond girl jokes, but their height difference is approximately three Vincents! Could be an issue.

Most likely to… charm with a foxtrot, be the latest entry in the tall people/jive debate, pick up a couple of Len “dark horse” comments.

And on to one of my favourite parts of the entire series – the drunken wedding dance celebrity dodgems group number! Danced, ironically, by the cluster of nerve-racked, increasingly knackered celebs to “Don’t Stop Me Now”. Clues to future performance:

  • Denise could sell ice to the eskimos. But, you know, in a totally non-professional dancer kind of way
  • Louis is a natural crowd-pleaser
  • Richard is a natural at dreadful dad dancing
  • Kimberley’s hair has serious presence
  • Michael is amazing at miming cricket. That should be the basis for all routines, Erin
  • Jerry is the hottest person on the floor when she stands still
  • Johnny’s movement can best be described as subtle

coverNot too many mishaps sadly, but this is one of the strongest casts we’ve had for a while. There were times when you could even tell which style they were dancing! Their movement so pleased the gods that they bestowed a shower of sequins upon them.

What do you think of the pairings? You can see more reactions from the pros and celebs here. (Highlights: Karen has never heard any Westlife. Lucky her. Ola is Sid’s “dream”, which is in no way creepy. Brendan is not as good at the triple jump as he thinks he is.)

My prediction for this year’s finalists: Louis and Flavia, Brendan and Victoria, Pasha and Kimberley. First out: Richard and Erin.

Do you agree? What do you make of this year’s crop, and indeed new judge Darcey? Leave your comments below!

I’ll be back, in a non-Terminator way, in three weeks’ time. Until then… 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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