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Strictly Speaking: The Final

Posted on December 16, 2019

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We came to the end! The week’s second nationwide ballot (and, let’s face it, by far the more important) yielded – in my humble opinion – exactly the right result, with the consistently brilliant Kelvin and Oti lifting the glitterball trophy. This hard-working team has been a pleasure throughout the series, strong across all the ballroom and Latin dances, not just the novelty numbers, and truly working as a partnership. It’s a win for that principle of partner dancing: the conversation between two people, telling a story through movement, and creating something together.

The final itself wasn’t the most scintillating watch, since the competition was never all that close, whatever the leaderboard might say. Karim was once again virtuosic on his own, but he and Amy haven’t really engaged the public as a duo, while Emma B was there because… Anton fans thought he deserved a nice retirement present? Hmm. Neither wound up creating a serious challenge to Kelvin – unlike, say, Michelle might have done (or Saffron, or Dev, or many others who left too soon).

It also felt repetitive, and not just because they did literally repeat six routines out of nine. That godawful Couple’s Choice has really upstaged the showdance – how can we get excited about a no-rules, lift-filled, anything-goes number when we’ve already had millions of them? Not to mention salsa buried in disco, fudged Charleston, and the average ballroom routine smothered in themeing, overhyped at Blackpool, or hidden behind a weeping nan.

Karim’s showdance was basically Contemporary 2.0, while Emma’s was yet another retro musical theatre routine. Yes, we get it, someone cast her in Thoroughly Modern Millie already… Oti was the only one to choreograph something fresh and exciting, cleverly balancing some of Kelvin’s series highlights with big, bold lifts and a risk-taking routine that even featured a smidgen of Argentine tango. (Hands up who would have loved to see their full Argentine?)

Next year, the producers need to have a serious think about the dance styles they feature, why, and how to judge them fairly; I’d ditch Couple’s Choice altogether, or at least stick them all in one week. They also need to make the final a properly exciting climax, instead of just recapping dances that have already scored a bunch of 10s, alongside Couple’s Choice remakes. The dance-off needs examining, too, so that we actually get the most interesting and/or talented couples lasting the course. That’s good for both Strictly the competition, and the entertainment show.

Other hits and misses:
  • Ts and Cs rando: Tom Allen in white tie, having a minor formal wear-off with Claud. HIT
  • Taylor Swift gave us “Lover”, our pros contempowafted, and the audience listened in DEAD SILENCE, as best communicates enjoyment of popular music. HIT/MISS
  • Montages. Montages. So many montages. This year, serving mainly to highlight more interesting people who might have made the final, like Michelle… MISS
  • Car crash group dance AKA “Oh, I forgot HE was in it!” A reminder that this was generally a game cast, if in a silly finishing order. Also that Bushell is still fake tanning – getting dangerously close to a reverse Michael Jackson… HIT/MISS
  • She’s been in a standout in every pro number – get Nancy a partner already! HIT

Best in Show
  • Best performance: Kelvin’s showdance A-maze-ing.
  • Best costume: Motsi’s feathered friends All Hail, Queen of the Swans, Wearer of Their Corpses, What An Honour For Them.
  • Best move: Kelvin’s flying push-ups return Runner-up: Michelle is still vogueing.
  • Best line: Craig saying Karim reminded him of himself Highest praise imaginable.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
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Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Gold Quality Street wrappers thriftily repurposed, while Claud sticks to her smart shirt and trousers.

Judges’ Choice

Karim and Amy – Mind the gap
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Amy Dowden and Karim Zeroual. Photograph by Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

I’m sorry to be a Strictly Scrooge but yes, there absolutely was gapping, do not try to gaslight me. Watch it back, Revel Horwood, and then come at me with the purity of your precious 10. Anyhow, quibbles aside, this was once again crisp, buoyant, jazzy and charming – just slightly maligned by the hideous Ketchup Airlines costuming. The swing and sway were impressive, as was the well-channelled energy throughout and of course a signature Karim jeté. Definitely one of their better routines as a partnership, if still slightly constrained and bumpy in transitions while in hold.

Song: “Mr Pinstripe Suit”, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jodie Kidd and Ian, Jimi Mistry and Flavia)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised his beautiful frame, head position and footwork – he’s a star. Bruno said he makes ballroom feel fresh. Craig saw no gapping. Motsi thought he’d matured.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (up from 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39)

Emma B and Anton – On my own
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Emma Barton and Anton Du Beke. Photograph by Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Last time out, this Musicals Week routine had a team of backing dancers – and their absence was sorely felt, since this is so overtly a big theatrical number, and since du Beke was… about 30 per cent in, at best. He’s certainly not doing all those lifts, not with his back! He’s got his golf game to think about. Emma again did well with the flapper style and character, plus an even more manic performance (ye gods), but they were never really dancing together. It looked more like an overeager busker being politely blanked by an FT-reading commuter during rush hour.

Song: “Thoroughly Modern Millie” from Thoroughly Modern Millie

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought Emma sold it. Craig noted sync issues, but said it would be at home in the West End. Motsi loved the details. Shirley praised Emma’s confidence.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (same as before)

Kelvin and Oti – Here comes the sun
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Oti Mabuse and Kelvin Fletcher. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Well HELLO hot rumba, welcome back to the show. How many celeb men could possibly manage a rumba in the final? It’s absolutely testament to the power of this pairing, and their tireless work on ballroom basics and technical fundamentals, turning a quieter dance into a wow. Definite improvement on details like the free arm, sharper lines, and a better lead (or as much as a male celeb is ever allowed). Certainly, he was closer to matching Oti’s intensity, and looked like a real partner to her in the movement and storytelling – plus he was more in control, allowing us, in turn, to just enjoy the performance. Gaw-jus.

Song: “Ain’t No Sunshine”, Bill Withers (COPYCAT KLAXON: Bill Turnbull and Karen, Jimi Mistry and Flavia)

Judges’ comments: Craig said it was believable and masculine. Motsi praised how he used his (ahem) beautiful muscles. Shirley loved the synchronised body movement and foot placement. Bruno said the chemistry was sizzling, and he went from sculptural to fluid.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (up from 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36)


Karim and Amy – Dream on
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Karim Zeroual and Amy Dowden. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Major grumble here: if (big if) I wanted to revisit their contemporary, it’s right there on YouTube. Yet here it is again – or pretty darn close, in style, presentation and irritatingly literal choreography. With bonus pandering to fans of The Greatest Showman. Once again, this feels like Karim’s stage school training writ large, and him revelling in being freed from the strictures of ballroom partner dancing, like a bounding puppy let off the leash. Fine as it goes, but fairly pointless as the culmination of his supposed Strictly J word – and unlikely to convince those dubious about his ringer-ism, or lack of connection with Amy. Also: the confetti bath was unintentionally hilarious.

Song: “A Million Dreams”, Pink

Judges’ comments: Motsi liked the emotion. Shirley praised the expression and freedom. Bruno thought it was honest. Craig loved the marriage of theatre, effects and storytelling, but they went out of sync.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Emma B and Anton – A swing and a miss
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Anton Du Beke and Emma Barton. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Well, going old school in the showdance has definitely scored wins in the past, so you can’t fault the theory – and Anton is certainly rewarding his fanbase, one assumes, by turning back the clock. It meant we didn’t see any range, since we already had retro musical theatre in their other two numbers, and setting yourself up to be compared to Fred ‘n’ Ginger is… let’s say unwise if you’re not able to keep in sync with your partner in pretty basic side-by-side movement, or if said partner doesn’t really have the necessary technique or flair to sell the dance. The canes just exacerbated the flaws, unfortunately.

Song: “Let Yourself Go”, Irving Berlin

Judges’ comments: Shirley loved the “cane-ography”. Bruno enjoyed the classic Hollywood style. Craig noted the sync issues, but loved the style. Motsi said the nerves showed, but it was classy.

Judges’ scores: 8, 10, 10, 10 – 38

Kelvin and Oti – Shout it from the rooftops
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Oti Mabuse and Kelvin Fletcher. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Well FINALLY – someone who can put on a show! Oti went for the patented “best bits” format here, and it was a total joy: elements of lindy hop, jive, Charleston, quickstep, tango, plus the flying push-ups and impressive lifts for good measure. It demonstrated their versatility and prowess across all the dances, switching smoothly between holds, characters and tempi, and, if a bit manic at times, thankfully calmed mid-dance for a stylish and sexy slo-mo section. It’s the kind of number you can’t properly sell unless you’re as connected as these two are, and matched technique with performance, ballroom with showbiz, skill with all-out, infectious, irresistible fun.

Song: “Shout”, The Isley Brothers (COPYCAT KLAXON: Mark Ramprakash and Karen)

Judges’ comments: Bruno called it a tour-de-force. Craig loved every single minute of it. Motsi was left speechless. Shirley said they pushed the limits – it had everything.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40

Favourite Dance

Karim and Amy – Nicest kids in town
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Karim Zeroual and Amy Dowden. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

This 40-scoring jive from Musicals Week was a great pick in many ways – the Hairspray number is a real crowd-pleaser, it makes the most of Karim’s exuberance, and that ringer-tastic fouetté series at the end is a properly amazing climax. On the other hand, how do you improve on perfection? Well, if you’re being pedantic (who, me?), it wasn’t quite perfect either time out – Karim’s jive action itself needed to be neater, crisper and more contained, and his partnering, as always, could have been more engaging. It was still a great final outing from a committed and super-talented contestant.

Song: “You Can’t Stop the Beat” from Hairspray (COPYCAT KLAXON: Austin Healey and Erin, Anita Dobson and Robin, Mark Benton and Iveta)

Judges’ comments: Craig: “A-maze-ing.” Motsi said he couldn’t have done better. Shirley thinks he’s inspired the young generation. Bruno noted even the pro boys were impressed.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (same as before)

Emma B and Anton – Acting out
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Anton Du Beke and Emma Barton. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Another outing for this luvvie-swamped Viennese waltz from Week 4, which really draws on this pair’s textured romantic chemistry and intricate performance skills. So, er, good luck with that. (Though truly Emma deserves an Oscar for even hinting at chemistry with this sentient Windsor knot). Still lacking in content, even more glaring in a final, and rather bumpy in the one sustained section of Viennese due to skippy footwork and missed heel leads, plus some awkward transitions – though, as throughout the series, Emma’s potential is frustratingly evident in places too. Yet again more about atmosphere than dancing, so crazily over-marked.

Song: “Send in the Clowns”, Barbra Streisand (COPYCAT KLAXON: Austin Healey and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Motsi thought it was stunning. Shirley loved the characterisation. Bruno thought the storytelling was immaculate. Craig noted missed heel leads, but class.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (up from 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35)

Kelvin and Oti – Party time
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Ot Mabuse and Kelvin Fletcher. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Remember that extraordinary moment in Week 1 when Kelvin unleashed those hips, that body action, that shimmy? All while poor Jamie Biscuits sat in the audience with the rictus grin of one who knows he’s just been punted into oblivion. Well, the samba returned, and how – even better rhythm, more controlled movement and arm placement, great change of leads, grounded footwork and isolations, and of course that fantastic partnering. Plus: samba, dance of death, made to look so easy and fun. If there’s a better advert for ballroom dancing, and in particular encouraging blokes to have a go, I don’t know what it is.

Song: “La Vida Es Un Carnaval”, Celia Cruz

Judges’ comments: Shirley was rendered speechless. Bruno called him a samba king, and praised his achievement in ballroom and Latin. Craig noted a small issue with the bounce action, but so brave to do samba and he smashed it. Motsi said he put his soul into it.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (up from 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32)


Karim and Amy – 40 + 39 + 40 = 119

Kelvin and Oti – 39 + 40 + 40 = 118

Emma B and Anton – 39 + 38 + 39 = 116

Karim goes up, Emma stays put.

Final result
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Ot Mabuse and Kelvin Fletcher. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Our very worthy winners… Kelvin and Oti! A lovely speech from Kelvin, tears from Goddess Oti, and a sweet moment seeing Motsi’s proud reaction as well. What a year for Team Mabuse!

Who impressed you in final? What was your favourite showdance, and who was your winner? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you again next year for more Strictly shenanigans. In the meantime… keep dancing!

01 DT January 2020 Look out for the January 2020 issue of Dancing Times, featuring Kelvin and Oti on the front cover






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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