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Strictly speaking

Posted on December 17, 2012


Week 11

Last night’s hotly-contested Sports Personality of the Year was a showcase not just of achievement (and facial hair), but of the qualities we look for in our heroes: grace under pressure, perseverance in the face of overwhelming obstacles, commitment, humility and passion in your pursuit – a passion shared with others.

Not to sound too Twenty Twelve, but this year has been all about legacy, inspiring a generation, and though that may seem a rather lofty ambition for a reality dance show, surely we can look for some of those qualities in our finalists?

After all, Strictly has reignited interest in ballroom around the UK, and past couples have brilliantly illustrated its transformative quality, celebrated the teacher/student dynamic and made it OK for anyone and everyone to dance.

Lisa and Robin perhaps lacked technical ambition, but absolutely exhibited that joy of dance from start to finish. With the help of lovely Pasha and his great choreography, Kimberley has grown in confidence and technique – they’re starting to look like frontrunners – while Dani and Vincent have been a delightful surprise, developing a sweetly eccentric bond.

Denise and Louis, meanwhile, have executed slick, technically assured routines, yet for me lack the magic of true finalists. While you can’t fault her work ethic, Denise has delivered previously trained elements, like her spins, with chilly efficiency, and both she and particularly James exhibited wince-inducing gracelessness when they landed in the dance-off. Louis came into the competition with a strong skillset and has conquered complex choreography, but likewise descended into a teen sulk when asked to address weaker areas.

For both (and James), I would argue the missing magic is the acknowledgement that the series isn’t just about personal achievement, but giving to – and connecting with – an audience.


We kicked off this crucial show with a “comedy” race VT. It definitely set the right tone. DEFINITELY.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Unfortunately, her strapless black number was marred by a giant growth on her hip, but she distracted attention from it with hair flatter than a mashed cat and earrings down to her waist.

Dani and Vincent – Young at heart

01 dani_smooth-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-2012simply_so_soIt’s “Bring Your Voter-Baiting Family To Work Day”! Dani scored a passable grade for cheery dad and sister. Her “J word” has centred on her being freakishly small (SMALL!); surely they could have gotten more mileage out of a girl-to-woman arc? Alas no. It’s now the semi-final and Dani is still shopping in the junior section, dressing for a smooth in a floral vest and crumpled novelty Disney tissues. Vincent was so beguiled by her lil’ miss attire that he choreographed a cutesy teatime routine, including a lift that was basically a paternal hug.

Song: “I Just Haven’t Met You Yet”, Michael Bublé

Judges’ comments: Len: “The more I see you dance, the more I like what I see.” He praised her improved technique and heel turns, but wants stronger posture. Bruno loved the Ginger Rogers touches and thought she had flair in the lifts. Craig said she danced beautifully, but it lacked dynamics. Darcey agreed, loving the clean footwork but missing a bit of sparkle.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 24

Overall: Too safe for this stage.

Louis and Flavia – Destruction of school property

02 louis jive-low_res-strictly-come-dancingsimply_so_soWho needs family when you have teen-demographic-winning friends like that little one from JLS? B+ for Louis, downgraded to a B for the basis of their friendship being the wearing of idiotic hats indoors. I applaud Flavia’s canny footballer/cheerleader jive concept, appealing to the High School Musical market and essentially broadcasting that they’re the fittest pair in the competition – in both senses – but for once, Louis’s main defect was technique: flexed feet, sluggish movement and a lack of dynamics, apart from the requisite gymnastics trick. The highlight was him nearly trashing the – ahem – very expensive cardboard lockers. (Move over, wobbly lamp-post!)

Song: “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers (COPYCAT KLAXON: James Martin and Camilla)

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised his improved performance, but wanted sharper kicks and flicks. Craig called it soft, laidback and flat-footed, but liked the acro. Darcey thinks he’s JUST TOO DARN SUPPLE for jive. Len said this didn’t cut it – lots of content, but the quality wasn’t good enough.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Overall: Mediocre.

Denise and James – Ain’t that a kick in the head

03 denise tango -low_res-strictly-come-dancing-2012strictly_sensationalFollowing on from James’s classy “SHE HAS A CHILD, GODDAMIT!” speech, Denise paraded her angelic daughter in front of the cameras, and we were treated to the kind of impassioned scoring normally reserved for an X Factor lost parent and/or recovery from major disease story, because sticking your heel in your skirt is totally worthy of an epic redemption arc. Denise did at least transfer this melodrama to her tango, committing in both performance and attack – I kept waiting for her martial arts kicks to dislodge the family of ravens sewn into her hem, but they held firm.

Song: “Roxanne”, The Police (COPYCAT KLAXON ish: Julian Clary and Erin and Kara Tointon and Artem used the frankly superior Moulin Rouge! version)

Judges’ comments: Craig spotted gapping, but loved her staccato movement and posture. Darcey praised the sustained attack, though noted her bent legs on the kicks. Len muttered about their “trivial objections” (welcome to judging!) and called it a proper tango. Bruno interpreted “Roxanne” as a song about a warrior princess. Err…

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (Because bent legs = perfection?)

Strong start.

Kimberley and Pasha – Red hot

04 kimberley smooth-low_res-strictly-come-dancing-2012strictly_sensationalTop marks for Kimberley’s eerily cloned family in matching hideous festive jumpers, and bonus point for braving the Curse Of Cheryl. Their smooth was not subtle in its message, but you can’t fault them for delivery: hot, hot hot, and then – you guessed it – more HOT. Yes, there wasn’t enough in hold, and the foxtrot was vague. Yes, there were about 26 lifts. But Pasha has choreographed a musical, innovative routine that showcases his partner week after week, and Kimberley is delivering when it counts.

Song: “Fever”, Peggy Lee (COPYCAT KLAXON: Julian Clary and Erin, Jimmy Mistry and Flavia)

Judges’ comments: Darcey thought she looked like Cyd Charisse and loved her immaculate timing and complex turns/splits/lunge combo. Len got a bit hot under the collar, both because it lacked dance in hold and because she embodied Jessica Rabbit. Bruno: “That fever can cause an epidemic!” He offered up Rita Hayworth and praised her musical interpretation. Craig would put the routine straight into one of his shows (um…pantos?!) and called it mellifluous, creative and contemporary.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 – 38

Overall: Gorgeous.

Lisa and Robin – Make ’em laugh

05 lisa salsa-low_res-strictly-come-dancingsimply_so_soA- for brother and (more important) very cute nephew. It’s hard to convey exactly how gloriously bonkers this salsa really was – somewhere between the adventures of Erin Island and Russell being fired into space, but with an added joyful mania swinging between camp content delivered with infectious energy and total slapstick meltdown. It’s hard to choose between the styling (Lisa the tinselled chew toy; Robin’s “flesh-coloured” top five shades lighter than his cleavage), the beached whale floor spin and the judges bongo, but my personal highlight was the subtle Olympic tribute in the form of shimmying synchronised swimming.

Song: “Best Years of Our Lives”, Modern Romance

Judges’ comments: Len was a “happy chappy”, despite the laboured technique. Bruno saluted “the embodiment of the good-time girl”, but nearly exploded when she crash-landed – “I was crying with laughter.” Craig, still weeping, could hardly speak: “The floor spin did it for me, darling.” Darcey, queen of understatement, noted she missed a couple of isolations.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Overall: Correct? No. Amazing? Yes.

Dani and Vincent – The sound of silence

06 dani tangosimply_so_soThe second dances came with judges’ words of wisdom. Dani summary: despite being freakishly small (SMALL!), she’s fared well, but needs to find something extra in the Argentine tango. Her styling went from tween to hideous, with two skirts of unflattering length, and emotional storytelling is not Vincent’s forte, but I liked the intricacy of their work and quiet intensity – Dani didn’t even blink when he shoved her across the floor like an infuriating broom. Ultimately, a slight misfire, as it sold his choreography more than his partner, but Dani coped well with what she was given, especially the a cappella opening.

Song: “Libertango”, Astor Piazzolla (COPYCAT KLAXON: Austin Healey and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Len: “You captured the mood, you mastered the technique and you stole my heart.” Bruno said she became a lady of the night. (Um… Woo?) Craig thought one lift was bumpy, but otherwise it was spectacular. Darcey wanted crisper legs, but praised her control and the challenging intro.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38

Overall: Brave attempt.

Louis and Flavia – If you don’t know me by now…

07 louis foxtrot simply_so_soLouis summary: Darcey likes his strength and suppleness and tricks and full package, but he needs to come out all guns blazing performance-wise. Luckily, the foxtrot is TOTALLY an all guns blazing kinda dance, particularly with this not-in-the-least-mind-numbing Gotye tango – um, foxtrot – track! Sadly, we were back to Louis’s standard performance delivery: strong frame (with slight gapping), tidy footwork, the face of one enduring a string of Brucie gags while trapped in a lift.

Song: “Somebody That I Used To Know”, Gotye

Judges’ comments: Craig praised the rise and fall and movement round the floor, but his thumb was sticking out again. Darcey thought he travelled seamlessly. Len disagreed, noting the rise and fall bobbed up and down too much, but he came back stronger. Bruno said he was back on top. (So, no comments about performance, then? No? Right.)

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 – 38

Overall: Slick. Bland etc.

Denise and James – The lesser spotted hip action

08 denise rumbasimply_so_soDenise summary: she’s an undiscovered genius, whoever wins has to beat her. (“Neutral” Len.) But her hip action in Latin is lacking. Surely she’ll rectify this in her rumba? Err, no. Despite a crafty styling choice (wafty nightie), there was pretty much ZERO HIP ACTION on display. The pasted-on melodrama continued – James in full-on cheese mode, complete with random weepy kneeling, Denise channelling public rejection into spins – but she deserves credit for her lyrical lines and histrionic commitment.

Song: “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, Leona Lewis version (apparently)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised her arms and feeling, but wanted smoother transitions. “Neutral” Len said it wouldn’t be a proper final without her. Bruno was deeply moved and adored her lines. Craig agreed the storytelling was fantastic, but wasn’t so sure about her hip action.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38


Kimberley and Pasha – The sky’s the limit

09 kimberley charlestonstrictly_sensationalKimberley summary: Len enjoyed the private dance, Bruno’s pleased she can do ballroom as well as Latin, Darcey thinks she lacks stamina. That’s a fixable technical element in one week! Winning the prop lottery with a passable plane, the pair fully embraced their theme, matching wonderfully quirky character work with dynamic delivery. The three-cartwheels move was a bit rough, though still impressive, and there was a wobble on one dismount, but otherwise this was a dazzling number.

Song: “Prologue/Main Title” of Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, Ron Goodwin

Judges’ comments: Len called it fun and frivolous: they’re flying first class. Bruno said they were flying high and she looked good “from every angle”. Craig: “Fab-u-lous!” Darcey loved the interpretation and tricks.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40

Overall: Spiffing!

Lisa and Robin – Razzle dazzle ’em

10 lisa smoothsimply_so_soLisa summary: fabulous performer, but needs to incorporate technique as well. Sadly, she hasn’t quite managed it – and/or Robin hasn’t pushed her enough in his routines – but they’re a wonderful partnership and this was a jazztastic send-off; Robin doing Fosse in a see-through top is the dance equivalent of returning to the mother ship. Yes, they still need to improve their dance in hold, but is there anything more joyously hammy than Lisa and Robin doing side-by-side work? (Inside scoop: Denise was on hand for sitting-down tips!)

Song: “All That Jazz” from Chicago (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jill Halfpenny and Darren)

Judges’ comments: Bruno said she’s in a league of her own performance-wise, though she stumbled a bit. Craig loved the Fosse touches, but she has to watch her free arm and there was gapping. Darcey thinks she’s the next musical theatre star and praised her and Robin’s mirrored movement. Len labelled her the people’s champion (he meant it as a kind putdown, despite such figures winning in series past – hello, Chris Hollins!) and thought he saw her “razzle dazzle”, which Bruno followed up with a fanny club gag. Ahem. Looking forward to “Len’s lens: after dark!”

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32

Overall: Fabulous.


Kimberley and Pasha – 38 + 40 = 78
Denise and James – 39 + 38 = 77
Dani and Vincent – 34 + 38 = 72
Louis and Flavia – 31 + 38 = 69
Lisa and Robin – 31 + 32 = 63

Kimberley stays at the top and Lisa at the bottom, Denise jumps up to second.


After last week’s psychodrama, back to trad with a white tie and tails winter wonderland waltz, including snow – SNOW! Other than wondering if this got cut from the over-stuffed xmas special, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Hey, it’s Dani’s unflattering double-skirt look! Made even worse by fusing it with off-white tarpaulin! (I’m reliably informed this is called a peplum. Those who informed me did it through tears.) Claudia came dressed as a gold lace cracker.

Safe couple: Kimberley and Pasha. In the dance-off: Lisa and Robin.

Katherine Jenkins gave us a slinky “Santa Baby”, and where there is blonde bombshell awkwardly suggestive wiggling, there also shall be Kristina and Robin. Younger viewers… um, look at the nice balloons! (The Community parody of this frankly creepy song is a work of genius.)

Claudia, the judges and Len’s lens highlights

• Kimberley and Pasha’s cartwheels and Len’s astonishment at another perfect score (you marked them, Len…)
• Denise’s “Don’t mess with me” tango face and Craig’s 9-flaunting
• Vincent murmuring “Please let me be in the final” before their smooth
• Bruce washing his hands in the fountain (at least someone used it!)
• Highlights of highlights of highlights. Quality filler

More safe couples: Louis and Flavia, and Dani and Vincent. In the dance-off: Denise and James.

Katherine Jenkins is back! Well, don’t all cheer at once. She and Mark Ballas reprised their Dancing with the Stars jive, sadly without the accompanying casino set.  These are austerity times, and gambling doesn’t pay. (Unless you picked the SPOTY winner. Go you!)

lisa leavingSo, dance-off time: the people’s champion versus the judges’ champion, judged by the judges. I WONDER WHICH WAY THIS WILL GO? Two strong, vastly different performances: one a joyous swansong, the other fuelled by pure fourth-place rage.
Craig, based on technique, saved Denise.
Darcey agreed.
Bruno praised both for their great dancing and entertainment, but saved Denise.
Len agreed.

Lovely emotional speeches from Robin and Lisa and tears all round. I may have had something in my eye.

What do you think? Did the right couples make it to the final? Should the judges have the choice? What can we expect from the showdances? And who do you want to win?

See you next week for the final, huzzah. 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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