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Strictly Speaking – Week 12

Posted on December 11, 2017

judges BBC Guy Levy

Two dances is theoretically a good test of range, growth and performance at this crucial stage, but can often make for a night of half-finished numbers – the pros’ steely ambition exceeding the knackered celebs’ execution. So it proved in some cases, but not all, and we actually wound up with a pretty clear view of our final five.

Though the Mollie and AJ showmance pushing continued (good god, Tess, what’s wrong with you? Did you panic buy an expensive wedding hat on eBay?), there was no disguising the fact that she’s just not in the same league, with a mediocre waltz and dreadful samba.

Meanwhile, Alexandra rose above tabloid ghastliness to deliver strongly, Debbie fought through an ill-suited Latin and charmed in ballroom, Joe has peaked at exactly the right time (though Katya’s choreography could come down a few notches), and Gemma quietly impressed – she’s got some catching up to do, particularly in her expressiveness, but she coped well with two wildly contrasting styles.

A fair elimination leaves us with a genuinely exciting final. With no dance-offs, Joe looks the one to beat, but past years have shown it’s anyone’s on the night. Debbie has surprised throughout, Alexandra is a passionate competitor, and Gemma has exceeded expectations.

The only thing we can be sure of next week is that there will recaps and montages and recaps of montages and montages of recaps and nostalgia for a past that hasn’t even passed yet. But in the midst of Brexit and Trump and the coming of another Ice Age, you can understand the BBC wanting to cling to something positive just a little longer.


Other hits and misses:

  • Us normals love you, we do! How you brighten our regular people lives! Yes, the exceedingly patronising videos returned. MISS
  • Oh judges. Did someone break out the mulled wine early? Scores and comments came flying at us with particular randomness this week. MISS
  • Speaking of which, Ye Olde Ten Second Rule rose from its eternal sleep to rain down fire upon the land. Just for one dance, mind. MISS
  • Training VTs, huzzah! And the judges’ recaps, which – while not the most illuminating (Bruno, too long in America: “Will he NAIL it or will he FAIL it?”) – were a reminder of a pretty cracking series. HIT
  • Ballroom pro dance? Oh, of course not. But at least ZooNation’s Kate Prince drafted in people who knew what they were doing for her upbeat lindy-meets-breaking number – including some alarmingly talented kids. HIT
  • Craig David, Bastille and contempowaft. Moving swiftly on. MISS


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Alexandra’s salsa A thrilling dance delivered under immense pressure.
  • Best costume: Alexandra’s double Loved both the red-hot Latin number and the uber-feathered gown.
  • Best move: Gorka’s shirtless emoting Definitely in my top five Gorka modes.
  • Best line: Cross-dressing threats from Bruno and Darcey Was that meant to be a voting incentive or deterrent? Genuinely confused.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Tess came as the tacky embodiment of commercial Christmas, Claud as Victorian upholstery complete with modesty fringe.


Joe and Katya – Read all about it

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

Print is not dead! In other news, Joe REALLY wants this going by the amount of fake tan slathered on – he looked like an antique wardrobe. Katya’s also dead keen, though I’d say both her routines were pitched slightly too high. At this stage, we really want to see the celebs (particularly the guys) on top of the numbers, not chasing them. Their American smooth was jazzy, suave and dynamic, but awkward getting in and out of the ambitious lifts, occasional dangling free arm and posture issues, plus Katya seemed to be driving more than Joe. But still a strong, confident opener.

Song: “Have You Met Miss Jones?”, Robbie Williams (COPYCAT KLAXON: Georgina Bouzova and James, Alex Jones and James)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised his personality, timing, lifts and movement. Bruno liked the jazzy side-by-side sections. Craig noted he lost balance, could have been smoother, and posture problems, but fantastic lifts. Darcey loved the glamour and sweeping lines.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35





Alexandra and Gorka – Sticks and stones

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

The smoke monster cometh. Also Gorka in white tails, so we must be in Heaven. All of that, plus an on-the-nose music choice, could have been Too Much, but the quality and conviction of this Viennese waltz shone through. The speed of the music meant it was slightly breathless and occasionally skippy, otherwise strong movement round the floor, a serene topline, lovely musical details and a great connection between the pair – plus the kind of whole-hearted expressiveness needed if you want a dance to be not just accomplished, but affecting. Alexandra has given us that every single week.

Song: “Everybody Hurts”, Tina Arena version (COPYCAT KLAXON: Rachel Stevens and Vincent)

Judges’ comments: Bruno…wants a pashmina? I give up. Craig noted one place she didn’t close her feet, otherwise great rotation and use of arms. Darcey praised her ethereal quality and control. Shirley thought she finished her lines exquisitely and liked the sincerity.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39





Mollie and AJ – Race against time

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

Oh dear. Where to start with this dance disaaaaahster? How about Mollie strutting in styled like a 13-year-old going to an Eighties-themed prom. Or the moronic glitter-throwing, which made me scream-laugh. Or the subsequent succession of bizarre, off-time wiggles, twirls, hand flaps, skips and hairography (like you could possibly overthrow Wig Queen Ruth Langsford) – none of which equalled ballroom samba. And oh, the rolls: more like two strangers struggling with an awkward “My brooch seems to be stuck in your jumper, terribly sorry” scenario. Weak, juvenile, technically bereft, and exhibiting the same issues that have plagued them throughout.

Song: “Whenever, Wherever”, Shakira (COPYCAT KLAXON: Roger Black and Camilla, Susanna Reid and Kevin)

Judges’ comments: Craig said the palm trees had more bounce. Rolls and changes of rhythm awkward. Darcey noted jerky transitions and balance issues. Shirley said the solo parts were good. Bruno: “Southern Rail had better timing.” Need to be on beat in a rhythmical dance.

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 7, 6 – 24




Gemma and Aljaž – A leg in the door

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

Two-dance semi-final does mean the styles our couples have been avoiding now crop up. Hello, rumba. However, Gemma actually did a nice job with this one. Yes, it was rather stately, and not exactly bursting with passion, but Aljaž was clever to style it to Gemma: emphasising her strong leg action, control and some very sweet moments between them, rather than attempting something she didn’t feel comfortable with (see: their opening raunchy cha cha). Lovely straight legs, some decent hip action, improved arms and crisp turns – just needed more breadth of expression, dynamics and fluidity. Sidenote: must buy tinsel.

Song: “Beneath Your Beautiful”, Labrinth feat. Emeli Sandé

Judges’ comments: Darcey found it intensely romantic, with a beautiful slow swivel – just breathe into it more. Shirley liked the routine and praised her arms, but wanted more musicality and continuous movement. Bruno thought it was sensual and good leg lines, but she overthought it. Craig wanted more from the upper body, but great legs and hips.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 7, 8 – 30





Debbie and Giovanni – A sore point

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

Giovanni’s ostentatiously open shirt was the first clue that jive might not be Debbie’s favourite. The second was her taking her sweet time coming down those stairs. We then got a routine that seemed eager not to dwell on jive basics – those we glimpsed looked distinctly peculiar, with little bounce and a stiff, stilted quality. Possibly injury-related, or just discomfort with this particular style. Kicks also variable (sometimes floating out balletically rather than retracting sharply), but immaculate timing as always, good balance, turns and energy, and the pair of them just about sold it.

Song: “I’m So Excited”, The Pointer Sisters (COPYCAT KLAXON: Dennis Taylor and Izabella)

Judges’ comments: Shirley thought the choreography was interesting and praised the chicken walks. Bruno loved the timing and energy. Craig noted a lack of retraction, body too far back, spiky, and facial expressions like Judge Rinder. Darcey praised her fast, neat kicks and stamina.

Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 9, 9 – 34





Joe and Katya – New tricks

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

A divisive, contemporary take on Argentine tango – not to my personal taste. When a routine’s that busy, jagged and tricks-focussed, you lose the fundamentals of the style and its intimate, smouldering intensity. Instead, it becomes Game of Thrones choreography: more interested in talked-about “moments” than a whole cohesive story. In this case, the moment was the certainly impressive climactic seesaw lift. Beyond that, balance issues, needed pointed feet and smoother delivery of ganchos, and posture too casual, but commendable risks and once more confidently delivered. Sidenote: What was up with the Gap Casual-meets-post-apocalyptic scavenger attire?

Song: “Human”, Rag‘n’Bone Man

Judges’ comments: Bruno the liked modern take and drama, but he lost balance. Craig noted the lack of A frame and loose legs in ganchos, plus steps too ploddy, but inventive. Darcey thought he took charge. Shirley said it pushed boundaries.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35





Alexandra and Gorka – Party on

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

I’m a fierce advocate for proper salsa music, but I’ll make a rare exception here, given that this non-stop, all-guns-blazing number was just so much fun. Yes, I would have liked more breathing room for hip action, and slightly flat-footed in places, but otherwise this was Alexandra at her full-throttle best: ferociously committed from start to finish, rhythmical, exciting, taking time to colour each movement, and making it all look like it fit her perfectly – from complex armography to daring lifts, and from fun partner work to powerful side-by-side and solo sections. A real showstopper.

Song: “Finally”, CeCe Peniston

Judges’ comments: Craig praised the rotation, hips, continuous flow and isolations – fab-u-lous. Darcey loved the details. Shirley said it was party time all the way. Bruno started singing Whitney, god help us all.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40





Mollie and AJ – Second chance

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

The stage was set for a Disney princess redemptive showmance waltz (including all the candles in the land – surely a hazard with this much hairspray around), but Mollie couldn’t quite pull it off. Definitely more comfortable than her samba – happier in hold, with a softer style and more straightforward timing – but a few mistakes, gapping, right arm went too straight and rigid, making her posture slightly awkward, and needed more power and drive. Still looked like AJ was doing all the work to create momentum and shaping. Respectable and graceful, but didn’t make up the Latin deficit.

Song: “Angel”, Sarah McLachlan (COPYCAT KLAXON: Rachel Stevens and Vincent, Audley Harrison and Natalie, Ashley Taylor Dawson and Ola)

Judges’ comments: Darcey noted her shoulder coming up and right arm stiff, and felt the nerves, but nice job. Shirley praised her pivots, but a hiccup in the middle. Bruno noted mistakes, though liked the classic waltz. Craig thought she redeemed herself, despite the errors.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32





Gemma and Aljaž – Full force

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

Last week a crazy hair loaf, this week messy stegosaurus. Maybe buy them flowers or something, Gemma. Lots to like about this tango: crisp timing, nice staccato, strong kicks, good transitions in and out of hold, and attempted characterisation of the dance (if more mopey teen at times). Could have lowered more to get better drive, and still work to do if she’s going to get up to the level of her fellow finalists, who sell routines more: exaggerated lines and shaping, stronger accents, better expression through not just the face but the whole body. But a strong effort.

Song: “My Sharona”, Royal Blood version

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her for delivering two such different dances. Bruno noted her determination and great lines, but a bit steppy in places. Craig wanted more shaping, but loved the attack. Darcey liked the passion.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32




Debbie and Giovanni – The Lovely…

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

Bless Giovanni for designing this whole number as a victory lap for himself as the pro who totally lucked out partner wise. As evidenced in this wonderfully classy foxtrot, which doubled as a blizzard warning. Versatile! Superb hold, fluid movement, elegant shaping, good footwork, and gorgeous musicality throughout. Sidenote: So is The Ten Second Rule strictly sectioned, or can it be cumulative? Because they went straight into hold and only came out for one section towards the end – Craig’s previously claimed it’s 10 seconds at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. OH GOOD GOD WHY I AM BOTHERING.

Song: “Isn’t She Lovely”, Stevie Wonder (COPYCAT KLAXON: Zoe Ball and Ian)

Judges’ comments: Bruno called it strictly gorgeous. Craig summoned The Ten Second Rule, otherwise loved it. Darcey praised the freedom within such a technical dance, and smooth transitions. Shirley liked the beautiful, sweeping movement.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 10 – 36






Alexandra and Gorka – 39 ­­­­+ 40 = 79

Joe and Katya – 35 + 35 = 70

Debbie and Giovanni – 34 + 36 = 70

Gemma and Aljaž – 30 + 32 = 62

Mollie and AJ – 24 + 32 = 56


Less dramatic movement this week: Debbie and Joe swapped places, as did Mollie and Gemma.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Claud gifted Tess the win by donning a turquoise oddity with mock-18th century ruffled bib. Yet Tess countered by alarmingly courting wardrobe malfunction.



The bottom two couples Mollie King, AJ Pritchard, Gemma Atkinson, Aljaz Skorjanec – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Finally, a dance-off with some interest! Though does seem strange to test celebs’ abilities across both ballroom and Latin, and then judge purely on one of them. Anyhow, these two were theoretically deadlocked going in (though I felt Mollie was overmarked initially), and they embody practically opposite styles, so it was a close call…

Both improved slightly – Mollie cleaned up some errors, Gemma injected even more power and staccato – and the judges unanimously saved Gemma.

What do you think of our finalists? Did the right four go through? And who do you want to win? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you soon for the grand 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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