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Strictly speaking

Posted on December 22, 2013


The grand final

The Series 11 final featured four exciting, contrasting couples and was genuinely impossible to call, making it a gripping watch through both shows. Well, apart from the recaps, the recaps of the recaps, the extended retrospective, the “J word” tales, the manufactured clips and the neverending Christmas special trailer. Really, there’s a point at which it becomes insulting to call it “live”. Groundhog Day had fewer repeats.

Speaking of which, Musicals Week and Blackpool Week dominated the repeated dances, the former more effectively, as those routines had built-in razzmatazz and crowd appeal, while the latter naturally felt slightly less spectacular without the giant floor and unbeatable atmosphere of Tower Ballroom. Perhaps we should petition the BBC to return the final to Blackpool?

In other news:
• No Claudia (sad face) and Bruce on particularly doddery form. Surely it’s time we gently transition from him to someone else, like… oh hey, Claudia! Len agrees. 
• There’s clearly some kind of Samson correlation between dancing and hair – nearly all the female ex-contestants had theirs cut off after leaving. No word on whether the wardrobe department have refashioned the chopped locks into “subtle hems” for next year.

Best in Show

Best performance: Natalie’s showdance My favourite of the four by a mile, and a compelling argument for Strictly Come Cossack Pole Dancing! In a world where Splash! gets a second series, anything is possible.
Best costume: Artem’s VT onesie The combination of fluffy romper with squeaky nose and his sorrowful, existential angst is just irresistible.
Best move: Sophie and Brendan’s presage aeroplane lift Both hugely impressive and teetering on the cusp of total disaster, which is exactly what you want from your lifts in a live show.
Best line: Natalie’s “I feel like I’ve touched something divine.” He is pretty fabulous, isn’t he?

First show

A very much live (liiiive!) opening, with our pros dressed as sexy fire hydrants and our finalist ladies in red making a stately, energy-conserving late entrance. Before reappearing seconds later in different outfits. Liiiive!

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Upping (downing?) her terrible game for the final, white sheet with tacky silvery blocks ironed on: Winter Wonderland Tetris.


Susanna and Kevin – Morning glory

02 5416161-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soOur judges delivered their choice from plush chairs, in a darkened room, with spooky music and comically waggling eyebrows. Still, if you can’t have four panto queens at Christmas, when can you? Quickstep for Susanna, preferably without the slapdash footwork and drunken dive over the sofa, please. Cleaner opening and better topline, kept up with Kevin in the variations, but then lost the frame during the transitions and ginormous gapping. Good improvement on a tricky routine in a short time, and delightful performance, but not quite polished enough for a final.

Song: “Good Morning” from Singin’ in the Rain

Judges’ comments: Len praised the feel-good factor – “light and bright”. Bruno loved the high energy and thought her footwork was spot on. Craig noted the gapping and laboured kicks and wanted a calmer topline, but amazing. Darcey loved the “yummy performance” and couldn’t see a single faux pas in the footwork. And then scored 9. JUST TO DRIVE US ALL CRAZY.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 10, 10 – 37 (up from 7, 8, 9, 9)

Overall: Jolly.

Abbey and Aljaz – Sealed with a kiss

03 5416148-low res-strictly-come-dancing 2strictly sensationalJudges’ choice: waltz, with Craig asking her to go from “the dance gutter” to perfection. Not a fan of understatement is our Craig. Gorgeous flow to this hyperbolically romantic routine, more so than in Week 1, plus stronger hold and surer transitions, but very content-light for a final dance and heel leads in short supply. I’m sure the judges will comment on that and mark accordingly HOLLOW LAUGH. Still, with Aljaz back in his white trousers (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty indeed, Len) I doubt many people were looking at Abbey’s feet…

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

Judges’ comments: Bruno said she’s transformed herself into a beautiful dancer. Craig boasted that his hunch about them had paid off. Darcey praised her topline, and Len agreed, saying it’s the best female celeb topline he’s seen on any series. CONTROVERSIAL. Thoughts?

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (up from 8, 8, 8, 8)

Overall: Dreamy.

Natalie and Artem – The pecs that launched a thousand ships

04 5416278-low res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalJudges’ choice: cha cha. Darcey urged her to let go, “be wild!” That didn’t really happen, but in fairness to Natalie, Artem’s chest-baring Cossack doll fancy dress was wild enough for both them (and somehow even better than the first time around, possibly because his perma-tan now perfectly matches the bronze brocade). Bigger energy, more faces, better foot action and slicker transitions, but didn’t quite escape the combination of lyrical and clinical that’s been plaguing them. On the plus side…”RUSSIA’S GREATEST LOVE MACHINE!”

Song: “Rasputin”, Boney M

Judges’ comments: Craig praised her straight legs, improved hip action and impeccable timing. Darcey noted it was even cleaner and more detailed. Len made one bonkers comment – “Combination of the Lancashire hotpot and the beast from the East!” and one heartfelt one – “Excellence is never a fluke; it comes from hard work and dedication.” Bruno: “Hips hips hooray!”

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (up from 8, 8, 8, 7)

Overall: Refined.


Sophie and Brendan – The hills are alive

05 5416226-low res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalJudges’ choice: Viennese, but with the egregious neck/topline issue resolved. This was just as sweet and charming as before, with over-literal props, voluminous nightie and Sophie mouthing along to the song all present and correct, plus improved movement round the floor, but still the odd moment when her shoulders went up and her neck looked slightly scrunched. Otherwise a strong, joyful dance with a healthy dose of this series’ most important ingredient: PIVOTS!

Song: “My Favourite Things” from The Sound of Music

Judges’ comments: Darcey said she looks so much more comfortable in hold now – pleasure to watch. Len loved the rotation, pivots, fleckerl, whimsical feel and improved upper body. Bruno praised her ease of movement, spins and style – “Cecil Beaton would be proud!” (Bruce interjected, demanding to know who this Cecil chap was and is he after my job and WHERE’S THE NURSE I’VE BEEN CALLLING FOR HOURS.) Craig thought her posture let her down slightly, but they moved as one.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (up from 9, 9, 9, 9)

Overall: Lovely.


Susanna and Kevin – The last waltz

06 5416551-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soShowdances were preceded by not-at-all staged gift-giving, handily tying into a piece of filmed partnership “magic”. Susanna gave Kevin a robot, because she had trouble walking that one time. I know, right? TV GOLD! Their showdance was essentially a repeat of their waltz, with added lifts and dry ice up to their necks. I loved their waltz (pivots! Drink!), but it was already bordering on schmaltz – add in Susanna wearing all the swans in the land, a hugging/throttling “I vill crush you with love!” lift and giant sparklers randomly exploding and it all became a bit much, while also being oddly underwhelming. Showcased their partnership (their major asset) beautifully, but nothing revelatory in the movement.

Song: “Your Song”, Moulin Rouge! version (COPYCAT KLAXON: Darren Gough and Lilia)

Judges’ comments: “Go with what you know,” counselled Len, who liked the elegance and sophistication. Bruno enjoyed the celebration of ballroom in American smooth style. Craig found it classy and loved the big lift. Darcey said it was romantic and glamorous, but (in a wonderful accidental BURN) had no wow factor.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36

Overall: Mushy.

Abbey and Aljaz – Rock your body

07 5416538-low res-strictly-come-dancing 2simply so soAbbey’s special pressie for Aljaz was a framed photo of them post-assault course. (I doubt many of us could get away with “My gift to you is a picture of ME!”, but, you know, models…) Yet more showdance smoke – do we get extra points for spotting the dancers through the haze? – and glimpses of tango and paso in a very pose-y, faux-aggressive rock routine. Felt rather like Alesha’s showdance, except less traditional content, more soft-porn high-drama perfume ad. Stompy, theatrically sexy and wins this series’ Most Painful Hairography award – I really felt for Aljaz watching that ponytail whipping around like a weather vane in a stiff breeze.

Song: “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, Guns N’ Roses

Judges’ comments: Bruno said it rocked his world. Craig loved the drama and magnificent shapes. Darcey found it wild and powerful. Len praised the mix of styles, but felt some parts were surplus to requirement. “Sometimes less is more.”

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 – 38

Overall: Overblown.

Natalie and Artem – In pole position

08 5416660-low res-strictly-come-dancing 1strictly sensationalNatalie’s present to Artem: another humiliating onesie. It’s moments like these where you can glimpse a worthy winner. Artem has essentially been choreographing showdances all series, and this was his pièce de résistance: a new take on Old Hollywood (see their Singin’ in the Rain attire), with brilliantly synchronised cane work, delightful tapping, dynamic lifts, glimmers of quickstep, Charleston and jive, and – why not? – pole dancing, which saw Natalie twirling uncertainly and Artem flying round the pole with consummate ease. (Anything you want to tell us?) Jam-packed but perfectly balanced, with seamless transitions and go-for-broke bonkers joyfulness. Highest technical achievement of the series and – more surprisingly – one of the best performance moments too.

Song: “Stepping’ Out with My Baby”, Tony Bennett and Christina Aguilera version (COPYCAT KLAXON: Pamela Stephenson and James)

Judges’ comments: Craig: “That is a showdance to end all showdances.” Darcey: “Fab-u-lous!” Loved the tapping and changes of rhythm. Len: “Eye-popping, jaw-dropping, show-stopping!” Bruno adored the Ziegfeld Follies entrance, combination of best of Broadway and best of Hollywood, plus the burlesque. “A total smash.”

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40

Overall: Phenomenal.

Sophie and Brendan – Burn baby burn

09 5416634-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soSophie’s present to Brendan: a mini karaoke machine, so he can share her love of singing. We’ve heard Brendan sing, and I’m not sure encouraging him is a kindness. Anyhow, he wanted their showdance to be a celebration… of Sophie not being able to do Latin. This was fabulous end-of-wedding-disco fun, but a hot mess, with skippy cha cha, wobbly spins and ambitious but telegraphed lifts. Great vibe, but pretty much counted them out of the competition. Adding insult to injury: the red/pink/purple shaggy fringe explosion super-mini dress, which looked like someone had balled up all the tinsel in the house and flung it on top of the Christmas tree in a fit of pique.

Song: “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”, Whitney Houston (COPYCAT KLAXON: Denise Lewis and Ian)

Judges’ comments: Darcey wanted it smoother, but liked the disco fun. Len praised the energy and lifts. Bruno agreed it was great to see her having fun with Latin pick ‘n’ mix. Craig couldn’t speak, because Bruce had spent approximately three hours on a joke that involved him pacing the studio furiously. Good times.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Overall: Giddy.


Natalie and Artem – 39 + 40 = 79
Abbey and Aljaz – 40 + 38 = 78
Sophie and Brendan – 39 + 35 = 74
Susanna and Kevin – 37 + 36 = 73

No change from last week.

Results show

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Black gown with (purposely? God knows) asymmetrical alternating sparkly and glazed sections. A dress, appropriately enough, in mourning for fashion itself.

And the couple out in fourth place is… Sophie and Brendan. Sad not to see their famous Charleston again, otherwise felt like a just result – and perhaps best not to risk tarnishing the myth.


Susanna and Kevin – Fight to the death

10 5415202-low res-strictly-come-dancingstrictly sensationalFilling both weepie and endless recap quotas, our couples’ favourite dances were preceded by their “Strictly story”. This one showcased a fairly untroubled run and a genuinely lovely partnership – Kevin from Grimsby has made a great start on the show. Their paso was a strong repeat (flames! Skirt wafting! Kev’s guyliner!) with the odd glitch, perhaps down to nerves or perhaps constrained by the smaller floor – definitely missing some of the Blackpool magic. Nevertheless, a classic ballroom dance delivered dynamically to sensible music, which feels like a minor miracle this series.

Song: “Toreador Song” from Carmen (COPYCAT KLAXON: Julian Clary and Erin, Russell Grant and Flavia)

Judges’ comments: Len: “If I’m dreaming, don’t wake me up.” Praised the energy and attack. Bruno loves a drama queen (WHO KNEW?) and felt Susanna was dancing for her life. Craig did a critical fake-out before calling it “a powerhouse of a performance”, but not revealing why it wasn’t worthy of his super-special 10. Darcey said she came out on top.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 (same score again)

Overall: Stirring.

Abbey and Aljaz – Fun in the sun


11 5417251-low res-strictly-come-dancingsimply so soAbbey’s “story” emphasised, yet again, that she’s never danced a step in her life – in fact, she’d never even heard of this thing we call dancing because every time she went near a club she’d have an attack of “ME NEEEEEEERRRVES”. The alarmingly oversized beach props returned for their sunny quickstep, which was slightly messier than before, including a rogue jeté, and still had an egregious amount of gapping. Honestly – gap after gap. I was waiting for a weary London Underground worker to make a warning announcement over the tannoy. Fun, but imperfect.

Song: “Walking on Sunshine”, Katrina and the Waves (COPYCAT KLAXON: Matt Dawson and Lilia)

Judges’ comments: Bruno called it dazzling, with content “up there with the best we’ve ever seen”. Craig said they were brave to choose this, given that he’d scored it 7 last time, but they’d managed to correct nearly everything. Darcey found it a joy to watch. Len noted an “incident”, but wonderful movement and posture – “you’re a spectacular dancer”.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 – 38 (up from 7, 10, 10, 10)

Overall: Exuberant.

Natalie and Artem – Living the dream


12 5415163-low res-strictly-come-dancing 1strictly sensationalThis story is one of early perfection and Artem getting overexcited: handed a partner with boundless technical capabilities, he went choreo crazy and forgot that a) it’s a ballroom competition and b) it’s a popularity contest with “J words”. Their masterful rule-breaking American smooth epitomised the problem, but something was different this time – perhaps the emotion of the final, or riding high after their showdance and the unexpected gift of another performance. Whatever the reason, it stopped feeling like a technical showcase and became a bravura expression of raw feeling – fearless and moving.

Song: “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls

Judges’ comments: Craig gave a shout-out to singer Andrea and said the dancing was even more spectacular. Darcey could see how much they loved it, and praised the fluidity, mirroring and use of music. Len artfully wriggled out of having to score 8 again for lack of dance in hold, saying this time he focussed on Natalie’s “stunning” performance. Bruno called it flawless – “a precious jewel you want to keep with you the rest of your life” and a highlight across all the series.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (up from 9, 9, 8, 10)

Overall: Breathtaking.

Final leaderboard

Natalie and Artem – 39 + 40 + 40 = 119
Abbey and Aljaz – 40 + 38 + 38 = 116
Susanna and Kevin – 37 + 36 + 39 = 112

No change to the order, with Natalie the clear judges’ favourite.


As we waited for the results, we were treated (/subjected) to badger-haired Robbie Williams attempting “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, a combination not unlike serving caviar in a pig trough.

Our Series 11 stars returned for one more bonkers group dance and everyone doing what they do best: Tony golfing, Vanessa hamming, Julien gurgling, Deborah sitting, Rachel spelling, Dave biking, Fiona boozing, Ben throwing, Mark and Iveta MC Hammer-ing, Ashley cringing on a flying carpet and Patrick honking a car horn with the thespian solemnity of Sir Laurence Olivier. All in all, it’s been a stellar group.

And finally, after all the anticipation, our 2013 winners are… Abbey and Aljaz! I must admit I was rather surprised – I thought Susanna (/Kevin) was the most likeable and Natalie the best dancer, with Abbey somewhere in between, but she got a good edit with the whole “inexperienced yet surprisingly brilliant dancer” thing, and she and her handsome hunk have produced some fab routines. (Apart from That Salsa. Let us never speak of it again.)

What do you think? Was Abbey your winner? Who got your vote on the night? Whose showdance wowed you? And what did you make of the series as a whole? Leave your thoughts below or visit me on Twitter: @mkmswain

Finally, here is my…

Best in Series

Best performance: Tie between Susanna’s paso and Natalie’s showdance The former the best pure ballroom moment of Series 11, the latter a sensational achievement and strong argument for Artem taking up a choreographic post with Cirque de Soleil. Although even they might ask him to tone it down a bit.
Best costume: Artem’s Cossack action figure escort attire Thank you, Powers That Be, for allowing us to bask in its glory one more time. And if you’re searching for more random styles next series, might I suggest Russian folk dance? We’ve already got the pantaloons sorted!
Best move: Tess remaining upright in her opening Brucie clinches She may be my weekly punching bag for her sartorial missteps, but the woman clearly has a core of steel. Respect.
Best line: Claudia’s “This isn’t real. It’s an elaborate home video.” And on that trippy note…

That’s it for Series 11. Look forward to doing it all again next year – if you miss me before then, check out the brilliant Dance Today magazine or visit me at

Have a wonderful Christmas and see you in 2014. 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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