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Strictly speaking

Posted on September 30, 2013


Strictly finally kicked off Series 11 with promising debuts, actual training footage, soapy plotlines (excuse me while I tend to my deadly knee injury while going into labour DURING THIS BLOG) and a performance that should have come with a serious health warning. Honestly, I’m thinking of trading in my HD telly. Officially blind in at least one eye.

A pick ‘n’ mix of first dances gave some celebs fizzy rainbow strips (jive! Campy tango!) and others vanilla fudge (so-so cha chas and waltzes), but this year’s Barbie and Ken cannily played the angelic showmance card to top the leaderboard with a dreamy waltz. Will Natalie’s relegation to second place end the ringer mutterings? Unlikely. Are we all still terribly cut up about the beautiful telegenic girls who just find it SO HARD to look elegant in the ballroom dances? Don’t make me laugh bitterly.

New this year, I’m handing out rosettes for Best in Show – feel free to nominate your choices in the comments section or drop me a tweet: @mkmswain
Best performance: Susanna and Kevin’s jive Jolly-hockey-sticks enthusiasm, genuine surprise from a non-dancer, and that final tipsy cartwheel put it at the top for me
Best costume: Artem’s Cossack escort attire Finally, they got my letters! (In related news, this week’s Best Strictly-related autobiography title has to be Russia’s Greatest Love Machine)
Best move: Hairy Dave dragging Karen around by her foot Ever wanted to see a forgetful caveman cover version of John Sergeant’s paso? You’re welcome!
Best line: “Sometimes it pays to be straight!” Bruno Tonioli, tellin’ it like it is (and scoring runner-up for Best Strictly-related autobiography title)


After an irritating X Factor-meets-Antiques Roadshow opening montage (although, FYI, I am definitely drinking out of a sequinned mug right now, while sitting on a Len cushion), Bruce psyched up the crowd with a thrilling golf anecdote and struck fear into the hearts of a nation by threatening to twerk. See above re: dangers of HD.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Confusingly, this luminous banana custard-hued body-con creation was conservative in neck- and hemlines, yet had the essential composition of a condom. Welcome back, Tess, and may your blood feud with the wardrobe department never end.

Ashley and Ola – No direction

0001 ashley 4843244-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so so

Ola the lummox-whisperer seems somewhat adrift with her vaguely co-ordinated soap hunk (WHO’S EXPECTING A BABY! RIGHT NOW, PEOPLE!), throwing in lots of trademark male-celeb-as-stripper-pole moves rather than coaching him on transitions and, you know, cha cha basics. Change the programme, Olabot – this one actually has potential. And please god never do that cringe-worthy hip hop breakdown again.

Song: “What Makes You Beautiful”, One Direction

Judges’ comments: Len wanted better hip action. Bruno embraced the post-watershed scheduling with a quip about Ashley looking at ease on his hands and knees, face pressed to Ola’s derriere. Craig praised his rhythm and general hunkiness, but called the footwork “feral” and noted a missed catch. Darcey suggested he spot on his turns, possibly by looking somewhere other than Ola’s derriere.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 7, 7 – 25

Overall: It’s a low bar, but one of the better male debuts.

Tony and Aliona – Lost in the deep rough

0002 tony 4843192-low res-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleAliona, unceremoniously fired and then reinstated with classic cannon fodder, at least got a free trip to Florida and a reason to break out those knee-length jeggings. Truly, that was the highlight for us all. Their father-of-the-bride waltz was disahhhhstrously soporific, with geriatric Tony pottering round the course – sorry, floor – while his frame gently deflated like an abandoned soufflé and Aliona serenely phoned it in. Still, marks for cruelly literal choreography as she actually packed his bags and waved him off at the end.

Song: “What’ll I Do”, Alison Krauss (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ricky Groves and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Bruno blamed nerves for the Galapagos tortoise impersonation. Craig preferred Hunchback of Notre Dame and said it got “worse and worse and worse”. Len put the final nail in Tony’s coffin with a “You are the spirit of this show”, before his partner added a chirpy “I’ve never seen anyone sweat so much!” Wave goodbye to those free golf lessons, Aliona.

Judges’ scores: 2, 5, 5, 4 – 16

Overall: Zzzzzzzz…

Mark and Iveta – All that glitters

0003 mark 4843322-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soIveta took a rather literal inspiration from her trip to see Mark in Hairspray by choreographing a gloriously camp tango, but he paired the goofy jewel thief trout pout and eyebrow-ography with decent basics and a promising frame. (Minor point: I do not come to Strictly for narrative sense, but wouldn’t it be more effective to wear the bandit eyemask over your eyes? Or is his forehead known to police?)

Song: “Hernando’s Hideaway”, Alma Cogan

Judges’ comments: Craig praised his intent and purpose, but wants better hand shaping. Fifty Shades of Darcey gushed about him taking control of his woman and threw in an Alesha-speak “I’m well impressed”. I’m well worried. Len thought it was going to be like a sneeze – “you know it’s coming, but there’s nothing you can do about it” – and was pleasantly surprised by the frame and storytelling. Bruno loved the Carry On Thieving, but wants more drive.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 7, 6 – 24

Overall: Dark Horse, Mark I.

Susanna and Kevin – Birds of a feather

0004 susanna 4843296-low res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensational
Irritating newsreader gimmicks aside, this was the most joyous performance of Week 1 – enough content and hint of technique to show willing, but more importantly a giddy abandon lacking in most of the numbers. Susanna and Kevin have a delightful boy/girl-next-door vibe: instead of perma-tanned European pecs and lithe model limbs entwined in solemn grace, we get a half-arsed cartwheel us mere mortals might produce, boundless enthusiasm, a passable Craig impression and the makings of a fan-favourite partnership.

Song: “Shake A Tail Feather”, Ray Charles (COPYCAT KLAXON: Alesha Dixon and Matthew)

Judges’ comments: Darcey loved the energy and style, and suggested a lower heel to get more bounce. Len, king of unsettling metaphors, called it “chicken soup to the eyes – tasty, satisfying and did me the world of good”. Bruno praised her stage presence and content, but wants sharper kicks and flicks. Craig offered the “cold, hard truth”, namely it was laboured at times, but her armography and personality were “sublime”.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 7 – 28

Overall: Dark Horse, Mark II.

Sophie and Brendan – Blue (Peter) moon

0005 sophie 4842476-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soBrendan waved aside Sophie’s British reservations about ballroom’s naughty touching, but seemed flummoxed by her Daniel Day-Lewis method approach. Look forward to the ritual bull slaughtering in paso week. Despite the promising build-up, their waltz was sweetly tame, with tails-clad Brendan guiding his dainty Bambi into some passable lines. Best moment: Janet Ellis weeping in the audience, followed by Sophie’s exasperated teenage “Yeah, Mum ALWAYS cries.”

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

Judges’ comments: Len liked the understated vibe and fluidity, but her feet came off the ground too much. Bruno enjoyed the Audrey Hepburn sophistication and phrasing. Craig felt her topline let her down. Darcey thought it was beautiful and elegant.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 – 28

Overall: Promising, if she can switch it up for Latin.

Natalie and Artem – From Russia, with love

0006 natalie 4842437-low res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalArtem dealt with Natalie’s nerves in his usual inimitable fashion: “Don’t cry on a Saturday night if you haven’t trained till you cried during the week!” He’s thinking of volunteering for the Samaritans. Her cha cha was a clear indication of stage-school dance training, but showed it might also be a hindrance – her movement was too balletic, so great lines but light foot pressure and thus minimal hip action. Still, if we’re honest, we barely noticed her, because teak-hued Artem fused Aladdin pantaloons and booties with matador casual-chic to create a smouldering Cossack action figure. If that’s not worth the licence fee, I don’t know what is.

Song: “Rasputin”, Boney M

Judges’ comments: Bruno found it “lascivious, sexy and sensuous”, which is the highest praise he can bestow. Craig noted a lack of hip action, but called her the frontrunner. Darcey wasn’t expecting so much detail in Natalie’s first dance, because Darcey has been living under a rock. Len agreed on hip action, but loved the style and rhythm.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 7 – 31

Overall: High scores guaranteed; low votes a possibility.


A pro number! Well, ish. This was more of a weirdly costumed excuse to get Bruno gyrating on the judges’ desk, which set the tone for a batsh*t-crazy second performance show.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
One night skin-tight, the next voluminous mauve parachute silk marshalled into a crime-scene tent. Get it together, people.

Ben and Kristina – Arms and the man

0007 ben 4845675-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soKristina knows how this game is played. Yes, Ben has sportsman-week 1-itis, i.e. slightly lumbering, adorably tentative and resolutely refusing to entertain the notion of cha cha hip action, but my, THOSE GUNS. Sleeveless top for him, fringed lingerie for her, and watch those votes come rolling in.

Song: “Love Me Again”, John Newman

Judges’ comments: Len: “Big Ben, ding dong!” So say we all. He put the iffy timing down to nerves, but liked that he gave it a go. Bruno spluttered out a “beefy beast” and offered some private coaching to help him move his “bulk” more effectively. (Note: suggesting Ben is too muscular is about as crackers as Hollywood moaning about Glenn’s cakes being too large on Bake-off, IMO.) Craig has seen breeze blocks with more movement. Presumably when they’re being hurled at his head. Darcey added her appreciation of his “impressive” upper body.

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 6, 5 – 19

Overall: Potential Darren Gough or another Joe Calzaghe? Time will tell…

Fiona and Anton – James Blonde

0008 anton 4845636-low res-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleFiona demonstrated her superlative acting skills by claiming that her dreams came true when she was paired with Anton. Anton, who puts Daniel Craig to shame merely by donning a tux – or at least rivals Alan Partridge. (Coincidentally, a big fan of Fiona’s Bond work.) Have we mentioned she was a Bond girl? Bond girl Bond girl Bond girl. Anyhow, she couldn’t quite match the red-hot dress with red-hot tango moves, but she does have a grasp on this reality, which puts her streets ahead of Anton’s recent partners. Although, should we – and the judges – really be grading on a curve?

Song: “A View to a Kill”, Duran Duran (Bond girl Bond girl Bond girl)

Judges’ comments: Bruno liked the role play, not the footwork. Craig enjoyed seeing Anton actually dancing, but it was rough around the edges. Darcey praised the content. Len called it “sharp as a lemon tart” until she went wrong. Is it possible Len had chicken soup and lemon tart for dinner?

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, “Double-oh 7” (score given purely for that pun, which I respect), 6 – 24

Overall: A decent attempt.

Dave and Karen – Moves like Jabba

0009 dave 4845887-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soWell. I mean. Most of us couldn’t look this deranged if we tried, and Team Hirsute were trying VERY HARD. Karen has also learned how to play the game, and she came screaming out of the gate with a mixed-up-my-meds, dance-off-with-Widdy-at-a-drunken-wedding comedy choreo greatest-hits extravaganza. This was cha cha in the same way that Anton is James Bond, ie bears no relation, not even the faintest family resemblance, and… well. It was memorable. No one who caught a glimpse of Hairy Biker moob flopping out of his satin shirt while he hoovered the floor with his cackling partner will ever be able to remove the image from their brain. Believe me, I’ve tried.

Song: “Moves Like Jagger”, Maroon 5 (COPYCAT KLAXON: Harry McFly and Aliona)

Judges’ comments: Craig “recoiled in horror” and had an “overwhelming feeling of revulsion”. Darcey, more charitably, wanted to “cry with happiness” and was “strangely in love”. Len: “You dance like I cook – chuck it all in and hope for the best.” Bruno called it “the most insanely hilarious mess ever”, which is saying something on this show. Dave, undaunted, was “chuffed as big nuts” and scored the second-best line of the night with the unintentionally disparaging “The only way is up, Tessa!”

Judges’ scores: 2, 5, 5, 4 – 16

Overall: Memorable. Have I said memorable? Memorable.

Rachel and Pasha – The scent of a woman (or Glade)

000 pasha and rachel 4845835-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soAnother waltz, another snooze. Still, self-proclaimed tomboy Rachel was beautifully fluid, almost did a heel turn and managed to avoid looking like a toddler at an Easter parade in her giant yellow dress. What else… Well, her hair was amazing. And Pasha’s routine had some nice accents. Really, we’re all still recovering from Dave.

Song: “When I Need You”, Leo Sayer (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jaye Jacobs and Andrew, Patsy Kensit and Robin)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised her grace and suggested building up core strength to help with transitions. Len thought it was pretty, but too careful. Bruno likened her to a fragile spring blossom in an air-freshener commercial and wants less nerves. Craig noted some eyeline issues and broke out “spatulistic” for the first time this series, but praised her rise and fall.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Overall: Great potential.

Julien and Janette – TURN THE VOLUME DOWN

00011 julien 4846067-low res-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleI’m a big fan of Janette from her time on So You Think You Can Dance, but she’s not the world’s quietest person. Combine that with Julien’s tendency to yelp random syllables as if he’s being electrocuted and you get a Marmite couple: some people will hate them, some people can no longer hear. Anyhow, following a quick fashion break (Make it work!),  Julien slithered into a bedazzled snake skin and Vogued with the gimlet-eyed determination of the late departed Erin Boag. Anyone who wanted to see his sex face…well, you have now, and I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY. Bonus: Julien out-weirding Bruce by squealing at a pitch reserved for porpoises in distress.

Song: “Vogue”, Madonna

Judges’ comments: Len thought it was more Woman’s Weekly than Vogue. Bruno got into an almighty innuendo tangle by proclaiming you can’t be bent all the time. Craig agreed – with the bent legs, that is – and called it “hideously flat-footed”.

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 6, 6 – 20

Overall: Grating.

Deborah and Robin – Penny dreadful

00012 deb 4846041-low res-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleWhat a shame the wardrobe department ran out of fabric and had to construct Deborah’s abstract Christmas tree dress out of castoffs. AMIRIGHT, JULIEN? She had the haughty tango/ unimpressed investor face down, but everything else was pretty dodgy. At least Robin had the good sense to literally hurl money at the judges. Try that with the producers next year, love – you’ve earned a ringer.

Song: “Money, Money, Money”, ABBA (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ray Fearon and Camilla)

Judges’ comments: Bruno said she was “steaming ahead, breasts ahoy”, but messed up the middle. Craig thought she lagged behind her partner. Darcey praised the attack and attitude, but she sank into Robin. Len agreed she needs to lift her diaphragm, but enjoyed the “snap, crackle and pop”.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 6, 6 – 24

Overall: Passable.

Patrick and Anya – I dance, therefore I am

00013 patrick 4846360-low res-strictly-come-dancing 1strictly sensationalThe v important thespian AKA Casualty regular can glimpse the grim reaper. His time on this earth will soon draw to a close, and what will he have to show for it? What is his artistic legacy? Plus his knee’s really bothering him. Not a barrel of laughs, is what I’m saying, and hasn’t that put us in the mood for a beaming Happy Days jive?! Despite his overwhelming existential despair, Patrick displayed promising musicality and decent footwork – Anya can definitely challenge him more in future.

Song: “Runaway Baby”, Bruno Mars (COPYCAT KLAXON: Holly Valance and Artem)

Judges’ comments: Craig called the rhythm and energy “absolutely fantastic”, but noted his flat feet. Darcey praised the energy and fitness, though his feet were flappy on the kicks. Len loved the attack. Bruno labelled him “a power house”, but wants more refinement.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 – 28

Overall: Best male celeb by default.


Vanessa and James – Damp squib

00014 vanessa 4846347-low res-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleNearly there. Honest. This promisingly combustible couple has yet to really ignite – Vanessa was actually too well-behaved in rehearsal, leading to a heart-to-heart in a bonkers daytime-drama-esque coffee shop scene. Their cha cha demonstrated that confusion: while Vanessa was less of a car crash than we might have expected (hoped?), she didn’t sell the courtship conflict story at all. James’s random chest flash was a page straight of his wife’s distraction playbook, but, sadly for him, probably less effective.

Song: “That Don’t Impress Me Much”, Shania Twain

Judges’ comments: Darcey demonstrated a lack of Feltz knowledge by suggesting a demure ballroom dance might suit her better. Len noted she didn’t lose the timing, but called her “too calm and collected”, which is surely one of the signs of the apocalypse. Craig thought there was too much acting, not enough dancing.

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 6, 5 – 19

Overall: Let’s hope there’s drama to come.

Abbey and Aljaž – Prom King and Queen

00015 abbey 4846282-low res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalAbbey’s just a normal girl. Just like us. Yes, she’s married to a famous footballer. Yes, her only experience of work is a spot of modelling. Yes, she’s not exactly the poster girl for economic recession. BUT SHE’S JUST LIKE US, OK? Aljaž  wisely bypassed the Eva Peron/Jenny from the block shtick and played to their strengths: namely, they are ridiculously beautiful human beings and cover all gender/sexual orientation bases when it comes to romantic fantasy. Hence Romeo + Juliet soundtrack, angelic cricketer styling (and tight white spandex… does not hurt) and lyrical showmance tabloid fodder. Plus, it turns out Abbey can dance. Add that to the CV!

Song: “Kissing You”, Des’ree (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ricky Whittle and Natalie)

Judges’ comments: Len proclaimed it the dance of the night. Bruno found it “dreamy and deeply felt” with wonderful flow. Craig had a hunch about them, because he has eyes, and called it gorgeous. Darcey praised her posture and lines.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32

Overall: The ones to beat.


Abbey and Aljaz – 32
Natalie and Artem – 31
Susanna and Kevin – 28
Patrick and Anya – 28
Sophie and Brendan – 28
Rachel and Pasha – 27
Ashley and Ola – 25
Mark and Iveta – 24
Deborah and Robin – 24
Fiona and Anton – 24
Julien and Janette – 20
Ben and Kristina – 19
Vanessa and James – 19
Dave and Karen – 16
Tony and Aliona – 16


The girls came out strong, but all kinds of entertainment potential from Lunatic Corner. Tango, you will note, can only score 24. It is a new law of Strictlydom and we shall bow before it.

Who’s your Week 1 favourite? Did you like the mix of styles? And how do you think the new pros are faring? Leave your thoughts below.

See you next week for another dizzying array of dances, more Welsh squawking and hairy madness, and an actual elimination (Bye bye, Tony). 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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