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Strictly Speaking: Week 1

Posted on September 27, 2021

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We’re off! This opener had everything we love about Strictly: dance, drama and dance-drama; a bewildering costume lottery; Tess patronising people to within an inch of their lives; scoring that began sane and then descended into utter chaos; and, most important, contestants we’d never heard of before this claiming a place in our hearts. 

On early evidence, we’re in for a fierce competition – and one that’s basically impossible to call, given that some celebrities totally exceeded expectations (AJ!), some did not (Robert), and some…were too distracting for anyone to really evaluate the dancing (ahem, Adam). Plus two genuinely impactful moments, with Rose and John making huge strides for inclusivity, as well as delivering brilliant routines.

Other hits and misses:

  • Gorka in sad in black and white! Now Gorka is happy in colour! I fear the earnest subtext of this pro opener was overwhelmed by the oops-I-melted-a-box-of-crayons aesthetics, plus crazy prop overload (welcome back bridge, bench and of course wobbly lamppost!). I also remain transfixed by Dianne’s Little Mermaid hair. MISS
  • So… scoring. It started conservatively, but by the end, 9s were raining down amidst total hysteria. The lesson here? Perform at the end of the show. MISS
  • Actual training footage this week, woohoo, including a mini samba masterclass from Oti. Long may it remain! HIT
  • How did Anton the judge fare? Nothing terribly exciting comment-wise – he sounded most passionate when telling Greg he wished it was him on the floor in the top hat and tails instead. To be continued… MISS

Best in Show

  • Best performance: John’s tango Both a thrilling, long-awaited moment of representation, and a fantastic number.
  • Best costume: Rose’s unicorn car-wash frock Fab-u-lous. Shoutout also to AJ’s gold fringe and Motsi the sexy lime.
  • Best move: AJ’s opening jive kicks Genuinely jaw-dropping.
  • Best line: “That’s how walking works, Nancy, your feet leave the floor!” Rhys rehashes the rehearsal room argument that he definitely lost. (Hang in there, Rhys. Ballroom does defy logic.)

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Tomato-ketchup waistcoat-meets-halter neck with double splits. Confusing as ever. Claud came as a half-dressed chorus member from HMS Pinafore.

Tom and Amy – On the road again

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Sigh, the disco invasion has begun. Mind, it was the saving grace of Tom’s debut dance – he looked most comfortable in the funky, freestyle hustle sections. The actual cha cha was more Bambi on ice: lots of skittering around the floor due to a lack of foot pressure and too much leading off on the heel, which in turn meant no Latin leg or hip action, and he was evidently chasing the choreography. However, he does have rhythm and he’s a natural performer, so if he can find time in his busy touring schedule (hmph) for proper training, he’s still a contender. (BREAKING: Tom and Amy tested positive for COVID-19 since the live show and are now self-isolating separately. While they will both miss next Saturday’s show, Strictly protocols mean that, all being well, they will return the following week.)

Song: “September”, Earth, Wind & Fire (COPYCAT KLAXON: Diarmuid Gavin and Nicole, Jeremy Vine and Karen)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised his syncopated Cuban breaks, but work on the leg and foot action. Anton liked the performance and groove, but agreed with Shirley on legs and feet. Craig said he needs to control his spins, too wooden and stiff of hip. Motsi thinks he’s a probable finalist. 

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 5, 5 – 21 (Watch out, Craig – Amy is coming for you.)

Tilly and Nikita – Smoke gets in your eyes

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Waltz is probably not a natural fit for the baby blonde twins – and the production team clearly thought the same, doing their best to smother them in schmaltz (hello flowery swing bench!) and hide not just their footwork but most of their bodies in a major deployment of the smoke monster. Shoutout also to Tilly’s My First Barbie Prom dress and Nikita borrowing Daddy’s suit for a weekend on the yacht. In the actual dance, hold needs work, definitely lacked heel leads and rise and fall, too stodgy and shy. Some nice arm placement, but you have to go bigger than this to stay on Strictly.

Song: “Consequences”, Camila Cabello

Judges’ comments: Anton liked the gentle romance, but needs heel leads and better frame. Craig noted tight shoulders and lacked expression in the arms. Motsi enjoyed the sensitivity. Shirley said it was poised, and (huh?) thought there were plenty of heel leads.

Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 6, 5 – 21 

Ugo and Oti – Marching to the beat of a different drum

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Our first of two unfathomable Week 1 sambas – cruel, people! Still, at least Ugo had Oti, Queen of Samba. I will never forget her a-maze-ing routines with Danny Mac or Kelvin Fletcher. This wasn’t quite as triumphant: better on the general carnival spirit (flaming bongos!) than the specific technique of this oh-so-tricksy dance. Ugo’s voltas were bizarrely off-beat and backwards, like some mad jazz scatting, and most of the moves felt snatched, rather than settling the hips fully into each step, but he was strong dancing solo, with great timing and showmanship, so I wouldn’t count them out just yet. 

Song: “Iko Iko (My Bestie)”, Justin Wellington feat. Small Jam

Judges’ comments: Craig praised his isolation, but work on bounce and fluidity. Motsi thought he nailed the African sections. Shirley: “There’s not a part of your body that doesn’t want to move.” She added that he reinvented the volta. Anton: “I hate the volta!” 

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 5 – 18 

Rhys and Nancy – Bags of potential 

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This high-energy pair has serious Duracell Bunny vibes – can they calm it down enough for the serious dances? Well, once we got past the am-dram intro with the unnecessary bus stop and literal baggage (just… no, it’s been done before, and better), this was an assured Viennese waltz. Very promising wide frame and good movement around the floor. Just needs to clean up the details, like closing his feet properly, avoiding sickling, and keeping the elegance in all the transitions instead of rushing onto the next thing. That will help smooth out his ballroom numbers and avoid them feeling skippy. Very excited for his Latin. Sidenote: loving Nancy’s strict training methods and leopard-print trousers.

Song: “End of the Road”, Boyz II Men (COPYCAT KLAXON: Darren Gough and Lilia)

Judges’ comments: Motsi suggested working on his standing leg, but can’t wait for him to unleash his power. Shirley was impressed by the elegance, poise and leading. Anton said his footwork was immaculate. Craig found it frantic, but lovely frame.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Sara and Aljaž – Put your money where your mouth is

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Hands up who would buy whatever Aljaž is selling? Anyway. Lots of great basic cha cha content in this routine, along with some nice little moments for Sara to strut her stuff or do a wiggle, but all felt too underpowered. Sara evidently cares about getting everything right, but (with the best will in the world) she’s not about to win this competition on sheer dance talent, so she might as well go for it: match that talk with action and try to entertain the audience. Needs to work on her hip rotation, timing issues and lacked dynamics, but a sincere effort.

Song: “The Boss”, Diana Ross

Judges’ comments: 3, 5, 5, 4 – 17

Judges’ scores: Shirley was impressed by her solo opening. Anton wanted better leg action. Craig said it felt more like walking than dancing. Throw caution to the wind. Motsi liked the elegance, but needed more resistance and impact.

Dan and Nadiya – A tall order

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First of all: CLOSE YOUR MOUTH, DANIEL. This is not Strictly Come Gulping; no one is asking you to lip sync for your life. That distraction aside, this was a passable quickstep – which, hilariously, seemed to astound the judges, given their swathe of backhanded compliments. I rather think it’s a dance that was bound to suit him: he can travel easily with those long limbs, and it’s bouncy and fun rather than requiring too much elegance or control. Whether he can fare as well in, say, a foxtrot or rumba is a whole other story. Also, issues like gapping and a deflating frame, but I enjoyed the enthusiasm.

Song: “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love”, The Blues Brothers (COPYCAT KLAXON: Darren Gough and Lilia, Julien Macdonald)

Judges’ comments: “I thought you were going to be awful!” Ouch, Anton. Like me, Craig found the mouthing annoying, but was “pleasantly surprised”. As was Motsi, who loved the risk-taking. Shirley praised his power and recovery from mistakes.

Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 7, 7 – 24

Rose and Giovanni – Getting a fair shake

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Really fascinating to watch Rose in rehearsal, matching all her movements to the counts, and using a combination of mirroring Gio’s body language and getting his comments via an interpreter – and lovely to see him learning sign language so he can meet her halfway. (As well as the whole cast doing BSL applause – I may have teared up at that.) Their hard work paid off. Rose actually had way better timing in her jive than many of the celebrities we’ve seen on the show. Now needs to work on getting up on the balls of her feet, pitching her weight forward and closing on the chassés, but a very engaging performance.

Song: “Shake It Off”, Taylor Swift (COPYCAT KLAXON: Pixie Lott and Trent)

Judges’ comments: Craig said she had great timing and personality, just needs more attack. Motsi loved the authenticity, but work on body position. Shirley agreed she had good timing, but improve the foot placement. Anton thought she was fab solo – apply that to the partner dancing.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 4, 6 – 22

Katie and Gorka – The weight of the world on her shoulders

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Yeah, not sure any girl wants to be called an “ugly duck”, but we know what you meant, Gorka… He made up for it with the adorable fangirling on the Hollyoaks set (even though he had clearly never watched a minute of the show in his life). Loved this tango routine, but the actual delivery of it was more dutiful than thrilling – you could read the nerves and tension throughout Katie’s performance, particularly in her contorted shoulders and heavy arms. She looked more comfortable out of hold and some strong character moments, so definite potential, but partner work will clearly be a challenge for her. 

Song: “Black Hole”, Griff

Judges’ comments: Motsi was impressed by the power and intensity, though got too tight. Shirley liked the atmosphere and sharpness, but needs to pick up her arms. Anton enjoyed the drama, but get the right arm further forward. Craig noted she picked her feet up too much, but passionate.

Judges’ scores: 6, 5, 5, 6 – 22

Robert and Dianne – From Russia without love

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What did Robert do to incur the wrath of the Strictly wardrobe department? Nothing says cha cha like blood-soaked murder clowns. Mind, it matched the slowly unfolding horror of Webb’s World of Faces – which I initially thought would just be part of the “funny” intro, but no! Was it Dianne’s deliberate choice to go the creepy comedy route? BOO if so, because he clearly does have some dance ability, but this was a mess: weirdly exaggerated and staccato, flat clompy footwork and no hip action, fell out of the turns, and descended into disco slapstick. Bill Bailey proved last year that anything is possible; a shame that they seem to have given up already.

Song: “Rasputin”, Boney M (COPYCAT KLAXON: Natalie Gumede and Artem)

Judges’ comments: Shirley found it entertaining, in a 1970s way, but feet and legs need work. Anton and Motsi agreed. Craig, who perhaps had lost the will to live by this stage of the evening, thought it was a crowd-pleaser and didn’t care about the technique. 

Judges’ scores: 6 (!), 4, 4, 6 – 20

Greg and Karen – The Oscar goes to…

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A classic Golden Age Hollywood top hat and tails number with a charming leading man – plus actual A-lister Emma Thompson being adorable in the audience? Oh yes. Greg definitely put the “smoothie” into American smooth, and the routine emphasised his performance skills; he really told a story throughout, and through his whole body. BUT. The Viennese waltz sections were pretty atrocious, with a hunched frame (their height difference doesn’t help) and strange positioning and footwork. I’d love to see them work on the dance “fundamentals”, per Shirley, though traditionally that hasn’t been Karen’s tactic. So… hmm. At least it won’t be dull. Sidenote: We must also acknowledge Greg’s rehearsal vests. 

Song: “That’s Life”, Frank Sinatra (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ore Oduba and Joanne)

Judges’ comments: Anton wished he could swap places. Craig criticised the Viennese waltz, but thoroughly engaging. Motsi said he captured the moment. Shirley called for fundamentals. (LOVED how she then filled the sad silence by applauding herself. What a woman.)

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 5, 7 – 24

Nina and Neil – My body too bootylicious

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Love these two already. Nina, very reasonably pointing out you can’t keep saying “Forward” if it’s a different turning direction; Neil, employing dancer logic, just repeating “Forward forward forward forward…” Guys, you should take this act on the road. Also fabulous: a committed attempt at the difficult samba and an electrifying performance. Nina certainly channelled her inner diva: fantastic rhythm, accents, bounce and attack. Needs to keep her shoulders down, extend her arms and back leg to finish off moves, and clean up the transitions (in fairness, it was a stop-start routine with changing rhythms), but really excited to see what else they have in store. Also, I thought, comparatively undermarked.

Song: “Mi Gente”, J Balvin and Willy William feat. Beyoncé

Judges’ comments: Craig told her to watch the shoulders, but wow. Motsi praised her for tackling a tough routine, but work on transitions. Shirley loved her fundamentals (CLAUDIA). Anton shared his samba trauma.

Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 7, 7 – 24 

John and Johannes – It’s raining men

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I’m also ride-or-die for these two already – SO ADORABLE – and what a debut! This was a super-intense, super-slick tango with sharp staccato, good lowering into the knees, a strong frame, sleek movement, and simmering intensity throughout. Oddly, for all the talk around how same-sex dance might fit into the show, this was the most traditional ballroom routine of the night, with detailed technique and a story told through partner connection rather than external props. (Incredible job by Johannes.) Also, lead-swapping, in Week 1 – that’s mighty impressive. Sidenote: the amazing Dancing Times has championed same-sex dance for years, and publishes a monthly column on the subject, so do subscribe if you haven’t already!

Song: “Blue Monday”, New Order (COPYCAT KLAXON: Peter Andre and Janette)

Judges’ comments: Motsi said it was a superb start. Shirley called it absolutely exquisite and was impressed by the lead-swapping. Anton praised the strength, power and timing. Craig said John’s thumb was sticking up, otherwise loved it.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30

Judi and Graziano – Drink and be merry

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Hmm, a mixed bag. Too much faffing about with the bar at the top and the foxtrot sections of this American smooth were minimal, technique-free and very tentatively danced – like Judi was inching her way down a wet hallway floor. No drive whatsoever. However, she has a great feel for music (even if this was really a cha cha track), so it was pleasant enough to watch, and once she got the chance to work her hips and play off Graziano she really came to life. Though I can’t see them lasting long, her party Latin is going to be one hell of a show. Weirdly overmarked, however. 

Song: “Chain of Fools”, Aretha Franklin (COPYCAT KLAXON: Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan, Joe Kalzaghe and Kristina)

Judges’ comments: Shirley said it was smooth and rhythmic. Anton loves them together. Craig said he’d have done the same as her if he was in drag – which, er, is good to know. Motsi loved the sass, but technique needs work.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 6, 6 – 24 

AJ and Kai – Golden girl

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Well, I was NOT expecting that. AJ came roaring out the gate with super-fast jive kicks and diva style for days. She made it all look so easy, even in this breakneck routine, whether dancing on her own or in hold – and she did such a great job of pitching her weight forward and working off Kai. If I’m being picky (of course I am, you know you love it) she really needs to turn out her feet, especially on the kicks and flicks, but it’s much harder for someone with long limbs to get that level of speed and control, so brilliant job. Sidenote: all the Family prop points for AJ’s mum.

Song: “Gold Dust”, DJ Fresh

Judges’ comments: Anton said it was more like Week 9. Craig: “Incredible.” Motsi called it the best dance of the evening. Shirley loved the fearlessness.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34

Adam and Katya – A podium finish

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Last but certainly not least, our Olympian maintained the fine tradition of Strictly sporting hunks discovering a fondness for hip-swivelling and booty-shaking. Thank you, wardrobe, for that extremely form-fitting outfit, what a shame you ran out of buttons. Anyway, there was also some dancing in here, ahem. Oh yes, a very decent Week 1 cha cha. Definitely needs refining: some bumpy moments and he overexaggerated the hip action by popping his bottom out, plus a weird Mick Jagger pout, and that foot-based pot stir was a mess, but I loved that he threw himself into the performance, and really attentive partnering. Did we need that much lunging? Er, probably not. Am I complaining? Also not.

Song: “Beggin’”, Måneskin (COPYCAT KLAXON: Chelsee Healey and Pasha, Fiona Fullerton and Anton, Danny John-Jules and Amy)

Judges’ comments: Craig couldn’t take his eyes off it. Motsi loved his charisma. Shirley said it was effortless and oozing. Anton called it tremendous.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30


AJ and Kai – 34

Adam and Katya – 30

John and Johannes – 30

Rhys and Nancy – 27

Dan and Nadiya – 24

Greg and Karen – 24

Nina and Neil – 24

Judi and Graziano – 24

Rose and Giovanni – 22

Katie and Gorka – 22

Tom and Amy – 21

Tilly and Nikita – 21

Robert and Dianne – 20

Ugo and Oti – 18

Sara and Aljaž – 17

Blimey, AJ tops our first leaderboard, and great start for Adam and John too. I expect to see Ugo and Tom improve on their positions next week, while Dan will likely plummet, as they swap Latin and ballroom duties.

Who wowed you? Are you enjoying our history-making contestants? Who’s in danger of being first out? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

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

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