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Strictly Speaking: Week 10

Posted on November 29, 2021

Celebs and Pros

Can you believe it’s nearly the quarter-finals already? Dan Walker is still here, so I certainly can’t. At this rate he’ll be hoovering up a place on the judging panel the next time someone has a bye week. Watch out, Anton: your schtick is under serious threat. 

So, we had a second outing from Cynthia with Craig returning (thank God) but Motsi now unable to get back into the UK. I definitely missed Motsi’s energy, but Cynthia’s critiques were more explicable – though her scoring absolutely wasn’t. In what parallel universe is Dan worth a 9 and AJ just an 8? Obviously Dan now thinks he’s a dance god, but it’s utterly terrifying that the delusion has spread. We need a vaccine, stat.

I could also have done without the endless crying. Yes, it’s been a hard year and we’re all on edge, but it’s not even the final yet. It also pushed Tessbot into high-pitched patronising “Look at the widdle tears!” overkill. Only the COVID-19 protocols prevented her from pinching Rhys’s cheeks off his face and yelping directly into his bawling mouth like a mama bird. 

Other hits and misses:

  • Anton. Ugh. I’m so bored of the noises, the demos, the Len cosplay, the rehashing of his Strictly history. It. Is. Not. About. You. MISS
  • Nor is it about Gordon Ramsay. MISS
  • Or the Top Gear “lads”. MISS
  • Bad dancing robots: NO. Please make it stop. MISS
  • Luba and Karen dancing to Years & Years? Much better. See, we can be innovative without being cringe-worthy. HIT
  • It looks like we’re only getting one week of two dances, the semi-final. Which is probably a good thing for the couples’ general sanity and also that of us recappers… HIT

Best in Show

  • Best performance: John’s Argentine tango Utterly thrilling.
  • Best costume: AJ the green goddess Runner-up: Nancy gets an actual ballroom dress!
  • Best move: AJ’s insane jump/lift The girl has no fear.
  • Best line: Shirley telling Dan he danced like a tall cucumber So… stiff and tasteless?


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Tess Daly Claudia1

Sexy tomato ketchup bottle. Claud: alarmingly shiny jacket.

Rose and Giovanni – Rained off

Rose Ayling ellis

Rose has generally done a brilliant job of hiding her apprehension about most dances, but it was pretty evident that paso just wasn’t a natural fit. The music choice didn’t help either, nor could I make sense of why you’d wander around with a fan during a rainstorm. Still, another strong solo opening from Rose, some lovely shaping though needed to be more extreme, and good characterisation. It just lacked that sense of attack and real dynamics. I also agree with Craig that it had too much forward and back, as though they were dancing it all in a narrow corridor. Not their best, but a credible effort.

Song: “California Dreamin’”, Sia (COPYCAT KLAXON: Mark Ramprakash and Karen)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised the elevation and shaping but wanted more breath through the body. Anton loved the clean work. Craig found it too upright and stiff but loved the characterisation. Cynthia signed “I think you are fierce” and disagreed with Craig: she felt the tension was necessary.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 9 – 33 

Dan and Nadiya – Desperate times


Strictly rules dictate that the worse the celebrity male, the skimpier the pro’s outfit or the tighter the catsuit. So Nadiya deploying a backless red dress that plunged to her navel set off major alarm bells. In the event, Dan’s rumba was mainly… dull. Of course, he didn’t dance much of it. He was more like a tree swaying in the wind, while Nadiya climbed up and down him with increasing urgency like a squirrel who’d lost her stash. No hip action, no musicality through his body or arms, no flow – he just stopped dead between steps. Sure, he looked relaxed because he now has the sort of deranged confidence that leads people to invade a neighbouring country, but should the judges really be fuelling that?

Song: “Desperado”, The Eagles

Judges’ comments: Anton added to the dad-dancing. NO ANTON. Craig said it was jolty, non-existent hip action, marching and stopping on 2, but not quite a disahhhster. Cynthia noted he’d worked on his lines and it felt relaxed. Shirley said it was like a Saturday afternoon (the sexiest time of the week, obvs), with clear timing and subtle (ha) hip action.

Judges’ scores: 6, 9, 8, 8 – 31 

AJ and Kai – Jazz hot

AJ Ododu

A lovely VT which in no way fuelled showmance speculation by having AJ introduce Kai to her entire family. Now, I continue to abhor Couple’s Choice, but this was an exciting number. Hugely demanding dance styles (the isolations! The extensions! The back bend! The Singin’ in the Rain Cyd Charisse leg!) plus all the lifts and tricks, and AJ maintained that cool, funky character. It wasn’t perfect – she had the odd wobble – but it started at such a high skill level that it seems churlish to knock off one point for that, let alone two. After all, what’s worthier of high scores: not actively offending anyone while barely moving or having the odd niggle while actually taking flight? If we punish ambition, the show suffers.

Song: “Make Me Feel”, Janelle Monáe

Judges’ comments: Craig praised her for taking on all those styles, though noted her arms were messy in the turns. Cynthia liked that she kept up the character. Shirley loved her flexibility and fearlessness. “An ultimate performance.” Anton enjoyed the commercial jazz style.

Judges’ scores: 9, 8, 10, 9 – 36 

Rhys and Nancy – Cry me a river

Rhys Stephenson

First of all: they made it out of the dressing-up box! Let’s take a moment to enjoy that victory. Yes, they had what looked suspiciously like a Christmas tree IN NOVEMBER, but I shall let that slide because this was otherwise a very charming waltz. Finally, Rhys discovered control and fluidity and actually danced it with Nancy. However, that just meant he was finally doing a decent ballroom number, in Week 10 – not, per the squawking judges, about to triumph at the British Open. He was still sickled in the feet and needed to travel much more, plus spatulistic hands when out of hold and it was too boxy. Sidenote: I howled at Rhys’ “Make it stop, Claudia!”

Song: “You Light Up My Life”, Whitney Houston (COPYCAT KLAXON: Julian Clary and Erin, Gavin Henson and Katya, Susanna Reid and Kevin, Claudia Fragapane and AJ)

Judges’ comments: Cynthia loved the connection and grace, but it needed more breath. Shirley was apparently astounded and felt the emotion. (Well, we all did, my telly’s still waterlogged.) Anton praised the improvement. Craig thought he was following not leading, lacked drive, swing and sway, too square and his bottom stuck out.

Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 10, 9 – 35 

Tilly and Nikita – Rolling back

Tilly Ramsay

In a week where I’ve got an immensely difficult Latin dance, I probably wouldn’t waste half my training time roller skating? Especially if the actual routine has NO ROLLER SKATING. I’d hoped for Starlight Express carnage – instead we just got enormous nightmare-inducing skates lurking in the background. Anyway. Full marks for Tilly’s rainbow fringe and a fun song choice, but this just didn’t come together. A challenging routine left her too exposed and chasing the steps, making the footwork and legs look clumsy, the arms wild, and it all lacked the double bounce action. Great shimmies and she did go for it, so a decent effort, but a weak dance at exactly the wrong moment.

Song: “Levitating”, Dua Lipa

Judges’ comments: Shirley thought the arms needed tidying up and she lost timing, but executed some really good figures. Anton said she should turn her feet out, but great energy. Craig found it awkward and disconnected. Cynthia advised letting her sexiness come out.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30 

John and Johannes – Men in black

John Whaite

Ooh yes! What a thriller of a dance. I loved seeing these two rediscovering their performance power. It was also really exciting to have an all-male tango that nodded to the style’s historic roots, as Craig pointed out. It balanced sizzling intimacy with competition, synchronicity with individual expression, and strength with beautiful articulation. John led it really confidently, supporting Johannes in the lifts and leg decorations while also expressing himself. It really did have that organic quality of one reacting to the other, built on their gorgeously connected partnership and absolute trust. Sidenote: Never mind Russell Crowe – an endorsement from Mary Berry! When the next judge goes down with COVID-19 (is it Anton’s turn?), get her on the panel stat.

Song: “The 5th”, David Garrett

Judges’ comments: Anton said it was as good as their piratical paso. Craig loved the mortal combat feel. Cynthia applauded them again, and praised the push-pull intensity. Shirley stole Craig’s “Fab-u-lous”. 

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 


John and Johannes – 39

AJ and Kai – 36

Rhys and Nancy – 35

Rose and Giovanni – 33

Dan and Nadiya – 31

Tilly and Nikita – 30

The boys fight back: John and Rhys are up, Rose and Tilly down.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Tess 2 Claudia2

Tulle pouffe bizarrely repurposed as a crop top. Claud in a smart tux.


Send off

Tilly versus Rhys, with Dan spared yet again. SIGH.

Both were dance-off veterans and both fared well, but Rhys just had the edge while they were doing these particular styles – even if Nikita did hilariously rip his shirt off for the cause, leaving it hovering while suspended on a mic wire like The Ghost of Disco. Anyhow, all the judges agreed for once, so that was something. 

Tilly really grew on me over the weeks. I loved her determination, her surprisingly versatile performances and her commitment, but, though she probably deserved to outlast Rhys and certainly Dan, she had a good run – as did Nikita, making a great pro debut.

What did you make of the judging this week? Were the right celebrities in the dance-off? Who do you think is heading for the final? Get in touch on Twitter to share your thoughts: @mkmswain

See you again soon for the quarter-finals. 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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