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Strictly speaking

Posted on December 22, 2014


Week 13: The final

Perhaps not a vintage year, but Strictly ended on a high with a closer than expected final, bananas returning contestants encore, and a deserving winning couple in Caroline and Pasha. It was a show noticeably light on ballroom – because nothing says telly gold like ropey Week 1 disco cha chas! – but that sums up a series in which trad dancing gave way to circus themes and fever dreams. Yet several standout final numbers featured a good blend of entertainment and technique, proving you don’t need to sacrifice one for the other. (Or to satisfy THE GREAT GOD OF SATURDAY NIGHT RATINGS.)

Of course, to get to the dancing, you had to wade through miles and miles of filler. Filler as far as the eye can see. There were recaps. There were montages. There were montages of recaps. There were recaps of montages. And then there was an ad for the upcoming Christmas special. It’s safe to say the producers’ least favourite tense is the present. Next year, can we please have some guest dancer performances, detailed breakdown of results (who came second? It’s a mystery that will echo through eternity), or just half an hour of Bruno mocking Craig’s facial hair? Anything free from funereal backing tracks and lumbering slow mo.

Montage VTs and interviews were also crammed with clichés – J words abounded – and totes emosh wobbles, but there was genuine feeling amidst the scripted sentiment, particularly when the couples performed their LAST EVER DANCE TOGETHER EVER (until the tour). Kleenex all round! If Mark can spare it…

Other hits and misses:
• Did always-the-bridesmaid Pasha celebrate his first victory with manic whooping, gushing and floods of tears? He did not. He and his majestic bare chest accepted success with the sanguine serenity of Trent completing a relaxation class. HIT
• Solid performance from Tess (other than continued misguided attempts to sell jokes from Brucie’s gag writer), and Claudia glorious as always. Add in Zoë’s strong subbing and It Takes Two, and it was a fantastic debut year for our all-female presenting team. HIT
• This just in: the judges’ 10 is losing value faster than the rouble. Even Donny thinks you might have gone overboard. (Haha just kidding! He’s scoring 19s at home, BABY.) MISS
• Hey, it turns out actually broadcasting the results show live on Saturday night works pretty well. How about making it a regular occurrence? Please? There are no secrets in this Twitter age, and keeping up the pretence is becoming exhausting. MUST WE LIVE A LIE? HIT/MISS
• Judges’ entrance highlight: Bruno bounding out of the diva dry-ice fog. Next year, he’ll nick Caroline’s wind machine and ginormous floaty scarves to complete the Beyoncé video out-of-body experience. HIT
• Craig facial hair report: small mammal crawled onto his chin and died. Possibly overcome by fake tan fumes. RIP small mammal. MISS

Best in Show
Best performance: Caroline’s showdance It could so easily have been disaaaaahstrous, but the gamble paid off with this brilliantly OTT contempo dance therapy-cum-orgasmic detergent ad (“IT’S JUST SO WHITE!”).
Best costume: Pasha’s vanquished fez Truly this year’s most heartwarming Man Versus Hat redemption tale. Coming soon: Tristan MacManus: Stetson Slayer!
Best move: Judy’s surreal background trotting MVP of Series 12.
Best line: Claudia’s “It’s the name of the song – they’re not kidnapping one of the seven dwarves.” Runner-up: the now traditional dig at “a Donny 10”. It was almost worth having such an inane guest judge just so we could spend the next two months mocking him.

First show
We opened with a group dance to “Celebration”, in which the also-rans donned paper napkins and the superior finalists Bacofoil. Such is the way of the Strictly kitchen hierarchy. More important, the glitterball spaceship has landed! (No, really.) Only five minutes in, and already a nation was pondering the hallucinatory properties of mulled wine and mince pies.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Fire-engine red sleeping bag and wilted flower hair.

Judges’ choice
AKA “Disappointing early dances that get rampantly overscored the second time around because IT’S THE FINAL, WOO!” Things you will not see: genuine highlights like Frankie’s green tango. Things you will see: drunken wedding disco Latin galore. Them’s the breaks.

The most enjoyable aspect of this otherwise dodgy round was the judges luring contestants into a dimly lit room to reveal, Poirot style, WHO THE MURDERER IS. (The doctor. Always the doctor. Or the roguish artist. Or the identical twin of the woman who pretended to be murdered but was actually in on it the whole time because she had a secret love child in India in 1932 which you should totally have worked out from that one reference to a snake on page 47.) Anyhow, in revealing the dance choice, our delightfully hammy judges managed a 10-second delay between each word, which made this a good time to practise deep yoga breathing…

Frankie and Kevin – Road to redemption

01 frankie 7821322-low res-strictly sensationalLucky Frankie got landed with the samba that Craig labelled her “WORST DANCE EVER”. Joy of joys. It was still jam-packed and Kevin once again donned his ketchup trousers and crocheted top, but she was more grounded and coped better with the numerous rhythm changes, even if she nearly neutered Kevin during one wobbly moment and the highlight remained her West Side Story paso skirt swishing. In fact, this mainly served as a trailer for their encore dance. Assured, fun, good leg action, a tad more hips – overall, strong if less than spectacular start. One of many dances this year that needed some form of showmance chemistry to really sizzle.
Song: “La Bamba”, Connie Francis (COPYCAT KLAXON: Dennis Taylor and Izabela)
Judges’ comments: Len praised the quantity of steps and quality of technique. Bruno thought it was both carefree and finished. Craig said she redeemed herself. Darcey loved the carnival vibe.
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Mark and Karen – Spanner in the works
01 mark 7821348-low res-simply so soNow, this is the problem with reprising early dances: the pros choreograph based on what their celebs can handle, meaning the material given in Week 1 is necessarily less challenging than what they’re able to do in a final. Mark’s “He’d never even heard music before! He came from a TOTALLY SILENT PLANET!” underdog arc may have been vastly overplayed, but he has undoubtedly improved over the course of the series. Not only did his cha cha fail to show it, Mark visibly regressed during this still baffling routine. (Why construction worker? Is the Village People vibe accidental? Why is Karen an Oompa-Loompa escort? Has Tim Burton had a hand in this?) Faff, tricks, juddering transitions and messy footwork, though confident delivery and decent rhythm.
Song: “I’m Your Man”, Wham! (COPYCAT KLAXON: Richard Dunwoody and Lilia)
Judges’ comments: Bruno praised his enthusiasm and timing. Craig thought the walks were too stiff and lacked hip action, but great improvement. Darcey liked the presentation. Len agreed on the improvement.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Caroline and Pasha – Feelin’ good
01 caroline 7821502-low res-strictly sensationalAnother Week 1 cha cha. You’re spoiling us, Mr Ambassador. Likewise light on content for a final dance, but this relatively uncluttered, more comprehensible routine did give Caroline the chance to show off her sharp footwork, improved (though still not 100 per cent) hip action, and the partnering skills that give this pair the edge. Disco Latin will always have a slight air of desperation, but this was less egregious than most, demonstrating growth more effectively than 100 “I’ve been on a JOURNEY” VTs. (But never fear! We had plenty of those as well, just in case you were playing Angry Birds during the actual dancing and needed a refresher.) Perfect score debatable, but a slick, engaging opener.
Song: “Can You Feel It?”, The Jacksons (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ray Fearon and Camilla)
Judges’ comments: Craig just applauded. Darcey praised her phrasing, dynamics and leg action. Len loved the clean, crisp movement. Bruno… well. He’s just started a second job as a phone sex operator and really needed to work on his material. We must not judge, in this time of economic hardship.
Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40

Simon and Kristina – Same difference
01 simon 7821541-low res-simply so soRather oddly, the judges broke with tradition to give Simon a dance that a) he did well the first time around, and b) he was happy to receive. This was either a) obvious favouritism – conspiracy! or b) evil sabotage, giving him less chance to noticeably “improve” – conspiracy! In any event, it was something of a damp squib: not much better than the first time, nor any worse, with marginally more swivel and sync, but oddly low energy. Pacing themselves? Weighed down by insanely bling-tastic costumes? Wondering whether Anton and Judy’s rogue Dalmatians consumed the inhabitant of the mysteriously empty birdcage? Solid, but something of a slow start.
Song: “My Old Man (Said Follow The Van)”, Marie Lloyd
Judges’ comments: Darcey praised his details and quirkier character. Len “treated” us to a Dick Van Dyke Cockney critique. (“You was easy on the ole meat pies, Muuuuury Poppins!”) Bruno said Simon’s blossomed into a versatile performer. Craig thought it was tight and full of swivel.
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Caroline and Pasha – 40
Frankie and Kevin – 39
Simon and Kristina – 39
Mark and Karen – 35


Frankie and Kevin – The way we were
02 frankie 7821764-low res-simply so soOh no! Ballroom is dying! Altogether, boys and girls: “I do believe in Fred and Ginger!” Tail suit-ed Kevin went for solid vote-winner with this classic American smooth, and Frankie shot and skinned three flocks of flamingos for the occasion. The Bandstand of Nostalgia rocked up to sigh about how the post-war generation really knew the VALUE of things, and the first half had a lovely, easy elegance: buoyant quickstep, jazzy transitions and quietly impressive technique. And then… Rather than reaching a showstopping showdance climax, Kevin decided to enter Frankie into the assault course section of Crufts AKA lurched through the “Unnecessarily Athletic Bench-based Sixteen-Going-on-Seventeen” number from The Sound of Music, creating a momentum black hole. Needed more choreographic and/or performance power to wow.
Song: “Get Happy”, Judy Garland (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jill Halfpenny and Darren, Kimberley Walsh and Pasha)
Judges’ comments: Len thought it was fantastic. Bruno praised the Hollywood tribute. Craig thought the bench section looked like horse training, but the jazz inserts were tremendous. Darcey called it stylish and sophisticated, though wanted more quickstep.
Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38

Mark and Karen – Fast and furious
02 mark 7821751-low res-struggles sparkleWell. Yes. This happened. As with the singing in Mark’s VT (oh dear), can’t fault the enthusiasm, but do we really want to witness it? This wasn’t so much a showdance as the manic episode of a wannabe cricketer-cum-children’s party entertainer gripped by the conviction that unless he completes a month’s worth of circuit training with the Moulin Rouge! absinthe fairy while simultaneously roaring all of Queen’s lyrics within the next 10 seconds, he and Jack Bauer won’t be able to defuse the nuclear bomb and SAVE THE WORLD. It… was good cardio. It… was an anxiety-inducing speed tour of the studio. It… made me wonder what Pixie or Jake might have produced.
Song: “Don’t Stop Me Now”, Queen (COPYCAT KLAXON: Penny Lancaster and Ian, Kara Tointon and Artem)
Judges’ comments: Bruno wondered how many coffees Mark had consumed. Craig felt like he was in a Jane Fonda aerobics class, but praised his joy of dance. Darcey said he maintained the rhythm and dynamics. Len thought he was flying around like Harry Potter on a Nimbus 2000.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Caroline and Pasha – Angel delight
02 caroline 7821965-low res-strictly sensationalAnything following Mark’s dance would have seemed slow, but Pasha actually made the brave (crazy? Genius? Crazy again?) decision to opt for a glacial contemporary showdance rather than an action-packed sprint. With only the teeniest hint of rumba, this was singularly lacking in trad ballroom, as this whole series has been, otherwise surprisingly brilliant. Yes, you would have filled up your contempo bingo card early on – fog! Wind! Bare-chested Pasha! Ginormous floaty Surrealist scarves! Wafty arms! Running! Boyband air grab! Koala bear on tree wrap! More running! – but the lifts were impressive, interesting and seamlessly performed, and they managed to combine technical control with emotional abandon. Mesmerising.
Song: “Angels”, Beverly Knight (COPYCAT KLAXON: Claire Sweeney and John)
Judges’ comments: Craig thought it was a brave routine and loved the storytelling. Darcey praised the expressiveness and lifts. Len thought it was beautiful. Bruno compared it with contemporary greats like Martha Graham, Twyla Tharp and Matthew Bourne, and lauded her sincerity and physical communication.
Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40

Simon and Kristina – Memory lane
02 simon 7822004-low res-strictly sensationalFinally, it’s the stair-based quick-change double act the world has been crying out for! If only this competition was Strictly Come Step Stripping, Simon would have nabbed the title there and then. What he did do in Kristina’s canny routine was demonstrate that he’s one of the most versatile in the class of 2014, demonstrating his prowess in ballroom, Latin and social. Slick lifts, smooth armography, great energy and rhythm and engaging performance, but struggled occasionally with the cut and paste approach – the frantic quickstep went out of time. Not as exciting as seeing totally new choreography, but a sterling reminder of his strong performances this series.
Song: “A Little Less Conversation”, Elvis Presley (COPYCAT KLAXON: Patsy Palmer and Anton)
Judges’ comments: Darcey loved the mix of styles. Len enjoyed his greatest hits. Bruno thought it was packaged to perfection. Craig said he couldn’t believe this was the same person who’d walked on to the floor all those weeks ago.
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Caroline and Pasha – 40 + 40 = 80
Simon and Kristina – 39 + 39 = 78
Frankie and Kevin – 39 + 38 = 77
Mark and Karen – 35 + 35 = 70

Second show
Resisting the urge to troll the judges, the voting public followed their lead and eliminated Mark in fourth place. Mark – shocker! – gave a speech. And then another speech. Can you even imagine how long his wedding toast will last? Tip to guests: start endurance training now.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Sailor dress doubling as a tent.

Contestants’ choice

Frankie and Kevin – Go west
03 frankie 7822590-low res-strictly sensationalReprising their Movie Week (week 3) paso – partly because it was a good number for them, partly because Kevin was dying to wear red trousers again, mainly because we will never tire of making Donny 10 jokes – this consistent duo produced another accomplished performance. Great shapes, dynamic, confident, strong leg action and more fearless than before, but still an overabundance of skirt swishing, and although this was one of their better numbers in terms of characterisation and expression, Frankie – let’s face it – is no Meryl Streep. Nor even (less technically polished but far more emotive) Susanna Reid. Dynamic, enjoyable and blessedly free from pretty schmaltz, but stopped just short of revelatory.
Song: “America”, Bernstein/Sondheim, from West Side Story (COPYCAT KLAXON: Zoë Ball and Ian)
Judges’ comments: Len said it’s not just her favourite, but everyone’s favourite. Bruno described his heartburn: firecracker! Scorching! Craig thought it was strong, feisty and character-driven. Darcey loved the attitude.
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Caroline and Pasha – Eastern promise
03 caroline 7822833-low res-strictly sensationalFollowing the Donny reference, Caroline and Pasha summoned another ghost with their Around The (shudder) World Week bizarre bazaar Charleston. No less loopy second time around, and, though it was nice to see them without distractions, the absence of human props actually detracted from it slightly. I KNOW! Bear with me… Detracted because there were clear highlights in the routine that required climactic movement, and they didn’t quite manage to supply it at short notice. Also: Pasha doing the weird rowing dance on his own even more trippy than him doing it with a team of fellow fruitcakes. However, charismatic delivery, buoyant lifts and fab energy, plus more (if still not totally consistent) swivel and no crazy fez sabotage.
Song: “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”, They Might Be Giants
Judges’ comments: Bruno compared it with a luxury suite on the Orient Express. Craig noted improved swivel and called her phenomenal. Darcey said it was the best Charleston of the series. Len thought she’d done her chances of winning no harm at all.
Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40

Simon and Kristina – Man of the moment
03 simon 7822910-low res-strictly sensationalCompleting the set of theme week encores, Simon picked his Blackpool (week 8) Argentine tango, and upgraded an impactful dance to a truly showstopping one. As before, intense, great use of accents and exciting lifts, but this time Simon both came closer to Kristina’s melodrama level and – for the most part – actually led the dance. It made for a far more emotionally satisfying number, with both fully involved and starting to react to one another, rather than dancing as two individuals. The odd moment of Craig’s ice cream scoop hands, otherwise a commanding performance that might very well have led to a surprise result.
Song: “El Tango de Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge (COPYCAT KLAXON: Julian Clary and Erin)
Judges’ comments: Craig said he’d exceeded all expectations and praised their partnership. Darcey loved the connection. Len thought he’d climbed mountains after landing in the dance-off three times. Bruno said he’d gone from hesitant beginner to leading man.
Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40

Final leaderboard
Caroline and Pasha – 40 + 40 + 40 = 120
Simon and Kristina – 39 + 39 + 40 = 118
Frankie and Kevin – 39 + 38 + 39 =116

Take (sort of) That, dressed for Elton John’s wedding, gave a slightly muted medley and offered cringe-worthy dad dancing beside the actual professional dancers doing actual dancing. Rookie error.

And now for the best moment of the final: the eliminated contestants return to wreak bloody vengeance! Or at least to supply a moment of pure, unadulterated, bonkers fun. Highlights included:
• Gregg: “Mate! I’ve brought you a cake! Be my friend for life!” Aliona: “… yeah, thanks, bye.”
• Alison’s boobography
• Iveta being all kinds of fabulous
• Steve giving BBC lawyers a heart attack by tumbling off a vine
• Scott’s mournful crab
• Pixie and Jake doing their best “We’re totally cool with not competing in the final – see how we’re just having fun! (/being really amazing – seriously, you said no to THIS?”)

Finally, we crowned our winners… Caroline and Pasha! Well deserved, and classy speeches all round.

Best in Series
Best performance: Caroline’s salsa First perfect score and springboard to victory.
Best costume: Pasha the sexy spaceman Those painted-on silver trousers deserve a trophy of their own.
Best move: Janette’s insane lifts The woman knows no fear. And/or has mighty insurance.
Best line: Claudia’s tireless series-long punning Claud: we salute you. And throw popcorn at you.

What did you make of the final? Did you agree with the result? And what did you think of the series in general? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

Thank you for all your fab comments, and look forward to seeing you next year for more fun and games. 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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