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Strictly Speaking: Week 1

Posted on September 23, 2019

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And we’re off! Strictly Come Dancing Series 17 began its competition proper with a surprisingly buoyant show, overcoming both a marked lack of enthusiasm about this year’s casting and (for the most part) the usual first dance jitters. Instead, numerous exciting pairings whet the appetite for a strong year – not to mention, you know, KELVIN.

Yes, the last-minute replacement celeb was the night’s big star, conquering an insane first week dance choice (SAMBA, I ask you), and creating the kind of triumphant breakout moment as befits his partner, Goddess Oti. Who, let’s not forget, has serious form with this dance…

Elsewhere, the pick ’n’ mix approach to dances made it hard to fairly assess the couples – with a bewildering five cha cha chas, but then just one Viennese, plus pairs of foxtrots, tangos, quicksteps and jives. Huh?

It evidently flummoxed our judges, too, who began the night with the good scoring intentions of “No, no, I’ll just have the one glass, in fact make it a spritzer” and finished by necking sambuca shots and serenading a kebab van. That meant poor Alex Scott, up first, got (fine for Week 1) 5s, while others were showered with exceedingly dubious 7s – enthusiastic performance very much winning out at this stage. Still, it wouldn’t be Strictly without scoring insanity, so… yay! Welcome back!

Other hits and misses:
  • If you’re going to actually try and score sensibly in Week 1, you might want to clue in the studio audience – who alternately cheered and booed the same marks in growing confusion. MISS
  • But all hail new judge Motsi Mabuse, who fit perfectly into the Strictly family right from the start (at least, once they’d fixed her mic). Constructive critiques handed out with kindness, and some all-time great lines already… HIT
  • Nice, too, that the judges made a point of recognising the pros’ work and welcoming the newcomers. HIT
  • Tess’s fake laugh when she’s picking up a “funny” link is a thing of beauty. Never change, Tessbot! HIT
  • Our pros gave us a delightful Christmas dinner preview with their Ode to Bacofoil. Plus props and flying – none of which we want to see in routines this year (if only…). HIT/MISS
  • Oh Strictly, please stop courting the yoof or I may die of second-hand embarrassment. Crowbarring in phones every three seconds does not make you cool. OMG selfie!! MISS

Best in Show
  • Best performance: Kelvin’s samba Welcome, Mr Fletcher.
  • Best costume: Emma W’s “aristocratic” hat Who knew an accessory could confer so much status?
  • Best move: Michelle flirting with the judges Runner-up: Bruno swatting a fly with his 8 paddle.
  • Best line: Motsi’s “Your body was a bit on holiday” to Chris Runner-up: Motsi’s “You know, you know, you know, you know…” to Emma W

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

I fear Fleabag has given all women the idea that they too can pull off a jumpsuit. Well, not if it’s a baggy ketchup sack desperately fighting gravity. Claud faring slightly better, though still a weird asymmetric puffy sleeve.

Alex and Neil – Kick-start

IT IS GINGER NEIL’S TIME. Alex is also there. Strong opener from the original bookies’ favourites: a lovely quickstep routine that balanced ballroom basics with jazzy accents, and canny of Neil to choreograph in specific performance elements for Alex to help her project outwards (though still some work to do in that area). Got out of sync on the steps of the judges’ desk, and some gapping due to her frame collapsing in places, otherwise promising footwork, great movement across the floor, and a nice connection building between these two. Bonus points for Shirley joining in.

Song: “I Get a Kick Out of You”, Frank Sinatra (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ali Bastian and Brian)

Judges’ comments: Shirley loved the choreography, but lost her footing a bit, and needs to work on her core and frame. Bruno praised her natural elegance and lightness, but cover the mistakes better and don’t throw away the free arm. Craig wanted cleaner footwork and noted the error on the stairs, but fantastic energy. Motsi said she grew into the dance – just work on putting on a show.

Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 5, 6 – 21

Chris and Karen – Face value

Of this year’s pack of triers, Chris is certainly one of the more game celebs – see: wearing that shirt. However, kudos to him and Karen for not just going the comic route (again, other than that shirt) in their cha cha cha. He’ll need to curb the tendency to dance primarily with his face – at one point I thought he was about to unhinge his jaw and swallow Karen whole – and lots of technical issues, including flat, stompy feet and absent hip action, BUT he kept up with the routine, and played off/presented his partner well, so there’s hope yet.

Song: “Juice”, Lizzo

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised his determination, but timing and hip action problems. Craig found it awkward, though some rhythm deep down. Motsi liked his facial expressions – get that into the body. Shirley enjoyed their chemistry, but no heel leads in Latin.

Judges’ scores: 3, 4, 3, 3 – 13

Catherine and Johannes – Give peace a chance

I mean, it’s not Catherine’s fault that we’ve heard the “Viennese waltz makes me sick/dizzy/regret this entire enterprise” storyline before – that is what happens when celebs try to master the super-spinny dance in a matter of days. Also: IT’S WEEK 1. Johannes (yay Johannes!) was sweetly reassuring, but perhaps too much so, as Catherine clung to him like a life raft and turned their dance into a staring contest. Unsurprisingly, that meant not much in the way of fluidity or power; instead, very stilted, hesitant movement. But the hippy framing curbed some of the lethargy, and certainly bags of potential here.

Song: “I Got You Babe”, Sonny and Cher (COPYCAT KLAXON: Mark Wright and Karen)

Judges’ comments: Craig noted bumpy transitions. Motsi suggested staying on Johannes’s right shoulder more and softening everything. Shirley said they’re a beautiful couple, but she needs to trust his lead. Bruno noted some stumbles when she tightened up – lacked a continuous flow.

Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 5, 5 – 20

Saffron and AJ – Shaky cam

I’m trying, I really am, but that vlogging VT… did not help matters. (See: “the reality of a teenage girl”. And “the fun side of my job”. Ye gods.) ANYHOW. Tango. This was a terrible song choice, so not surprising that they lost the specific style – plus AJ chucked in some paso-ish choreo and a bunch of unrelated out-of-hold tricks and poses, and the routine descended into grinning and hairography. A shame, as Saffron looked decent in the glimpses of actual tango. Would like to see her hold her own balance more and actually connect with AJ, instead of him hurling her into position.

Song: “Lips Are Moving”, Meghan Trainor

Judges’ comments: Motsi said she has fire. Shirley liked the staccato, but work on frame and core. Bruno called it hot. Craig wanted more in hold, but sharp and great energy.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Mike and Katya – Jumping the shark

All hail Katya, who knew exactly how to showcase Mike in this jive: namely, throw so much craziness at us that we could barely muster a “Aren’t his steps too big – ”, “Is that a sickled kick – ” or “Why is his mouth doing that thing – ” before it was onto the next. Including some patented Katya death-defying, human-limbs-shouldn’t-bend-that-way tricks. Mike, in fairness, did keep pace with this part-trampoline contest, part-clown school, part-giving us the beleagured dad from every 1980s sitcom ordeal, even if it wasn’t exactly the most technical jive showcase we’ve seen…

Song: “Do You Love Me”, The Contours (COPYCAT KLAXON: Christopher Parker and Hanna, Chris Hollins and Ola)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised his kick ball changes and entertainment value. Bruno (who should know) called it “off the wall, bizarre”. Craig said he was like an overwound tin toy. Sickled feet and lacked retraction, but great energy. Motsi was “entertained in a very strange way”.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6, 6 – 22

Emma W and Aljaž – Lady of leisure

Ah, Viscountesses – they’re just like us. Who hasn’t started their day by feeding a pet giraffe in the grounds of their mammoth stately home? But hey, it gave us Aljaž a) in a suit and b) adorably cavorting with rhinos, so no complaints here. Sidenote: also delighted by Safari Emma’s range of animal-print rehearsal wear. So, cha cha cha – very pretty and neat, good timing and smiley chemistry with Aljaž, but too upright and light, meaning no hip action via foot pressure and lacked impact, plus her free arm was a bit too “I’m a little teapot. And we need more tea, Carson.”

Song: “She’s a Lady”, Tom Jones (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jill Halfpenny and Darren, Gavin Henson and Katya, Judy Murray and Anton)

Judges’ comments: Bruno labelled her Posh Spice, and wanted more performance and hip action. Craig agreed on the hips, but great rhythm and extremely watchable. Motsi enjoyed her ladylike sensuality, but spice it up a bit, plus bring weight forward. Shirley suggested working on footwork and body action, but delightful couple to watch.

Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 4, 5 – 19

James and Luba – Walking tall

Poor James. In an effort to show how tough it was to try something new, he took Luba rowing… only to discover that Luba is kind of a natural. So, their massive height difference doesn’t help when his main posture issue is hunching over her, rather than creating a tango V shape, but issues too in footwork, timing and style – strip those away and you just have… walking. All sympathies with James for his recent medical issues, but Strictly does seem an odd choice if expressiveness is one of the resulting problems. Unfortunately, this was pretty soporific for viewers – very much the Night Nurse of tangos.

Song: “Gold”, Spandau Ballet (COPYCAT KLAXON: Gethin Jones and Camilla)

Judges’ comments: Craig criticised his posture, and lacked drive and staccato. Motsi suggested he let the audience in more. Shirley praised him for delivering the steps. Bruno wants him to act the part.

Judges’ scores: 2, 3, 3, 3 – 11

Kelvin and Oti – Hot, hot, hot

A quick intro for our newcomer: primarily, not afraid to strip off in the name of art/votes, and also a petrol head/manly bloke. Still think Week 1 samba is lunacy, but Kelvin made it look easy – and, you know, easy on the eyes too. Goddess Oti: a nation thanks you for the booty popping. So impressive, this early on, to see his ease with changing rhythms/lead, combination of attack and grace, strong footwork and isolations, plus excellent partnering. Needed more bounce, and arms a bit wild, but still wow. Sidenote: that cut from Kelvin and Oti’s triumph to an openly crushed Jamie was brutal.

Song: “La Vida Es Un Carnaval”, Celia Cruz (Proper Latin music = a great performance? STOP PRESS!)

Judges’ comments: Motsi, speaking for everyone: “Are we not happy you stepped in?” Shirley liked that he was in touch with his feminine side. Outstanding. Bruno said it was the best samba he’d seen on a debut show. Craig was bothered by his hands, and stationary samba walks were jagged, but amazing.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32

David and Nadiya – Foul play

Sigh. This foxtrot was themed to the hilt. Once we got past the song and the goal and the scarves and the horrifying football shirts, there were flickers of potential, but David’s erratic frame, flat feet and tendency to rush through steps made the sections in hold pretty pedestrian. Understandable, then, that Nadiya kept coming out of hold to try to give it some dynamics, but that, in turn, showed up issues like his spatulistic hands, pasted-on smile and failure to project outwards – it looked more like he was tentatively herding livestock than guiding a dance partner.

Song: “Three Lions”, Baddiel, Skinner and The Lightning Seeds

Judges’ comments: Shirley said he was light on his feet and potential in his frame. Bruno noted he lost his footing, but a proper foxtrot (!). Craig wanted it to be smoother, timing issues, and he’s a deer in the headlights. Motsi suggested finding his inner Sasha Fierce, which is amazing on so many levels.

Judges’ scores: 3, 4, 5, 5 – 17

Michelle and Giovanni – That’s amore

This is already one of my favourite couples, and this sexy, simmering cha cha cha was a sheer delight. Giovanni wisely used lots of proper basics to show off Michelle’s control, technique and wonderful details. Good spins, if occasionally wobbly, and could straighten her legs and pull up more, but exciting to see her really work into the floor, create fully connected hip action and finish every line, right through to her fingertips – rather than cheating the odd hip swivel or sticking her arm out just because it’s been choreographed. Plus: the woman knows how to handle both her man and an audience. Counting down the days to their Argentine tango…

Song: “So Emotional”, Whitney Houston

Judges’ comments: Bruno said she knows how to work her best angles. Clear, crisp and sold it. Craig: “It’s my goal to help, but it seems you don’t need it.” Motsi appreciated that she never looked rushed. Shirley loved the sass, elegance and syncopated Cuban breaks.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 7, 7 – 30

Dev and Dianne – Blast from the past

Some get giraffes, some get helicopter budget, some get… a visit to the Radio 1 studio. Or per Dianne: “his little DJ room”. However, a surprisingly charming foxtrot from these two – thanks partly to Dianne really drilling him on footwork details and how to maintain a strong, wide frame, partly to Dev’s musicality and natural ease in his performance. Also a canny song choice to get the audience onside – although the less said about Dev’s time warp Argyle jumper and Dianne’s shower curtain dress, the better… Needs work on his lines out of hold, but can’t wait to see what else this pair can do.

Song: “Build Me Up Buttercup”, The Foundations (COPYCAT KLAXON: Gloria Hunniford and Darren, Edwina Currie and Vincent, Thom Evans and Iveta)

Judges’ comments: Craig called it elegant and graceful. Motsi thought it was so soft and so rhythmical – so nice. Shirley praised the musicality and body contact, plus best ballroom footwork all evening. Bruno loved the quality of movement.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30

Anneka and Kevin – Challenge accepted

Very much a generational split on this one, I’d imagine, between nostalgia overload and sheer bafflement. Trading off her TV image certainly sensible to garner the former group’s votes at least, but the velour boiler suit and high-tops didn’t exactly help make this a sleek cha cha cha; it was more like prisoners doing aerobics in the yard. Flat shoes exacerbated her flat feet, and thus no hip action. But Anneka having a good go made it fun to watch, as did the band popping her name in the song and Kevin partnering a map for a good few minutes…

Song: “Gloria”, Laura Branigan

Judges’ comments: Motsi called her fearless. Shirley said she needs to work on coordination and body action. Bruno praised her for surviving. Craig noted flat feet and stiff movement, but thinks she’s better than she’s making out.

Judges’ scores: 3, 4, 3, 4 – 14

Will and Janette – Rocket fuelled

Impossible not to be won over by Will’s boundless enthusiasm and no-excuses determination, and, out of hold, that translated into a big, bright performance. In hold, rather stolid and working against Janette – which is probably why their routine barely had any. Certainly not the first (or last) to cheat ballroom that way, but not sure it actually helped Will: short term, it gave him lots of tricksy transitions, and long term, I think he has the drive and work ethic to handle more pure ballroom content. Sidenote: WHAT was happening with Janette’s dress? It looked like one frock had eaten another and then spat out its innards.

Song: “Pencil Full of Lead”, Paolo Nutini (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ali Bastian and Brian, Richard Arnold and Erin, Anita Rani and Gleb)

Judges’ comments: Shirley loved his poise and frame. Bruno said he’s got the nation’s heart. Craig wanted more in hold and found it frenetic, but told a story.

Motsi praised his energy.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26

Karim and Amy – Boy wonder

Bless Amy enduring her CBBC visit with the kindly patience of a babysitter. Karim looking, well, about 12 also made some of the flirtier aspects of their cha cha cha slightly weird, otherwise: amazing musicality, confident footwork, decent arm placement, fearless spins, and great ability to blend movement and performance. I would like to see Amy rein him in a bit, so that his energy is more style specific and focused into their partnership, as well as adding light and shade. Plus it’ll make each dance distinct and new, rather than all looking like his pre-Strictly freestyle – and helping stave off the inevitable ringer outcry…

Song: “If I Can’t Have You”, Shawn Mendes

Judges’ comments: Bruno said he didn’t miss an accent – the band played through him. Craig noted it wasn’t all cha cha cha, but still loved it. Motsi said it was so good. Shirley ticked off timing, musicality, personality, choreography and technique.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 7, 8 – 31

Emma B and Anton – Sweet and sour

This jive suffered from its placement – following Karim, and under pressure to create a big climax to a strong Week 1. Possibly from high expectations, too, since much was expected of Emma (if less so Anton in Latin…). It wasn’t bad, once it got past the faff and filler – mostly tidy delivery of the routine, some nice lines and cute characterisation –  but her footwork and kicks needed to be much stronger; we saw the accents in her facial expressions, not in her body. Also too passive, waiting for Anton to position her rather than committing to the next step. Needs to take more risks, given the competition this year.

Song: “Honey, Honey”, ABBA

Judges’ comments: Craig said it was laboured and she needs to think ahead of the beat, but amazing potential. Motsi praised her controlled arms, but didn’t always have her weight in the right place. Shirley liked the performance, but too upright and connections weren’t short enough. Bruno called it crowd-pleasing.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 5, 6 – 23


Kelvin and Oti – 32

Karim and Amy – 31

Michelle and Giovanni – 30

Dev and Dianne – 30

Saffron and AJ – 27

Will and Janette – 26

Emma B and Anton – 23

Mike and Katya – 22

Alex and Neil – 21

Catherine and Johannes – 20

Emma W and Aljaž – 19

David and Nadiya – 17

Anneka and Kevin – 14

Chris and Karen – 13

James and Luba – 11

It’s the guys topping and tailing our first leaderboard – but plenty of movement to come in that middle section no doubt.

Who impressed you in Week 1? What do you think of new judge Motsi? And who’s in danger of going home? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week for our first elimination. In the meantime… keep dancing!


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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