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Strictly Speaking – Week 10

Posted on November 27, 2017

Paso doblethon 2 BBC Guy Levy

Another week, another “shock” dance-off entrant. Yes, nothing will quite match Aston’s exit, but this is still an enjoyably open series. Two more frontrunners (and judges’ favourites) have now landed in the bottom, while those of the genus dark horse are jostling for position. Deserving or not in dance terms, any of the celebs remaining might be finalists, and the winner is becoming increasingly tough to call.

In the midst of this, did we need the false drama and increasing irrelevance of a baffling -thon? Lord no. Particularly one that had little effect on the leaderboard, but gave the dubious impression of tampering – and Alexandra’s tumble into the dance-off showed the futility of that.

The intervention I would welcome? MUSIC. When a decidedly average waltz is met with a rapturous reception simply because it involves tails and an appropriate song, while a samba is tanked before a single step is danced, you know music choices have gone beyond irritating and into egregious series-shaping territory. I would blame Russian hackers, but even they wouldn’t stoop to Billy Joel.

There’s a redemptive opportunity next week with the Musicals theming – please oh please choose wisely. Or at least fairly, so that the audience gets the opportunity to choose their favourites from a close pack, instead of the producers deciding for us.


Other hits and misses:

  • Another nonsense, non-ballroom pro number, but at least we got Oti in absolute goddess mode. HIT/MISS
  • Kelly Clarkson warbled. Gorka and Janette contempowafted. MISS
  • At least some proper training VTs – hurrah. Less so boxing… HIT/MISS
  • I’ll always advocate for ditching the dance-off, but particularly with results like this. Wouldn’t it be nicer to give that time to Susan and Kevin encore-ing their favourite dance? MISS


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Debbie’s Argentine tango Putting those incredible legs to dazzling use.
  • Best costume: Davood and Nadiya It shouldn’t be so unusual, but what a delight seeing proper ballroom attire.
  • Best move: Oti’s diva stomp It deserves further recognition.
  • Best line: Susan’s “I’ve never seen a more uneven contest in my life!” She’s not wrong.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Again with the cape – and Tess’s superpower this week is RETINA-SEARING PINK. Claud safer in sparkly black.


Joe and Katya – Bricks and mortar

Katya Jones, Joe McFadden – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Bet Joe’s THRILLED he mentioned his fear of heights to the producers. So, a slightly frantic song choice, but no excuse for a routine quite this hectic – Katya could really do with applying the Coco “Before you leave the house, take one thing off” mantra to her choreography. Understandably, at that speed, some missed details from Joe – seldom closed his feet on the chasses, didn’t always point toes, occasionally just looked like he was fleeing a wild animal. But generally good body contact (I agree with Shirley – the section without hold was impressive), and a confident performance.

Song: “Jumpin’ Jack”, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised the mix of steps and posture. Bruno thought it had beautiful detail. Craig noted tension in his topline, but exceptional phrasing. Darcey said the right elbow was bobbing, but filled the floor.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38




Alexandra and Gorka – Fallen angel

Alexandra Burke, Gorka Marquez – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Hi, Alexandra’s boyfriend Josh. Have some Family prop points for supreme discomfort. Not exactly a surprise that rumba proved challenging for our high-voltage celeb, and further challenges with the music (could Alex even FIND a clear 4/1 hold beat in that cover? I couldn’t) and Gorka’s busy choreography, perhaps covering technical deficiencies like her big steps. Still expressively performed – if anything, slightly too much attack and head-cradling – but without softening into the 1, it did lose emotional vulnerability, and was perhaps played outwards too much, rather than to one another. Sidenote: halo projection AND confetti? Desperate times…

Song: “Halo”, Beyoncé

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the drama, but needed to extend lines. Craig wanted straight legs, and thought it lacked chemistry, but beautiful. Darcey agreed on the expression and needed more resistance. Shirley praised the emotion, but should hold on the 1.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 9 – 32




Gemma and Aljaž – Sleeping on the job

Gemma Atkinson, Aljaž Skorjanec – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy


























I mean HONESTLY. What an absurd music choice for the carnival dance. Aljaž tried to sell the logic of it with the whole weird dream/spontaneous narcolepsy theme, but I’d much prefer if he’d just left it there – an ever-widening chasm of illogic. Yes, as with Alexandra’s rumba, this was unlikely to be a happy marriage of celeb and dance, but must we exacerbate that? Technically, needed to be more grounded to get better bounce, and more contractions through the centre, but not a bad attempt at the tricky samba – decent voltas, good rhythm, neat footwork.

Song: “The River of Dreams”, Billy Joel

Judges’ comments: Craig noted haphazard arms. Darcey agreed. Shirley liked the bedroom scene, but needed more flow. Bruno fervently compared it to his hangovers, but the interpretation interfered with the rhythm of the dance.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 6, 7 – 25





Mollie and AJ – Rain check

Mollie King, AJ Pritchard – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

How nice of Mollie to organise a playdate for AJ. Have some Family prop points. Another egregious music choice and yet more over-literal choreography, from the actual umbrella to – on cue – running into someone’s arms. Groan. Like Joe’s quickstep, missing details like feet closure, but also gapping, shoulders rose, and a strange aborted slide. Not convinced this is triumphant growth from Mollie, so much as she’s back in a style where she can hang onto AJ while he steers her like a shopping trolley, and cute showmance-y (double groan) framing. Time will tell…

Song: “Umbrella”, Rihanna

Judges’ comments: Darcey noted her shoulders went up and stamina issues, but clean and crisp. Shirley agreed, and enjoyed the rolling pivots. Bruno praised her footwork. Craig saw the effort in the topline and jolty on the runs, but progress.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 9 – 31




Davood and Nadiya – Old school

Nadiya Bychkova, Davood Ghadami – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

How much of a boost did this couple get purely through flattering traditional dress and sensible music? A lot. Yes, it was a blessed relief to have a sane Nadiya routine and calmer Davood, but I’m not convinced it was all that impressive for Week 10. The odd timing issue (and no, it’s not hard in waltz), static in the pivots, needed more drive to travel properly, rather than forcing it in the elbows, and too blocky – nothing in the way of shaping. Looked good and charming number, but if we’re nitpicking other celebs’ technique, the same should apply here.

Song: “With You I’m Born Again”, Billy Preston and Syreeta Wright (COPYCAT KLAXON: Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan, Mark Ramprakash and Karen, Denise Van Outen and James, Helen George and Aljaž)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised their stripped-back version of a classic waltz. Bruno thought it was simple but effective. Craig wanted more swing and sway. Darcey called it effortless and romantic.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35




Debbie and Giovanni – Fine art

Debbie McGee, Giovanni Pernice – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Welcome back, Vincent Simone – gone from Strictly but not from our hearts. He was on hand to help out Vincent 2.0 and risk Molte Italian critical mass. Now, I had high hopes for this Argentine, and on the whole they were satisfied. Who but Flexy McGee would give us casual splits from a chair, such gorgeously held lines, vividly articulate foot and leg action, slick lifts, endless back bends and smouldering sensuality? Yes, some of that action should come as an organic response to the lead – actually harder generating it on your own, and perhaps Giovanni’s inexperience in this style showed – but still dynamite.

Song: “Por Una Cabeza”, Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Le Pera (COPYCAT KLAXON: Diarmuid Gavin and Nicole, Tom Chambers and Camilla, Holly Valance and Artem)

Judges’ comments: Bruno said she brushed the floor like a painter. Craig noted the leg action was sometimes too placed, but “I wish I could dance like you”. Darcey called her articulation outstanding, but thought she could have held her frame more in the lift. Shirley loved the emotion.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38




Susan and Kevin – The love boat

Kevin Clifton, Susan Calman – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Critiquing Susan’s technique is basically redundant at this stage (as Bruno cheerfully pointed out), but just for form’s sake: considering this was meant to be a foxtrot-based American smooth – rather than, er, bench-based – practically no foxtrot content, and danced ploddingly with square hold and no style. But hey. Kevin got to dress up like a captain, Susan looked beautiful, and it was a lovely capper to their journey: full of joy, humour, character and a real celebration of partnership, plus little improvements like stronger lifts and moments of jazzy presentation. Bon voyage to this year’s Spirit of Strictly.

Song: “Beyond the Sea”, Bobby Darin (COPYCAT KLAXON: James Martin and Camilla, Ashley Taylor Dawson and Ola)

Judges’ comments: Craig noted gapping, feet never closed and timing issues, but sweet. Darcey found it charming, but needed longer lines and better transitions. Shirley praised their entertainment factor, but lacking in technique. Bruno noted they’re beyond criticism.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 5, 6 – 21






Joe and Katya – 38

Debbie and Giovanni – 38

Davood and Nadiya – 35

Alexandra and Gorka – 32

Mollie and AJ – 31

Gemma and Aljaž – 25

Susan and Kevin – 21

Joe and Debbie rise, while Gemma tumbles.


Paso Doblathon

Celebrity and pro dancers – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Ah, the annual –thon. So baffling that any who claim to understand it are immediately snapped up by MI5. I rather wish we could go back to earlier two-dance weeks instead – a much more transparent and fair way of testing the celebs’ range at this stage of the competition.

In theory, this format nods to actual pro ballroom competition and has the tantalising chance of pile-ups; in practice, said crashes never transpire, and instead it’s a dismal illustration of the limits of TV broadcasting. This year, the clear highlight was Gorka and Giovanni homoerotically circling one another at the start.

Otherwise, from what I could discern via several watches and an entreaty to the gods: Joe seemed to be mainly on his knees, and wore his shoulders as earrings when he made it into hold; Nadiya did a lot of hurling herself dramatically at a static Davood; Gemma had strong shaping but a lacklustre performance; Susan spent most of her time caping like a woman possessed; Debbie hit some great lines; Alexandra was consistently powerful; and Mollie disappeared into thin air.

The judges’ order:

  1. Susan and Kevin
  2. Mollie and AJ
  3. Gemma and Aljaž
  4. Davood and Nadiya
  5. Debbie and Giovanni
  6. Joe and Katya
  7. Alexandra and Gorka


Leaderboard after Paso Doblathon

Joe and Katya – 44

Debbie and Giovanni – 43

Davood and Nadiya – 39

Alexandra and Gorka – 39

Mollie and AJ – 33

Gemma and Aljaž – 28

Susan and Kevin – 22

GASP wasn’t that worth our time, making SUCH a difference to the leaderboard.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Strange turquoise neopreme – the first in a line of scuba cocktail wear? Claud once more in black.



Tess Daly, Susan Calman, Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Again totally worth our viewing time here, with the super-close match-up of Alexandra and Gorka versus Susan and Kevin. Susan calling shenanigans and derailing a steadily alarmed Tessbot was the best part of the entire thing.

Naturally, everyone saved Alexandra, and we had lovely, heartfelt speeches from the departing celeb and pro. They’ve been a real pleasure this year – not just providing comedy and dress-up, but really personifying the joy of learning to dance, and of sharing something kind and positive in a world that sorely needs it right now.

What did you think of this week’s performances? Was it the right dance-off? And who’s a lock for the final? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you soon for Musicals Week. In the meantime…keep dancing!


In November’s Dancing Times, Marianka Swain reports on the future of same-sex dance, while Strictly‘s Oti Mabuse tells Nicola Rayner about her partnership with Jonnie Peacock


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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