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Strictly speaking

Posted on November 10, 2014


Week 7

square-7483873-low res--1We’ve reached the Strictly halfway mark, and the judges are getting tough. Well, sort of. Sometimes. Consistency is like, so hard, you guys. Particularly FOR THE MEN.

I’m beginning to wonder what, exactly, happened in Len Goodman’s youth to make him so impassioned in his defence of what he deems the weaker sex. Was his über-macho masculinity mocked by a dance teacher? Did his rippling muscles burst out of a Lycra polo shirt during a traumatic competition, popped sequins stabbing him in the eye? (Of course, if we’re casting The Hulk: The Musical!, Steve “Too Manly To Function” Backshall must be top of the list.)

It’s an exceedingly tedious thread, and with every dance declared “THE TOUGHEST DANCE EVER (especially for male celebrities)”, we’ve reached X Factor levels of hyperbole. Judges, let the public make up their own minds. Yes, we have a worrying tendency to vote for Judy “Mother of Andy” Murray, but it’s not because she’s a privileged female: it’s because we enjoy watching Anton lever her like a forklift truck hefting a disused wardrobe. We’re sick that way.

Other hits and misses:
• Another strong sub from Zoë (best wishes to Claudia and her family). But cutting between the raucous ball-cony and increasingly desperate Tess was like going from a hen party to the morgue. MISS
• Number of Blackpool mentions: 562. Anyone playing that drinking game is currently in A&E. MISS
• James Jordan took to Twitter to, ahem, robustly refute tabloid claims of Ola’s bullying and encourage others to, shall we say, forcefully protest the so-called smear. It’s the social media equivalent of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Bring popcorn. HIT
• Darcey’s hair deflated into an asymmetric cry for help. By the final, it will be a mohawk with “THE BOYS ARE RIGHT!” shaved into her skull. MISS

Best in Show
Best performance: Pixie’s foxtrot The Wonder Twins are growing on me. This retro musical theatre number was refreshingly unusual – almost (dare I say) Artem-esque. On that note, let us take a moment to remember our fallen comrade
Best costume: Ola taking no chances Recovering from a dodgy week and media scandal? Bring out the big guns AKA dress like a slutty disco plant.
Best move: Alison inhaling half of Aljaž’s face Not so much a kiss as forced liposuction.
Best line: Bruno to Judy: “You’re legally insane!” If anyone should know…

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Her navy body stocking was injured en route, requiring liberal application of hideous beige bandaging.

 Simon and Kristina – Homeward bound

simon 7482941-low res-simply so soOperation Humanise Simon continues apace. He truly is Strictly‘s George Osborne. This week, a not-at-all-forced visit to platitude-spouting Mum in Manchester, with beaming friends lining up/paid a tenner to praise the prodigal son. Family prop points: -5. This was about as subtle as Tess’s jokes. He fared much better in Kristina’s jazzy, stylishly buoyant quickstep. Hideous gapping, however, as he dropped the right side of his hold and failed to drive the dance – evident from Kristina’s grimly determined back-leading. Still most comfortable during side-by-side work, so perhaps not a partnership that will be fondly remembered for its kinship.
Song: “I Got Rhythm”, Bobby Darin (COPYCAT KLAXON: Emma Bunton and Darren, Anita Dobson and Robin)
Judges’ comments: Len liked the energy and commitment. Bruno enjoyed the Hollywood glamour, but wanted better lines on the slides. Craig criticised his posture and head placement, but he’s becoming “a serious contender” (to be booted out in the quarter-final). Darcey loved the entrance and ease.
Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 9, 8 – 33

Caroline and Pasha – Royal treatment

caroline 7481707-low res-simply so soAs the celebs are only allowed one cartoon attribute this series, Caroline is apparently hamstrung by being a TOTAL TOMBOY (ohhhh-kay). She tackled this by going to a ballet class and working on her core strength and extension. HAHA JUST KIDDING. Her beloved/helpfully camera-friendly nieces wandered in to teach her how to be a princess. Family prop points: 3. Caroline, sporting severe von Trapp plait and faded mint confectionery in net shopping bag, partly delivered Pasha’s pleasantly lyrical waltz: gentle flow, authentic feeling, severe lack of drive, several stumbles leading to stiffness. Still tantalisingly close to a breakthrough.
Song: “Three Times a Lady”, The Commodores (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jason Wood and Kylie, Anita Dobson and Robin)
Judges’ comments: Bruno praised her honesty, but her shoulders went up. Craig (FINALLY) noticed this year’s absence of heel leads and blocky topline, but lovely emotion. Darcey liked the pivots, but agreed with Bruno on shoulders. Len noted tension and lack of rise and fall, otherwise beautiful.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

 Jake and Janette – Man overboard

jake 7482059-low res- 1struggles sparkleWinning the prize for Week 7’s most literal VT, Jake and Janette prepared for their ship romance rumba with a visit to HMS Belfast. I would say it was the most boring field trip ever, but then I went to the Thames Barrier. Twice. Anyhow, they really didn’t need to prep a dance, given the KILLER FOG that engulfed them and (oh how convenient) hid their bodies from the waist down. Captain Jake had a nice lead, but spent most of the time awkwardly supporting Janette with an air of sufferance that screamed husband loitering outside the changing room. Hip action far too minimal and lacked fluidity. At least he got rumba out the way, rather than being saddled with it on a critical week.
Song: “Strangers in the Night”, Frank Sinatra
Judges’ comments: Craig noted “spatulistic” hands and called it too safe. Darcey was impressed, though his head was down. Len said it was all at sea. Bruno praised the characterisation, but it didn’t have continuous motion or balance between presentation and participation.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Judy and Anton – Kangaroo court

judy 7482915-low res-struggles sparkleFinally, after a tease so lengthy it would make Gypsy Rose Lee proud, Andy Murray himself appeared. For about 10 seconds. Clearly hating every moment. It was excellent television. Family prop points: 10. Judge Judy (oof) was her usual confused, lurching plank self, waiting patiently for her partner to either tip or lift her. No shaping, no dancing, no semblance of actual paso. Do these performances really take a whole week to prep, or does Judy just wander around the building trading shortbread for male attention while Anton practises with the Hat Stand of A Thousand Passions? He’d be better off with a Dollgate mannequin.
Song: “I Fought the Law”, The Clash
Judges’ comments: Darcey said her physical strength is evident in lifts and jumps, but not in the actual dancing. Len: “If stiffness was a crime, you’d get life!” And “Anton’s already done two months’ hard labour!” (He’s here all week. Try the veal.) Bruno claimed she was “reimagining dance as we know it”. Craig called it pedestrian.
Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 5 – 18

Sunetra and Brendan – Trouble in paradise

sunetra 7481759-low res-simply so soGiving us a breather from Family Top Trumps, Sunetra brought in her Casualty cast mates. Much to my disappointment, none of them fell off a swing, tripped over a cat or impaled themselves on a bollard. Sunetra, resplendent in green and glitter-splattered foundation garments, began with gorgeous confident flow and impressive frame, taking advantage of a stripped-back, musical Brendan foxtrot, but a few errors led to gapping, clunkiness and hesitation. A real shame, as she has wonderful expressiveness in lyrical numbers and this (relatively) schmaltz-free number was probably my favourite piece of choreography so far this year.
Song: “All of Me”, John Legend
Judges’ comments: Len noted the “little incidents”, otherwise good enough to get them to Blackpool. Bruno loved her phrasing and moments of brilliance. Craig said it had great potential, but became heavy. Darcey praised her topline and glamour, though agreed it was ploddy.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

 Alison and Aljaž – All that jazz

alison 7483205-low res-struggles sparkleAlison took Aljaž bowling with her son Aiden. It was super casual. Just two friends, hanging out. At no point did she scream “AIDEN, MEET YOUR NEW DADDY!” Family prop points: 8. Their Charleston went full-on adult tap class end-of-term show: top hats, canes, jazz hands and random, slightly uncomfortable shimmies. Alison, naturally, excelled at the OTT faces and committed totally to her “I mixed Red Bull with amphetamines and oxygen deprivation – for a laugh!” character, but flat-footed, lacked swivel and the supported handstand was unwise. The most convincing move was the soul-sucking kiss.
Song: “Friend Like Me” from Aladdin
Judges’ comments: Bruno said it was a natural dance for her. Craig enjoyed the style and jazz hands, but wasn’t brilliant technically. Darcey loved the zaniness, and her strength has improved, but she didn’t maintain it. Len liked the razzmatazz.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Mark and Karen – Leaves on the line

mark 7483327-low res-simply so soMark’s main issue is that he makes dance look too much like football training. Solution? TAKE HIM TO FOOTBALL TRAINING! Oh, Strictly. Your logic does not resemble our Earth logic. Their waltz was an unremitting cheese-fest, from the syrupy music choice and Barbie wedding styling to the extended hug-a-thon, fixed grins, “Ahhh”-baiting spins and about 10 forests’ worth of leaves dumped on them at the climax. Wondering why global warming is accelerating? THIS DANCE. Ghastly cutesiness aside, their waltz didn’t travel nearly enough and basics rather jerky and stilted, but confident performance and even one or two heel leads.
Song: “Weekend In New England”, Barry Manilow (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jill Halfpenny and Darren, Jade Johnson and Ian, Rory Bremner and Erin)
Judges’ comments: Craig liked the romance. Darcey praised his sensitive lead, but wants more extension. Len noted a lack of swing and sway, but terrific footwork. Bruno called it “tender”, but agreed on the swing.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Frankie and Kevin – The rain in Spain

frankie 7482137-low res-simply so soKevin got a free Spanish holiday this week. He tried to present this as a hardship. In other news – STOP PRESS – The Saturdays think Frankie’s doing terribly well. I’m not sure whether Kevin mortally offended someone or lost a bet, but he spent their samba trying to style out a reject Topman bandana shirt and eye-watering ketchup trousers. Frankie spent it trying desperately to keep up with an insanely frenetic routine that barely allowed her to glimpse the moves, let alone dance them. Attempt at samba rolls and the odd hint of hip action, but fatally disjointed and relied too heavily on a reprise of her West Side Story skirt-flouncing.
Song: “La Bamba”, Connie Francis (COPYCAT KLAXON: Dennis Taylor and Izabela)
Judges’ comments: Darcey noted the amount of content and wants her to arch her back to make it sexier. Len said there were problems, but great recovery. Bruno thought she needed more time to allow her to be naughty. Craig: “Your worst dance yet.”
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 9, 8 – 32

Pixie and Trent – A mangle for all seasons

pixie 7481989-low res- 1strictly sensationalBack to Top Trumps and a winning card from Pixie in the form of her adorable ballroom-loving granddad AND mention of dead grandmother, all in the beautiful surroundings of the Rivoli. Family prop points: 20. Not many foxtrots feature a mangle, and on this evidence, they damn well should. Crisp storytelling, improved frame, travelled well and lovely details. Still variable footwork and came in and out of hold once too often, otherwise an effective, inventive number. Two strong weeks from the blondes, who are now reaching for quirky performance rather than just relying on prettiness.
Song: “When I’m Sixty-Four”, The Beatles
Judges’ comments: Len wants her to work on positioning in hold, but charming. Bruno thought it was original, witty and had great characterisation. Craig: “Gorgeous.” Darcey said she stretched herself and praised the reverse attitude turn.
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 8, 9 – 36

 Steve and Ola – Fear factor

steve 7483582-low res-struggles sparkleYet another idiotic VT that involved a celeb compounding a problem rather than solving it – in this case, muscle-bound Steve, hamstrung by brute strength, roaring his way through a judo session. Unsurprisingly, their paso followed this year’s pattern of sacrificing finesse for raw power, but this was a particularly egregious example: hands splayed like deadly rib-eyes, angry toddler stomps, thumping partnering and knee slides that made him resemble a particularly psychotic cross-country skier. Throughout, Steve contorted his face like he’d just swallowed a rotten egg soaked in tabasco. Or been forced to watch that John Lewis penguin ad on a loop for 24 hours, Clockwork Orange style. No shaping, hunched shoulders, thuggish.
Song: “Use Somebody”, Kings of Leon
Judges’ comments: Bruno called him “Conan the destroyer”, and – rather unfortunately – added: “You’re supposed to dance with her, not rape her.” Craig: “You certainly killed the bull, darling.” Darcey liked the power and masculinity. Len said it lacked artistry and refinement, but certainly frightened the life out of him.
Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 7, 7 – 28


Pixie and Trent – 36
Simon and Kristina – 33
Frankie and Kevin – 32
Caroline and Pasha – 31
Sunetra and Brendan – 31
Mark and Karen – 31
Steve and Ola – 28
Jake and Janette – 27
Alison and Aljaž – 27
Judy and Anton – 18

Pixie, Simon, Sunetra and Steve all improve, while Jake continues to tumble.


Our pros’ Remembrance tribute involved girls in sparkly boiler suits jiving to “Stuff Like That There”, ruled over by bespectacled Iveta, who definitely should have gone to Specsavers. Truly excellent. Can we ditch Len’s lens and just have another (semi-trad) pro dance, please?

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
On first impression, a decent LBD. But then…incongruous belt, peculiar length and gleaming, wobbly bodice.

Katherine Jenkins (sporting Farage-sized poppy and – in case that was too subtle – also dressed as a poppy) warbled “We’ll Gather Lilacs”. Pasha and Ola wafted. I made tea.

Len’s lens highlights:
• Everyone showed off their expressive hands. It went on for some time. These guys must be a HOOT at dinner parties
• Craig pointed out gapping between Sunetra and Brendan
• Len nearly got clobbered by a particularly crazed Bruno. He really hasn’t found the balance of his meds, has he?

There was an irritating Blackpool VT. Pasha sang. That is all.goodbye-7483847-low res--1

In the dance-off: Caroline and Pasha, and Alison and Aljaž, with Judy living to lurch (or levitate) another day. More important, Caroline’s mum was in the audience, meaning THE CURSE OF THE MUMMY lives on. And Andy lost his match after a visit from Judy. Batten down the hatches, people! The Daily Star will be ALL OVER THIS. Oh, and obviously the judges saved Caroline.

Who impressed you this week? Did you want Judy to survive? And are you looking forward to Blackpool? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain 

See you next week, when we’re off to… Nope, it’s gone. Warrington? 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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