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Strictly Speaking: Week 11

Posted on December 3, 2018

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Musicals Week! The quarter-finals! All to play for on this jazz hands show, and the combination of high-stakes competition and rampant theming produced… mixed results. Some dances fit beautifully with their songs, others were swallowed whole – and the judges continued to be consistent only in their inconsistency.

Now, I’ve always considered that we at home can vote on whatever criteria we choose – from a considered, “That was the best dance technically,” through to supporting a partnership, investing in a celeb’s journey, enjoying the theme, loving the professional, boogieing to the song, or anything more arbitrary than that. The idea is that our passionate subjectivity should balance the judges’ expert objectivity.

So what happens when the panel say things like (direct Bruno quote) “Forget about the judging!”? Or (Craig) the dance wasn’t technically perfect, “but that doesn’t matter”? If they’re marking based on feelings rather than, you know, ACTUALLY JUDGING, why have them at all? Yes, the odd human moment is allowed, and this show is part entertainment, but there comes a point where their comments cease to be useful as any kind of guide to the dances.

I’d much rather they act at least semi-impartially, and let us do the rest. We can then decide for ourselves whether it matters that someone had these technical faults, if we enjoyed their performance – but not pointing them out at all looks suspect, and giving 10s for something that clearly isn’t perfect just makes the scoring seem redundant.

Other hits and misses:

  • A tribute to Mamma Mia!, in which a nation was scarred by the sight of Anton du Beke’s legs. Just… no. MISS
  • On Ts and Cs rando duty: Trevor Dion Nicholas, current Genie in the West End musical Aladdin. (Or per my confused Twitter timeline: “Which panto is he from?”) MISS
  • Sweet Charity’s “The Rhythm of Life”, accompanied by a giant smash and grab raid on wardrobe’s wig store. Oti won out with a fab-u-lous red jumpsuit. HIT
  • Adam Lambert yelped. Neil and Katya… made us all feel slightly awkward. MISS

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Lauren’s American smooth Charming number that manages not to lose ballroom in its theming.
  • Best costume: Ashley’s ginormous fascinator Plus Pasha in a tux.
  • Best move: Joe being launched into space by the male pros and describing Johannes’s lifting as “like a theme park ride”.
  • Best line: “Then she falls in love. It’s a love story.” Cheers, AJ.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Oh TESS. Must you wear colours that make you clash with yourself? Or a droopy top that looks like a present wrapped by the world’s most depressed elf? Claudia… you know, I could only look at Tess, and weep.

Lauren and AJ – Love island

AJ Pritchard and Lauren Steadman – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Family prop points for Lauren’s nan – and bonus one for Lauren’s hilarious “Hey, Nan, did you have a love story in the war that might be useful for my dance?” line of questioning. AJ truly has found his VT match. So, this American smooth began on a delightful high note with Johannes in shorts (the direct antithesis of Anton in shorts), and continued from there. Beautiful flow and ease in the Viennese waltz, which featured precise footwork and some lyricism in the upper body, well-driven pivots, slickly delivered lifts, and a buoyant joy throughout that expressed the story, without overkill. Lauren’s upper body still too straight sometimes, otherwise gorgeous.

Song: “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy” from South Pacific

Judges’ comments: Shirley called it outstanding, noting the closed feet, pointed toes and centred pivots. Bruno loved the warmth. Craig said the timing was fantastic and acting hugely improved, but keep shoulders back. Darcey loved the clean dismounts from the lifts and strong frame.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35




Faye and Giovanni – Horror show

Giovanni Pernice and Faye Tozer – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Ack. This routine was scarier than anything during Halloween Week. It was pure, unadulterated nightmare fuel. One of those Aryan Chucky dolls is going to murder me in my sleep while the lobotomised goats point and laugh, and it is Strictly that has unleashed the demons. Curse you all! Somewhere under all of… that was a Charleston – and gifted one of the show’s increasingly random 40s, no less. My verdict: the sync throughout was mighty impressive, great kicks and lifts, and swivel started out brilliant, tailed off slightly towards the end. Stiff in parts because of the doll concept, but such are theme weeks. Also: A MILLION SHUDDERS.

Song: “Lonely Goatherd” from The Sound of Music

Judges’ comments: Bruno called it a theatrical masterpiece. Craig enjoyed the goats. Darcey thought the sync and characterisation were extraordinary. Shirley found it flawless.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40




Charles and Karen – Last stand

Karen Clifton and Charles Venn – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Theatre trip to get into thespian mode, which… I feel like that’s hardly necessary for Charles Venn. I groaned early at the sight of both the fog monster and Karen not even bothering to wear Latin shoes – of course, because this was more contempowaft than rumba. Mind, Charles barely did either, seemingly playing by netball rules: once in contact, you can’t move from the spot. Some nice content initially, but too soon he became a static pole for Karen to dance around. Also, his feet flat and turned in, walks just plodding rather than stroking the floor, and shoulders hunched. Became all about the song and the soft-focus lens, rather than what he could actually produce rumba wise.

Song: “Maria” from West Side Story

Judges’ comments: Craig noted free arm problems and his feet bolted to the floor, but masculine and good storytelling. Darcey praised his resistance. Shirley liked the hip action and sensitivity. Bruno called it tender.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35




Ashley and Pasha – I gotta fly once

Pasha Kovalev and Ashley Roberts – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

My new happy place is Pasha explaining “Don’t Rain On My Parade”. Pasha to summarise all classic musicals, please, let’s crowdfund this spin-off stat. So, you’ve got to feel for these two: coming back from the dance-off with a jam-packed routine, trying to show how dedicated they are, and then getting slammed for it. (Though more in comments than scores – oh Darcey, you loon.) Yes, this was a manic quickstep, and that meant some gapping, Ashley’s right arm straightening too much, and the odd inelegant transition, but WOW at the content and ambition. Sidenote: I take Shirley’s point, but the song doesn’t let up, so hard to see how the routine could.

Song: “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from Funny Girl (COPYCAT KLAXON: Russell Grant and Flavia, Judy Murray and Anton)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised her stamina delivering all the content, but relax the arm. Shirley agreed, and found the choreography too busy, but lovely performance. Bruno said it was a smash hit. Craig loved the routine, but gapping.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 – 38




Stacey and Kevin – Dream world

Stacey Dooley and Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Les Mis stars Dean Chisnall and Carley Stenson popped by, mainly so that Carley could fangirl over Stacey’s documentaries. From that came the #girlpower theme, which… Hmm. Admirable to emphasise women’s strength in adversity, but it still undermined the song’s primal despair; ditto Kevin focussing on the “lost dream” aspect, which felt rather Disney-fied. All of which meant Stacey could toggle between stoic and smiley, rather than fully emoting. Everything else did that around her, from the song and backing dancers to Kevin’s Joey Tribbiani smell the fart acting. Dance wise, tons of lifts, only a tiny bit of rushed foxtrot – topline still needs work and footwork variable. Again, theatrics dominated.

Song: “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérables

Judges’ comments: Shirley called it magical. Bruno: “Forget about judging!” Err… Craig said it wasn’t technically perfect, but that “doesn’t matter” because it was real. Darcey praised her transitions and lifts.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38




Joe and Dianne – True colours

Dianne Buswell and Joe Sugg – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

All hail Jason Donovan, returning to VERY SLOWLY quote lyrics from a musical as though delivering a divine prophecy. Truly the hammiest of all hams – move over, Charles Venn. So, after a night of histrionics and demon dolls summoned from the bowels of hell, it was a relief to end on a camp-tastic, gloriously cheesy note. Was I yelling out all the coat colours throughout? Yes, yes I was. Salsa wise, grounded, relaxed, good rhythm, strong partnering and armography, and game with the shimmies. However, hip action more variable, feet a bit flat (trainers again!) and the odd gawky moment, but enjoyed Joe being lifted, particularly the big finish.

Song: “Joseph Megamix” from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Judges’ comments: Bruno said it had the energy and fun of salsa, plus the magic charm of Joseph. Craig wanted more fluidity in the hips, but presented brilliantly. Darcey praised the conviction, armography and lifts. Shirley said he made it his own.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 10 – 36





Faye and Giovanni – 40

Stacey and Kevin – 38

Ashley and Pasha – 38

Joe and Dianne – 36

Charles and Karen – 35

Lauren and AJ – 35

No movement at all this week, with Faye keeping her top spot and everyone else locked in.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Apparently the studio temperature varies dramatically: Tess in a chunk of velvet, Claud a silky slip.


Two repeaters: Ashley and Pasha versus Charles and Karen. All the judges saved Ashley.

What did you make of Musicals Week? Who impressed you, and who’s looking like a definite finalist? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you again soon for (gulp) our first two-dance week. 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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