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Strictly Speaking: Week 10

Posted on November 25, 2019

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So, there are flat post-Blackpool shows, and there’s… whatever this was. Barely one rung up from everyone calling in sick while still nursing their hangovers on the tour bus. We’re in the closing stages of hard-fought competition, and yet by far the highlight this week was Bruno Tonioli “singing”. I know!

The dance picks were partly to blame – Saffron stuck on samba, our two male leaders mired in Couple’s Choice, Alex tackling the deceptively difficult Argentine tango – although we might have expected more from Anton and/or Emma in quickstep. Bizarrely, Chris seemed to fare best with his paso, even if it was really a triumph of atmosphere, rather than actual dance technique. 

Personally, I very much felt Michelle’s absence this week – and now, with Saffron gone, that’s another strong contender out of the competition. Are we getting the right balance of ringers and tryers this year, or is this increasingly loony Strictly going to end on an anticlimax as the latter pack run out of dance styles they can handle? I rather fear the latter – and the two-dance test is looming… 

Other hits and misses:
  • BRUNO. SANG. I really can’t stress this enough. Well, not “singing” in the human sense, but… there was a song, and Bruno, and what looked like the inside of Bruno’s head: feathery fans, glitter, capes, confetti, SO MUCH PINK. To the 189 misery-guts people who found the same-sex performance a tad camp… Welcome to Strictly! HIT
  • Also, this is in place of the rig-athon, which I think we can all welcome. HIT
  • And it technically earned Craig’s first 10 of the series. Amazing. HIT
  • Andrea Bocelli returned. Our pros contempo-wafted en masse. MISS
  • The Greatest Dancer winner Ellie, mentored by our Oti, popped by for some solid BBC cross-promotion. In all seriousness, this was a fab performance, and I’d so love to see dance guests on the show more often – especially if we’re going to feature other genres in the competition, like street or voguing. HIT

Best in Show
  • Best performance: Bruno’s singing No, really. I’m still processing.
  • Best costume: Saffron’s samba feathers Big Bird chic.
  • Best move: Our pros trying not to laugh amidst the Tonioli Karaoke Candy Floss Fever Dream Could not take my eyes off this.
  • Best line: Motsi’s whole “downstairs” riff Truly, she is the gift that keeps on giving.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly. Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

SO SPARKLY. And more painful asymmetry, obvs. Claud sparkly and black.

Saffron and AJ – Bounced out
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Saffron Barker and AJ Pritchard. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Though I’m not exactly the biggest Saffron fan (doesn’t help that every interview sounds like she swallowed the Big Book of Reality Show Clichés), she drew the short straw here. On the plus side, lots of great samba basics, and it wasn’t TOO insane on the AJ Frantic Scale – almost moderately paced, although, naturally, still featured him flinging her into turns she couldn’t properly complete. However, some fudged footwork and, as everyone noted, she was just bopping up and down rather than getting that “tic” in the centre. Timing pretty good, though, and lines cleaner than we’ve seen in the past – perhaps at the expense of dynamism – but a very respectable go at a tricky dance.

Song: “Walking on Sunshine”, Take Me To Rio Collective (COPYCAT KLAXON: Matt Dawson and Lilia, Abbey Clancy and Aljaž)

Judges’ comments: Shirley noted the sickled feet, but good absorption through her feet and knees. Bruno loved the gusto and content, but accents in the wrong place. Craig thought it was too placed and sloppy footwork. Motsi wanted more absorption in the middle of the body, but she did tidy it up.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26 

Karim and Amy – Fast and loose
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Karim Zeroual and Amy Dowden. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

BAN COUPLE’S CHOICE. Yet another weepy X Factor VT, painful Family prop points, and then an affront to the dance genre that is contemporary. Mark Morris?? Really, Bruno?! This, for a routine that featured the most thuddingly literal choreo we’ve ever seen on this show – and that is a HIGH BAR – plus the smoke monster on overload, and Karim rattling through his stage school pirouettes while Amy… was on another planet. This, in a show that’s meant to be about learning new skills, showcasing ballroom, and connecting with a partner. None of which we saw here. Just manufactured “I’ve been told to pout here” emotion and yet more frenetic tricks.

Song: “Drops of Jupiter”, With Confidence

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the freedom of spirit. Craig thought it was engaging, but more about technique than emotion. Motsi loved the slow parts and wanted more of those. Shirley praised the sensitivity.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38 

Alex and Neil – Upstairs, downstairs
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Alex Scott and Neil Jones. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

The first Argentine tango of the series, and, if a middling one, the Craig 4 still felt unfairly harsh (especially given Chris’s scores… more anon). This is a tough dance to pull off, as you need to make it look organic, a spontaneous response to your partner, while also polished and exciting enough for a competitive performance. Alex’s dance inexperience definitely showed in elements like her flat feet, sometimes awkward leg lines and transitions, and off-balance moments, especially at the end. However, a wonderfully intense, connected performance throughout, and delivered difficult content with total commitment – she’s come a long way. Sidenote: Anyone else on a Ramps mic tangle nostalgia trip? Liiiive television!

Song: “Never Tear Us Apart”, Bishop Briggs (COPYCAT KLAXON: Lisa Riley and Robin, Danny Mac and Oti)

Judges’ comments: Craig thought it was too heavy and didn’t look like she was reacting, but loved the content. Motsi wanted her to be tight downstairs (…), but big improvement and she took a risk. Shirley said the emotional connection was outstanding, though mistakes. Bruno felt she really got into the role.

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 7, 8 – 26 

Kelvin and Oti – Home sweet home
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Kelvin Fletcher and Oti Mabuse. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Kelvin, Oti and tea – my favourites together at last. I wanted to like this one more than I did, but, you know… Couple’s Choice #BanCouplesChoice. The kitchen sink drama went on too long (though not as long as that Family prop points-laden VT, we went through three more Prime Ministers in that time), and it was a style mishmash. Elements of Northern soul, hip hop, breaking, salsa etc – while not being quite exact enough on any of them – and it was too cutesy for these powerhouses. That said, the stepping section was fab, and, as ever, a fully realised, thoroughly engaging performance. 

Song: “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)”, Frank Wilson

Judges’ comments: Motsi praised their authenticity. Shirley called it absolutely impeccable. Bruno found it charming – everyday life made extraordinary. Craig criticised the kitchen section, but loved the stepping.

Judges’ scores: 8, 10, 10, 10 – 38 

Emma B and Anton – Rough diamonds
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Emma Barton and Anton Du Beke. Photograph:

So, if you’re running the risk of coming across as too, er, “intense”, maybe don’t go full Marilyn? Just a suggestion. Bored now of waiting for supposed brilliance from these two – their quickstep should have been a slam dunk, but instead Anton overloaded her with choreo that left no room for error (as became painfully evident), so once more we had Emma clinging on for dear life while her terrifying rictus grin said “hostage performing cabaret while held at gunpoint”. Emma STILL too upright and stiff in hold, showing the King of Ballroom (ahem) still hasn’t taught her technique basics by Week 10, mistakes, gapping, timing issues… and some lip-synching to camera that will haunt my nightmares.

Song: “Sparkling Diamonds”, Nicole Kidman (COPYCAT KLAXON: Pixie Lott and Trent)

Judges’ comments: Shirley noted the mistakes and she got ahead of the music. Bruno said it was pure bliss until she went wrong. Craig agreed. Motsi praised her topline and characterisation.

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 7, 8 – 29 

Chris and Karen – No more Mr Nice Guy
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Karen Hauer and Chris Ramsay. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Well. On a flat night, this was certainly the number that made the most impact – and yes, a lot of that was down to a cleverly dramatic routine, the music, the smoke, the red lighting, the general vibe of “Murder, but make it sexy!” However, credit also to Karen for honing Chris’s performance skills so that he could actually pull this off seriously, something I definitely couldn’t have imagined a few weeks ago. Technically, however, the scoring was super generous – paso doble isn’t just marching (on stompy flat feet), it should also have elegance, stylish transitions, pride and very precise shaping, all of which were absent, but the lack of technique doesn’t ever seem to dent his vote… 

Song: “Run Boy Run”, Woodkid

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the lethal intent, though extend lines and sometimes not on the beat. Craig agreed on the menace. Motsi was proud of him. Shirley said he got the marching element. 

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 7 – 31 


Kelvin and Oti – 38

Karim and Amy – 38

Chris and Karen – 31

Emma B and Anton – 29

Saffron and AJ – 35

Alex and Neil – 26

Chris goes up, Saffron falls further.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Horribly ill-fitting brown. Claud in dropped-waist sludge.


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Saffron Barker, AJ Pritchard, Amy Dowden and Karim Zeroual. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Saffron and AJ versus (minor surprise) Karim and Amy. The judges all saved the latter – meaning we lose another strong dancer from this insanely unpredictable series.

Who impressed you this week? Were the right couples in the dance-off? And who’s your remaining favourite? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week for a Musicals special. 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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