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Strictly speaking

Posted on December 15, 2010


Week 11

It’s the “Strictly” semi-final showdown! Our stars are dreaming of the glitterball trophy, but they get a rude awakening…the nightmare of two eliminations! Really, this is a surprise? Wasn’t anyone listening last week? I’m sure Tess mentioned the double elimination at least six times. (Amusingly, Kara sleeps with a Russian guidebook in place of Artem, till AFTER the competition. Guess they’ll have to pour all that emotion into their dancing. Hmm, what’s on the menu this week – rumba with a side order of sexual tension, anyone?)


Hurrah! Tess finally chooses a decent dress, playing it safe with a sexy LBD and seriously good bling. So, we’ve got five dances tonight, five tomorrow and two eliminations. And three nights of Brucie. YAY. (Why no Claudia?) Plus the “organised chaos” of the swingathon (steady). And a double elimination. Have we mentioned that yet?

Pamela and James – Going gaga



simply_so_soSequin-o-meter: 2

Song: “Bad Romance”, Lady Gaga

Judges’ comments: Len thought she captured the spirit of the dance – “I could almost see the blood swelling in your bosom as the music started and the passion kicked in.” Bruno expressed his critique through song and interpretative dance: “Pamel-a-a-aaa-a, ooh la-a-a-aaa-a! Boy, you can’t afford me, that girl knows what she wants and she’s going to get it.” Craig praised the strong lines, attitude and skirt work but noted there were some laboured transitions and “three solo wobble moments”.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Pamela was really proud to get a perfect score for her birthday. (What have you asked Santa for?) But back to training and the reality of learning three new dances. Luckily, James is around to offer support: “You should have got this by now!” “I’m not trying to panic you or anything, but…” “What are you DOING down there?” This gives Pamela plenty of fighting spirit, which she demonstrates by attacking James. Who can blame her? Her paso outfit came to us via Vegas, with its showgirl corset top and half a skirt, resulting in Bridget Jones does Wonderwoman at the front, while James sported this week’s compulsory insane shoulder adornment. They opened with some chairography (which suffered by comparison to Kara’s) and created strong lines and intensity, but lacked storytelling, staying on one level throughout. Also, as Craig pointed out, a few stumbles, particularly coming out of spins.

Overall: Another solid routine.

Kara and Artem – Your love keeps lifting me



strictly_sensationalSequin-o-meter: 3

Song: “Stop!”, Sam Brown (More music recycling – this was used by Colin and Erin in series three)

Judges’ comments: Alesha thought they mirrored each other perfectly, delivering a fast Viennese beautifully, adding that she found Kara’s unassuming personality endearing. Will the public agree? Bruno loved “the beauty of lines, quality of movement, expression of musical phrasing” and called it a work of art. Craig pointed out an illegal lift, which huffy Len dismissed: “Don’t listen to old fanlight fanny on the end.” His expressions are getting odder by the week. He added that he’s seen two fantastic Viennese waltzes on the show: Alesha’s and Kara’s. High praise indeed. And Kara didn’t even have Elaine Paige!

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Kara was overwhelmed by the judges’ comments on her tango, although Artem was less impressed by Craig’s “phantasmagorical”: “It wasn’t even English.” The lovebirds’ training has been tense this week, with Kara tired out and Artem worried they’re going too slowly. Kara summarised the situation cheerfully: “It’s meant to be the honeymoon period and I’ve been horrific – I apologise to Artem. We’re like an old married couple, and if we don’t get to the final, I think he’ll divorce me.” Either these two are a serious item or this is the best showmance ever seen on TV. Kara’s Grace Kelly tulle dress with ribboned halterneck made a good bid for best dress of the series and her lyrical lines out of hold were truly sensational. Nice topline in hold and good flowing movement, marred by her indeed taking her foot off the floor during their spin, turning it into a lift. Passionate ending, in case we’d forgotten the romantic rumours in the past 90 seconds. Remember, we might end up together! It’s Dirty Dancing all over again! Now vote…

Overall: Superb performance at a key moment.

Gavin and Katya – Hips don’t lie



struggles_sparkleSequin-o-meter: 1

Song: “Bamboleo”, Gipsy Kings


Judges’ comments: “You look the part of the hot Brazilian hunk,” gasped Bruno. He thought the performance was improved but Gavin lacks rhythm and timing. After criticising Gavin’s rhythm, arms and flow, Craig delivered his cattiest backhanded compliment yet: “That hip rotation is well worth the 297.5 hours you’ve been rehearsing over the series.” Ouch. Len thought he had “the guns, but not the ammunition”.

Judges’ scores: 6, seh-ven, 7, 7 – 27

Gavin was very pleased with his foxtrot and the nice comments – gold stars all round. He knows he’s the underdog, but he’s got great support from Wales – have we mentioned he’s Welsh? No? Well, here’s a few Welsh supporters, just, you know, typical regional types: a men’s choirs, an unintelligible farmer and some painted sheep. Right. Unfortunately, Gavin’s struggling to remember all the dances – “My brain is hurting!” – and gets easily distracted by his reflection. He’s also having trouble with Katya: “She’s happy one minute, hates me the next – she’s a headache on heels.” Women, eh? Charlotte, how could you let this one get away? Their samba was mainly Katya’s go-to choreography – hip gyrations, (illegal) lifts and…um…hip gyrations. Gavin was flat-footed throughout and wore that adorable confused look. He stumbled through crusado walks and locks with no hip action – such a great step for him that Katya put in two sets of them. More compelling than his dance journey is his skin-tone journey – so luminous is he now that he’s actually been snubbed by a fake tan brand for being TOO orange.

Overall: Gavin, come in please. Your time is up.

Scott and Natalie – It’s oh so quiet



simply_so_soSequin-o-meter: 2

Song: “Epoca”, Gotan Project

Judges’ comments: Craig wanted more swivel on the closes and looser legs on the ganchos, and thought Scott should be leading more. Len said it was clean and precise, but “I wasn’t convinced you were a young guy out on the town trying to pick up a hot bit of totty!” Bruno disagreed: “I got it, Scotttt-T! It wasn’t flashy, it was played like a film noir – is it a lover, is it a stalker?” (Which are you, Bruno?)

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 9 – 33

“Mission accomplished” last week with his Bond paso, which gave Scott a lot of confidence – but then he ended up in the bottom two. Natalie was upset, as “Scott is the best partner I’ve ever had”. Somewhere, Ricky Whittle sobs quietly into a cushion. They have plenty of lifts this week in their dances and Scott’s struggling with “all muscle” Nat. He also seems to have run out of steam, which unfortunately carried over into his performance. I loved his solo opening and the intimacy of their dance, but Scott didn’t maintain the intensity and marked the steps rather than really delivering them with feeling and drama. The lifts were fantastic and their moody routine matched the low-key music well, but it was a bit underwhelming for a semi-final performance.


Overall: Let’s hope he’s saved some energy for the Charleston.

Matt and Aliona – Salsa shock



struggles_sparkleSequin-o-meter: 1

Song: “Spinning Around”, Kylie

Judges’ comments: “I don’t know where to start,” sighed Len. He thought every back basic was too big, hated the gyrating, noted Matt went off time on his flick and the lifts didn’t suit salsa. Alesha wanted more armography and didn’t like the “grinding section”, observing Matt was trying too hard. Bruno agreed he overworked it – “This was like an attack, velociraptor in Jurassic Park!” Craig hated the “awkward writhing” and labelled it “insipid”.


Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 – 28 (His lowest score)

Matt took a big risk with his back somersault off the judges’ desk, but was thrilled it came off. “We’ve been in the top three every week!” he announced cheerfully. If that’s not a jinx, I don’t know what is. Now, Aliona wants him in the zone. He’s in the zone. It’s zone town. Aliona began on the judges’ desk this time, in case we weren’t paying enough attention to her and her hiked-up breasts, jumping into Matt’s arms for some spinning around. Gotta love literal choreography. Unfortunately, it all fell apart when they went into hold. Matt was trying SO HARD he looked constipated and forced his hip action – shame, as he has great natural rhythm and movement. Distinctly uninspiring choreography, jerking from lift to awkward floor gyrations to another lift – a routine that might suit Aliona, but certainly not Matt. However, his agonising trodden-on puppy face should bring in sympathy votes.

Overall: Could be a costly mistake at a crucial time.



000010_swing-a-thon_fridayInteresting outfits for the much-anticipated swingathon, with the girls in Hairspray big skirts and the guys forming a bowling team. Not surprisingly, out-of-time Gavin was the first to go. Scott pulled off some great lifts, including assisting Natalie in cartwheeling over his head, but his lack of energy was evident when compared with the other couples and he was the next to go out. Pamela and James went for super-cheesy personality but lacked content, so it was down to Matt (dancing for his LIFE) and Kara. Matt and Aliona had some nice jive elements and complicated lifts, but Kara and Artem had more character and energy, throwing themselves into the tricks and emerging victorious – great night for them. “What did they have that the others didn’t?” asked Brucie. “Stamina, darling,” drawled Craig, as Artem collapsed on the floor and begged for oxygen.


Kara 44

Pamela 38

Scott 35

Matt 32

Gavin 28

So, the girls are on top again. Will tomorrow night change that? Can Matt claw his way back?


There’s going to be a double elimination! Have we mentioned that yet?

Scott and Natalie – Hello, sailor



simply_so_soSequin-o-meter: 2

Song: “Anything Goes”, Cole Porter

Judges’ comments: Len: “The fight for the final starts now, and that did you no harm at all.” Few stumbles, but he enjoyed it. Alesha called it “good old-fashioned entertainment”. Bruno: “After seven months at sea, you’ve found the flapper and you’re ready for action!” (And who wants to be that flapper, eh, Bruno?) He praised the combination of dance and comedy. Craig (and his thesaurus) thought the opening sequence was “nebulous”, but enjoyed the quirkiness of the number.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Ooh, we’re getting a “semi-final story”, how exciting! Ah, it’s basically another judges’ recap. No memory required for “Strictly” viewers. (It’s a double elimination!) Scott is annoyed that he didn’t nail the tango and let Nat down. Len thinks he’s too inconsistent, but the judges hope he’ll do the Charleston justice. Scott played to his strengths by borrowing an Our Town sailor suit but seemed confused by his opening section – did he blank on the steps again? Great fun and decent swivel action, but a few missed connections and again he seemed tired, marking the steps rather than wowing the audience the way he did with his jive. Shame.

Overall: Again, underwhelming.

Kara and Artem – Dance of luuuurve



strictly_sensationalSequin-o-meter: 3

Song:Samba Pa Ti”, Carlos Santana


Judges’ comments: Bruno: “Rrrrrravishing!” He labelled Kara “the goddess of love” and said she was dancing to a professional standard. “You HAVE to make the final!” Craig called it “almost perfect”, citing yet another illegal lift. Len: “Do me a favour, you’re not supposed to dance that well!” He praised her control, spirals and beautiful lines – “Knockout.”


Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

The coupley couple were overjoyed with their three 10s for the Viennese, but know they have to nail the rumba as well. Len thinks she’s too careful – “Great dancing is about dancing on the edge.” Um, really? Did you miss the acrobatics? The insane lifts? The dangerous chairography? Alesha wants her to engage emotionally more. No excuses not to do that in the rumba. “Strictly” wheeled out its smoke machines again, so Kara (in a beautiful pink dress) oozed her way through the dry ice to Artem (open silk shirt – excellent choice). Artem didn’t hold back with the choreography, putting in lines, drops and transitions that wouldn’t be out of place on the competition circuit, and Kara executed most of them superbly. Particularly loved her sliding doors, rumba walks and gorgeous back bend. Yes, another foot-off-the-floor moment, sadly, but otherwise extraordinary. Some racy moments considering this is teatime viewing – wouldn’t it have made more sense to have this last night, post-watershed? Digestives will be dropping into mugs of tea all over the land.

Overall: If she dances like this next week, she’s got a real shot at the title.

Matt and Aliona – Fighting back



strictly_sensationalSequin-o-meter: 3


Song:Hung Up”, Madonna

Judges’ comments: Bruno called it “strong, powerful, driven, a hint of arrogance, like a South American dictator” and liked that Matt led. Craig didn’t like the spin that almost became a lift, but thought Matt danced with “military precision”. Alesha: “You took a beating last night, but you came out and proved why you deserve to be in the final.”


Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 9 – 38

Matt was so upset last night that he didn’t even stay to give his post-dance interview! This must be the first-ever “Blue Peter” presenter storm-off. Craig thinks the “foxy farmer” is an amazing acrobat and brilliant dancer, but Len doesn’t want all the tricks. Alesha thinks he can be too tense and serious. I agree, but this works for him in the tango, which he attacked from beginning to end. Great control on his pivots, speeding up to match the music, superb topline and nice staccato movement. The spin was jarring and their end position, with Aliona humping his leg, seemed peculiar, but overall a great comeback. Aliona misinterpreted “tango”, rivalling Gavin in the radioactive fake tan department.


Overall: Strong comeback, but has he done enough?


Gavin and Katya – It’s Gavin time



simply_so_soSequin-o-meter: 2

Song: “You Know Me”, Robbie Williams


Judges’ comments: Craig: “One essential element of dance is timing and that seems to elude you.” Katya snapped back that they went out of time because they were avoiding the lights. (What a shame they don’t get a chance to rehearse their routines in the studio beforehand…OH WAIT!) She also sniffed that she’d love to see Craig dancing a Viennese waltz. Not sure she’s got the hang of this whole judging thing. Len calls underdog Gavin “my hero”, presumably safe in the knowledge that there’s no way in hell he’s going through. Alesha is more at ease watching him in ballroom (of course, she gets far too excited watching him in Latin) and tells him to be proud of himself.

Judges’ scores: 6, 9, 8, 8 – 31

Gavin really enjoyed his samba and was gutted with the scores. Katya: “We’re going to KILL IT with the Viennese waltz!” Yes, that’s the tone of the dance. Craig calls him a “self-conscious Adonis”. Alesha likes that he’s using his body. In, you know, a dancing way. Ahem. I spent the first half of their routine trying to figure out Katya’s crimson tent dress – had she annoyed someone in the wardrobe department? Had she reached her flesh limit for the series? Gavin slicked back his hair like a Nineties boyband member and skipped his way through the dance, occasionally landing on the right beat and plunging into the standing spin in great relief.

Overall: Surely that’s their last dance?

Pamela and James – Tapping into her talent



strictly_sensationalSequin-o-meter: 3

Song: “Steppin’ Out With My Baby”, Fred Astaire


Judges’ comments: Alesha: “Your passion for dance lights up the room.” She praised the showmanship and tapping, adding: “You’re an inspiration for so many women, and, for me, that makes you a winner.” Bruno: “Pamela the Broadway babe!” He called the theatrical beginning “delicious” and found the whole routine “pure cinematic joy”. Craig: “One word, three syllables, starts with ‘F’: fab-u-lous!”

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10

Pamela loved the passion of the paso. “The teetering moments were choreographed!” claimed James. Bruno and Craig gave us a delightful rendition of “Venus” (“Baaaby, she’s got it!”) and Len called her a “goer”, adding that if Pamela reaches the final, Billy’s promised to do the next series. Great opening section with top hats and canes, maintaining sync throughout, and Pamela then pulled strips of pink fabric out of her leotard to resemble a skirt mauled by a lion. Strong quickstep elements, including a lovely pepperbox and pendulum, then Pamela tapping, Charleston and jazz-hands to finish. Pamela executed all the elements brilliantly, but this almost felt like a showdance rather than a quickstep – should it really be given a perfect score, placing it above, say, Colin Jackson’s?

Overall: A great vote-grabber.


Kara 83

Pamela 78

Scott/Matt 70

Gavin 59

The girls finish on top, with a fight to the finish between Matt and Scott. Oh, and Gavin’s still hanging in there.

More importantly…here’s Take That! Singing “The Flood”, last seen three weeks ago on That Other Show Which Must Not Be Named. Ah well. Still a great performance, and I enjoyed Robbie and Mark’s bromance boogie in the middle.

Tess came very close to camera to intimately introduce the “I really REALLY want to get into the final” VT: Pamela feels rejuvenated and would love the “old bird” to get there; Gavin has gone out in semis in rugby, and it’s not a nice feeling; Scott has given everything and getting to the final would be the icing on the cake (interestingly, he never mentions winning, just “getting” to the final); Matt can almost touch it, almost TASTE it (what does it taste of? Fake tan, sweat and hairspray?); and Kara thinks it would be the perfect ending to a perfect couple of months. Ahhh.


Scary music. Spotlights. Solemn Tess. Tonight, it’s a double elimination! (Have you got that yet?)

And here are the lesser-spotted showdancers! The girls gave us some dramatic paso skirt work, with one looking rather pained (having a Mama Mia! sparkly dungarees flashback?). And here come the boys with capes! Oh, only two boys. Where’s Ian? Is he suffering from Mama Mia! PTSD? Lots of cape work, a brief moment in hold and what should be sync lifts going severely out of time, as guy-who’s-not-Darren struggles to get his girl in the air. More cape work. The judges look distinctly underwhelmed.

Judges’ recap no 2

And it’s another recap, for those viewers with short-term memory loss.

Kara: Len: “Fantastic Viennese waltz, fantastic rumba. If she’s not in that final, I’ll pickle my walnuts”

Gavin: The judges hilariously mimic his gyrations. Len: “He did a great job with his Viennese waltz”

Scott: Alesha: “His tango was a bit lukewarm. Bruno: “His Charleston was back on”

Matt: Craig: “His salsa wasn’t entirely salsa.” Len: “But on Saturday night, he was the comeback kid”

Swingathon: Bruno: “Good to see them side to side” (“by”, Bruno, “by”)

Tess announced the first couple through to the final: Pamela and James. He sank to the ground in fist-pumping triumph. Bruce announced the second couple through: Kara and Artem. More fist-pumping and sinking to the floor! The others will have to wait. We’ve got three nights to fill.

Len explained that the showdance makes you or breaks you, in case we hadn’t figured that out yet. They can do as many lifts as they want (CRAIG) and anything goes (except dolls – no dolls. No one mention the dolls).

000010_brucie_singingOh my, Bruce is going to sing and dance. Here he is, performing Ray Ellington’s “Three Bears” – with whom? Does the poor guy not get a credit? Ah, Twitter says it’s Lance Ellington, one of the “Strictly” vocalists. But never mind that – here’s Ola, wearing a whole dress (pictured left)! And doing some jolly nice mime. And shuffling around with Bruce. And then more mime. “The bears will GET YOU!” This should have been on Halloween week.

Hilariously, Tess didn’t know how to link from that. “Oh, Brucie!” She asked the three danger-zone couples how they felt. Gavin pretended to be modest, but evidently his self-belief is unshaken, which you have to admire. Scott dipped into reality-show speak and looked back on his “journey”. Matt was pleased he came back strong with the tango. The “lads” have stuck together, but only one can go through.

Speaking of lads, it’s Take That, performing “Back for Good” for the first time since Robbie left! The 10-year-old in me was genuinely moved. Gary swayed at the piano. Robbie swayed at a mic. Mark swayed on a stool. Bruno nearly swayed out of his seat. The crowd roared as the boys walked in a nice V, did some pointing and then meandered back. Never mind that show-off JLS jumping around. Gary ended perched on the piano, Fabulous Baker Boys stylee. Surprisingly, they got a tad more applause than Bruce. And then (as OF COURSE this is live on Sunday, and not in any way pre-recorded) they dashed over to the ITV studios. Take That don’t have favourites, kids. They love ALL Saturday-night reality shows.

Yet another “I SO have to be in the final” VT: Gavin believes he can win, it’s his destiny. (Bless) Scott wants to make the final; it’ll be the icing on the cake (again). Matt’s pushed himself to the limit and wants to dance like he’s never danced before!

000010_awaiting_resultsThe Moment of Truth TM: the first couple leaving is…Gavin and Katya, the least surprising result – the big tussle is between the two boys who can, you know, dance. Gavin gave a surprisingly gracious speech and Katya thanked Gavin for teaching her patience (excellent backhanded compliment). Their highlights showed just how orange he’s become over the weeks.

And the second couple leaving is…Scott and Natalie, so Matt and Aliona go through to the final. Scott looked slightly relieved and Natalie was clearly sad, but not wholly surprised. Their highlights reminded us just how amazing he was a few weeks ago, compared to his rather lacklustre semi-final performances. He told us, once again, how amazing Nat is (which she is – and her agent is delighted she was paired with Scott).

So, who will triumph in next week’s uber-competitive final? Exciting to have the three best dancers of the series fighting it out over four dances. The big question is, after the somersaults, cartwheels and flying, what’s left for the showdances? I’m hoping at least one of them makes an entrance in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

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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