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Strictly speaking

Posted on October 13, 2014


I wouldn’t want to imply that the producers of Strictly have some kind of substance-abuse problem and/or are suffering a collective nervous breakdown. It’s just difficult to find another explanation for the acid-trip train wreck that was Movie Week. Or, as it shall henceforth be known, Guess The Dance Buried Under Three Layers of 1980s Bargain Bin Halloween Costume While Getting A Migraine From Trying To Murder Donny Osmond With Your Mind Week, Baby!

Without further ado, here are the top 10 problems in ascending order of egregiousness:
1. Scheduling all the semi-watchable dances in the second half of a lengthy show. Unwise.
2. The judges “singing”. (Though at least we were spared the inclusion of Darcey – truly the Willow of this musical episode.)
3. Patronising the audience by suddenly deciding we don’t know what a rumba is, with an explanation delivered via our ballroom expert… Darcey. Len was RIGHT THERE. And at that point, only 32 per cent of his attention was devoted to figuring out how to punch Donny off his chair and make it look like an accident.
4. The return of both “comedy” VTs and wilful song copycatting. Just NO.
5. Taking a distinctly Dali-esque attitude to trouser creation. Those shackles of realism just limit our vision, you guys.
6. Dances alternately stifled or tortured by OTT themes, inspiring baffled comments and even more baffling scores. And, weirdly, Len only taking issue with the noticeable lack of ballroom when critiquing Jake’s relatively sane waltz.
7. Donny trolling the producers by prematurely scoring the series’ first 10. Someone, somewhere, is furiously cancelling their “Upstage Simon Cowell in Week 5” plans.
8. Our new series: The Life and Times Of Donny Osmond. He won Dancing with the Stars! He did the quickstep once – and he didn’t like it! He played egotistical chump Gaston on Broadway! (What a stretch.) Did we mention he won Dancing with the Stars? Well, he did!
9. Donny criticising Judy for letting Anton lead her (in fairness, that’s something a male celeb on DWTS would be unfamiliar with) and seeming worryingly genuine when telling Caroline and Pasha he didn’t know which one was the pro. Oh, and thinking Jake plays a super-nice guy on EastEnders. GET WITH THE PROGRAMME, DONNY.
10. Donny calling everyone “Baby!”. Put him in a corner, producers. The corner of a plane. Leaving the country. Now. For the Bermuda Triangle. We’ll take back Piers Morgan. Anything. Got that, BABY?

Best in Show
Best performance: Sunetra and Brendan’s American smooth Not the best technically, but the dance that induced the fewest howls of anguish. Congrats!
Best costume: Pasha the sexy spaceman What can be better than Pasha’s bare chest emoting manfully through a dry-ice rumba? Why, the addition of eye-wateringly tight silver trousers, of course.
Best move: Claudia accidentally throwing popcorn into Tess’s cleavage
• Best line: Claudia’s list of ABBA puns Closely followed by Claudia’s list of fish puns. Next year, let’s scrap Movie Week in favour of two hours of Claudia punning and throwing snack foods at everyone.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Tess rented Working Girl, but just guessed at the content from the title rather than actually watching it. Hence her X-rated version of business casual.

WinkleFringe Watch
Like the Doctor, gloriously regenerated.

Alison and Aljaž – Loose cannon

alison-7280009-low res-struggles sparkleAlison just loves dancing so much, she can’t stop! She HAS to do it everywhere! Or so argued her solicitor at her recent breach of the peace trial. Their Footloose jive (or was it Up? Enough balloons to float an overly taxed “mansion”) featured wild enthusiasm that never translated to actual jive steps – it got lodged in Alison’s waggling ponytail, bulging eyes and smacking goldfish mouth. No bounce, content-lite and out of time.
Song: “Footloose”, Kenny Loggins, from Footloose (COPYCAT KLAXON: Colin Jackson and Erin)
Judges’ comments: Len thought it was too loose. Bruno missed sharp kicks and flicks. Leg found it flat-footed and lacking definition. Darcey felt she wasn’t happy in this dance, but sold the performance.
Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 7, 6, 6 – 28

Steve and Ola – Monkey business

steve-7279957-low res-simply so soSteve, who apparently will not be allowed to progress beyond one personality trait, took Ola to the zoo because he’s an animal-wrestling manly man. Who wears see-through leopard-print vests. Ah, Strictly, never change. Ola (dressed as a banana – lucky girl) took the “quickstep” brief as more of a suggestion, choreographing a routine that was about 40 per cent Charleston – which, coincidentally, Steve’s much better at. What are the odds! Lots of gapping and imprecise footwork in hold, but buoyant.
Song: “I Wanna Be Like You”, Louis Prima, from Disney’s The Jungle Book (COPYCAT KLAXON: Scott Maslen and Natalie)
Judges’ comments: Bruno praised his energy, though noted a few mistakes. Craig criticised the splayed hands, but the Charleston was fun. Darcey wants him to open up more. Donny told him to, like, go clubbing, loosen up, man, FIND YOUR BLISS. Ola’s barely concealed disdain at this suggestion was a thing of beauty.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 6, 7, 8 – 34

Jennifer and Tristan – SOS

jennifer-7280207-low res-struggles sparkleJennifer: “Hey, partner, come all the way to Glasgow and meet the Mrs Brown’s Boys cast!” Tristan: “Oh. Yeah. Wooo.” Punished for some sin in a past life (or possibly for dragging Tristan to Glasgow), Jennifer was stuck with a denim pinny – replicating the Mamma Mia! dungarees that even MERYL STREEP couldn’t pull off – and music/theming that defied foxtrot, so she responded by not so much dancing as singing their routine with all the gusto of a drunken divorcee at karaoke night. Tristan literally tried to flee from her in a rowboat. Titanic ended more optimistically than this.
Song: “Mamma Mia”, ABBA, from Mamma Mia!
Judges’ comments: The miming distracted Craig, as did the hopping on turns. Darcey said she lost her posture. Donny wanted them to PUSH THE ENVELOPE and TAKE CHANCES and PUSH THE ENVELOPE again. No cliché is beyond you, BABY! Len thought she was relaxed and confident. Bruno agreed she got the performance, not the style.
Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 5, 5 – 23

Simon and Kristina – On autopilot
simon-7278979-low res-struggles sparkleSimon feels the need. The need for a visit from that slightly more recognisable one from Blue to watch him awkwardly hit on Kristina at a sleazy bar. Ohhhh-kay. Shunning the obvious costuming worn with such joyous campery by Julian Clary, Simon opted instead for tan chinos and emotionally stunted Blue Steel smouldering, while Kristina paired a morning-after man’s shirt with more lady-garden fringe (shudder) and overwrought pole-dancing. No chemistry, no hip action, no actual rumba from Simon.
Song: “Take My Breath Away”, Berlin, from Top Gun (COPYCAT KLAXON: Julian Clary and Erin)
Judges’ comments: Darcey liked the partnering, but he didn’t dance enough. Donny wanted more hip action, though enjoyed the moment when “Kristina went down and you grabbed her thighs”. WATERSHED, PEOPLE. Len said he’s too concerned with thinking about what comes next. Bruno felt he presented the dance – he didn’t participate. Craig: “Cold and passionless.”
Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 7, 6, 7 – 30

Judy and Anton – It never rains but it pours

judy-7280327-low res-struggles sparkleAnton wants Judy to feel glamorous. Because she’s worth it. He even created a horribly patronising makeover ad to convince her. Sadly, it did not end with Judy putting a tennis racquet to imaginative use. Their quickstep was gentle, basic and flat – in hold, Judy clinging to him as if he were the last turkey in the shop on Christmas Eve (actually, that’s fairly accurate); out of hold, exhibiting her best self-defence moves: combat shoulder rolls and deadly arm flaps. Plus an unnecessary illegal lift.
Song: “Don’t Rain on My Parade”, Barbra Streisand, from Funny Girl (COPYCAT KLAXON: Russell Grant and Flavia)
Judges’ comments: Donny said it felt unrehearsed. Bruno thought she started well, then became rigid as Nelson’s Column. Len praised the effort. Craig criticised the lift, though it was “the best part”. Appalling posture, stiff as rigor mortis.
Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 5, 5 – 23

Tim and Natalie – Hell to pay

tim-7280314-low res--1struggles sparkleSo begins a strange sequence of people taking on numbers by all-time-great choreographers and dancers and concentrating solely on facial expressions. Of course, we only remember Fosse’s Cabaret for its Pumpkin Faces. Nat reached a whole new manic performance level – if you managed to stop watching her Liza The Ham-fisted Pickpocket long enough to notice Tim, kudos – but this prop-heavy confusion didn’t feature a huge amount of actual Charleston. It was, however, a grimly meta expression of why the pros endure this gig.
Song: “Money, Money”, John Kander/Fred Ebb, from Cabaret
Judges’ comments: Len wants to see Tim’s paso next week. Bruno found it very funny, if lacking swivel and timing. Craig liked the stylisation, otherwise “a disaaaaahster”. Darcey wanted cleaner finishes. Donny thought it was more comedy than Charleston.
Judges’ scores: 2, 5, 5, 5, 5 – 22

Caroline and Pasha – We have lift-off

caroline-7280618-low res-strictly sensationalPasha’s terrible acting is just the best. It almost makes me tolerate the “comedy” VTs. ALMOST. Caroline (dressed as a tinsel pompom) and Pasha (see above re: sexy spaceman) waded through the mist for an epic rumba that completely outdid Kristina’s attempt at cheesy blockbuster. Lovely expressive arms and back from Caroline, but no hip action – though a somewhat jerky routine heavy on the hairography and spins didn’t allow for much. Solemn, strong, great connection.
Song: “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, Aerosmith, from Armageddon (COPYCAT KLAXON: Sarah Manners and Brendan, Nicky Byrne and Karen)
Judges’ comments: Bruno loves the steaminess, arms and intention, but a small stumble. Craig wanted smoother transitions, otherwise loved it. Darcey praised the conviction and supported promenades. Len noted lack of hip action, but very accomplished performance.
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 8, 9 – 42

Scott and Joanne – Drown your sorrows

scott-7280605-low res-struggles sparkleIn this week’s edition of The Continued Adventures of Scott Mills and his More-famous Friends, an inexplicable cameo from the Hoff. Now, arguably Scott and the samba would always have been a calamitous combo, but Joanne’s babyish theming really didn’t help – and her casting Scott as a crab invited so many filthy jokes, it just about broke Twitter. Flat-footed, heel leads, no bounce or body action, and downright scary fatal sunburn make-up for Scott. In fact, this whole number felt like the nausea-inducing haze of concurrent sunstroke and the result of consuming one too many rum cocktails.
Song: “Under the Sea”, Howard Ashman/Alan Menken, from Disney’s The Little Mermaid
Judges’ comments: Craig: “Like a lobster on acid.” Darcey noted plenty of dance content, but it didn’t look like a samba. Donny loved it, because of course he did. Len: “Fishy technique.” Bruno (weeping) told Scott to work on his strength.
Judges’ scores: 2, 5, 7, 5, 6 – 25

Frankie and Kevin

frankie-7280845-low res-strictly sensationalWhy do we remember Jerome Robbins’ peerless work in West Side Story? Well, there’s the skirt swishing, of course, and the faces, and… a rooftop. Yeah. Anyhow, the brief glimpse of Robbins’ choreo worked nicely (though both Frankie and PC World salesman Kevin chased it frantically), as did the snatches of paso, but it was frustrating not to have more of the latter given Frankie’s ability level. Confident, rhythmic, decent shapes, lacked aggression and style specificity.
Song: “America”, Bernstein/Sondheim, from West Side Story (COPYCAT KLAXON: Zoë Ball and Ian)
Judges’ comments: Darcey liked Frankie’s feistiness and shaping. Donny said she made “the perfect Maria”. It’s possible Donny is unfamiliar with West Side Story. Len dragged out his “Frankie goes to Hollywood” gag again. Bruno and Craig both loved the drama and fusion.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 10, 9, 9 – 45

Jake and Janette – An offer you can’t refuse

jake-7280806-low res-strictly sensationalThe Godfather is all about family, so it’s Family prop points time! Healthy score for Jake’s smiley wife and adorable kids. Janette the Black Widow set the tone for a wonderfully moody waltz, with great lines, promising partnering and understated power. Jake’s hold ranges from excellent to hunchback, and there was the odd sticky transition, otherwise a clever experiment – albeit lacking some of the traditional waltz elements.
Song: “The Godfather Waltz”, Nino Rota, from The Godfather (COPYCAT KLAXON: Brian Capron and Karen)
Judges’ comments: Len wanted more swing and sway, but good footwork. Bruno loved the waltz “tinged with darkness and menace”, great characterisation, just needed more flow. Craig thought the theatricality worked well, and disagreed with Len: swing and sway would have broken the mood. Darcey praised Jake’s control, though his left shoulder comes forward.
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8, 8 – 40

Pixie and Trent – Food, glorious food

pixie-7280754-low res--1strictly sensationalPasha’s terrible acting has a rival for so-bad-it’s-good in the form of Trent’s French accent. Quelle horreur! Also rather disturbing: attempt at romantic chemistry from the Wonder Twins, and Pixie’s Oktoberfest serving wench version of Disney’s Belle. (Not quite as bad as these, mind.) Light, breezy movement, decent footwork and hold, abundance of high kicks yet again, oh-so-amateur double pirouette (ahem), and slightly strange lying on the floor ending. (Be our guest! We will kill you with love! And salmonella!)
Song: “Be Our Guest”, Howard Ashman/Alan Menken, from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
Judges’ comments: Len: “My cup of tea.” Bruno loved the “high gloss, high quality and high value”, though a slight mistake. Craig praised the amount of detail and double pirouette, but the jeté was out of time. Darcey wants her to point her feet more. Donny thought it was exquisite.
Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 9, 9, 9 – 43

Thom and Iveta – Sea change

thom-7281149-low res-simply so soNext in the entry of “I can dance just like the greats, but only with my face”: Thom (thank you, whoever in wardrobe has a serious sailor fetish) AKA Gene Kelly from the chin up. Iveta’s clever Charleston featured as little of Thom just dancing as possible, adding distractions like showy lifts, slapstick, arse-slapping, sitting-down dancing and her flapper-tastic red dress. Great energy, messy footwork and timing, dubious exits from lifts, but definite improvement.
Song: “New York, New York”, Bernstein/Betty Comden/Adolph Green from On the Town (COPYCAT KLAXON: Colin Jackson and Erin, Michael Vaughan and Natalie)
Judges’ comments: Bruno loved seeing Thom’s personality. Craig noted the difficult rhythm changes, though some mistakes. Darcey liked his determination, but “You’re a man – dance like a man!” (Darce, this is the campest show on telly. Stop thinking in terms of your own dating preferences.) Donny told him to fix his posture.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 7, 8, 8 – 38

Sunetra and Brendan – In full swing

sunetra-7281162-low res-strictly sensationalMajor Family prop points for Sunetra’s son Noah, who showed more judging savvy in 10 seconds than Donny could manage in 10 years. Brendan, offering a glimmer of sense amidst this week’s whirling vortex of insanity, produced a totally trad American smooth – complete with tails and giant bird-carcass dress – and Sunetra, though still delivering everything with drunken auntie-esque beaming confusion, had surprisingly good style throughout. Nice accents, solid lifts, hold decent if sometimes hunched, turns appalling. On balance, a lovely number.
Song: “The Way You Look Tonight”, Fred Astaire, from Swing Time (COPYCAT KLAXON: Christine Bleakley and Matthew)
Judges’ comments: Craig praised her confidence and body contact. Darcey loved the choreography and glamour, but she flexes her feet going up into lifts. Donny spotted a bit of Ginger Rogers. Len: “Style with a smile.” Bruno thought she combined elegance with sass, though she raises her shoulders during turns.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 9, 8 – 40

Mark and Karen – Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

mark-7281110-low res-struggles sparkleOh Mark. Unable to figure out that Karen, the producers, the judges, the other dancers and finally the studio audience and entire British public was openly mocking him, he fully embraced his “I do actually believe I’m Superman!” narrative, even though it came with trousers so tight they must have been medically unsafe, cheap polyester top and toddler cape. If you could get past this surreal juvenile throwback, you would have spotted some weak, inelegant semi-paso with a ton of awkward posing; otherwise, like me and the entire judging panel, by this point you’ll have succumbed to full-blown hysteria.
Song: John Williams’ Superman theme
Judges’ comments: Darcey found it “weirdly enjoyable”, if odd and unconvincing. Len thought it was “full on”. Bruno agreed it was crazily likeable, though Mark nearly fell over. Craig said it was stiff, lacked shaping and beyond him technically.
Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 9, 7, 7 – 35


Frankie and Kevin – 45
Pixie and Trent – 43
Caroline and Pasha – 42
Jake and Janette – 40
Sunetra and Brendan – 40
Thom and Iveta – 38
Mark and Karen – 35
Steve and Ola – 34
Simon and Kristina – 30
Alison and Aljaž – 28
Scott and Joanne – 25
Jennifer and Tristan – 23
Judy and Anton – 23
Tim and Natalie – 22

It’s the battle of the ringer girls up top, Simon tumbles and Tim’s our new low, otherwise the haves and have-nots division of Series 11 continues.


Kicking off the Musicals Week – err, Movie Week – results show, a Mary Poppins “Step In Time” pro number featuring Natalie’s disconcertingly sexy supernanny (I’m sure that’s fulfilled someone’s fantasy) and Kevin’s fresh-faced primary-school chimney sweep. Oh, and Aliona glowering beneath a flat cap. Special.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Decent LBD. Stop press! On the downside, weirdly asymmetrical hairstyling.

WinkleFringe Watch
Like all our spirits after that horrendous show, rather flat.

Donny massacred “Moon River”. There is a new circle of Hell for that. Still, if you muted (as the whole nation did) and just watched Anton waltzing with Joanne and her tulle explosion, this was a vaguely pleasant interlude.

Len’s lens highlights:
• Simon’s lacklustre rumba even more underwhelming in slow mojennifer-and-tristan-7281720-low res-
• Mark’s frankly terrifying leap
• Scott and Steve’s four-year-old animal impressions
• Anton yelping at Judy. Poor woman. No wonder she always looks pained

In the dance-off: Jennifer and Tristan, and – shock! – Simon and Kristina. Well, not a complete shock, given their rumba was a total snooze and Simon is almost aggressively unlikeable in his VTs. And, you know, BLUE. Anyhow, not surprisingly, a clean sweep for Simon.

Who was your Insanity Week favourite? What did you make of Donny Osmond? And were the right dancers in the bottom two? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week for a mercifully Donny-free show, when we can all begin to heal. 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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