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Strictly speaking

Posted on November 12, 2012


Week 6

This week’s Strictly was a test run. We all know Brucie won’t be around forever, and can there be a show without him?

I hate to wish a sudden career end on anyone, but the answer is a resounding YES. And why? Because of the quick-witted, adlibbing, gently caustic, genuinely warm presenting goddess that is Claudia Winkleman. Watching her switch from easy, natural banter with the dancers to sly riffs on the boring bits (“Don’t even make a phone shape with your hand!”) and off-the-cuff jokes that were almost thrown away rather than hammered home was like watching a jazz great let loose at a late-night club – brilliant, exciting, slick, adult, totally intoxicating.

Meanwhile, Tess thrived in the more strait-laced moderator role, speeding through the links at a dizzying pace, actually crediting the singers correctly and generally making you forget that the autocue can be a dangerous wild creature, difficult to tame and liable to lash out at any moment.

However, all was not well in the land of sequins:

  • Copycats This week, six out of ten repeated songs, including a Charleston – particularly egregious given how few we’ve had on the show
  • Scores Darcey mislaid her oft-used 6 paddle and gave Richard an 8, while Craig slapped Louis down with a 6, thus marking him lower than Fern and Richard. Madness!
  • Falls Two male pros went head over heels. I don’t want to cry conspiracy or sabotage, but… (*cough* Ian “Waity” Waite *cough*)
  • VTs O training footage, where art thou? Some couples gave us a tantalising glimpse while others were stuck with “comedy”
  • Wembley Are we going to Wembley? Gosh, I do wish someone had mentioned it! (If you were playing a “Wembley” drinking game, you’re a mad fool and I’m sending flowers to the hospital)

And, of course, Kimberley’s shock tumble into the dreaded dance-off. Why, gentle reader? Here is my reasoning:

  1. The dance-off itself is to blame. Viewers vote to “save” lower-scoring couples, rather than voting for good couples they want to see again, thus it becomes a battle of wills with the judges
  2. Another ballroom dance, another emo performance. Try some Sinatra and a smile! (Kidding. Sort of)
  3. No one likes a glaring album plug
  4. Pasha’s strength was in his hair. I don’t want to cry conspiracy or sabotage, but… (*cough* Richard the hairdresser *cough*)
  5. Britain secretly hates Cheryl Cole


Did you think the lack of Bruce would mean no groan-inducing gags? Think again! Claudia and Tess kicked things off with a “hilarious” VT involving Brucie’s catchphrase. It was not nice to see.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

I really don’t know what to say. Why would anyone try to look like a reject Playboy Bunny reduced to pulling late shifts in a seedy Soho bar? Claudia ditched her usual black (gasp!) for a dropped-waist white frock that came off a little juvenile.

Denise and James – Hip hip chaînés

denisestrictly_sensationalClearly, the producers had no faith in our ability to spot the underlying tension of one pro (Ian “Waity” Waite) replacing another, so demanded the threesome enact a painful “Jealous Guy” pantomime. Sigh. In fact, James and Denise’s performance could also have done with more believable drama and less camera mugging, though Denise was, as always, a pro: clean footwork, strong turns (despite a wobble), solid performance. I’m still missing something here – surprise, maybe? The kind of partnership you just have to root for?

Song: “Seven Nation Army”, The White Stripes

Judges’ comments: Len loved her “flair in the movement, care in the technique”. Bruno thought she had “the conquering power of a firestorm”, with amazing flamenco lines. Craig pointed out a balance problem in her chaînés tournes, but they were still impressive, as was the power and drama. (“Working with Ian has done you wonders.” BURN.) Darcey loved the chaînés tournes and called it her most exciting role to date.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36

Overall: Strong start.

Richard and Erin – Bad hair day

richardstruggles_sparkleWas this secretly Extreme Lift Week for the female pros? Kristina’s tango tangles had nothing on Nat’s leaps of faith and Erin’s hair-raising and frankly uncomfortable Charleston antics. Dressed, improbably, in bright-blue and purple fringe – hippy flapper at the beach – our elegant ballroom girl certainly took one for the team, allowing hairdresser Richard to bongo her bottom and shove her around like an unwieldy shopping trolley. Richard merely dialled up his Carry On Matron act a couple of notches, substituting goldfish mouth and pratfalls for, you know, dancing.

Song: “Pencil Full of Lead”, Paolo Nutini (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ali Bastian and Brian)

Judges’ comments: Bruno compared the ending with “Miranda Hart running for a bus”, but he mastered the comedy of the Charleston, if not the technique. Craig liked the goofy character choice, but disliked the “spanky bottom” and he lost timing. Darcey enjoyed it, but his feet were flat. Len said it was “light, bright, fun and frivolous”.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 7, 7 – 29 (Really, Darcey? REALLY?)

Overall: Fun, if insubstantial.

Louis and Flavia – Swing while you’re winning

louisstrictly_sensationalA cute visit from Louis’s mum gave us a marginally less cringe-worthy VT that hinted at a growing bond with Flavia, but he still can’t translate that to his dancing – stepping onto the floor switches him to Robot Mode. This was a nicely partnered waltz with great content, lovely lines and decent drive, but it was undercut by timing problems and an emotional void. (And no, Flavia, borrowing Aliona’s Swing of Sickly Sweetness will not help.)

Song: “Moon River”, Andy Williams (COPYCAT KLAXON: Esther Rantzen and Anton, Tom Chambers and Camilla)

Judges’ comments: Craig called the fouetté turn “pedestrian”, noted the timing problems, wants his head further left and thought it was saccharine, but praised the rise and fall, pivots and graceful free arm. Darcey thought the fouetté turn was decent and his posture was great apart from the “wandering head”. Len called Craig’s remarks “a load of… bolognaise”. Bruno said he waltzed his way into the heart of the nation.

Judges’ scores: 6, 9, 9, 9 – 33 (Really, Craig? REALLY?)

Overall: Beautiful, but lacking.

Fern and Artem – It’s my party and I’ll strip if I want to

fernstruggles_sparkleThe VT began with topless Artem, so I confess the rest was rather a blur. Musicians. Stalking. Hilarity. Blah blah blah. Fern opened her salsa by dusting the judges for about ten bars before awkwardly stripping off to reveal an unfortunate hot-pink mini dress. Artem, perhaps not fully aware of their imminent jeopardy, went for shirt open rather than full-on man flesh. (Too late, Artem. Dignity has left the building.) This was… Well. It’s always good to see your great-aunt have a jolly good boogie after her fourth sherry. And there were streamers!

Song: “(You’ll Be Mine) Party Time”, Gloria Estefan (COPYCAT KLAXON: Natalie Cassidy and Vincent)

Judges’ comments: Darcey liked the party spirit, but she lost the rhythm in her footwork. Len called it her best dance so far. Bruno enjoyed the “saucy strumpet” approach: “You were shaking your boobies and getting your booty going!” Artem just looked relieved that the lust was directed elsewhere.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Overall: I do like streamers.

Victoria and Brendan – The fall guy

lisasimply_so_so“Coming from a sports background is actually a hindrance,” Olympically fit and athletic Victoria explained earnestly. Quite. Just like Denise’s dance training. Gets in the way of everything! Their quickstep was notable mainly for Brendan being forced into a bellboy costume and radiating anger from every pore. Delightful. Victoria’s pallid salmon dress with ostrich carcass? Not so much. Her posture has improved slightly and she wasn’t as openly horrified by the whole experience, but still a fair few stumbles. Also stumbling? Poor Brendan, who tumbled over at the end. (Seriously. Dignity. Gone.)

Song: “Luck Be a Lady”, Frank Sinatra (COPYCAT KLAXON: James Martin and Camilla)

Judges’ comments: Len praised her for doing the steps (he sets a low bar for Victoria…), but wants her upper body more toned. Bruno noted she’s much more comfortable in hold – but she has to maintain that during side-by-side work. Craig said she moved well, but her left shoulder was raised and she lost her frame. Darcey agreed with him on the posture, but praised her light footwork.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30

Overall: Decent effort.

Dani and Vincent – An affair to remember

danistrictly_sensationalI would like to congratulate Vincent on three points: ditching the “comedy” wigs, finding a speed other than “chased by an angry bear”, and coming up with a creative concept based on an original song choice. Huzzah! Their tango had wonderfully musical choreography and great storytelling, although I was a little hazy on the time period: when, exactly, did women wear midriff-bearing crop tops and giant skirts while men conducted affairs from phone boxes? Nice Argentine touches, like the planeo at the end, and a more mature performance from Dani that shows great potential.

Song: “Rumour Has It”, Adele

Judges’ comments: Bruno: “It started with a strop and ended with a drop!” Sharp, clean and dramatic. Craig praised the technique and story, though they finished before the music. (They’re small! They must move fast!) Darcey thought she was more moody teen than feisty woman at the start, but it got better and better. Len adored the light and shade.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34

Overall: Fab-u-lous.

Nicky and Karen – Driving me crazy

nickysimply_so_soI’ll be honest – I thought the mic stand spelled doom for Nicky, but in the end it was only marginally irritating and it did give him something to cling onto during open choreography. Fun jazzy framing sections aside, this foxtrot was pretty much a snooze – timid, flat and moving at the rate of a Florida election count.

Song: “The Best Is Yet To Come”, Michael Bublé (COPYCAT KLAXON: Austin Healey and Erin smooth)

Judges’ comments: Craig called it a “vast improvement”, but wanted it to travel more. Darcey similarly wanted more drive. Bruno thought he rose to the occasion and was great on the side-by-side sections, but again lacking drive.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30

Overall: Solid, but needs more drive. Have we mentioned that?

Kimberley and Pasha – Smoke gets in your eyes

kimberleystrictly_sensationalI’m not going to play into crafty Kimberley’s hands by commenting on THE THING she spent her VT plugging. Suffice to say that’s the most airtime it’ll ever get. She drew the costume short straw with a meringue made of cellophane and tinfoil (at least she can wrap her sandwiches later!) and giant, mystifying, shawl-like floats. Ola could have made three whole dresses out of them. However, she coped well with a tricky Viennese music choice, challenging steps and the fog of dry ice, hitting some beautiful lines and maintaining an appropriately angsty expression.

Song: “A Thousand Years”, Christina Perri

Judges’ comments: Darcey was “truly moved” and loved the long lines, but suggested she push down with the supporting leg to steady her attitude turns. Len called her “Kimberley Waltz” (a new low for him) and said it had “more spins than Alistair Campbell”, with great transitions and fleckerl, though she didn’t cross her feet on the reverse turns. Bruno thought it was “achingly romantic” with great spins. Craig noted she hopped three times in the attitude turn and her chin is too high, otherwise “delicious”.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34

Overall: Beautiful.

Michael and Natalie – Veni, vidi, vici

michaelsimply_so_soNat’s been doing her Strictly homework – if clubbing worked for super salsa dancer Mark Ramprakash, it must work for Michael! Well, ish. Huge step up from the hideous Farm Jive, with some rhythmical sections, the odd glimpse of hip action and impressive lifts (or rather “catches” as Nat hurled herself at him), but he did go badly wrong. Still, vast improvement in such a short space of time bodes well, and this pair has a great work ethic. Plus Nat is willing to hang tinsel off every extremity and outdo Charlie’s Angels in the big hair department. Commitment, people!

Song: “I Want You Back”, Jackson 5

Judges’ comments: Len noted the “serious incident” and it was a bit mechanical, but an improvement. Bruno: “I think we can now say you bat for the Latin team – you go BOTH WAYS! A revelation!” Craig could see the mechanics and it went “horribly wrong”, but loved the lifts and energy. Darcey would feel safe with Michael lifting her. You know, if Nat wants a week off.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26

Overall: Still hope in the Latin.

Lisa and Robin – Victor/Victoria

the real lisastrictly_sensationalAfter a serious discussion about tradition and technique, Lisa and Robin opened with gloriously camp stairography involving cross-dressing, top hats, canes and feather boas. Give the people what they want! Actually, their foxtrot was decent as well, if insanely fast, though Lisa still needs to work on her frame. Robin, kind soul that he is, tried to make Brendan feel better by tripping up the stairs. Ah, those pros. So co-ordinated!

Song: Lisa “(This Will Be) An Everlasting Love”, Natalie Cole (COPYCAT KLAXON: Zoe Lucker and James)

Judges’ comments: Bruno likened Lisa to Liza Minnelli and praised her performance value, though she’s still trying to lead. Craig loved her impeccable timing, ferocious footwork and line on the throwaway oversway. Darcey called it her best ballroom dance. Len praised one heel turn, but the other went “cranky” on the double reverse spin. Still, she has the “F Factor”: “Good foxtrot, good footwork, fun!”

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32

Overall: A joy to watch.


Denise and James – 36

Kimberley and Pasha – 34

Dani and Vincent – 34

Louis and Flavia – 33

Lisa and Robin – 32

Victoria and Brendan – 30

Nicky and Karen – 30

Richard and Erin – 29

Fern and Artem – 27

Michael and Natalie – 26

No change at the top. Rise for Victoria, back in ballroom, and big tumble for poor Michael in the Latin.


midnight tangoWe opened with a number from Vincent and Flavia’s Midnight Tango stage show, which, on the evidence of this extract, involves the pair of them doing their usual fast and furious kicks and tricks while also-ran tango couples and grumpy old people occasionally interject. It should also be noted that Flavia was wearing faded cushion covers. And yet still looked amazing.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Continuing the upholstery theme, Tess fashioned a mini dress out of a floral sofa cover with serrated doily edging. Claudia was back in black. And both wore poppy-red shoes – Claudia inoffensive heels, Tess bondage gladiator sandals.

The recap recapped. Anton replaced Claudia. I made a cup of tea.

Safe couples: Victoria and Brendan, Lisa and Robin, Louis and Flavia, Nicky and Karen, and Denise and James.

Just in case we were crying out for another “comedy” VT (we were not), the celebs donned Hawaiian shirts during their HILARIOUS preparations for Wembley. This has not made me any more kindly disposed towards the show that:

a) Is not in Blackpool and thus is not an exciting dance prospect
b) Requires at least 3,001 increasingly desperate uses of the word “Wembley” to drum up false enthusiasm
c) Features the sound levels of a damaged submarine submerged on Mars, rendering it particularly appalling television

But, hey… Girls Aloud!

Claudia, the judges and Len’s lens highlights

  • Darcey and Len bopping awkwardly while left-out Bruno pouted in slo mo
  • Vincent chatting up Darcey in the phone box of mystery (“Bella, it’s bigger on the inside!”)
  • Richard’s gurning and awful arse-slapping. Craig: “He looks like a blow-up doll, darling”
  • Brendan’s amazing fall. We’re laughing with you, Brendan! (At you)

More safe couples: Dani and Vincent, Richard and Erin, and a flabbergasted Michael and Natalie. In the dance-off: Fern and Artem, and… shock!!… Kimberley and Pasha.

I fear this unexpected turn of events distracted most viewers from a sweet Remembrance Sunday VT involving Kristina and Anton and the Military Wives Choir. And indeed from Andre Rieu’s rendition of “The Rose”, accompanied by a lovely lyrical rumba from Natalie and Brendan and a group of spectacularly formally attired musicians who’d been dragged out of a party. In a castle. In the 17th century.

Why do I love Claudia? Because of exchanges like this one:
Claudia: “Dance-off time. You’d better get into position.”
Fern, flustered: “Which position is that?”
Claudia: “Well, I’m not an expert. The dancing one!”

goodbyesSo, yes, the dance-off. Not a particularly tense affair.

  • Craig: “It’s a no-brainer.” Saved Kimberley
  • Darcey saved Kimberley.
  • Bruno saved “outstanding” Kimberley.
  • Len agreed.

Tears all round. I certainly shed a few at the departure of Artem’s beautiful chest. Parting is such sweet sorrow.What do you think? Did Kimberley deserve bottom two ignominy? Was it Fern’s time to go? Was the marking fair? Did you enjoy Tess and Claudia’s double act?

See you next week for Wembley (bah), the return of Bruce (double bah) and more drama. In the meantime…keep dancing!

The November issue of Dance Today features interviews with Denise Van Outen and Aliona Vilani, while Marianka Swain writes on major ballroom centres around the world. We have a HALF PRICE offer for new subscribers – get 12 issues for the price of six (£11.70) if you subscribe before January 31. Call 020 7250 3006 to subscribe.

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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