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Strictly Speaking: The final

Posted on December 21, 2020

Bill Oti Win2

What an extraordinary end to the series. The Strictly final aired just hours after Boris Johnson made his latest screeching u-turn, announcing that millions of people would have to cancel their festive plans and spend Christmas separated from loved ones. Could our dance show, which has been an escapist haven during a grim, dark winter, successfully pivot from Scrooge to sparkle?

Of course it could. This was actually one of the best finals we’ve seen in ages, with several genuinely deserving winners (and Jamie), and real tension as the momentum swung back and forth between them (Jamie was also there). HRVY had a strong run, and I would have been happy for Maisie to clinch it at the end, but there’s no disputing that Bill Bailey and Oti Mabuse are superb champions. They exemplify the teacher/student dynamic, real respect for the art form, glorious musicality and partnering, plus a zany eccentricity that’s kept us guessing throughout. 

It’s also a fascinating subversion of Strictly casting. Clearly, Bill was meant to be the oddball dad-dancer, who supplied a few weeks of comedy and then bowed out – giving last year’s winner, Oti, a shorter run. However, producers hadn’t reckoned with Bill’s commitment and work ethic, nor Oti’s dedicated training. Never again will we be so quick to write off older contestants, or to underestimate Strictly’s strongest teacher and choreographer. 

We must also give huge, huge thanks to the show’s entire cast and production team (who made up the final’s studio audience, hurrah). They brought us a big, live show every single week in extremely challenging circumstances, with many making personal sacrifices, like not seeing their own families. I’m honestly not sure a weary nation would have made it through the year without Strictly. Never have the arts been more vital, for our mental health, wellbeing and morale – and we can but hope everyone bears that in mind as we enter another difficult period for the cultural sector. If it gives you joy, please support it. 


Other hits and misses:
  • Ts and Cs randos included Elizabeth Hurley (!!), and Idris Elba and Paul McCartney (!!!). Which… was surprising, at least? HIT
  • We also got a royal seal of approval from Camilla. Fancy joining next year’s cast? HIT
  • So fab to see Nicola and Katya back, and with a routine hinting at the enormous untapped potential of their partnership. Gutting that they had to leave so soon, but they’ve made history as the first of – hopefully – many same-sex partnerships on the show. HIT
  • The Family prop points were out in force: HRVY gave us an utterly shameless Grandparents: Anniversary Edition. Endorsements-wise, Bill ruled them all with a message from Queen. We are the champions! HIT/MISS
  • One more annoyingly over-conceptual pro dance for the road. Sigh. MISS
  • A wonderful returning celebs group dance, featuring Mariah, Santa hats, feather fans and Monty Python. What more could you ask for? HIT
  • A totes emosh episode. Claud got choked up thanking the production crew. Lovely Aljaž cried when Janette finally got to do a showdance. Motsi cried when Oti won. I cried multiple times. MY GOD, I EVEN CRIED AT ROBBIE WILLIAMS. All very cathartic. HIT
  • Ahem, speaking of which: Robbie did a determinedly mediocre Christmas song. He’s no Bublé. MISS

Best in Show
  • Best performance: Bill’s showdance DRAAAAAMA!
  • Best costume: Maisie’s samba dress All hail the return of that flamingo carcass.
  • Best move: Bill’s guitar playing The man can shred.
  • Best line: Jamie’s sister demanding he give Giovanni her number Priorities.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Tess Daly Claudia

So, here’s where that now-useless turkey bacofoil ended up. Claud in floaty tulle prom dress.


Judges’ Choice

HRVY and Janette – Singing the same tune

HRVY0

This jive was definitely a standout back in Week 1, and HRVY has made some improvements since then. He had his slightly further weight forward, so his movement was sharper, and the tricks looked slicker and more confident. However, still very flat-footed, which meant he looked clompy at times instead of springing out of the floor, and occasionally out of time, plus dropped the performance, in the transitions. It’s frustrating that he never really grew in technical elements like this, given his immense talent – I wonder whether that might have been different with another pro partner. Still, it was a fun opener, and laid down a marker.

Song: “Faith”, Stevie Wonder feat. Ariana Grande

Judges’ comments: Shirley likened him to bottle of champagne. Amazing. Motsi said it was fast, fresh and youthful. Craig thought it was cleaner and more precise than before.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10 – 29 (up from 8, 8, 9 – 25)


Jamie and Karen – Bad hair day

Jamie1

A baffling pick from the judges, ensuring that we got three dances from Jamie that all involved lots of clowning and dashing around, instead of some contrast via, say, an actual ballroom number danced with control and finesse. (Well… theoretically.) I was irritated by their Hercules Charleston first time round, even more so here in the final. Once again fumbling slapstick, very stop-start and juvenile. Occasional improvements in footwork, the end lift was less hazardous and the wig stayed put, otherwise really not worth the repeat. Plus it felt lower energy, possibly because he was pacing himself with two more “hurtle round the floor like a seven-year-old high on sugar” performances to come…

Song: “Zero To Hero”, Tawatha Agee, Lillias White, LaChanze, Roz Ryan, Cheryl Freeman and Vanéese Y. Thomas from Hercules

Judges’ comments: Motsi said there were improvements in his kicks and weight placement. Craig said it was looser (!!) and great syncopation. Shirley loved the characterisation.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9 – 26 (up from 7, 8, 8 – 23)


Bill and Oti – Animal magic

Bill Bailey1

Bill has come a long way since Week 2 in technical terms, and this quickstep was a fantastic showcase (albeit one that still gave me a heart attack with its sodding animals – shoo, demon monkey!). His wide frame was much more assured, his head position more consistent, his kicks neater, and the whole performance had more pizzazz. That’s the result of hard work and great teaching from Oti. With a stronger technical foundation came an even better performance, since he could make the dance look easy and joyful. This partnership has definitely been my favourite in 2020, and their combined musicality has been a delight.

Song: “Talk to the Animals”. Bobby Darin

Judges’ comments: Craig called it light and bright, and praised the frame. Shirley said it was beautiful, with an outstanding connection. Motsi praised his ease, control and timing.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10 – 29 (up from 8, 8, 8 – 24)


Maisie and Gorka – Pretty in pink

Maisie Gorka1

Even though Maisie came in as a ringer – and endured all kinds of abuse for her comparative experience – she’s actually grown enormously through the competition. This Week 1 samba was a wow debut, but it’s fascinating to see how she’s tamed that wild energy since, found more fluidity and smoother transitions, and refined the movement by fixing her messy footwork and weight placement. That gave her a better handle on this tricky style, including its changing rhythms. And all while keeping that fearlessness which makes her such an exciting performer. Add in pink feathers and Gloria Estefan, and this was irresistible.

Song: “Samba”, Gloria Estefan

Judges’ comments: Shirley called it sizzling and sensual, with beautiful partner awareness, expression and improved footwork. Motsi loved the intention, rhythm, soft arms and samba rolls. Craig said it was smashing.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10 – 39 (up from 8, 8, 8 – 24)


Showdance

HRVY and Janette – Dancing queen

HRVY2

This is the first final that Janette has reached in eight years of Strictly, and clearly she had eight years’ worth of ideas stored up. Their jam-packed showdance featured disco-salsa, Charleston, hip hop, yet more stairs, tricks galore (including the keepie-uppie move from Jake Wood’s salsa), and INSANE lifts, even for gravity-averse Janette. It was incredible that HRVY survived it. However, the emphasis felt wrong: we came away wowed by her acrobatic prowess, not HRVY’s improved dancing – in fact, his salsa lacked hip action, and the routine felt frantic, with lifts breaking up the flow. Impressive, but a missed chance to show us something new or to connect emotionally.

Song: “Boogie Wonderland”, Brittany Murphy (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ainsley Harriott and Natalie, Ashley Roberts and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Motsi praised the isolations and speed. Craig wanted more hip action, but loved the cross-section of styles and lifts. Shirley approved of the performance and the pot stir.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10 – 39


Jamie and Karen – Rolling with the punches

Jamie2

Quite the study in contrasts here. Where HRVY’s number was precise but lacked warmth, Jamie and Karen gave us a hot mess of a showdance – but one danced with great heart and abandon, which actually made it more enjoyable to watch. The flying was unnecessary, just killing time without real impact, however the performance itself showed just how much fun these two have together. Technically… less great, with stompy jive, wild free arm, and, with a roly poly and dodgy cartwheel, looked more like a kids’ gymnastics display than a showdance. Also: do you really want to take on the music from St Jill’s Holy Jive?! However, a good theme for this underdog pair.

Song: “I’m Still Standing”, Elton John (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jill Halfpenny and Darren, Harry Judd and Aliona, Jake Wood and Janette, Stacey Dooley and Kevin)

Judges’ comments: Craig said it was an aerobic workout. Shirley liked that Jamie dances from his heart, plus good sync. Motsi called it incredible.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10 – 39


Bill and Oti – The greatest showman

Bill Oti 2

A risky one this, going dark and dramatic when the others all opted for genial in their showdances, but I really think it paid off. It felt like they were fighting for that trophy, plus it was a great shift in tone from their quickstep and Couple’s Choice, while playing to Bill’s strengths as a theatrical performer and rocker. Good mix of paso and Argentine tango, plus a glimmer of their cha cha, strong lifts – and, most important, it felt like one coherent routine, with a fantastic build to that epic finale (guitar solo! Fire! Oti hanging from a hoop!). The message of defiance in the face of this horrific year also hit home.

Song: “The Show Must Go On”, Queen

Judges’ comments: Shirley loved that it built from stillness to drama, with musicality and intensity. Motsi said it felt like theatre. Craig: “It reeked of desperation. I loved it!”

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10 – 30


Maisie and Gorka – The most wonderful time of the year

Maisie Gorka

A super-Christmassy theme felt rather bittersweet, given the (unanticipated) context, but this was still a thoroughly enchanting number, with classic Hollywood glamour and a confusing-yet-fabulous frock (shiny, sequins, diaphanous, feathers, somehow like a coat and a negligee simultaneously!). Fantastic characterisation and jazzy musicality, with great connection even when dancing apart – although I would have loved more in hold too. The trust lift was terrifying, yet fit within the feel of the routine, and the performance showed Maisie’s new ability to not just manage the steps, but to do so with real style and panache. Surely she’ll be gracing a stage soon – once theatres reopen… 

Song: “We Need A Little Christmas”, Idina Menzel

Judges’ comments: Motsi called her “Amazing Maisie”. Craig couldn’t find anything wrong with it. Shirley said it was exquisite, from the teasing moments in the middle to the big finish. 

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10 – 30


Favourite Dance

HRVY and Janette – All that glitters

HRVY1

Another outing for their Week 7 American smooth – although, given it had very little foxtrot, all danced up on the toes and with a dodgy hold, I continue to contend this is actually jazz/musical theatre instead, and so should have come under Couple’s Choice. It also felt slightly eclipsed by the showdance we’d just seen from Maisie, which was similarly jazzy and shiny, but had more charm. However, another impressive showcase for their speed and presentation, with slick lifts and spins, and slightly more animation this time in HRVY’s facial expressions. Definitely an achievement.

Song: “One” from A Chorus Line (COPYCAT KLAXON: Emma Bunton and Darren)

Judges’ comments: Craig: “Fab-u-lous.” Shirley said it was perfect. Motsi thanked them for the dance, and for giving her a hat.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10 – 30 (up from 9, 10, 10 – 39)


Jamie and Karen – Take a break

Jamie3

So, this happened… again. More excitable energy from Jamie, along with good sync and tricks, plus truly some of the worst – and whitest – breakdancing ever seen on television. I still don’t know how we judge freestyle on Strictly, and nor does anyone else. This was fine for what it was, but didn’t require any of the discipline of a set ballroom style. (At least, it wasn’t scored that way.) As we’ve all been saying for ages, the show really, really needs to rethink its use of the increasingly nebulous Couple’s Choice. But Jamie and Karen clearly had a ball doing it, so that was something.

Song: “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)”, C&C Music Factory

Judges’ comments: Shirley said he encapsulated the joy of dance. Motsi loved his energy. Craig called it brilliant.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10 – 29 (no change)


Bill and Oti – Sunny delight

Bill Oti3

Another Couple’s Choice, though a riskier proposition given the amount of prop work involved – and Bill’s admission last time round that they’d really only nailed it in performance. As exhaustively established, I wish CC didn’t exist, but at least this number had more specificity than “vaguely retro MTV backing dancer”, and its irresistible cool has made it a fan favourite. Once again, Bill’s strength as a performer was doing all the hard work, but gifting us the fun of the routine – the ease, the swagger, the wit and the note-perfect musicality, all while totally connected to Oti. It’s impossible to watch without smiling, and boy do we need that right now. 

Song: “Rapper’s Delight”, The Sugarhill Gang

Judges’ comments: Motsi praised the ease of movement and star quality. Craig said he popped, locked and rocked. Shirley called him a performer of the highest quality.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10 – 39 (up from 8, 10, 9 – 27)


Maisie and Gorka – A flying finish

MaisieSmith

Finally, a very welcome encore for Maisie’s gorgeous quickstep. She definitely proved she’s the best ballroom dancer in this final, giving us a cracking samba and then this sensational routine – a super balance of technique and performance. Gorka showcased her so well here, and, frustrating though it is that she had to address any sort of “likeability” issue, this routine definitely did the job, with all its cute, quirky moments and buoyant movement. Even better drive round the floor this time, less gapping, a beautiful frame, and a great variation in dynamics. It also looked like they were both having fun with it. A terrific last competitive dance in a fab final.

Song: “When You’re Smiling”, Andy Williams (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jan Raven and Anton, Claudia Fragapane and AJ)

Judges’ comments: Craig spoke for us all, saying he was sad that this was the last dance. Shirley praised the amazing glide in Maisie’s stride and well-maintained frame. Motsi called her a shining diamond.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10 – 39 (no change) (boo Craig)


Leaderboard

Maisie and Gorka – 29 + 30 + 29 = 88

HRVY and Janette – 29 + 29 + 30 = 88

Bill and Oti – 29 + 30 + 29 = 88

Jamie and Karen – 26 + 29 + 29 = 84

A three-way tie for top, with Jamie just behind.


Final result

Our winners were… Bill and Oti! That breaks two Strictly records: our oldest champion, and also Oti becomes the first pro ever to defend her title, winning two years in a row. Lots of tears were shed, including in my living room. Just a purely happy moment when we all really needed it.

What did you think of the final? Did the right couple win? What did you make of the 2020 series overall? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next year for more Strictly fun – hopefully in cheerier circumstances. In the meantime, stay safe and… keep dancing!

Photographs: Guy Levy, courtesy of the BBC.

 

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

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