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Strictly speaking

Posted on October 7, 2013


Week 2 AKA Girls Run The World Week saw a cluster of female celebs at the top of the leaderboard and the slick duo of Tess and Claudia helming the show with a startling level of professionalism.

Yes, Brucie is a loveable fixture (along with Dave Arch’s grim smile to camera and the wardrobe department affixing ruffles to anything that moves), but let’s be honest – it does cut the show time down by half when the presenter can a) see the autocue, b) read the autocue, and c) remember where they are.

Plus the chin-waggler’s absence means Tess can abandon all pretence of jocular improvised banter and concentrate on speeding through intros, while quick-witted Claudia (CLAUDIA!) bonds with contestants and imbues life into the most tedious of links. The search for a male presenter to replace Bruce is totally unnecessary – leave the show in the hands of the girls and it will rocket up the sequinometer in no time.

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Sophie’s Charleston Unanimous choice from you, and I quite agree, despite my general feeling that the style is a terrible blight on our ballroom landscape. Quirky, charming and effortless
  • Best costume: Mark and Iveta’s psychedelic eruption Ever wanted to see a piece of clothing suffer a stroke? YOU HAVE NOW
  • Best move: Fiona kicking Anton in the shins On behalf of all his former partners, now reduced to a collective punching bag
  • Best line: Everything uttered by Claudia So, let us mosey on over to…

Claudia’s Corner

No one else has her ability to seem genuinely enthusiastic and yet drolly subvert the entire show. Gems included:

  • “Voting won’t open until I press a magic button”
  • To Tony re: judges’ harsh critique: “They’ve never actually seen dancing”
  • “You can’t even believe what’s coming up. If I told you, your head would explode”
  • “We have reached – I want whooping – the halfway point.”
  • “If Vanessa’s waltz brought a tear to your eye… in a good way”
  • To Ben re: Len’s putdown: “Who doesn’t love Stonehenge?”
  • To open-shirted Aljaz: “You’re too good-looking – you need to turn round.” And “I told you to turn round.” Finally: “Very disobedient. Love it”
  • To Ashley re: high score following endless newborn chat: “That’s better than a new baby! I’m totally kidding”

In her honour, I’ll be awarding Family prop points for judicious use of family members as vote-grabbing tools.

In other news:

  • Marathon show – hope you all had your emergency provisions. Blanket. Whistle. Adrenaline shot
  • The song copycatting continues. Honestly, pros, it’s not as though we’ve stopped making music
  • It’s Field Trip Week! As well as sensible outings to dance clubs and ballet classes, we had training on trains (pun appreciated, Susanna) and on boats. Next week: jive on a jet, boogie on a bike, rumba on a rocket
  • Or not. For next week is apparently Love Week. WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS? Has someone in the production department got a bunch of leftover Valentine’s decorations? This is the most coupled-up cast in years (both celebs and pros), so full-on showmance is out of the question, leaving only terrible, terrible “comedy” VTs. Well, good luck selling it to the public – as far as my Twitter feed was concerned, it’s Hate And Seething Anger Week


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Tess bedazzled an oil slick; Claudia squeezed a black boob tube round a green T-shirt.

Susanna and Kevin – Hell hath no fury

4875705-low-strictly-come-dancing simply so soSweet Kevin embodies the inverse of the She’s All That trope – he puts on his glasses and suddenly he’s beautiful! Meanwhile, Susanna got in early with the BUSY SCHEDULE KLAXON, halting training for pesky annoyances like interviewing the prime minister. Her tango had decent crisp movement, despite a wandering frame and bent kicks. Extra marks for channelling Karen Hardy with the souped-up plait and diva glower.

Song: “Locked Out of Heaven”, Bruno Mars

Judges’ comments: Len: “You put the ‘go’ in tango.” Loose frame, but fabulous. Bruno thought it was like Hell “in a good way”, with its fire, flair and attack, but needed more control. Craig praised her flamenco, drama and intent, but noted her raised right shoulder. Darcey: “Give up the day job, you’ve got it!” Either that or insist on interviewing Cameron while in hold: “You’re losing connection with my centre, prime minister – AND WITH THE PUBLIC.”

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Overall: Engaging.

Tony and Aliona – A swing and a miss

4877422-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleIt’s unclear why anyone thought the doddery golfer doing high-energy Charleston was a good idea – possibly Aliona was in a sadistic mood. Tony sought inspiration/votes from his gaggle of grandchildren (Family prop points: +3), but no one could save him once wardrobe created that eye-watering pink-and-green-argyle monstrosity of a jumper and paired it with unfortunately baggy plus-fours. Stumbling basics, trembling lifts and a 50:50 ratio of dancing to glittery-golf-club-swinging. Ouch.

Song: “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”, Duke Ellington (COPYCAT KLAXON: Martin Offiah and Erin, Alex Jones and James)

Judges’ comments: Bruno: “The most exciting thing about that was the jumper.” Off timing, no swivel action. Craig: “Limp, lame and lacklustre, devoid of any real characterisation.” Len muttered something about his golf swing not being much better than Tony’s dancing. Yes, but we don’t have to watch you play golf, Len.

Judges’ scores: 2, 4, 4, 3 – 13 (Lowest ever Charleston score)

Overall: Woeful.

Natalie and Artem – Heads will roll

4875915-low-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalAs Natalie was getting nauseous from turning, Artem invented a game where you spin around constantly and then stare into Brucie’s gurning mug. No one will out-sadist our resident Russian. Despite the anti-ringer “I’m struggling, honest!” VT, Natalie looked supremely confident in her waltz – lyrical movement, polished spins, Natalie Lowe-esque head rolls and hitting all the accents in Artem’s lovely choreography (to a challenging track with subtle rhythm). Plus, Artem wore a bow tie. Bow ties are cool.

Song: “If I Ain’t Got You”, Alicia Keys (COPYCAT KLAXON: Pamela Stephenson and James)

Judges’ comments: Craig spotted gapping, but loved her topline and rise and fall. Darcey praised her beautiful neck. Len liked the elegance and double reverse spin, but wanted more heel leads. Ah, Len – you can count the number of heel leads over 11 series on one hand. Bruno waxed lyrical about fluidity and expressiveness – “you tell a story with each flicker [sic] of your wrist”.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8, 9 – 34

Overall: Assured.

Dave and Karen – Soft-boiled

4874260-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleKaren’s taking a literal approach to her Hairy Chef, which bodes well for future music choices (“American Pie”, “Soul Cakes”, the Strictly-appropriate “I Am A Tangerine”), but she also switched from the winning strategy of packing in every possible comedy error before Dave could even think of it to attempting actual dancing. The resulting 1950s American smooth (with Karen sporting a flowery tablecloth) was tediously pedestrian, featuring Dave tiptoeing round the floor so as not to wake Ashley’s newborn and wearing Karen as a feather boa while slo-mo twirling like the ballerina in a dying music box.

Song: “How D’Ya Like Your Eggs in the Morning?”, Dean Martin

Judges’ comments: Darcey liked the control, but not the use of a chair in the lift. Len suggested “it always helps to have a bunk up” and noted some heel leads (OOH BURN). Bruno thought he “cooked up a stink” and didn’t listen to the music. Craig called it “dancing by numbers”, with no style, “flat horrible hands” and a lumberjack lift.

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 4 – 17

Overall: Check, please.

Patrick and Anya – Tango blues 

4874420-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soYet more existential angst, this time in the daytime-drama coffee shop over Patrick’s lost passion for the music of Michael Jackson. It’s not really up there with Syria, is it, Patrick? Their ambitiously conceptual clockwork doll tango featured lumpy movement from Patrick, conspicuous gapping (perhaps trying to avoid the giant ruffles eating Anya’s legs) and the exact facial expression you’d get if you asked a child to draw “sad” with a blunt crayon. Still the Leonard Cohen of contestants. Jeez, wheel out a cute family member or a puppy or something!

Song: “Beat It”, Michael Jackson

Judges’ comments: Len thought the hold could have been tighter, but liked the energy. Bruno called it strong and grounded, despite the lost frame and fuzzy links. Craig criticised his protruding bottom and missed heel leads, but liked the attack and timing. Darcey suggested using his whole back to change direction rather than one shoulder.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Overall: Solemn.

Deborah and Robin – Drag race

4876056-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soPositives: Robin’s rehearsal vests with glimpses of side boob and indoor flat cap. Negatives: Deborah’s gimlet-eyed resolve and weird attempt to improve her cha cha by reminiscing about her holiday to South America with Paul the Very Dull Husband (sorry, Paul). Family prop points: -10. Positives: General drunken Vegas hen party approach – highlighter-pink mini with shaggy-dog fringe, Dolly Parton hair, aggressive gyrating at Craig, trademark Robin side-by-side campathon. Negatives: vague, skippy footwork, performance evaporates when fervently counting.

Song: “Respect”, Aretha Franklin

Judges’ comments: Bruno enjoyed her feisty personality, but wants cleaner finishes, more hip action and better foot placement. Craig thought it was more drag queen than dragon (though in his case, the two are not mutually exclusive). Darcey wants straight legs, but praised her timing and work ethic. Len liked the cheekiness and hopes for improved technique.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 6, 6 – 24

Overall: Jolly.

Rachel and Pasha – Luck runs out

4876215-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleAnother week, another beautiful girl struggling to be sexy. Pasha tried a trip to a salsa club, but this was still the most awkward we’ve seen Rachel, stumbling through steps, nervous in the lifts and frantically trying to communicate through some kind of tangerine-fringe semaphore that her family won’t be released unless she suffers through this dance. Random extra: piles of furniture in the background. Is Dave Arch downsizing? (Claudia: “There was a hat stand, I’m fascinated.”)

Song: “Get Lucky”, Daft Punk feat Pharrell Williams

Judges’ comments: Craig: “You were wriggling around like a slug in salt.” Darcey thought there was “lots of sugar, not a lot of spice” and told her off for not flirting with Pasha – “he’s easy to flirt with!” True dat. Len said she worked her assets, but it was both too careful and not precise enough. Bruno wants her to work on control, balance and strength.

Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 6, 5 – 20

Overall: Painful.

Vanessa and James – Cry me a river

4876176-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleIt’s honestly hard to tell what’s “real Vanessa” and what’s “product of reality TV and dramatically fluctuating hormones Vanessa”. Either way, she spent this week’s training weeping over the joy of dance (“What if I cry and fall apart on live TV?” she gasped. “That’s why we booked you,” the producers replied), and James responded enthusiastically with a truckload of cheese. The swooping cameras did the waltzing; Ronseal-ed Vanessa and James did a lot of REACHING and FEELING.

Song: “Run to You”, Whitney Houston (COPYCAT KLAXON: Willie Thorne and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the emotion and suggested softening her knees to get more glide. Len called it “heartfelt”, but wants crisper feet and better head placement. Bruno thought it was an improvement. Craig doesn’t want to see her dance Latin ever again (both because she’s more comfortable in ballroom and because her Latin makes us bleed from the eyes).

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 6 – 23

Overall: Syrupy.

Julien and Janette – A right royal mess

4877461-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleJulien struggled with the strong, masculine tango, but nothing says masculine like a Flashdance training montage to Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical”! And if that’s not enough, let’s dress Janette as Princess Helena Bonham-Carter (giant mullet skirts arranged to best resemble a loofah) and Julien as the campest of camp princes in Dynasty shoulder pads, purple stockings and the entire Accessorize counter. Dismal frame – amazing he moved at all while practically horizontal – and studiously constipated expression. At least he was silent during judging. NEW THEORY: he burst Brucie’s eardrum last week and Tess was eager to avoid a similar fate.

Song: “Applause”, Lady Gaga

Judges’ comments: Len said he was more Wimpy than Big Mac. Bruno went with the Mary Rose – “royal pomp and splendour, but sunk as soon as it left the port” – and couldn’t tell if this was tango or paso. Craig called his posture “ghastly, like the Leaning Tower of Pisa”.

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 5 – 18

Overall: Unfortunate.

Fiona and Anton – Country mouse

4876382-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleFiona (and the ghosts of partners past) took Anton to a farm for a spot of Good Life torture. Now that I’ve seen a D-list actress thrust a squawking chicken named Tess into the arms of a horrified Anton, my life is complete. (Sidenote: anyone else get shivery farm jive flashbacks?) Bafflingly, Anton brought his outdoorsy experience to the dancefloor in the guise of a half-styled Downton extra. There are few people who can pull off a mustard waistcoat and he is not one of them. Nor is he remotely convincing in Latin – Fiona far outperformed him until her glaring error and subsequent meltdown.

Song: “Beggin’”, Madcon (COPYCAT KLAXON: Chelsee Healey and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought she played the part well, but went wrong too obviously. Darcey said she goes in and out of clean legwork, but her triple spin into plank was amazing. Len loved her timing and solo work.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 5, 5 – 22

Overall: Inconsistent.

Mark and Iveta – Rave on

4876614-low-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalMark joined the long list of celebs struggling with sex appeal, so he too decamped to the daytime-TV coffee shop. Iveta sympathised while sporting the hides of animals she hunted to blow off steam on the weekend. Their spilt-paint acid-trip eyesore attire suggested salsa disaaaahster ahead, but Iveta was slowly revealed as a secret Strictly genius. Every peculiar element, from her gold stripper boots and Mark’s slicked-down pimp hair to the campy pointing, whoops, bum bongos and slapstick gyrations, combined to create a fruitcake Eurotrash triumph. Even better: Iveta choreographed this glorious lunacy and then danced it DEAD STRAIGHT.

Song: “Bom Bom”, Sam and the Womp

Judges’ comments: Craig noted it was a crowd-pleaser, but found it disjointed. Darcey loved the wild energy. Len showed cheerful disregard for the salsa by saying it should be pure fun. Bruno was “slightly bilious – I’m not sure if I was watching a psychotic incident or a psychedelic rave”. We wonder the same, Bruno.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 7, 5 – 22

Overall: Bonkers.

Sophie and Brendan – Le jazz hot

4876575-low-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalBrendan has never done Charleston. He has never wanted to do Charleston. Brendan is a sensible, discerning man. Nevertheless, he rallied enough to teach his partner a surprisingly fantastic number that fitted her like a Roaring Twenties glove, translating her ironic detachment into sexily nonchalant flapper. Sophie, the only person who could possibly make a gold-tinsel jumpsuit look chic, nailed all the synchro work, had impeccable timing and even did the crazy lifts (including cracking Brendan’s head like a nut between her thighs) with stylish, aristocratic insouciance.

Song: “Rock It For Me”, Caravan Palace

Judges’ comments: Darcey: “The Charleston is made for you!” Loved the difficult lift series. Len thought it was a great routine beautifully danced. Bruno: “Scott Fitzgerald could not have drawn a better image of a flapper.” Craig: “Brendan, you were rubbish. Sophie, that was fit, darling.”

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36

Overall: Stylish.

Ben and Kristina – Romancing the stone

4876817-low-strictly-come-dancingstruggles sparkleYou can’t fault the producers’ efforts. Ben got the full Billy Elliot arc, plus some rather delectable formal wear and a big power ballad for his waltz, but nothing can disguise the fact that he can neither move nor act. Kristina distracted gamely (décolletage aplenty, giant ruffled shower-curtain dress, candlelit séance, exaggerated face-stroking), but, like Rachel, he looks like he’s doing everything under duress. Perhaps he’d be better off with his preferred partner: the lovely Robin?

Song: “What the World Needs Now”, Dionne Warwick (COPYCAT KLAXON: Bill Turnbull and Karen)

Judges’ comments: Len likened his lack of movement to Stonehenge, but saw improvement. Bruno praised his “natural charm”, but wants more drive and phrasing. Craig said his “delicious” rugby butt stuck out too much and he needs to inject more personality. Darcey thought the topline was better, but wants more connection. Wait till Luuuuuurve Week. Shudder.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 7, 6 – 25

Overall: Underwhelming.

Abbey and Aljaz – Turn the volume up

4876752-low-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soDisappointing lack of extramarital showmance, so we’re treated to a Peter Crouch/Aljaz bromance instead. And next week… who knows? A painful pre-watershed implied threesome arc? Wardrobe recycled chewed bubble gum into strategically placed fringe for Abbey, while Aljaz was run over by a double-yellow-line-marking machine while swathed in his heinous pink shirt. At least he forgot the buttons. Abbey was too hesitant and lost her performance when required to do more than strutting and hairography, but just about kept pace with a fast, packed cha cha routine.

Song: “Let’s Get Loud”, Jennifer Lopez (COPYCAT KLAXON: Mark Ramprakash and Karen)

Judges’ comments: Bruno compared her with Brigitte Bardot, despite the stumbles. Craig noticed a lack of hip action and haphazard free arm, but good isolation on rolls. Dr Darcey wants her to trust and believe and find her inner child and rock her to sleep. Len called it “loud and proud”, with great attitude and rhythm, but her arms need work.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30

Overall: Promising.

Ashley and Ola – Smooth delivery

4876937-low-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalAshley couldn’t train much because he was busy giving birth to his second child. Yes, we really had to dwell on it, because this is an historic occasion and you will want to remember where you were when you heard the news. This is our moon landing. (Oh. Really? His wife gave birth? Well, then that’s 10 minutes of my life I’m never getting back. Still, Family prop points: +10.) Ola, resplendent in oiled snakeskin over candy floss, delivered a lovely, classic American smooth, and Ashley, dapper in tails, managed good transitions in and out of lifts and a nice jazzy feel, though his lines were rather perfunctory.

Song: “Beyond the Sea”, Bobby Darin (COPYCAT KLAXON: James Martin and Camilla)

Judges’ comments: Craig noticed splayed hands, flexed feet and bent wrists, but was amazed at the content and showmanship. Darcey said he didn’t miss a move, but needs to sort out his dipped chin. Len: “You put the ‘ooh’ in smooth.” Bruno praised the Hollywood glamour and pizzazz.

Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 8, 8 – 32

Overall: Dashing.


Natalie and Artem – 31 + 34 – 65

Sophie and Brendan – 28 + 36 – 64

Abbey and Aljaz – 32 + 30 – 62

Susanna and Kevin – 28 + 31 – 59

Ashley and Ola – 25 + 32 – 57

Patrick and Anya – 28 + 27 – 55

Deborah and Robin – 24 + 24 – 48

Rachel and Pasha – 27 + 20 – 47

Fiona and Anton – 24 + 22 – 46

Mark and Iveta – 24 + 22 – 46

Ben and Kristina – 19 + 25 – 44

Vanessa and James – 19 + 23 – 42

Julien and Janette – 20 + 18 – 38

Dave and Karen – 16 + 17 – 33

Tony and Aliona – 16 + 13 – 29

The girls reign supreme, while Tony surprises no one by taking up residence at the bottom of the leaderboard. Still, some bland mid-pack dancers (Patrick, Rachel) might be in trouble once the voting gets strategic.


After a disappointing “Cell Block Tango” fake-out, our pros launched into a choppy mash-up routine to a bizarro version of Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love”. Highlight: stern Artem, bare chest heaving, tossing tiny Janette around like a rag doll. Of course, the real reason we watch Strictly is to see the covers of trashy airport novels come to life.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Black-and-white asymmetric graphic design, with the unfortunate effect of making one breast migrate to her waist. Claudia back in her trademark head-to-toe black.

Endless recap. I may have passed out for a moment there.

Tess announced the safe couples. Suffice to say this also took a while. I made tea. I alphabetised the spice rack. I finished War and Peace. I planted a field.

In the dreaded dance-off: Tony and Aliona (the latter bathed in the serene glow of one who has cashed their cheque and is already texting the cabbie waiting outside), and Julien and Janette. No surprises there.

Some chap from a 1980s boy band warbled a swing version of their creaky hit. It’s possible this did not appeal to the apparently key yoof demographic. Ah, Strictly, you with your maddening mixed messages.

Len’s lens highlights:

  • Bruno keeping strict time with his pen
  • Mark’s Crazytown faces in splendid slo-mo

Horrifying VT for Luuuuuurve Week. Ugh.

Finally, the dance-off, giving us a chance to see the most excruciating performances again. Seriously, Beeb, I will pay my licence fee weekly if you scrap it. I so hoped Aliona would just stand there smoking a fag, slowly, but she did at least go through the motions and even landed her cartwheel second time around, thus removing the sole point of interest. The judges all saved Julien, without comment, emphasising the sheer pointlessness of the enterprise.

What do you think? Did Tony deserve to go? Are you a fan of the dance-off? Whose performance wowed you? And what do you think of Luuuuuurve Week? Leave your thoughts below or tweet me at @mkmswain

See you next week for what promises to be a squirm-inducing train wreck. (Woohoo!) In the meantime… keep dancing!

Simon Oliver has been production editor of Dancing Times since 2010 and is highly experienced in design across print and online magazine production. Throughout his career, Simon has worked on a diverse range of subjects including music, family history, book collecting and poker.

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