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Strictly speaking

Posted on October 6, 2014


Week 2

square 7229062-low res-It’s just the second week of Strictly, and the judges have already taken leave of their senses. It’s going to be a long series. The second performance show – the one which leads to an elimination, and in which, therefore, the scoring is a matter of LIFE AND DEATH (or at least marginal career bump versus sliding back into obscurity) – our fearsome foursome struck terror into the hearts of pros and celebs alike with their bizarrely arbitrary decisions.

Yes, we know the show is increasingly scripted, but shouldn’t that result in some manner of cohesion? In too many cases, comments bore no relation to marks, and several couples should be feeling seriously aggrieved at how they were scored compared to their competitors. Others will be experiencing the pleasant glow of unearned bounty, like discovering forgotten change in a vending machine.

In fairness, it’s possible the judges simply lost the will to live partway through this relentless epic – I know I did. (Somewhere around the 90-minute mark, in case anyone’s interested.) It made the director’s cut of Lord of the Rings look positively punchy.

Other hits and misses:
• Sparkly lady-garden wigs are apparently now a thing. A hideously disturbing thing. Also on the growing list of horrors: vests (not “in”, never were “in”, for the love of god ADD SLEEVES), headbands, judges’ awful intro dance and a rash of excessive pouting. MISS
• Tess has dialled down the (doomed attempts at) comedy. Claudia has dialled up hers. Highlights included donning a Carmen Miranda headdress, warbling Spice Girls and channelling Noel Fielding in both surreal gags and punk-hedge hairstyling. HIT
• Darcey has regressed, yah? Hot tip: form a sentence in your brain before inflicting it upon the world. MISS
• Some of the music choices this week were simply unforgiveable. Get it together, guys, or I shall have to watch the show on mute while playing dolphin sounds to keep my blood pressure at a healthy level. MISS
• The Claudia/Iveta double act is the best. In my fantasy world, they share duties as Queen. HIT

Best in Show
Best performance: Jake and Janette’s salsa Actual authentic salsa on Strictly! Isn’t that one of the signs of the apocalypse?
Best costume: Aliona’s unashamed grab for the lads’ mag vote Ann Summers French maid costume, firmly removing the postmodern irony from Rocky Horror‘s Magenta. Plus: whipped cream. And people are STILL complaining about Bake Off‘s mild innuendo…
Best move: Jake and Janette’s (almost literally) killer lifts Either Janette will steer this dark horse to victory or she’ll DIE TRYING.
Best line: Bruno’s “When you get it right up there, you have to be able to get it down.” Seriously, Bake Off. Your soggy bottoms ain’t got nothing on Bruno “I laugh in the face of the watershed!” Tonioli.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Exhibit A from Jack the Ripper’s attack on a wedding marquee. But, more important: our first wardrobe malfunction of the series, with Tess losing a shoe partway down the stairs and Claudia playing Prince Charming. You just know Bruce would have let her hop around on one leg while yelping “Didn’t she SHOE well? Eh? EH?”

WinkleFringe Watch
Like a UKIP defection, a small part of a much greater problem. (See above re: hedge.)

Thom and Iveta – All at sea

thom 7228458-low res-struggles sparkleIveta’s rehearsal wear FTW. Animals were harmed in the making of this VT, but if those leopards saw the end result, they’d know their deaths were not in vain. Still pushing the sexy angle with grim determination, she cast Thom as a Baywatch lifeguard and herself as a direct challenge to Ola’s fringe-to-bare-flesh world record, though couldn’t disguise her partner’s messy, awkward delivery of an ambitious salsa. More enthusiasm than last week, a glimpse of rhythm, but sticky armography and baffling lifts: one rotating wounded starfish, the other Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Song: “Hot Hot Hot”, Arrow (COPYCAT KLAXON: Mark Ramprakash and Karen’s infamous “liiiiiive” salsa)
Judges’ comments: Len applauded the effort. Bruno (stop press!) noticed Thom is easy on the eye. Craig wanted more fluidity and noted the crumbling lift, but good hips. Darcey liked the risk-taking.
Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 6 – 25

Jennifer and Tristan – Inspector Gently

jennifer 7228518-low res-struggles sparkleTristan enlightened Jennifer with a series of gnomic analogies, one of which must have been “clear your mind like a Miss America contestant” to justify her ghastly styling. This was a classic “Awwwww” vote-courting waltz, chivalrous Tristan gingerly guiding his partner round the floor as if he’d been told “You break it, you bought it”. Topline good before she started moving, non-existent thereafter, plentiful gapping, and kept thrusting her arms aloft like someone surrendering to armed police.
Song: “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman”, Aretha Franklin (COPYCAT KLAXON: Nicholas Owen and Nicole, Alex Jones and James)
Judges’ comments: Bruno liked the connection between them, but technique let her down. Craig said her posture went to pot and she looks at the floor in hold. Darcey noted improvement. Len thought the nerves got to her.
Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 5, 5 – 19

Simon and Kristina – All work and no play

simon 7226672-low res-simply so soThere are numerous reality-show strategies that win public affection (heart-warming underdog J word, witty self-deprecation); throwing an adolescent strop when you get great scores and comments but not as good as you want AND IT’S JUST NOT FAIR isn’t one of them. But Family prop points for Simon’s daughter and her loopy hat. Their tango was sleek, stylish and totally soulless, missing the requisite passion and aggression – Simon’s catalogue model “intense frown” notwithstanding. Packed routine, good accents, wonky pivots, ultimately forgettable.
Song: “Sing”, Ed Sheeran
Judges’ comments: Craig needed more drama and noted he got out of time. Darcey praised the content, but wants more consistent characterisation. Len liked the light and shade, though pointed out pivot issues and a “queer left elbow”. (I’m sure Queer Left Elbow had a top-10 hit in the early 1980s.) Bruno asked for more animal magnetism.
Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26

Gregg and Aliona – Dance diabetes

gregg-7226828-low res-struggles sparkleNew Department of Health stealth initiative: use Gregg Wallace to ensure none of us can ever contemplate dessert again. As with last week, Gregg ended up liberally smeared in topping, plus he “bribed” the judges with cakes – actually, given the dubious overmarking, that paid off – and wiggled his eyebrows lasciviously at his partner while forcing pudding upon her in rehearsal (like Aliona ever consumes empty calories). His prop-laden Charleston was somehow both skippy and leaden, and he jiggled erratically throughout like an electrocuted jelly.
Song: “Hey, Good Lookin'”, Ray Charles
Judges’ comments: Darcey noted he almost maimed Aliona with his misplaced kicks. Len: “You dance like I cook – chuck it all in and hope for the best.” Bruno mimed an alarming sugar seizure. Craig said there was no swivel, stiff legs and it looked like he was having an out-of-body experience.
Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 5 – 18

Alison and Aljaž – Taking care of business

alison-7228740-low res--1simply so soAlison responded to Aljaž’s announcement that she got to be his boss with a panting “So you have to do ANYTHING I say?”, accompanied by an expression that suggests boiled bunnies are in his future. Their office-romance number wasn’t so much a foxtrot as pure filth, with the troubling frame and zero heel leads just about overshadowed by their bootylicious, screamingly OTT soft-porn roleplay. Great entertainment, light years away from actual ballroom.
Song: “I Just Want To Make Love To You”, Etta James
Judges’ comments: Len noted she’s better suited to Latin and her hold needs work. Bruno loved Alison the “strict disciplinarian”, but could be smoother. Craig praised the storytelling and her hips “created a sonic boom”. Darcey thought she could have travelled more.
Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 6, 6 – 22

Jake and Janette – Up, up and away

jake-7228727-low res-strictly sensationalFirst, the negatives: Jake’s yellow vest must be destroyed, and Strictly salsas do still lack precise, fluid basics – the male celebs’ attention is on executing tricks rather than their own steps. And yet this was a phenomenal Week 2 number, teeming with lifts, dynamic movement, intricate armography and insane risk-taking and core strength from Janette – a fitness empire has just been born. (Working title: “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger! Except Sometimes It Kills You!”) Jake was confident, snake-hipped and just needs to improve on details and transitions to make him the one to beat in Latin. (Note: Janette drew liberally on her So You Think You Can Dance auditions for those lifts – see here and here.)
Song: “Mambo No. 5”, Lou Bega (COPYCAT KLAXON: Peter Shilton and Erin)
Judges’ comments: Bruno: “Undiluted, unashamed, full-on salsa!” Craig: “That hip action could crack coconuts. W-O-W.” Darcey gave it a standing ovation. Len, apropos of nothing: “Spank me gently with a wet chamois. Fantastic.”
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Judy and Anton – Double fault

judy 7229139-low res-struggles sparkleOh dear. Whoever put Judy after Jake in the running order has a cruel sense of humour. In the comedown to end all comedowns, Anton (dressed for the yacht club) and Judy (late for a wedding) indulged in endless tennis faff, wince-inducing towel-ography and flashes of cha cha that played far too safe and yet entirely defeated her. Unstable turns, no hip action and a look of bleak resignation that suggested Judy spent the day examining her contract for possible escape clauses.
Song: “She’s a Lady”, Tom Jones (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jill Halfpenny and Darren, Gavin Henson and Katya)
Judges’ comments: Craig noted timing, footwork and hip issues. Darcey said she was nervous and out of sync. Len spotted errors, but praised the effort. Bruno found it “more Court 18 than Centre Court” and she needs to sustain a performance.
Judges’ scores: 2, 5, 5, 5 – 17

Caroline and Pasha – Facing the music

caroline-7226750-low res--1simply so soThis dance will be forever known as “The One With The Worst. Song Choice. EVER.” There might have been a good routine in there somewhere, but nearly all my attention was devoted to the horrendous Dave Arch-goes-clubbing soundtrack, feeble strobe lighting and speculation as to what, exactly, Caroline did to make the hair and wardrobe departments hate her. (A lot of One Direction fans down there?) Distractions aside, Caroline continues to show ringer-esque promise with decent if wandering frame and confident mastery of trad content, though this tango was too light to really impress.
Song: “Blame”, Calvin Harris feat. John Newman
Judges’ comments: Darcey noted tension in her shoulders, but crisp attack. Len agreed, praising the full-on routine. Bruno loved her gutsy physicality, wonderful shapes and amazing legs. Craig enjoyed the bold story and sharp aggression.
Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 8 – 29

Tim and Natalie – Stars in their eyes

tim-7229195-low res-struggles sparkle“Darling, I’ve got a romantic surprise for you: come meet my impossible lithe, much-younger dance partner!” Tim’s wife is a lucky woman. Said partner brought out the sappy big guns with this Disney waltz, and at least 10 of those overgenerous judges’ points were for Nat’s genius ability to hide a multitude of sins beneath adorable choreo and canny scene-setting. Tim’s sins included hunched posture, dubious timing and a look of sombre concentration that read “executioner contemplating a busy day’s work”, but his misplaced confidence was rather endearing.
Song: “When You Wish Upon a Star”
Judges’ comments: Len: “More rise and fall than an auctioneer’s gavel.” Bruno praised the content, but his neck disappeared like a terrapin’s. Craig thought his bent legs suggested he was about to use a bidet. Darcey liked the mood and travelling.
Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 6 – 23

Sunetra and Brendan – Blame it on the boozing

sunetra 7229363-low res-simply so soPoor Sunetra, torn between the competing demands of motherhood, training and pretending to be a doctor for the edification of approximately three viewers, has already reached breaking point. Luckily for us, it came in the form of a drunken girls’ night out: downing cocktails, increasingly unstable boogieing round the handbag, inexplicable weeping and declaring everyone in the vicinity “MY BESTEST BEST FRIENDS.” Off camera, she also vomited on Claudia’s shoes and left wearing someone else’s bra. Brendan’s carbon-dated disco cha cha featured awkward flirting, horrendous leg action and enough manic mugging to tip it into cheese-tastic territory.
Song: “Million Dollar Bill”, Whitney Houston
Judges’ comments: Bruno wanted sharper placement. Craig praised her hips and energy, but no straight legs. Darcey thinks her lower body needs work. Len revealed the secret to Strictly: be better than you were the week before. That’s why they pay him the big bucks.
Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 7, 7 – 26

Mark and Karen – Jump(er)ing the shark

mark 7229337-low res-struggles sparkleKaren’s godawful American smooth schmaltz-fest serves as a dire warning to those who would attempt Natalie’s magic Disneyfication: it’s not as easy as it looks. Another muddled concept (something to do with Mark getting married but now they’re in a garden and Karen’s a Prom Barbie who can’t resist Mark’s limited-edition M&S Christmas jumper charms and OH HOLY GOD ARE THOSE JEGGINGS?), plus undemanding, stop-start, repetitive routine and saccharine delivery. Mark, fake grin superglued on, produced solid lifts and a fairly confident performance, but arms too casual, sluggish basics and noticeable lack of musicality.
Song: “I’m Yours”, Jason Mraz
Judges’ comments: Bruno was pleasantly surprised. Craig said his arms weren’t connected to his body, and needs more finesse and fluidity. Darcey thought it was smooth and controlled. Len: “Onward and upward.”
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Scott and Joanne – Stop right now

scott 7229389-low res-struggles sparkleIn The Continued Adventures of Scott Mills and his More-famous Friends, Nick Grimshaw fake-tanned Scott’s face to the colour of thrice-dunked digestive biscuit. How kind. Joanne somewhat redeemed herself with a jam-packed tango – shame Scott couldn’t dance any of it. Shuffling steps, floppy hold, protruding rear and totally flummoxed by the competition ballroom elements; Joanne hasn’t figured out how tailor her work to her celeb. And still a few egregious choices, namely cutesy framing with the beds and rose and, you know, DOING A TANGO TO THE BLIMMIN’ SPICE GIRLS.
Song: “Stop”, Spice Girls
Judges’ comments: Darcey noted he bobbed up on transitions and didn’t stay in character. Len found it too gentle, but an improvement. Bruno thought the steps were there, but it was like an expensive suit that doesn’t fit. Craig said it lacked style, topline and footwork.
Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 6, 5 – 20

Pixie and Trent – No practice makes perfect

7229700-low res-strictly sensationalThis forced narrative about how “poor Pixie is terribly busy and can’t fit in any training and oh look, she’s produced an amazing routine anyway” really doesn’t help with the ringer accusations. Trent, swamped in a hideous brown suit, tried to cover waltz-bra-sporting Pixie with a nice shawl, which has to be the first time anyone has ever added clothes on the Strictly floor. Beautifully romantic number with tender chemistry, confident spins and an absurd number of rond de jambes. Word to the wise, Trent: the rule of three applies to comedy, not ballroom.
Song: “Come Away With Me”, Norah Jones (COPYCAT KLAXON: Martin Offiah and Erin, John Sergeant and Kristina, Harry Judd and Aliona)
Judges’ comments: Len loved everything bar the anaemic head roll. Bruno praised her cross-phrase dancing and body sway. Craig noted the excess rond de jambes, but “fantastic partnership”. Darcey said she used every part of her body.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Steve and Ola – Foot in mouth

steve 7229726-low res-struggles sparkleYou can always tell the level of Ola’s concern by the eye-watering skimpiness of her costume. This week, barely-there rainbow strands and microscopic mini-fringe = DEFCON 1. Steve was in classic embarrassing dad-dancing mode, bouncing around enthusiastically but with a marked lack of cha cha rhythm or footwork, grabbing at his partner, shoving his crotch at an alarmed studio audience, and gulping like a landed fish. There’s also an increasing chasm between his perceived self-image as Mr Manly Man and the über-camp reality.
Song: “Treasure”, Bruno Mars
Judges’ comments: Bruno thought he was a good booking for a hen night, but muddy heel leads. It reminded Craig of “a terrible disco in Soho” and his hips looked like MDF. Darcey said his arm extension improved and it was fun, but he came out of sync. Len noted his feet weren’t a treasure.
Judges’ scores: 3, 6, 6, 6 – 21

Frankie and Kevin – A mixed bag

frankie 7229752-low res-struggles sparkleMy two pet hates are confusing fusion and awkward theming, so Kevin really hit the jackpot with this 1950s Happy Days Charleston/jive/lindy/rock ‘n’ roll fiasco. Shame, as Frankie showed promise in her fun energy, natural fluidity and confident lifts (bar the final unholy mess), but no quirk or character, the routine didn’t build to anything, and no stylistic details that would identify it as a Charleston, including very suspect footwork that could have been anything from swing to stubbing out a cigarette. Wasted opportunity.
Song: Happy Days theme
Judges’ comments: Craig was doubtful of the fusion, needing more goofiness and swivel, but praised Frankie’s double bounce. Darcey agreed on the mix and wants her to point her feet, though high energy. Len found it awkward and noted a problem with the end lift. Bruno liked the hybrid, even if Kevin nearly dropped her.
Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30


Jake and Janette – 28 + 35 = 63
Pixie and Trent – 27 + 35 = 62
Frankie and Kevin – 30 + 30 = 60
Caroline and Pasha – 27 + 29 = 56
Simon and Kristina – 27 + 26 = 53
Mark and Karen – 24 + 27 = 51
Sunetra and Brendan – 24 + 26 = 50
Thom and Iveta – 23 + 25 = 48
Alison and Aljaž – 26 + 22 = 48
Steve and Ola – 26 + 21 = 47
Tim and Natalie – 18 + 23 = 41
Jennifer and Tristan – 18 + 19 = 37
Gregg and Aliona – 18 + 18 = 36
Scott and Joanne – 16 + 20 = 36
Judy and Anton – 18 + 17 = 35

Jake leapfrogs the competition, Mark improves and Judy drops like a stone, otherwise fairly similar to last week, with a clear division between contenders and pretenders.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Black fishing net over burlap sack. Deeply unfortunate.

WinkleFringe Watch
Like Fincher’s Gone Girl, unsettling in its slickness.

Our pros fought through six layers of literal frosty make-up to produce a histrionic Frozen contemporary/ballroom performance, with furious waving of hankies like a washing line caught in a tornado and Janette actually taking flight. Seriously – fitness empire. (Side note: If you haven’t yet seen Christina Bianco’s “Let It Go” in the voices of, among others, Julie Andrews, Adele and Britney Spears, you have not lived.)

Len’s lens highlights:
• Darcey’s girl crush on Janette
• Scott’s tango lemon-sucking
• A new and terrible segment involving members of the public. Just NO. We do not want to see your children faffing about in the living room. More than enough of that on Facebook

saying-goodbye-7230355-low res-Jamie Cullum and Gregory Porter’s anodyne jazz competed with Iveta devouring Aljaž via the medium of slinky, smouldering rumba. You can probably guess who won that battle…

In the dance-off: Jennifer and Tristan, and Aliona and Gregg. Marginal improvements from both, but all the judges saved Jennifer. Aliona’s joy is unconfined. She practically levitated with happiness. We then got an insta-reaction from the other couples, demonstrating that we’ve all now given up on the fallacy that the Sunday show is live. It’s the end of an era.

Who was your Week 2 favourite? What did you make of the scoring? And did the right couple go home? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain 

Coming soon, Movie Week – the first of many horribly random theme shows (popcorn and angry muttering at the ready). See you then, and 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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