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Strictly speaking

Posted on October 8, 2012


Week 1

group shotThe tenth series of Strictly promises to be the year of subtle yet insidious sabotage.

Consider the evidence:

  • No one is safe. Especially not the pros. (Injuries so far: Aliona’s ankle, James’s nose, Pasha’s hair. Could this be the work of one Ian “Waity” Waite?)
  • The judges’ high score paddles were stolen on Friday night and sneakily returned on Saturday.
  • Someone placed a curse on Cuban breaks. You dance them at your peril.
  • Beautifully crafted, side-splittingly hilarious “comedy” VTs were replaced by training footage. Actual footage! Of training! We haven’t seen such a thing since Johnny Ball was in short trousers.
  • The type size on the autocue was deliberately reduced to mess with Sir Brucie’s normally perfect delivery. For shame, people. For shame.

Judge the judge, yeah? OK? You got that?

More predictable: Darceybot’s gradual implosion. The (ahem) ballroom expert caught Len and Bruno’s transatlantic-itis, dipping into a strange hybrid accent as her voice rose alarmingly in a painful parody of enthusiasm. Funny how she was the one left out of critiques twice when we “ran short of time”. Let’s hope for more rushed shows in future. That’s like my one piece of advice, yeah?


Worryingly, we saw the return of the ghastly X Factor-style intro with Joe public discussing tango while buying cereal and assorted newsreaders sharing their expert views. Does repeating over and over that THE WHOLE NATION HAS BEEN STRICTLY-FIED make it so? (I do believe in fairies!) Or is Strictly-fied part of this year’s “specially created hybrid words” quota? 


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

You can’t go wrong with a little black dress – or can you? Well, if you puff out the skirt to resemble a medium-sized tent and add giant bulging pockets (smelling salts for Bruce? Vernon’s mobile?) and style with Charlie’s Angels scarecrow hair, you land closer to deranged commuter than glamourpuss. Don’t worry, Tess. We’ve all been there. The circle line’s a killer on the weekend.

Darcey, in contrast, went for subtle brand integration with a dress made entirely of glitterballs.

Fern and Artem – Skirt alert

fernsimply_so_soOne of the weekend’s best odd-couple unions saw the woman who giggles on telly for a living paired with Russia’s most assiduously depressive export. “I am a taskmaster,” Artem deadpanned in rehearsal, refusing to be undercut by his bubblegum-pink scarf and Robin levels of man cleavage. Their cha cha was a decent Week 1 effort, although the overuse of skirtography suggests Artem isn’t confident in Fern’s lines out of hold and her Cuban breaks unravelled, plus her hesitant foot pressure meant zero hip action. Still, she was dressed like a particularly buoyant purple Quality Street and he flashed plenty of flesh, so what’s not to love?

Song: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”, Stevie Wonder

Judges’ comments: Len praised her precision, but wasn’t keen on the skirt wafting – unfair because “the boys can’t waft anything”. (Robin: “Challenge accepted!”) Bruno didn’t mind the flirty wafting, but asked for “more impetus in the nether regions”. Craig suggested straightening her legs to get hip action, labelled the Cuban breaks “a disaaaaahster” and wanted more attack, power and punch, but (stop press!) called her hands beautiful. Darcey noticed she was nervous, but she smiled. Really, that was it. Oh and she’s capable of raising her leg – yay! More of that!

Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 5, 5 – 19

Overall: Oddly charming.

Nicky and Karen – Liftgate Mark I

nickystruggles_sparkleBad vote-earner: reruns of lacklustre Westlife performances with particularly painful mid-’90s hair. Good vote-earner: insanely adorable twins. Keep wafting them around, Nicky! Karen has never heard of Westlife, but then she was cursed with the Backstreet Boys, so really we’re all in the same PTSD boat. Perhaps that explained her annihilating Nicky in rehearsal (bare legs! BARE LEGS!) and on the floor: if the combination of candles and the most hairsprayed people in Britain don’t get you, Karen’s melodrama assault will. Nicky wisely curled up into a standing foetal position as she and her banana-yellow loofah dress stalked him round the floor before levitating into an illegal lift.

Song: “I Wonder Why”, Curtis Stigers

Judges’ comments: Bruno enjoyed Nicky’s boyish good looks, but not his terrible posture and lack of connection. “It looked like you were dancing with a cardboard cutout!” Headmaster Craig told Karen off for breaking the rules, calling her a female Brendan Cole. Oh, and Nicky’s rise and fall was forced and mechanical, he kept dropping his right elbow and there wasn’t any sway. Darcey, with no sense of irony: “Your strength is your musicality!” (Can someone play her a Westlife song?) Her top tip for improving posture: get someone to follow you around, pulling down your shoulder blades.

Judges’ scores: 2, 5, 5, 5 – 17

Overall: Room for improvement. Lots of room. A whole spare room.

Michael and Natalie – Face/Off

michaelstruggles_sparkle“Can he be “Strictly”’s MAN OF THE MATCH?” (Obviously I don’t condone this in any way, but I know some of you are playing cricket pun bingo at home.) This otherwise unremarkable partnership was livened up by some good old Brit-Aussie rivalry, plus Natalie actually teaching Michael some technique. Radical! That paid off in a relatively decent waltz, although I wasn’t clear on their storyline (he came as an undertaker; she dressed as Simply Red. Next week: the White Stripes) and his face resembled Cameron’s as he struggled for the meaning of Magna Carta, but there was the odd flash of decent footwork and partnering.

Song: “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”, Simply Red

Judges’ comments: Craig pointed out timing and posture issues and wanted more grace and style. Darcey suggested he think about using his whole body to create speed, just like throwing a ball! Oh, and breeeeeathe through the moves. Len grumbled about the opening “mincing about”, but praised his wide elbows in hold. Bruno noted his butt stuck out “like a hanging basket” and his contorted face looked like Shane Warne “after the makeover”.

Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 6, 4 – 20

Overall: An OK start. But I fear the Latin…

Victoria and Brendan – I get knocked down

victoriastruggles_sparkleVicky Pendleton is a wise strategist. She knows what it’s like to be the best and have your competition literally chase you down. That stress is well documented in her interviews. And her book. And her past VTs. And the VTs to come. Plus that pesky Brendan is practically weeping for joy at getting his hands on her. What’s a girl to do? Why, she borrows Cheryl Cole’s split harem pants and Tess’s bed hair, studies Fern’s Cuban-break breakdown and Bambi’s gait as he struggles to find purchase on the ice and puts in an Oscar-winning performance as the doe-eyed Olympian next door in desperate need of audience support. Well played, Pendleton. Well played.

Song: “Spinning Around”, Kylie

Judges’ comments: Darcey suggested lower heels. Len likened her cha cha to riding a bike without stabilisers for the first time, but still sees potential. Bruno: “You’ve fallen off the bike before. Get back on it, come back and blow us off the street!” (One: that metaphor usually requires a horse. Two: err, which street?)

Judges’ scores: 3, 4, 5, 4 – 16

Overall: Expectations officially lowered.

Colin and Kristina – Smooth operator

colinstrictly_sensationalOther than the truly spectacular height difference, Colin and Kristina are a match made in double-oh-heaven. (“As my movie star friend Pierce Brosnan would say!”) They also committed to an excruciating baby-cum-dance school bit that bodes well for their future VT work. As a test of Colin’s infallible cool, he was forced into a gauzy oversized leopard-print shirt, stolen from a gay pimp in the ’70s and preserved for this moment of truth. And our survey says: still cool. Just. First complete performance of Week 1, thanks to his natural rhythm and Kristina’s canny, musical choreo. Let’s just hope Colin Bond doesn’t go method and decapitate Craig with a bowler hat during the foxtrot.

Song: “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, James Brown

Judges’ comments: Len called it the best cha cha of the night. Craig thought there some moments we could have done without. (Bruce: “There are some judges we could do without!” Darcey twitched nervously.)

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 6, 6 – 23

Overall: Promising start.

Denise and James – Beginner’s luck

denisestrictly_sensationalSo, OK, maybe Denise went to theatre school and learned some dancing, but that was YEARS ago! And it’s all been blocked out by her exhausting sitting in Chicago! Ridiculous protestations aside, the TOWIE pair swiftly settled into an enjoyable old married couple rhythm, which presumably had no bearing on real-life wife Ola breaking James’s nose in rehearsal. Denise transcended the pile of transparent hankies forming her costume to ooze (totally untrained) elegance and grace in her waltz, giving us gorgeous lines, good spotting, decent extension and a strong emotional performance. The poor love. She tried her best. Can she sit down now?

Song: “With You I’m Born Again”, Billy Preston and Syreeta

Judges’ comments: Bruno felt “every nuance of a blossoming romance” and loved her lines, but wanted a stronger frame. Craig: “We saved the best till last.” Rappin’ Len liked her “style with a smile”, but criticised the lack of heel leads. Ah, the lesser spotted heel lead. Rarely seen on the Strictly floor, so this is a back-handed compliment – he thinks highly enough of her to expect actual footwork. Darcey was mysteriously skipped again.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 6, 7 – 25

Overall: Beautiful performance. Colour me shocked! (Hint: it’s the same shade as Kimberley’s tan.)

Hey, you know there are more celebs tomorrow? Let’s pretend they’re GOING TO THEIR DEATHS in this not remotely OTT trail! God bless Jerry, who pulled it back from the brink of madness. “Not all fillies give a smooth ride first time out,” she gosh-darn quipped, barely containing her amusement at this preposterous exercise.


Hooray! A vastly enlightening Joe public/newsreader VT! We haven’t had one of those since… Oh. Extra cringe points for the clunky lead-in to the pro dance, in which the girls resembled Barbie’s Christmas tree ornaments. (At this point, my vision is at least eight per cent fringe.) Oh yes, and there was some Latin. Well, mainly tricks. And Pixie Lott. And Vincent and Flavia gamely chucking in three seconds of tango. Moving on…

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

There was a hidden meaning behind Tess’s wardrobe choices this weekend. Friday’s dress showed her sympathy with the plight of the commuting lunatic; Saturday’s panelled mullet dress in handy athletic fabric spoke to those who swim the Hellespont to work and regularly lose part of their outfit to a hungry shark. Don’t worry, Tess. We’ve all been there.

Kimberley and Pasha – Pop princess

kimberleystrictly_sensationalPasha hopes Kimberley will help him go one better than last year’s runner-up slot. These are ambitions Anton can only dream of. She certainly seems like a good bet, what with her array of novelty t-shirts and ability to summon one of the other Girls who are Aloud at a moment’s notice (presumably saving Cheryl, AKA “the one we’ve actually heard of”, for the final vote-grabbing week). Kimberley showed hair solidarity by matching her backcombed quiff to Pasha’s toupee and did a nice job of selling a pop-y cha cha routine, although her foot placement was hit and miss. Most important, she was not defeated by the Cuban breaks!

Song: “Domino”, Jessie J

Judges’ comments: Len labelled her “Nimble Kimble” (to be fair, not much rhymes with Kimberley), but wants more foot pressure and stronger leg action. Bruno thought she had “just the right amount of titillating sexy sheen” – you know, in a teatime viewing sort of way. Craig was thrilled by the arrival of actual dance talent (ouch) and called her incandescent. Darcey wants her to strengthen her core to get hip action, cheerfully demonstrating a belly dancing side-to-side motion with cringe-inducing “pow pow” sound effects. Which was helpful.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 – 28

Overall: Definite contender.

Sid and Ola – Square dancing

sidsimply_so_soSid repeated that he’d always dreamed about being with Ola. This was still in no way creepy. Ola reminded us that she’s a former champion (oh, Ola, we try to forget those dark days in our history) and thus was cracking the whip in training. While wearing Colin’s leopard-print blouse! She traded that in for half a Disney princess dress in wedding cake layers of tulle and a scrap of Grecian goddess gown flapping over a boob tube and bare midriff (which, for Ola, was pretty conservative) and wisely gave Sid a relatively simple waltz that allowed him to be understated and sweetly solemn. He slid into quite a few steps, but at least a few heel leads crept in and thus they travelled more than most.

Song: “I Won’t Give Up”, Jason Mraz

Judges’ comments: Bruno was expecting “a rugged thug” (because Bruno is still confused by the concept of acting), but instead got “intensity, correct posture and erection!” Ahem. Craig thought his arms were plonky, but praised his movement and storytelling. Darcey suggested he not change direction with his shoulders, but from his core – which, amazingly, was actually good advice. Len: “You’ve gone from Albert Square to Berkeley Square!” Bit dainty out of hold and he fell back on the whisk, but good job overall.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 7, 7 – 26

Overall: Surprisingly pleasant. Can he sustain that in Latin?

Johnny and friends – The Top Gear crossover event

johnnystruggles_sparkleOur oldest contestant (have we mentioned that at all?) lost partner Aliona to the least-dramatic injury ever shown on reality TV, had a brief stint with ever-eager Ian and then settled for former professional ten-dance champion Iveta Lukosiute. As you do. Iveta was given Aliona’s pumpkin hair to smooth out the transition and a Russian nesting doll dress of fringe spouting fringe spouting fringe. The car-wash-on-LSD effect was so astonishing that I hardly noticed Johnny’s drunk uncle at a wedding boogieing. And then I did. And then I averted my gaze, as a health and safety precaution. My eyes are still recovering from Colin’s shirt.

Song: “Drive My Car”, The Beatles

Judges’ comments: Craig thought Johnny looked like he had a disorder of the central nervous system, given his jolts and spasms. Darcey suggested putting weight on the balls of his feet in Latin. Because that’s the kind of wisdom professional ten-dance champion Iveta wouldn’t be able to share with him. Len thought it was all a bit Last of the Summer Wine, but noted lots of people of his age would love to be able to move like that. True, but do we have to watch? Bruno went car metaphor crazy: he failed the MOT, his gears were out of sync, his engine needs retuning, but he completed the lap!

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 4 – 17

Overall: Well. The ballroom will be better. Yeah?

Dani and Vincent – Tiny dancers

danisimply_so_so“Women think I’m a fantasy, but I’m real.” Ah, Vincent. Why don’t you have your own show? The diminutive Italian and the girl we’ve seen grow up on TV (I say we. Not us, obviously. Some other people. There are overlapping demographics, honest!), who made up this “pair of Polly Pockets”, went for speed to compensate for their lack of height so that they could… create a cartoon whirlwind that helped them levitate? Hmm. Flawed strategy. As was Vincent’s choice to include hundreds of spins out of hold when Dani struggled with spotting and choreo she chased throughout. Anyone else getting Louisa Lytton flashbacks?

Song: “Open Arms”, Mariah Carey

Judges’ comments: Darcey told them not to worry about their height; dance is about creating an illusion. Judging, sadly, is not. Len wants more attention to detail and criticised her wobbly spins. Bruno noted her tension made her skip “like a little kangaroo”; the talent is there, but she’s not using it correctly. (Note to Vincent.) Craig wants her shoulders down to create longer lines and better spotting and extensions, but praised her beautiful back. Bruce, not at all ickily, took this opportunity to leer at her beautiful front.

Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 6, 5 – 21

Overall: Great potential.

Lisa and Robin – Now that’s entertainment

lisastrictly_sensationalIt’s hard to tell who’s more excited about this camp-tastic partnership: the girl who played Cinderella on Emmerdale and now gets to glam up or her navel-skimming-wife-beater-wearing rainbow-hearted hero. Their joyous performance was light on Latin but full of fabulous, high-energy side-by-side bopping and shimmying – part aerobics video, part disco night at Heaven. Their actual cha cha in hold was stiff and somewhat vague, but you have to salute a girl who can slap her arse as a rebuke to Craig, stroke her way up her partner’s body and end by catching him. Russell Grant’s flamboyant spirit lives on.

Song: “Think”, Aretha Franklin

Judges’ comments: Len called her a “funky monkey” and a “fizzy bottle of cola”, though Robin looked “like a brillo pad” in his studded vest, and what it lacked in technique it made up in energy. Bruno thought it was “big, beautiful, exuberant entertainment” and loved that they fired up the audience. Craig: “Three words: you can dance.” Darcey enjoyed her risk-taking.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 7, 7 – 30

Quibble: While great fun, this was obviously lacking in cha cha content and technique. Where on earth did Craig’s 8 come from? Has he ever over-scored Len and Bruno like that? If I was a severely marked first-night celeb, I’d be fuming.

Richard and Erin – Welcome to Stepford

richardstruggles_sparkleApparently he’s a TV critic. So. There we are. Celeb status confirmed! Richard’s training footage was full of Mr Showbiz winks to camera (“I’m like a collapsed pavlova in the waltz – with plenty of FRUIT though!”), but long-suffering Erin is both a genuinely dedicated teacher and relentless cult leader, pummelling technique into him between gags. Yet her waltz dress spoke of her inner pain, the sickly yellow-green tinge intensifying under the lights, and Richard’s overly tamed Lego man hair suggested mute surrender in the face of ballroom. Their performance was decent, but worryingly forgettable for a cannon-fodder couple. Erin’s showdance doll had more personality.

Song: “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers”, Klaus Hallen Orchestra

Judges’ comments: Bruno was expecting a camp fest and bluntly asked Richard if he was “trying to be butch” or on valium. Ouch. Craig, in contrast, liked the deadened smile (Richard joyfully bestowed his flower upon him – ah, too soon, Richard…), but called the transitions lumpy and hands spatulistic. Darcey interpreted it as nerves and suggested listening to his music while he was cooking and in the bath – presumably not at the same time. Len grumbled that he liked the waltz being technical and soulless (I paraphrase) and, because he was in a nicknaming kinda mood, called him Tricky Dicky. For no apparent reason.

Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 7, 5 – 22

Overall: His Latin needs major fireworks.

Jerry and Anton – Model pupil

jerry2struggles_sparkleWatching Jerry’s VT (hugely successful supermodel, partying with the Rolling Stones), I began to wonder what on earth possessed her to do this show. She’s had an amazing life. She’s a woman of means. She looks insanely gorgeous just standing still. Why bother with this dancing lark? Clearly, that was the attitude she carried into the training room, and “teacher” Anton – a broken man after playing sober sister to Nancy last year – could only praise and indulge her. Of course you can strut and flick your hair and pose for eight bars! Why the hell not? And such is the allure of Jerry that she made the barest smidgeon of cha cha look as elegantly sensual as the rest of the celebs put together, plus she totally made me want that black fringed number and fur wrap. So, pretty great, as long as you didn’t want to see, you know, actual steps and stuff.

Song: “Everybody Loves To Cha Cha”, Sam Cooke

Judges’ comments: Craig: “You’ve certainly taken minimal to a whole new level, darling.” Anton, in the strained tone of one recounting POW camp experiences, defended the “starting gently” approach. Darcey blithely ignored this and urged him to give her more steps. Bruno did a pretty spot-on impression: “I look good and I don’t give a damn, no one can work that frock like I do!” Quite.

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 5 – 18

Overall: Well. I look forward to her posing in some ballroom next week.

Louis and Flavia – Playing it cool

louisstrictly_sensationalThe two Olympians are already locked in a battle of wills. Louis couldn’t quite commit to Vicky’s cunning Week 1 total meltdown, but he did cover up at least part of his pommel-horse-toned body and hid his personality behind a Zoolander mask in a “vote for me and I’ll gradually unveil both” strategy that I can’t help but applaud. Flavia was clearly left in the dark, cheerfully relating her focus on releasing his cheeky chappie spirit. Err…maybe Week 3? Still, her 62 layers of silver fringe had personality enough for the both of them and, despite some awkward footwork and peculiar lines out of hold, Louis showed tons of promise in his sharp, rhythmical movement, glimpses of hip action and rakishly casual slow splits ending. Because he can.

Song: “Forget You”, Cee Lo Green

Judges’ comments: Darcey I think was trying to flirt, but her voice dropped into a truly disturbing register as she mumbled haltingly about his muscles. Truthfully, no one in that seat has properly perved over a male celeb since Arlene left us. Still, at least we have Bruno: “Oh, I like a guy with plenty of tricks up his sleeve, you snaked-hipped wonder!” He noted Louis’s flexibility meant he sometimes overextended, which threw him off the rhythm. Craig observed that he’s a bit flat-footed and his face was too serious. (Bruno: “You were looking at his face?!” Bruce, to a TEATIME audience: “Darcey wasn’t!!!”)

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 6, 7 – 27

Overall: Still the couple to watch.


Lisa and Robin – 30

Kimberley and Pasha – 28

Louis and Flavia – 27

Sid and Ola – 26

Denise and James – 25

Colin and Kristina – 23

Richard and Erin – 22

Dani and Vincent – 21

Michael and Natalie – 20

Fern and Artem – 19

Jerry and Anton – 18

Nicky and Karen – 17

Johnny and Iveta – 17

Victoria and Brendan – 16

Is this bizarro Strictly or is Golden Girl bottom and Lisa the surprise leader? (And is Brendan still calling himself “the luckiest guy in Britain”?)

These scores are carried over to next week, so it could all change – I wonder if Lisa can retain that lead after a ballroom dance, and Denise and Dani will probably climb a few places in their Latin, while Michael and Sid may struggle.

And just when you thought it was safe to go back in the ballroom, next week also sees the resurrection of a terrible foe: the dreaded dance-off. Given that the dance-off is dreaded by the audience as much as the judges and celebs, why exactly has it been brought back? I hate to call X Factor rivalry here, but there doesn’t seem to be any other plausible reason.

What do you think? And who was your favourite Week 1 performance? Can Victoria redeem herself? Who will be first out?

See you soon for more fun and games, and to mourn the loss of another pro body part. (If I was Vincent’s shoulder, I’d be looking over my…err…) 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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