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Strictly Speaking – Week 11

Posted on December 4, 2017

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Musicals Week – where ballroom comes to die. Well, not entirely, but it did feel for much of the evening as though we were watching the backdoor pilot episode of spin-off Strictly Come Auditioning For The West End (Who Are We Kidding – Touring Will Do). From Mollie getting 9s (9s!) for open-mouthed contempowaft with an illegal lift, rather than actual rumba, to Joe and Katya battling the extraordinary cognitive dissonance of Brazilian party dance samba and Cabaret, this was a show entirely overtaken by themes.

It probably didn’t help that our final crop is so heavily composed of actors keeping a beady eye on future gigs: Joe openly campaigning to succeed Will Young as the Emcee; Alexandra giving her best Poppins; Mollie having a crack at Sandy; Gemma…possibly questioning her life choices after Shirley’s ruthless critique.

In related news, the judging was all over the shop, with some celebs getting dinged for lack of proper content or technique, and others (ahem Mollie) being rewarded for it. We also had a leaderboard of unhelpful ties, which perhaps contributed to another surprising dance-off. Let’s hope next week’s two-dance test will put the focus back on ballroom as we head into the final.


Other hits and misses:

  • The human props returned. What joy. MISS
  • So many copycat songs and strange choices. It’s starting to feel like a cry for help. MISS
  • If we’re chucking around 9s for no good reason, why not break out the 10, Craig? At this point, it just seems bolshie. MISS
  • A very, very, very long Oliver! medley. At least we got some age-appropriate casting for AJ. MISS
  • For once, I wanted less dancing during the musical guests – the fab Dreamgirls cast, and then the diva-tastic supergroup of Beverley Knight, Amber Riley, Cassidy Janson. Ah well – still enjoyable. HIT


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Alexandra’s Charleston Most comfortable combo of dance and theme.
  • Best costume: Gemma’s quickstep dress Also the recipient of Most hair ever sported by a human (in motion) (well less so because of the hair).
  • Best move: Debbie’s lifts We are not worthy.
  • Best line: Shirley demanding more acting from the, um, actress. Awkward.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Blue satin gown and…I don’t hate it? Claud, meanwhile, in a poor copy of Hayley Atwell’s marvellous button-festooned coat on Howards End.


Gemma and Aljaž – Bad hair day

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

Ballroom…swan…ugly duckling…ah, I lost the will to live with this VT. But at least there was no swan field trip or anyone dressing as a swan or having a Black Swan breakdown! Actually, the latter might have injected some excitement into a rather snoozy opening routine. Started well, with Gemma making a grand entrance down the stairs, but by the time it got into hold, it had all the dramatic impact of Murder, She Wrote. An ambitious routine, which Gemma just about kept pace with, but at the expense of posture and finesse – lots of gapping, the odd stumble, and characterisation vanished.

Song: “Hello, Dolly!” from Hello, Dolly! (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ann Widdecombe and Anton)

Judges’ comments: Shirley thought it needed more acting, but praised the frame and scatter chasses. Bruno loved the diva entrance, but lost it in hold. Craig found it laboured and frame bouncing around. Darcey agreed.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 – 29





Mollie and AJ – Hopeless

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

Well, however much I’ve just criticised Gemma, at least she danced a quickstep. Mollie did not dance a rumba. We had yet more showmance burblings (the tween girl’s scrapbook, what next – a mixtape? Oh KILL ME NOW), we had a flagrantly illegal lift, and Mollie not even bothering to wear Latin shoes, for she had no intention of doing a Latin dance. (Nor, while we’re at it, does drifting about with your mouth hanging open while in possession of blonde hair equal a convincing Sandy performance). No hip action, lots of skittering around on tiptoe, contempowaft arms and juvenile interpretation.

Song: “Hopelessly Devoted to You” from Grease

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought she translated emotion into quality of movement. Craig pointed out the illegal lift and called it dancing by numbers – needed more extension. Darcey wanted stronger resistance, and found it girly. Shirley praised her solo opening and timing.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 9, 9 – 31





Joe and Katya – Mad money

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

Is this the weirdest ever dance/song combo on Strictly? That’s become an alarmingly competitive race. It most reminded me of Jason Donovan’s Priscilla tango, in that everything in me was screaming “NO!”, and yet he kind of sold it? Kudos to Katya for finding some sort of solution here, and to Joe for auditioning out of his skin. Samba wise – hey, remember samba? – slightly flat-footed, steps sometimes too big, which contributed to a lack of hip action, and some awkwardness in transitions, but excellent timing, strong partnering, and, somehow, fantastic characterisation throughout. If nothing else, Joe’s agent must be thrilled.

Song: “Money, Money” from Cabaret (COPYCAT KLAXON: Tim Wonnacott and Natalie)

Judges’ comments: Craig praised the characterisation and timing. Darcey thought they blended the character and samba well, but could have been more turned out. Shirley agreed they married the two. Bruno called it divinely decadent.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 – 37





Debbie and Giovanni – The cat’s pyjamas

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

Proving she is in fact human (and 59), Debbie’s struggling with a back injury, but still hurled herself admirably into the lifts in this high-voltage American smooth. The cat costuming was irritatingly literal, but while the musical theming didn’t add much to the number, it didn’t actively sabotage it either – so, progress! A tiny stumble on one of the opening spins, otherwise a gorgeous display, from the fluid Viennese with improved frame to the sensational lifts (NO HANDS! Cheesy I know, especially with the fireworks, but it still got me). Close to purrfect.

Song: “Memory” from Cats (COPYCAT KLAXON: Alesha Dixon and Matthew, Alex Jones and James)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the fluidity – absolutely seamless. Shirley felt every moment, and thought the fleckerl after the spinning lift was particularly impressive. Bruno loved the interpretation and flawless technique. Craig…made cat noises.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39





Davood and Nadiya – Soap opera

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

Oh dear. One of the worst Argentine tangos we’ve seen on Strictly. Yes, the music and general Phantom theming was distinctly unhelpful (bless Davood trying to emote through his glittery mask), but the fault really lies with Nadiya favouring flashy tricks throughout the series rather than ballroom fundamentals, leaving them with a noticeable lack of partnering skills. This routine can best be described as gynaecological: an awful lot of Nadiya scissoring her legs at the camera or hurling herself at Davood, erm, privates first. Sloppy, balance issues, and Nadiya once again overwhelming her partner rather than showcasing him.

Song: “The Phantom of the Opera” from The Phantom of the Opera (COPYCAT KLAXON: Kara Tointon and Artem, Katie Derham and Anton)

Judges’ comments: Shirley noted stumbles, and Davood wasn’t in control. Bruno said it wasn’t slick enough – too unsteady and uneven. Craig didn’t feel he was leading. Darcey thought it started well, but balance problems as it got faster.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 7, 7 – 29





Alexandra and Gorka – A spoonful of sugar

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

If I was pro and forced to do tangential VTs, I would for sure include “making me dinner” as a key lesson. Also “laundry”. And “hoovering the living room”. So, despite the fact that wardrobe managed to dress Alexandra as Mary Poppins back when she was doing My Fair Lady, now they can only manage the sickly-lemon Ann Summers Halloween version. That impediment aside, a cracking Charleston from this pair, who were able to use – rather than battle against – their music. Impeccable timing, great swivel, lovely accents and details, strong lifts, and impressive sync throughout the exposing side-by-side sections.

Song: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from Mary Poppins (COPYCAT KLAXON: Fern Brittain and Artem)

Judges’ comments: Bruno called it a showstopper. Craig said she had better swivel than Gorka. Darcey praised her ease – she looked like a pro. Shirley thought it was amazing.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39






Alexandra and Gorka – 39

Debbie and Giovanni – 39

Joe and Katya – 37

Mollie and AJ – 31

Gemma and Aljaž – 29

Davood and Nadiya – 29


Alexandra rises and Davood plummets.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Oh Tess. The most hideous asymmetry yet, including a giant white stripe as though she’d been attacked by a giant Tipp-Ex. Claud in a wafty red frock like a slightly vague art teacher.



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

Davood and Nadiya versus (gasp again) Alexandra and Gorka. Why isn’t Alexandra connecting with the public? Well, the reality TV guff she spouts doesn’t help – even if she does so guilelessly – nor the judges basically calling her a professional and thus summoning all those early ringer accusations.

But perhaps it’s less about people not liking Alexandra and more that they’re eagerly voting for other people – like Mollie and her showmance (groan times infinity), or the less experienced but thoroughly engaging Joe and Gemma.

Anyhow, the judges all saved her, naturally, and perhaps this second plunge into danger will galvanise voters.

What did you think of Musicals Week? Did you like the theming? And who’s in danger of missing out on the final? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you soon for the two-dance semi-final. In the meantime…keep dancing!


Don’t miss Stepping Out, Marianka Swain’s regular Dancing Times column on same-sex dance. You can also see her interview with Shirley Ballas, Strictly‘s head judge, in our October issue

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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