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Strictly speaking

Posted on October 27, 2014


Week 5

00hoedown-t-2014-10-27-at-12.16.00This year’s Strictly is becoming renowned for “shock” dance-offs, even though there’s nothing truly shocking about two mediocre lower-leaderboard pairs landing in the bottom. Perhaps more noteworthy is how it’s resisting the producers’ attempts at forced narratives: the hunky sportsman failed to set pulses racing, ditto the supposedly irresistible boy band member, while Judy and Scott stagger on into Halloween Week. The British public will not be tamed.

Not that the judges are in any position to complain about spurious decision-making, given their irritatingly inconsistent feedback and scoring. Yes, Jake’s frame needs attention and Alison’s footwork is non-existent, but Frankie produced zero heel leads, Pixie didn’t straighten her legs at all, and it would take hours to list every single technical detail Mark failed to master in his “samba”. I call shenanigans.

Either be tough on the whole group – and mark on a fair comparative basis, rather than just reflecting the level of your AMAZEMENT that “wild man” Steve didn’t gnaw on Ola like a banana – or give up the pretence altogether and just comment on how, like, Pixie’s aura was totally crimson in that dance, à la Paula Abdul. The continual search for logic is giving me a migraine.

Speaking of which, Scott’s effort is evident, admirable and increasingly painful, particularly in Joanne’s godawful kiddie routines. As I said last week, I absolutely believe he can learn to dance, just not in the Strictly environment, and I very much wish we weren’t subjected to this doomed experiment. It’s rather like hearing someone else’s keen but talentless child torturing a violin at a school concert: unless you’re their emotionally invested parent, it’s basically a form of “enhanced interrogation”. I’ll tell you anything you want to know, Scott and Joanne. Just please make it stop.

Other hits and misses:
• Every week, I think the judges’ entrance can’t get any camper. Then it does. This madness is growing on me. HIT
• Why the sudden outbreak of shimmies? Are the pros now paid on a pound-per-shimmy basis? MISS
• Darcey’s hair is having an identity crisis. Send help. MISS
• No one can choreograph a routine that doesn’t stall every three seconds. It’s like watching a novice driver doing hill starts. MISS
• Tess’s patronising indulgence of wacky Claudia has turned to confused fear. By Christmas, she’ll have totally cracked her. It’s fantastic television. HIT

Best in Show
Best performance: Caroline’s Pasha doble Interestingly ambitious and drama with a capital “D”. Bonus points, naturally, for both music choice and Pasha pecs sighting.
Best costume: Fruit cocktail Pixie Carmen Miranda called: she thinks you went a tad OTT.
Best move: Judy’s bizarre mid-air swimming It could only have been improved with the addition of a split screen showing Andy self-harming in horror.
Best line: Darcey to Mark and Karen: “It’s stuck in the 1970s.” Otherwise known as this series’ tagline. Runner-up, terms and conditions according to Claudia: “Who is Bill Payer? I’d like to meet him – he’s in charge of all of us.”

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Carrie at the prom. With unfortunate mesh.

WinkleFringe Watch
Like Anton after hearing rumours of Len’s retirement, particularly perky.

 Jake and Janette – Stand and deliver

jake 7379971-low res-simply so soJake somehow managed to make boxing laconic in his laboured VT, and that slight disconnect continued in a nimble but jagged quickstep. Too many breaks, challenging his hold as he had to keep readjusting – again, Janette adding busy elements rather than relying on her partner’s strengths. Crisp kicks, improved topline bar the sagging right elbow, good power, though trotted rather than drove basics. And SACRILEGE: quickstep to St Jill of Perfect 10’s iconic jive? That’s like ordering Wagyu steak and smothering it in ketchup.
Song: “I’m Still Standing”, Elton John (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jill Halfpenny and Darren, Harry Judd and Aliona)
Judges’ comments: Len found it light and bright with good footwork, including lesser-spotted heel leads, though lost his hold. Bruno praised the body contact and “blokey efficiency”, but needed sophistication. Craig noted he led with his arms rather than his centre, loose ankles and left foot turned in, but clean and efficient. Darcey told him not to show effort in his shoulders.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Sunetra and Brendan – A lorra lorra turns

sunetra 7382189-low res- 1simply so soViennese waltz makes people dizzy – stop press! In other news, rain is wet and Ed Miliband is dreary. After a quick spin on a playground roundabout (to make her… more dizzy? Nauseous? Willing to submit to Brendan’s tutelage?), Sunetra’s torture was compounded by a dress the colour and consistency of churned mud, but once again she displayed wonderfully expressive arms and buoyant enthusiasm. Decent hold, travelled well, passive pivots and sticky fleckerl. She needs to exaggerate her frame and lines, otherwise promising.
Song: “Anyone Who Had a Heart”, Cilla Black (COPYCAT KLAXON: Patsy Kensit and Robin)
Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the content, noting Brendan disguised her weaknesses well. Craig praised the double spin into hold, but she needs to look up when she’s turning. Darcey agreed it was a strong routine and wants finished lines, but graceful. Len called it “terrific”, with good mix of steps, poise and posture.
Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30

Scott and Joanne – Crash, bang, wallop

scott 7382228-low res-struggles sparkleWell, look. Scott got through this Charleston. He remembered most of the steps. He occasionally stumbled upon the correct beat. He didn’t kill Joanne. (And that was a real possibility with those lifts.) But his strained determination just doesn’t make for enjoyable viewing, and it’s plain weird juxtaposed with Joanne’s hyper corniness and juvenile, repetitive, literal routines. I’d almost rather they just go the Judy route and at least enjoy it, and/or let us enjoy it – I’m not sure who this is rewarding. Anyhow, goldfish mouthing, ungainly lifts and lacked musicality, but no major disaaaaahsters.
Song: “Flash, Bang, Wallop!”, Tommy Steele
Judges’ comments: Craig noted the absence of swivel, and a three-year-old could have done it better. But some personality. Darcey liked the cheekiness, though found the lifts worrying. Work on core strength. Len applauded the effort. Bruno called him “the love child of Ann Widdecombe and John Sergeant”. Good luck getting THAT image out of your head.
Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 5, 5 – 19

Thom and Iveta – The party’s over

thom 7382399-low res-struggles sparkleCan we just take a moment to admire Iveta’s painted-on leopard-print rehearsal dress? Her training wear has been a series highlight, and I will mourn the loss of it far more than her partner. Their routine followed that logic, with Iveta going the Ola distraction route in a tinsel car wash eruption while Thom pottered through a vague semblance of cha cha. Flat feet and bent legs, thus no hip action, and a few errors, but confident delivery. Given a few more weeks, it’s possible he might have brought up his technical level to match his improved performance. I would put nothing past Iveta.
Song: “It’s My Party”, Jessie J
Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the energy and attack. Len thought arms and feet lacked conviction, but strong performance and hip action. Where, Len? WHERE? Bruno: “He’s the toyboy for any occasion – he goes with anything!” (Yes, I was also disturbed by that.) Looked too much like salsa disco. Craig wanted straight legs, but good rhythm and “marvellous grinding”. (Ditto.)
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Frankie and Kevin – All sugar, no spice

frankie 7382425-low res-simply so soFrankie brought out the big guns AKA unfeasibly adorable baby Parker, escaped from a Noughties Pampers commercial. Major Family prop points. The twee continued in their appallingly saccharine number; I’ve only just awakened from the sugar coma. Rainbow, prom dress, cutesy music and a fluffy routine totally devoid of dynamics, floating aimlessly like that annoying plastic bag in American Beauty. Yes, Frankie can do pretty – anything else, Kev? How about… I don’t know… A SINGLE HEEL LEAD? Lacked drive, convincing topline and a reason for its existence.
Song: “Daydream Believer”, The Monkees
Judges’ comments: Len thought it floated across the floor “like butter on a hot crumpet”, but her upper body isn’t far enough from Kevin. Craig thought it was “wholesome”, though needs more extreme topline. Darcey suggested, in lieu of effort to improve her posture, letting Kevin do more of the work. Wise words from the dance pro, there…
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32

Alison and Aljaž – Cold turkey

alison 7382464-low res-struggles sparkleJust in case we hadn’t figured out Alison’s prescribed role in this series, similarly cast “real woman” Lisa Riley came for a visit. I’m not sure how bringing in someone who had exactly the same problems (committed performance, technical shambles; rinse and repeat) was meant to help – it’s rather like holding a budget crisis meeting and inviting Tesco’s finance director. Anyhow, as expected, her tango footwork and frame were far too casual, but good connection and plenty of drama, albeit slightly subdued – less grand passion, more like Aljaž forgot to buy milk and she was REALLY CROSS she couldn’t make a cup of tea.
Song: “Addicted to You”, Avicii
Judges’ comments: Bruno praised the effort and operatic quality, but needed staccato. Craig thought it was soft around the edges, lacked aggression and took too long to get started. Darcey wanted cleaner transitions, but liked the storytelling.
Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 6 – 23

Mark and Karen – Saturday night fever

mark 7380085-low res-simply so soGiven that their VT field trip involved messing around in a club, it’s no surprise this rendition of the so-called party dance placed far more emphasis on “party” than “dance”. Insane amount of shimmying and disco posing in place of trad samba and a fair few errors, plus lack of hip action, correct footwork and bounce in basics. Still, energetic performance, good rhythm and an attempt at tricky moves like a fast corta jaca, so on balance good, if nowhere near a 9. Oh, Darce. Do you really want to summon the ghost of You-Know-Who? Bottom two recovery arc massively overplayed.
Song: “That’s The Way (I Like It)”, KC and the Sunshine Band
Judges’ comments: Craig wanted more bounce, otherwise brilliant. Darcey praised the party hips and assurance. Len stuck to the script with a “you were in the dance-off and came back strong” line. Bruno: “Now I understand why Brazilians are huge in Essex!” He’s been working on that one for weeks, and is very proud of himself.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8, 8 – 33

Simon and Kristina – Labour of love

simon 7382619-low res-struggles sparkleKristina went to a Blue concert and it was THE BEST! WOOO! This forced enthusiasm carried over into an operatic Viennese waltz that was simply trying too hard, from the ocean of dry ice and Simon’s terrifying fixed grin to the frenzied choreography and Kristina’s doomed attempt at the patented Natalie head roll. None of it could conceal the fact that Simon was skippy, lacked body contact, messed up both standing spins, and couldn’t find the right head position in hold. His technical failings combined with continued (now unfounded) arrogance will likely doom him before long. Plus he huffily skewered Claudia’s banter. Rookie error.
Song: “Somebody to Love”, Queen (COPYCAT KLAXON: Will Thorpe and Hanna, Dan Lobb and Katya)
Judges’ comments: Darcey wanted it smoother, but classy. Len disagreed with “classy”, saying it was hectic and skippy, but he did maintain his frame. Bruno liked the style, but he was too heavy on the downbeat.
Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 – 28

Judy and Anton – Oar zone

judy 7382816-low res-struggles sparkleFor those expecting an epic failure – and I count myself among them – Judy’s Charleston was a slight disappointment, but pleasantly loony nonetheless. Anton, inexplicably in cricket whites, and Judy, equally inexplicably dressed as a morning-after flapper, pitched up in a rowboat (nope), attempted to dance with the oars (nada) and fumbled through a strange series of lifts and throws while Judy occasionally affixed a cartoon shocked expression to her face like a doll having her string pulled (really, I got nothing). No swivel, sync work dreadful and less a dance than an unrehearsed gymnastics display, but certainly memorable.
Song: “Varsity Drag”, Pasadena Roof Orchestra
Judges’ comments: Len liked that she’s having fun. Bruno compared it with the Titanic – started well, hit an iceberg at the end. Craig thought her polka was decent and it was enjoyable to watch, though lacked swivel and timing appalling. Darcey said she turned up the performance, but got out of rhythm.
Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 5 – 18

Caroline and Pasha – The shape of things to come

caroline 7380186-low res-strictly sensationalAnother week, another prime example of Pasha’s terrible acting. This VT had an extra layer of meta, given that he was in a theatre, supposedly teaching his partner how to perform. Genius. Caroline once again pulled the sartorial short straw: frilled peplum and unbecoming mesh in hideous blue and yellow. (Shout-out to the oppressed people of Ukraine? Or did someone drop a biro in custard and was transfixed by the effect?) Their paso had drama, fantastic accents and strong shapes, though lacked definition in hold. A few stumbles, hardly surprising given how packed this routine was. Great that Pasha’s pushing her, but she’s yet to totally deliver a number.
Song: “Live and Let Die”, Paul McCartney & Wings (COPYCAT KLAXON: Letitia Dean and Darren)
Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the passion and Caroline’s feline quality – “I think I’m turning.” Difficult shapes, flamenco and power. Craig found it impassioned and full of highlights. Darcey praised the dynamics and detail. Len liked the fire, but wanted more shaping in hold.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8, 9 – 34

Steve and Ola – Wet blanket

steve 7382989-low res-simply so soI applaud the commitment to this fallacy that the male celebs really lead, particularly in Week 5. Just in case we didn’t buy it, Ola helpfully provided a distraction in the form of 300 tonnes of cheese: ginormous fountain, warbling sax, lovey-dovey story, and posing choreo consisting mainly of loaded eye contact and pivots galore. Steve was far more relaxed doing a dance mercifully free of props and tenuous animal themes (who knew?!), but some hunching, lacked rise and fall and rather solemn. Effective, if tediously safe.
Song: “I Wonder Why”, Curtis Stigers (COPYCAT KLAXON: Sarah Manners and Brendan, Cheri Lunghi and James, Nicky Byrne and Karen)
Judges’ comments: Craig liked seeing his soft side, but spikey hands and lacked swing and sway. Darcey praised the romance and balance. Len said he crunched in on the pivots, but good wide frame. Bruno noted he listened to their criticism and got his shoulders under control.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 7, 8 – 30

Pixie and Trent – Fruit and nuts

pixie 7383015-low res-strictly sensationalTrent can maybe sing a bit. Thanks for that earth-shattering revelation, endless VT. Carnival Pixie was a vast improvement on last week’s “Overcome by my own brilliance” Pixie, though still too much polished sexiness rather than fully embracing the fun of it – and, by association, letting us have fun with her. Also, her solo dancing is notably more engaging than partner work, so continued reliance on what she could do before Strictly. Quibbles aside, fantastic confidence, rhythm, travelling and lines in a refreshingly traditional (not disco!) samba. Needed to straighten her legs to get proper bounce, otherwise impressive. And bonus points for maracas.
Song: “I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi (I Like You Very Much)”, Edmundo Ros
Judges’ comments: Darcey called her “the New Age Carmen Miranda” and loved the isolations. Len praised the proper carnival routine and energy. Bruno: “Tutti frutti high-camp extravaganza!” Craig: “I’ve never seen beading move so fast.”
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35


Pixie and Trent – 35
Caroline and Pasha – 34
Mark and Karen – 33
Frankie and Kevin – 32
Jake and Janette – 31
Sunetra and Brendan – 30
Steve and Ola – 30
Simon and Kristina – 28
Thom and Iveta – 27
Alison and Aljaž – 23
Scott and Joanne – 19
Judy and Anton – 18

More movement this week, with Pixie, Steve, Sunetra and overscored Mark rising, while Jake and Simon drop and Judy swaps with Scott.


We opened with a pro hoedown. Why? NOBODY KNOWS. This is the dance equivalent of the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Iveta was having none of it. Nor was Darcey. Of course, if you want to see a properly brilliant barn dance, watch this.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Off-white DFS sofa cover converted into jumpsuit. It should not have been.

WinkleFringe Watch
Like Renee Zellweger’s face, improbably smooth.

In another pedestrian throwback, Culture Club performed their (only?) hit “Karma Chameleon”. Boy George didn’t so much sing as spent two minutes coughing up a fur ball, while the drummer made a shopping list in his head. Oh yes, and there was some manic jive from Karen, Kevin and the ghosts of Aliona and Tristan.

Len’s lens highlights:
• Len having a moan about Thom’s hand placement. Subtext: he should have been doing something more MANLY. Possibly gutting a deer
• Darcey noting technical errors in Mark’s samba. You know, the one she scored 9…
• The “lasso artist” (is that a thing?) tumbling over a hay bale. Of course, they couldn’t show that earlier lest it detract from the dignity of the totally random hoedowngoodbye-7383222-low res--2

In the dance-off: Thom and Iveta, and Simon and Kristina – both slightly unexpected, but not totally surprising given their position on the leaderboard and lacklustre performances. Thom missed an underarm turn, but offered a bit more arm placement. Simon grinned with an intensity that made my blood run cold, and Kristina over-danced like a woman possessed. Craig and Darcey saved Thom, Bruno and Len (finally getting to use his casting vote) saved Simon. Iveta gave an amazing, endless speech which included the line “butter to my heart” and Tess came close to asking the band to play her off. Another fabulous female pro leaves us too soon.

What did you think? Were the right couples in the dance-off? Who did you want the judges to save? And can you explain the hoedown? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week for (shudder) Halloween Week. Something wicked this way comes. 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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