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Strictly speaking

Posted on September 29, 2014


Week 1 

square-7182058-low res-Strictly is back, and it has a bold new strategy for fending off the competition: absorb it all, like some kind of light-entertainment power-ingesting cannibal. Hence the patronising Gogglebox people-watching-people-watching-telly opening and X Factor belief that logic and coherence only impede your judging panel.

Len, clearly corrupted by America, was overly scripted (albeit using a script composed entirely of muddled metaphors and tortured rhymes – GIVE IT UP, LEN, “MULL OF KINTYRE” HAS DEFEATED YOU); Darcey, conversely, has been left to wander into some kind of Dadaist stoner dream state. Come back to us, Darce, but leave the Hillary Clinton circa 1994 power hairmet behind. It has robbed you of your ability to form a complete sentence.

In other news, the judges’ entry dance is apparently now a thing, at least until Craig’s dire shin splints prediction comes true (my money’s on Bruno “How d’you like them pirouettes, BITCHES?” Tonioli – though you know we really just want to see this). And, like the best horror movie villains, the autocue has still not been defeated, unless Claudia’s new nickname for Angela Merkel is “leader bird”.

It did at least gift us one moment of genuine Tess hilarity, with her accidental “Marky no mates” burn, but that only made it all the more evident that Tess CANNOT. DO. FUNNY. Yes, the jokes were godawful (Brucie would be proud), but her increasingly desperate “Hey, guys, look at me! Isn’t this a riot? Aren’t we having fun? IS THIS THING ON?” delivery did her no favours. Stick with clinically efficient, Tess – human emotions are not for everyone.

Finally, Week 1 was really notable for the Beeb’s total lack of faith in its own casting. From the interminable Who’s Who intro to bizarrely biographical dance theming, the show went out of its way to educate us about these Z-list nobodies every three seconds. That sheer desperation has inspired a new segment: Who dat?

Best in Show
Best performance: Frankie and Kevin’s comtempo rain dance waltz Can’t wait for their blizzard samba, heat wave paso and Shipping Forecast foxtrot (heel leads: moderate or good, becoming poor).
Best costume: Overly accessorised Aliona She will not touch Gregg with actual flesh. It’s not in her contract. Nor is fighting off the wave of existential despair.
Best move: Judy hunching her shoulders so much she actually covered her ears Coincidentally, also my go-to move when confronted with the unholy banshee wail that is bagpipes.
Best line: Claudia to muscly Steve: “We’re not looking at your feet, love.” Honourable mentions include Claudia sending up a) the Thom/Iveta showmance (“I’m so excited! I’m going to be a bridesmaid!”), b) Sunetra’s Yummy Mummy moment (“Mum’s not there. Have chocolate! Get on a trampoline!”) and c) Frankie’s “Oh gosh, I’m under pressure now after being SO AMAZING poor me” reaction (“Yeah. You can’t be rubbish next week”).

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Cobwebby bat wings on a frumpy funeral jumpsuit – the funeral, obviously, of Claudia The Goth, struck down in her prime by Pink Highlighter Claudia.

WinkleFringe Watch
Like Ed Miliband’s leadership qualities, worryingly absent.

Caroline and Pasha – I feel it in my fingers 

caroline and pasha-low res-simply so soPasha took the time to give Caroline an earnest seminar on the history of the cha cha, because she is in no way familiar with any ballroom style (ahem, Dancing on Wheels, ahem). His miraculous teaching (/Caroline’s prior experience) resulted in a confident, rhythmic debut with expressive arms, but fake, nervy semi-performance. Note to celebs: lip synching is never the answer. Also problematic was wardrobe’s decision to dress her as Chewbacca and C3P0’s love child.
Song: “Can You Feel It?”, The Jacksons (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ray Fearon and Camilla)
Judges’ comments: Len thought “Sweet Caroline” was fizzy like champagne. Bruno went with “Caroline Flash” (oof), though noted a few errors and limited hip action. Craig liked the musicality, but wanted more hips, finished lines and finesse. Darcey: “Nice legs.”
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Tim and Natalie – Remainder bin
natalie 7181336-low res-struggles sparkleJust give Natalie an Oscar already. Our resident upbeat Aussie was TOTALLY praying to get Bargain Tim, and TRULY believes he’s “unpolished silverware”! Who dat? When I think cha cha cha, I always think “dodgy May-December auction pick-up”. And here’s that cancan kick from Tim’s show! You know the one… ancient junk of little value… Anyhow. If you just watch Natalie, you’ll be convinced Tim is the Second Coming of Johnny Castle. Watch Tim, and you’ll wonder why the BBC is broadcasting this camp, over-50s water aerobics class.
Song: “Shop Around”, Captain & Tennille
Judges’ comments: Bruno alternately roared and wept. It’s possible he’s mixing meds. Craig thought Tim’s wide gait made it look like he was wearing a soiled nappy. Darcey is, like, all about joy in the universe and putting out good vibes and is anyone else hungry? Len noted the suspect footwork, but liked the personality.
Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 5 – 18

Jake and Janette – Tough love

jake 7181740-low res-simply so soJanette created a tango to showcase Jake’s acting skills, because Janette is unfamiliar with EastEnders. In their prop-tastic melodrama (hello, hatstand of a thousand passions!), she perched seductively on a chaise longue, hurled herself at her unfaithful lover in a fit of rage and cycled through a series of expressions that were genuinely alarming in HD. Jake… looked a bit stern. In fairness, he also maintained a decent hold and hit some accents, but needed more drive and variation.
Song: “Toxic”, Britney Spears (COPYCAT KLAXON: Christopher Parker and Hanna, Gavin Henson and Katya)
Judges’ comments: Craig praised the frame and intent. Darcey was transported into the story. She really CONNECTED with that hatstand. Len was pleasantly surprised by both content and execution. Arch-feminist Bruno, happily post-watershed, called him a “brrrrrrrute, putting her in her place” in a “hard man’s tango”, but wants to see the “softer side”.
Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 – 28

Judy and Anton – Och aye the no

judy 7180540-low res-struggles sparkleWhat nationality is Judy again? Dutch? Canadian? Guatemalan? It’ll come to me. Who dat? Ye gods. This waltz was more Scottish than Sean Connery reciting Burns in the heather while dressed as a Tunnock’s Teacake. Sadly, we could not vote “No”, or – my preference – “NO NO NO FOR THE LOVE OF GOD MAKE IT STOP”. Somewhere amidst the general horrors (kilted Anton and his absurdly giant sporran – SHUDDER), poor Judy trembled and stumbled her way through a basic routine, with so little body contact that she devolved from her partner entirely.
Song: “Mull of Kintyre”, Wings
Judges’ comments: Darcey thought she was nervous, but she’ll definitely wow us next week in the Latin! (Err…) Len wanted better posture, though played the “difficult dance” card. Bruno: “The maiden flight got hit by turbulence.” Craig said Anton dragged her around.
Judges’ scores: 3, 4, 6, 4 – 18

Scott and Joanne – Rock bottom

scott 7181993-low res-struggles sparkleScott’s boyfriend has never seen him dance. It’s safe to assume that’s now his ex-boyfriend. Sensing imminent disaster, Scott roped in a celeb cameo from Robbie Williams (disappointingly not fending off imaginary aliens with the face of Gary Barlow), but nothing could salvage this atrocious mess. Who dat? In a chicken or egg philosophical conundrum, we were left to wonder: did Joanne choreograph an overly literal DJ disco with more fist pumps than an entire run of Rock of Ages BEFORE seeing stompy Scott’s tragic inability to coordinate any two parts of his body or AFTER? If the former: shame on you, Clifton. Must do better. If the latter: still egregious. But we share your pain.
Song: “Rock DJ”, Robbie Williams
Judges’ comments: Len: “It’s the sort of dance that would be better on radio.” Bruno thought it had a club vibe, but unfortunate footwork and timing. Craig: “A Zimmer frame has more movement.” Darcey liked the “cheeky connection” and attack.
Judges’ scores: 2, 4, 5, 5 – 16

Pixie and Trent – Dedicated follower of fashion
pixie 7182019-low res-simply so soRinger-licious Pixie is used to performing in front of lots of people, but not DANCING. Never DANCING. (Word of advice: stop digging.) Trent cheerily admitted they do look like twins, but hey – don’t let that halt the showmance speculation. It works for Game of Thrones‘ Lannisters! (Word of caution: twincest resulted in Joffrey.) The two proved they’re not just toothy dumb blonds by doing some, like, totally serious academic research for their deep and meaningful dance AKA Zoolander-ing at London Fashion Week and grinning inanely through a pop-y, booty-shaking, knicker-flashing routine with rather sluggish jive basics.
Song: “Shake It Off”, Taylor Swift
Judges’ comments: It reminded Bruno of Lolita, because the incest wasn’t disturbing enough. She needs to work on sharpness and foot placement. Craig praised her timing, though a few mistakes. Darcey loooooved the armography, but wanted more bounce. Len said there was a lot (LOTT. SEE WHAT I DID THERE!) of energy and content, so a lot (LOTT!) of marks.
Judges’ scores: 7, 6, 7, 7 – 27


Our pros competed with cutting-edge (in the mid 1980s) graphics during their tango/paso mash-up with strong lift sequences and the happy bonus of three Alionas, each more apathetic than the last. Also notable: Joanne has not yet cracked “close-up face”.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Her top says running late for Pilates; her skirt says “I’m not bad – I’m just drawn that way”. More important, Claudia is back in black.

WinkleFringe Watch
Like Tesco’s financial plan, missing a few vital parts.

Mark and Karen – Rome was not built in a day

mark 7184237-low res-struggles sparkle“Essex boys have a cool image!” squawked Mark, before attempting a cringe-worthy gangsta pose that was second only to his terrible New York accent. This cha cha-lite featured a genuinely baffling theme and unforgivable styling (Mark: Village People-esque construction worker – high-vis vest over spangly sequins; Karen saluting TOWIE tanning by dressing as Orangina), plus non-existent footwork, sloppy handstand and multiple worms. Hard to tell with Karen’s scattered choreo, but he may have more potential than this performance suggests.
Song: “I’m Your Man”, Wham! (COPYCAT KLAXON: Richard Dunwoody and Lilia)
Judges’ comments: Len noted he rushed and moaned about the handstand and “Free Willy”. Bruno liked the cocky confidence, though it lacked finesse. Craig criticised his stilted walks, flat hands and dodgy arms, but good rhythm. Darcey thinks he has a future in the competition. Because no one is eliminated this week. Darcey is ON THE CASE.
Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 6, 6 – 24

Alison and Aljaž – Night fever

alison 7183674-low res-simply so soDo you remember how we had to endure a whole series of pretty, fluffy, anodyne, distinctly humourless routines from Aljaž? Well, no more! Untethered from Abbey “Me NEEEEEEHRVES” Clancy, he’s a camp-tastic boogie machine, enjoying every second of his performance as a bodyguard (from, err, The Bodyguard) and matching Alison’s disco diva-on-speed super-energy. Well, not quite – there aren’t enough Red Bulls in the world. Even though she ran out of gas partway, Alison’s eyes continued to scream “PARTY TIME!” with a rabid intensity that would raise the dead.
Song: “I’m Every Woman”, Chaka Khan
Judges’ comments: Bruno loved her radiance. Craig said it was one of the most confident, instinctively musical debuts he’s seen, though flat-footed. Darcey thought it was infectious. In fact, she can feel a sniffle coming on. Len, being unnecessarily creepy: “Good in the mornings, fantastic at night.”
Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 7, 7 – 26

Steve and Ola – Wild thing

ola 7184328-low res-simply so soSteve is the manliness of manly men. He wrestles wild beasts. Wears the same pants for a year. Pushes himself to the limit of human endurance. On, um, CBBC. Who dat? Steve needs help adjusting to Strictly, hence Ola chucking manly man clichés galore into this tango: mountains! Steppenwolf! Motorbike! Mad drag queen rock chick with electric-shock hair and eye-popping shredded dress recently mauled by a bear! Steve, guns busting out of his sleeveless top (this isn’t Ola’s first rodeo), had plenty of attack, but troubling posture and clompy footwork.
Song: Tango to “Born To Be Wild”, Steppenwolf (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ali Bastian and Brian)
Judges’ comments: Craig and Darcey were distracted by the muscles, but liked the strong performance and wanted a better frame. Len’s motorbike metaphor got away from him, and he found it overaggressive. Bruno: “Somewhere between Popeye and Marlon Brando.”
Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 7, 7 – 26

Jennifer and Tristan – The odd couple
jennifer 7184556-low res-struggles sparkleJennifer – who, lest we forget, plays her husband’s daughter on Mrs Brown’s Boys – thinks of Tristan like a little brother. Let’s bear that in mind when watching their rumba. Worse, she sought performance advice from Nicky Byrne, which is a bit like taking lessons in diplomacy from Jeremy Clarkson. Tristan, sporting quite the impressive chest rug, hasn’t yet learned to modulate his dancing in relation to his partner (who was stuck in a hideously cutesy juvenile party dress), so watching their jive was a bit like channel hopping between Formula 1 and lawn bowls. Sweet, but unconvincing.
Song: “Happy”, Pharrell Williams
Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the ambitious dance content. Len wanted sharper kicks and flicks, but liked her spirit. Bruno noted she was trying to keep up with “Lord of the Dance” (fun fact: that’s Bruno’s Grindr profile), and needs better presentation. Craig criticised her free arm and lack of stamina.
Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 5 – 18

Thom and Iveta – Hot mess

thom 7184621-low res-struggles sparkleOn paper, Thom is the perfect Strictly contestant: competitive sportsman also comfortable with glamour and manufactured sexiness. Iveta, zealous new convert to social media (watch out, virtual world – she’s coming for you), knows she’s got this year’s coveted celeb and hasn’t stopped grinning for three weeks, yet somehow the much-fancied (in both senses of the word) pair didn’t convince with their opening waltz. Yes, Thom in tails is delightfully GIF-worthy, and Iveta showcased him/concealed weakness fairly well in a simply elegant routine, but he moved (or failed to move) like a robot with rusted hinges, and squashed-puppy eyes betrayed his fear.
Song: “You Raise Me Up”, Westlife
Judges’ comments: Len found it too careful, but appreciated the effort. Bruno agreed he tried too hard to get everything right and needed more drive. Craig noted he knocked Iveta off balance, plus issues with hand shaping, rise and fall and gapping. Darcey wants his chest out and proud, which Bruno obligingly mimed. Such a giver.
Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 6 – 23

Sunetra and Brendan – Keep holding on

sunetra 7184673-low res-struggles sparkleWe got a tantalising glimpse of Bad Boy Brendan as he snapped that he’d have to simplify his pivots if Sunetra couldn’t grasp them, and his new Zen outlook was tested further when she drifted out of hold every other beat during their fractious tango, requiring him to keep shunting parts of her back into place like human Whac-a-Mole. Once clear of the idiotic Who dat? hospital opening, she had decent (if mainly Brendan-propelled) drive and attack, but zero personality, and she’s yet to reveal her acting skills.
Song: “Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)”, Robert Palmer
Judges’ comments: Bruno called it a “firecracker”, though wobbly in hold. Craig thinks she has great rhythm, but frame needs work. Darcey agreed, somewhat incoherently. Len noted a wandering left arm, but “the operation’s over and the patient’s still alive”. Setting the bar low this year, aren’t we?
Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 7 – 24

Gregg and Aliona – This is where I leave you

gregg 7185159-low res-struggles sparkleGregg: “I’m such a joker! This’ll be great! Woo, I’ve got Aliona!” Aliona: “Hell is other people.” Amazingly, she managed to choreograph a cha cha that saved her touching, looking at or even acknowledging the existence of her partner, spending half of it doing a Lady Mary (“I’m going upstairs to take off my hat” has swept the nation) and the other half mentally counting down the hours until their elimination. Gregg, who looks like a stunned potato without his glasses, skipped in and out of dogged but ungainly shuffles. It was unwatchable. By which I mean I watched it four times.
Song: “Hot N Cold”, Katy Perry
Judges’ comments: Craig thought Gregg looked like a camp wind-up toy. Aliona’s expression: “TELL ME ABOUT IT!” Darcey did some kind of weird flirting, while pointing out flaws. Len wanted more performance. Bruno called him a mince pie with a soggy bottom. Wrong show, right area of thematic allusion.
Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 5 – 18

Frankie and Kevin – Under my umbrella (ella ella eh eh)

frankie 7184908-low res-strictly sensationalFrankie is super excited about the Strictly sparkly costumes, so of course wardrobe rewards that enthusiasm with a prom dress the colour of absinthe vomit. But no matter: Kevin is determined to weave a contemporary spell, using only an umbrella, unconvincing sound effects and a song that refuses to stay in a waltz time signature – oh, and a partner with lovely natural (/professionally developed) ability. Lacked correct footwork and thus drive, but delicate grace and the added bonus of a patented Natalie head roll.
Song: “Someone Like You”, Adele (COPYCAT KLAXON: Kimberley Walsh and Pasha)
Judges’ comments: Darcey loved her lyrical arms. Len called it the best dance of Week 1. Bruno found it “deliciously romantic”, with great extensions and meaning. Craig wanted more heel leads (JOIN THE CLUB. Alas, heel leads have not been spotted round these here parts since the fourth series), but elegant and she followed Kevin beautifully.
Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30

Simon and Kristina – Rock around the clock

simon 7184947-low res-simply so soSimon wants to teach Kristina the Blue shoulder move. Kristina, lucky girl, still doesn’t know who or what Blue is, nor does she care. She will punish such impudence through gruelling jive training, and stop Simon weeping by pretending to let him choreograph a bit himself. (It was the opening two seconds, right? FABULOUS piano miming.) Simon (Butlins redcoat) and Kristina (one pair of stockings and an elf hat away from singing “Santa Baby”) had impressive ease in a packed, somewhat disjointed routine, but given his ability level, it could have used stronger trad jive content and crisper technique.
Song: “Good Golly, Miss Molly”, Little Richard (COPYCAT KLAXON: Natalie Cassidy and Vincent)
Judges’ comments: Len praised the kicks and tricks. Bruno liked the “frisky rabbit” bounce and rock ‘n’ roll feel, but wanted him to point and retract his feet. Craig agreed, and noted an aborted turn. Darcey said he tired, though was impressed by his flair.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27


Frankie and Kevin – 30
Jake and Janette – 28
Caroline and Pasha – 27
Pixie and Trent – 27
Simon and Kristina – 27
Alison and Aljaž – 26
Steve and Ola – 26
Mark and Karen – 24
Sunetra and Brendan – 24
Thom and Iveta – 23
Tim and Natalie – 18
Judy and Anton – 18
Jennifer and Tristan – 18
Gregg and Ola – 18
Scott and Joanne – 16

Jake slightly overmarked, Caroline suffered from “first one out” syndrome, and Scott a tad unlucky to finish behind fellow cannon fodder Jennifer, Judy and Gregg. Closely matched middle pack, which should make for an interesting series.

Who’s your Week 1 favourite? Do you agree with the marking? And what do you make of the new crop? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

And if you haven’t yet seen this picture of Craig as Miss Hannigan, check it out. But be warned: it will cost you three weeks in therapy.

See you next week, when one couple is expelled from Strictly Eden – and if it’s Aliona, her thinly veiled exit-dance ecstasy will be a thing of joy. 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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