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Strictly Speaking: Week 11

Posted on December 6, 2021

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Thank the Strictly gods for that! Yes, our long national nightmare is over – Dan Walker has finally exited the ballroom. It was the first properly riveting dance-off since… well, pretty much ever, with Dan a point up but AJ able to redeem herself with that final lift. Even then, the judges have made some insane calls this series (Shirley giving that tango a 9??), so I couldn’t quite believe it until they actually saved AJ.

It truly would have been a travesty otherwise. AJ and Kai have consistently pushed themselves on the show, taking thrilling creative risks. To punish them for that, and to see Dan amble through yet again for doing the bare minimum, would have been enraging. Not to mention continuing an unfortunate pattern on the show of over-rewarding the white men over everyone else.

However, after a good dose of the judges killing-with-kindness, and even Anton seeing sense (twist!), the Dan fans finally abandoned their trolling project. That means we’re now left with more or less the correct final four, and could yet see the three strongest reaching the last stage. Next week’s two-dance test should hopefully result in one of the best finals in years. Onwards!

Other hits and misses:

  • A strange dance pile-up, with two salsas and two tangos in five dances, plus John’s Couple’s Choice will come just ahead of a similarly freestyle showdance. Poor planning, guys. MISS
  • More frustrating song picks. That Phil Collins wanted to be a rumba, Gotan Project wanted to be Argentine (and was wasted on Dan), and disco IS NOT SALSA. MISS
  • Related: Anton’s assertion that he’d never seen disco Latin on Strictly before? Reader, I screamed. MISS
  • To party or not to party: that’s our Christmas coronavirus dilemma once again. The pros came down on the side of partying, but only while wearing preventative long gloves and dreaming of happier times. HIT
  • The second pro number was set to a Janet Jackson medley. Huh and why? No one knows. MISS
  • Ts and Cs rando: Professor Brian Cox, adding to our stack of evidence that reading out an autocue on an entertainment programme is an underrated skill. MISS
  • JLS… are apparently still a thing. Neil and Dianne gave us some red-headed bopping. Moving swiftly on. MISS

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Rose’s American smooth Total joy.
  • Best costume: AJ’s gold fringe Runner-up: John and Johannes’s sparkly shirts.
  • Best move: Rose’s diving lift Another wow moment.
  • Best line: Craig’s “I love it when it goes wrong.” At least someone had a good night.

Saturday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Tortured foil mini dress. Claud in wet-look ketchup.


John and Johannes – Emergency landing

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“There’s no room for error!” said John in his VT, after outlining his hopes of nabbing that elusive Craig 10. Was that enough to jinx it? Or was some disco-salsa-hating person out there with a voodoo doll? (It wasn’t me, I promise.) Anyway, the bulk of this routine was a delight, with John adding a newly liberated performance to his great hip action and pristine timing. Their sync work continues to be insanely good, even if Johannes adds the odd flourish that upstages him. What a shame, then, that it became all about The Lift, which, following a fumbled entry, saw John holding his partner like an awkward pile of kindling and then dumping him on the fire. At least Johannes styled it out. OF COURSE.

Song: “We Are Family”, Sister Sledge

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised the tricks and entertainment. Anton loved the novel disco style (…) and thought John conquered his inhibitions. Craig liked the hip action but wanted more dynamics. Motsi said it was well rehearsed and you should take risks.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 9 – 32


Rhys and Nancy – Raise me up

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No wobbly lamppost, though we did get its cousin: the very red traffic light, adding to a number that only about 50 per cent visible. This was probably my favourite of their dances since their manic energy was reined in by the style – or just about. Still moments where Rhys rushed and lost his balance, and his feet were too flat and wild. However, exciting lifts in which Nancy truly inherited the Janette mantle of “No really, you can juggle me like a set of clubs while my insane core does all the work”, plus that strangle spin (don’t try it at home, kids) and some great ganchos and sharp musical accents from Rhys. More about the tricks than the emotional connection, and definitely didn’t need the floor spin, but a strong performance overall. 

Song: “In the Air Tonight”, Phil Collins

Judges’ comments: Anton loved the intensity. Craig enjoyed the drama and ganchos, but the grapevines got out of sync. Motsi liked the stillness of Rhys’s upper body. Shirley said he’d learned from being in the bottom and praised the lifts.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 


Rose and Giovanni – Leap of faith

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That this American Smooth employed a gazebo and the feelings bench and a jazz standard and Love Actually and a fluffy white frock and STILL managed to be glorious rather than sick-inducing was frankly a Christmas miracle. It’s watching this lovely pair in ballroom that just overrides everything: they actually move and express as one, like the platonic ideal of the dance form. Beautiful frame and footwork from Rose – though, yes, missing some heel leads – great floor coverage and musicality, and I loved the giddy dance breaks that really showed her personality. Plus that dive! Braver than entering a branch of Waitrose on December 24, but gasp-inducing as it was, it also stayed in keeping with the classy, smooth number. Just pure sunshine. I will happily rewatch it on every gloomy winter evening.

Song: “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)”, Natalie Cole 

Judges’ comments: Craig was wowed by the lift and the storytelling, just noted the pivots weren’t on a heel. Motsi loved the changes of mood. Shirley, meaning well, said she’d done well to block out the noise around Rhys’ routine… Anton adored the lines and musicality. 

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 


Dan and Nadiya – Time to tan-go

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Yeah. Maybe not the best idea to spend your VT explaining how not remaining flat really affects the flow of the tango… and then spend the whole performance bobbing up and down like a rabbit on a trampoline. Ditto calling attention to Dan’s right hand, which did indeed resemble fish fingers. Anyway, as the judges said, it started OK: Dan acting as a solemn pinstriped pole for Nadiya to grab onto while developing smouldering chemistry with a nearby table. That said, the actual ballroom section showed he’d trailed far behind the others in technical terms – too upright, distracting rise and fall, lacked cleanly defined staccato, and very troubled posture, particularly going into promenade. Not actively horrendous, just not good enough for this stage of the competition.

Song: “Santa Maria”, Gotan Project

Judges’ comments: Motsi said he lost control in the second half – too hasty and leaning too far forward. Shirley noted a sensual feel (?!) and he stayed focused. Anton loved the opening but his frame went, rise and fall, and his hand opened. Craig said it was littered with balance issues, which made him feel uncomfortable. 

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 9, 7 – 31 


AJ and Kai – The ending is gonna get you

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What is it about final salsa lifts? The curse descended once again on poor AJ and Kai, who still, crazily, have yet to hit that perfect score (and jinxed themselves by bringing it up beforehand – basically this is all the producers’ fault for crafting gremlin-ridden VTs). Now, I’m not sure they would have got there anyway with this powerful yet messy salsa, much as I loved AJ in her glittering gold fringe giving it attitude, plus that fabulous solo entrance and the big cartwheel lift. Craig is right that the dismounts weren’t great and she kept picking her feet up rather than working into the floor. But oh, that end lift. It really did go on forever, with AJ looking like she was caught on a barbed-wire fence in between two circles of Hell.

Song: “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You/Get On Your Feet”, Gloria Estefan 

Judges’ comments: Shirley loved the sass and courage – a shame it went wrong. Anton said the rest was terrific but yelped for hours about the end lift (we’ve suffered much worse from you, love). Craig noted the transitions were ropy and too flat-footed, but totally watchable. Motsi called AJ a queen, but the ending killed her.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 7 – 30 


Leaderboard

Rose and Giovanni – 39

Rhys and Nancy – 39

John and Johannes – 32

Dan and Nadiya – 31

AJ and Kai – 30

Another week, another swap: Rhys and Rose are up, John and AJ are down.


Sunday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Bizarrely chopped black tube with bedazzled stripes. Claud in a fab-u-lous glitterball-esque top.

Dance-off

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AJ and Kai versus… Dan and Nadiya, finally!! This was genuinely tense: yes, AJ had the easier job of an obvious error to correct, but she had to repeat an incredibly complex and high-risk dance and overcome the trauma of that first dance disahhhster, whereas Dan just had to potter through a pretty basic tango. 

So, HURRAH! I actually yelped when AJ and Kai nailed it second time round, securing a much-deserved place in the semi-final – and simultaneously ridding us of Dan before his ego got any bigger and he challenged Craig to a dance-fight, West Side Story style. Medal for AJ, please.

In all seriousness, I do understand the appeal of the underdog and the J word – I just don’t think Dan was a terribly positive example of either, or that he should have lasted this long. However, I loved getting to know Nadiya better this year. She was funny, kind, creative and a wonderful performer and partner, and she’s definitely earned a hunky young ringer in 2022.

What did you make of the quarter-final? Did you agree with the judges? Did the right pair go home? Get in touch on Twitter to share your thoughts: @mkmswain

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

Photograph: 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 mkmswain.com.

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