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Strictly Speaking: The final

Posted on December 19, 2016

Strictly final BBC Guy levy

Marianka Swain on the last dance

There was something of an elegiac feel to this year’s final, as Len Goodman, Strictly institution, finally hung up his “Seh-ven!” paddle, gave us one last scrambled metaphor and waltzed off to the great golf course in the sky. We can only hope ballroom doesn’t follow suit, but continues to hold its own among the themes, props and ever-encroaching contemporary – it was lovely to see a pure ballroom pro number, in tribute to Len, sadly now a rarity on the show.

Perhaps telling, too, that the winners’ showdance was a canny retro routine, rather than contempo waft maximus (Kevin and Louise) or what may have been a conceptual bridge too far (Danny and Oti). I’ve adored the latter’s creative ambition throughout the series, but Strictly reinvention is a tricky business. Len’s successor will need to retain traditional ballroom values while bringing a fresh voice to the panel and avoiding Top Gear-esque meltdown – no pressure…

Mr Goodman was a vocal Ore fan, stressing once again that, as a non-ringer, he’s the “spirit of Strictly”, and the BBC Sports presenter certainly put in an impressive final performance. Of course Len wouldn’t need to vocalise whether or not someone’s a beginner if we had VTs showing the learning process and dances unencumbered by theming. Let the narratives play out naturally and the voters come to those informed decisions without being harried – despite all evidence to the contrary in 2016, we are generally capable of that.

Other hits and misses:

  • This year’s Strictly is brought to you by Kleenex. So. Much. Crying. It was moving the first time. Less so the 45th time. MISS
  • Ditto the now fairly meaningless 10s and showdances. When we’ve had a series full of top scores and routines packed with lifts, tricks and themes, they lose all impact by the final. MISS
  • I would like a spin-off series of the judges offering advice from giant thrones. “Buy organic!” “That’s a terrible colour on you!” “Off with his head!” HIT
  • The montage shall inherit the earth. Or at least the final. Once again, major montage overload. (I swear one series recap was in real time.) MISS
  • Emeli Sandé…is apparently still a thing. MISS
  • The gloriously chaotic group dance is absolutely my favourite part of the show. This year with bonus “What might have been?” Claudia acrobatics. HIT
  • So Greg and Rinder are now an item. This is the era of, ahem, Grinder. HIT


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Danny’s samba In a different league
  • Best costume: Darcey dressing as a glitterball Subtle, no. Sparkly, yes
  • Best move: The pros bowing to Len A classy send-off
  • Best line: This exchange… Oti: “I hate crying on TV.” Claudia: “Talk to Ore.”


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Claudia Winkleman, Tess Daly - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Claudia Winkleman, Tess Daly – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Ah, Tess dress confusion – I’ll miss you most of all. This one boasted both voluminous sleeves and a giant slit. Claud: tasteful John Lewis Christmas tree decoration.


Judges’ Choice

Ore and Joanne – Rain man

Joanne Clifton, Ore Oduba - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Joanne Clifton, Ore Oduba – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

The judges wanted better technique in this Smooth encore (not that it prevented them from scoring it highly last time…). Still the odd foxtrot issue – hunched over or the frame moved with the feet, and footwork occasionally dodgy – but better transitions than last time and he sold it brilliantly. I’m torn on Ore as a “J word” contestant, as he started out a strong performer (with variable technique) rather than growing into one, but he does seem to have cemented his partnership with Jo and found great consistency in presentation in these final two weeks – both impressive for a newbie.

Song: “Singin’ In the Rain”, Gene Kelly (from Singin’ In The Rain)

Judges’ comments: Len thought he took great to an even greater place. Bruno praised his personality. Craig found the frame vastly improved, but he didn’t point his feet. Darcey said it made her gasp again.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (up from 35)





Louise and Kevin – Mixed feelings

Kevin Clifton, Louise Redknapp - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Kevin Clifton, Louise Redknapp – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Well, this choice was meant to reflect the miraculous improvement that led to Louise winning the Cha Cha Challenge, which…hmmm. It’s almost as if that was pure fiction, isn’t it? Again she seemed rather nervous, unwilling to fully commit to the movement and lacking the exaggeration needed for a giddy pastiche. Also again lacked hip action and straight legs due to the speed, as well as other cha cha hallmarks like flirtatious interaction. Pretty, good timing and nicely placed, but good rather than revelatory – so a tad limp for a final.

Song: “Flashdance…What A Feeling”, Irene Cara (from Flashdance)

Judges’ comments: Bruno, once again in Eighties heaven, thought it was both saucy and precise. Craig apparently did this in his drag act, which I’d much rather see. Darcey praised her energy, details and confidence. Len noted she wasn’t hiding behind fringe.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38 (up from 31)





Danny and Oti – Quick Misstep

Oti Mabuse, Danny Mac - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Oti Mabuse, Danny Mac – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

So Ore’s channelling Gene Kelly, Danny Fred Astaire and Louise Robert Webb, yes? Well, Len’s advice was basically “Same again”, which Oti provided, but with a bit less messin’ about at the start of this fab routine. Their quickstep was a rare example of undermarking, but sadly didn’t score any redemptive 10s as Danny made some ostentatious errors in the final section – ironic, given his voter criticism is usually “too perfect”. Otherwise this had gorgeous swing and sway, minimal gapping, travelled beautifully and lovely detailed musicality. A classic number, joyfully performed.

Song: “I Won’t Dance”, Fred Astaire

Judges’ comments: Craig noted the errors, but bright, lively and elegant. Darcey was impressed by his composure and beautiful choreography. Len thought he set the bar for everyone else. Bruno said he was once of the best showmen we’ve seen.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36 (still 36)







Ore and Joanne – Rhythm nation

Joanne Clifton, Ore Oduba - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Joanne Clifton, Ore Oduba – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

This was rather too similar to their Gene Kelly tribute Smooth for me – shame the judges didn’t choose a different encore number. Otherwise a clever, crowd-pleasing choice and brilliantly executed. Joanne did a nice job combining new elements with “Greatest hits” callbacks to previous routines, spotlighting Ore’s personality, and providing both a strong visual and added jeopardy with the giant drum kit. (Props taking a starring role yet again, but this time thankfully not torpedoing the dance.) Fun, exciting and slickly packaged – a definite winner.

Song: “I Got Rhythm”, George and Ira Gershwin (COPYCAT KLAXON: Emma Bunton and Darren, Anita Dobson and Robin, Simon Webbe and Kristina)

Judges’ comments: Darcey loved the drum section and highlights from other dances. Len: “Who could ask for anything more?” Bruno was razzle dazzled. Craig was impressed by the number of styles showcased.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40





Louise and Kevin – Curtain call

Kevin Clifton, Louise Redknapp - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Kevin Clifton, Louise Redknapp – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Oh dear. Billowing drapes, the return of the smoke monster, Kevin’s wafting shirt nearly taking flight, Louise’s ballet shoe-clad feet hardly touching the floor… This syrupy romance novel in dance form did nothing for me. It felt like a number she could have performed before learning a single ballroom step, and still lacked commitment. She moves beautifully, but doesn’t project, perhaps through lack of confidence – noticeable at this stage of the competition and particularly when up against two showy opponents. I kept wondering what insane tricks we might have seen from Claudia instead.

Song: “One Moment in Time”, Whitney Houston (COPYCAT KLAXON: Zoe Ball and Ian)

Judges’ comments: Len praised her style. Bruno thought it was touching and fluid. Craig found it emotive, but criticised her developé. Darcey said it was expressive.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38





Danny and Oti – Man in the mirror

Oti Mabuse, Danny Mac - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Oti Mabuse, Danny Mac – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

I’ve really enjoyed their creative risk-taking throughout, but this was a divisive showdance. The mirror concept didn’t translate terribly well to TV (at least not in the way it was shot), though the final move was thrilling. Loved the tango and paso sections, and the lifts were strong and exciting, but given this couple was the best at moving as one, it was a shame to see them separated so much. Dynamic, daring and great storytelling, and proved how strong Danny is on his own, but didn’t fully showcase this year’s best ballroom partnership.

Song: “Set Fire to the Rain”, Adele

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised the passion and commitment to storytelling. Craig: “Two words: totally brilliant.” Darcey thought it was the perfect showdance. Len, in my new favourite Len-ism: “Full of show and full of dance.”

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40






Contestants’ Choice

Ore and Joanne – Runaway success

Ore Oduba, Joanne Clifton - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Ore Oduba, Joanne Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

It’s worth noting that none of these choices left much room for scoring improvement, though we can blame early overscoring for that. Anyhow, this jive was once again high energy (if slightly knackered in places – understandable at this stage of the show), with crisp retraction, great timing, fun Sixties styling and cool confidence negotiating the stairs. Better at pointing his toes this time and great synchronicity with Jo. The Holy Trinity of Jives placing is still arguable, but a strong, enjoyable performance.

Song: “Runaway Baby”, Bruno Mars (COPYCAT KLAXON: Holly Valance and Artem, Patrick Robinson and Anya)

Judges’ comments: Craig was miserable because he couldn’t find anything to complain about. Darcey praised his stamina and sharpness – he’s a true dancer. Len reiterated that he’s a non-ringer and the “spirit of Strictly”. Bruno called it sheer perfection.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (up from 39)





Louise and Kevin – Tango fire

Louise Redknapp, Kevin Clifton - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Louise Redknapp, Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

This tango was the most interesting I ever found Louise, so happy to see it repeated. And haven’t we all missed the Streetlamp of Passion? Still slightly unsteady in places and awash with back bends, plus Louise projecting more “Oh god, I think I left the oven on” distress rather than smouldering sensuality, but at least showing emotion, and plenty to enjoy: slick leg action, gorgeous lines, dynamic lifts and a good build through the routine. Wish we could have seen more specific performances like this in every style – that might have given her the edge.

Song: “Tanguera”, Sexteto Mayor (COPYCAT KLAXON: Mark Foster and Hayley)

Judges’ comments: Darcey called her “one beautiful lady of the night”, which…OK. Len praised her consistency. Bruno loved the musical phrasing. Craig labelled it superlative.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (up from 39)





Danny and Oti – Masterclass

Oti Mabuse, Danny Mac - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Oti Mabuse, Danny Mac – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

This samba was probably my favourite number of the series, and not just for shirtless reasons. A phenomenal combination of raw, earthy, grounded sensuality and slick, precise ballroom technique – mastering a style that’s defeated some of Strictly’s most accomplished celebs. Superb hip and body action, really worked into the floor, great arm placement and isolations, organic bounce, and fantastic chemistry with Oti, who is definitely Most Valuable Player of the pros this year. Rhythmic, exciting, brought something new, and thoroughly deserving of that (by now rather tired) perfect score.

Song: “Magalenha”, Sergio Mendes

Judges’ comments: Len thought it was even more perfect. (So…11?) Bruno said it’ll never be forgotten. Craig: “One word – fab-u-lous.” Darcey praised his combination of isolations and abandonment.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40







Ore and Joanne – 39 + 40 + 40 = 119

Louise and Kevin – 38 + 38 + 40 = 116

Danny and Oti – 36 + 40 + 40 = 116


The judges marking out a clear favourite, but close between them.

Ore Oduba and Joanne Clifton celebrate winning - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Ore Oduba and Joanne Clifton celebrate winning – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

And the audience went with that leaderboard, crowning Ore the 2016 Strictly winner. I agree he probably won it on the night, and it’s good for the series narrative to have a winner who represents discovering dance, as that’s always been the lovely democratic message of the show: anyone can learn to dance at any time in their lives.

What did you think of the final? Who was your winner? And what did you think of the series overall? Come say hi on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next year for our first post-Len series. In the meantime…keep dancing!


Ore Oduba and Joanne Clifton are the cover stars of our January issue, out on December 20, 2017

Marianka Swain is a freelance writer and social dancer at several London venues. You can find more of her work at

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