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Strictly Speaking: Week 12

Posted on December 10, 2018

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Semi-final week saw the usual quality drop-off with two dances – although in some cases such technical lack was rebranded as “authenticity” by the ever-erratic judges. We also had the dance and music lottery either boosting or limiting celebs, depending on whether they lucked out with the last remaining caramel swirl in the Quality Street tin, or got stuck with that unwanted green triangle.

While we’re on music, we had a staggering nine out of ten song repeats this week – and some not even good ones at that. Let’s hope Strictly’s new producer for 2019, Sarah James, has Spotify. Or even just a working radio. Or ears. Let’s also hope they get more creative for the final, especially as we’ve seen a lot of freestyling already through Couple’s Choice and the gradual relaxing of all ballroom rules. Actually, at this point, the most radical thing you could do in a showdance is classic waltz, not breaking hold for the entire routine, while wearing Anton and Erin masks.

Other hits and misses:

  • The return of the “Us normals worship you!” iPad segments. MISS
  • The judges putting their spin on the series. Apparently Stacey still counts as a “surprise”, even though she’s had glowing reviews the whole series, while Ashley’s samba was a tragic low point (only one 10, curses!!). MISS
  • Ts and Cs rando: an amusingly unhurried Huw Edwards. HIT
  • Did someone get a job lot of giant bird’s-nest hair buns? MISS
  • Our pros contempowafted about their very angsty trip to IKEA. MISS
  • Little Mix… made some sort of noise. Until I found the mute button. MISS
  • The montages cometh. MISS
  • Given their record this year, delighted that next week we have powerless judges. HIT
  • Kevin, I’m really trying here, but the obnoxious celebrations aren’t helping… MISS

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Faye’s Argentine tango One of the best ATs we’ve seen this year, low bar though that is.
  • Best costume: Faye’s slinky tango dress Runner-up: Flapper Stacey.
  • Best move: Ashley basically levitating in her lift What more can she possibly do?
  • Best line: Darcey’s donkey/pony confusion. It’s been a long series.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Shiny purple with a chunk missing, Claud in curtain fringing.

Stacey and Kevin – Jazz baby

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

Charleston definitely suited Stacey, and the performance side of this number was fantastic: great slapstick, fun characterisation throughout, exuberant energy, and also some strong swivel, plus benefited from a great song choice. However, messy details still, like not closing her feet on the chassés, and the elastic limbs – which worked really well in places, giving a vaudevillian feel – then needed to strengthen back up to give sharpness and precision to the lifts and tricks, which she didn’t quite manage. Fearless and very engaging, and more content than we’ve seen in recent weeks, but should have been slightly sharper.

Song: “Five Foot Two, Eyes of Blue”, Spike Jones (COPYCAT KLAXON: Chelsee Healey and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her quality and energy. Bruno thought it was authentic 1920s flapper style. Craig noted her left foot missed a swivel, but quirky. Darcey said it was the perfect balance of fooling around and crisp accents.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39




Joe and Dianne – Ups and downs

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

Fog monster ahoy. Not sure it was really needed though, as plenty of nice work from Joe in this Viennese. Yes, it could have been smoother and flatter, though the rise and fall came from a good attempt at swing and sway through a mostly lovely topline – and I hate to enter the “X is harder for Y!” debate, but that is trickier for the male celebs leading to manage. Lots of strong content too, and a sweet connection (whether or not these two are showmancing is unclear, and even Auntie Tess is hanging back – probably due to the Sean(n) of it all). A creditable attempt, comparatively underscored.

Song: “This Year’s Love”, David Gray (COPYCAT KLAXON: Harry Judd and Aliona, Kirsty Gallacher and Brendan)

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised their connection, but noted rise and fall. Craig thought it was too rigid. Darcey liked his posture, but his right shoulder went up. Shirley agreed on the rise and fall, and wanted more glide, but good footwork.

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 7, 8 – 29




Ashley and Pasha – Balancing act

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

This felt rather like a music choice-dictated number – a frantically busy paso routine with an OTT contemporary feel. Also some, err, interesting styling choices: Ashley in a satin bedspread strapped on with seatbelts, Pasha off to compete in the 1984 Olympics. Generally strong execution, with good partnering and accents, plus some decent shaping from Ashley, though could have used more of the latter – plus more paso basics generally, rather than her continual clawing at the air like a demon trapped in a well. Not my favourite of theirs, but impressive in parts – not least Pasha’s caping and subsequent chivalry in taking the blame for an error.

Song: “Spectrum (Say My Name)”, Florence + The Machine (COPYCAT KLAXON: Abbey Clancy and Aljaž)

Judges’ comments: Craig noted a loss of balance, but fantastic. Darcey thought it was frantic, so lost impact, but dramatic. Shirley wanted more passion, but good job. Bruno loved the power and performance.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36




Lauren and AJ – Heads will roll

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

Another weird music choice here – yes, just about worked timing wise, but tonally at odds with Lauren’s Very Solemn faces and AJ arranging his layers of hair into attack formation. However, this was a style that worked well for Lauren, who’s already proved at home in the fierce dances. Good staccato, frame and intensity, though could have lowered into the knees more to get those driving heel leads, and agree she lost the head position and accents towards the end – plus I wasn’t sure about revisiting their Argentine tango. Overall, nice effort at delivering a full routine.

Song: “Nutbush City Limits”, Tina Turner (COPYCAT KLAXON: Claire King and Brendan)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised her determination and hold, but wanted more clipped head positions. Shirley liked the characterisation and footwork, but got out of sync. Bruno called it mature, but maintain focus. Craig found it stiff.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31




Faye and Giovanni – Love-hate relationship

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

Samba on a crucial two-dance week is a dismal draw, so no wonder Faye was ready to wipe it off the face of the earth. Nevertheless, she kept her blood feud in check long enough to deliver some really great content, including clean basics, and a decent balance of technical precision and fun performance. A tad contained – could have been earthier, looser in the hips and more rhythmic in transitions, rather than marking out steps individually, plus lost steam (having to sprint up and down the steps probably didn’t help). Sidenote: Good god, what was that dress? Big Bird mates with a radioactive highlighter pen and a loofah.

Song: “I Go to Rio”, Pablo Cruise (COPYCAT KLAXON: Mark Ramprakash and Karen)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her samba rolls, bounce and footwork, but needed more flow. Bruno liked the mood and content. Craig wanted more hip action on the voltas, but incredible routine. Darcey thought it was fluid.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 – 37




Stacey and Kevin – Easy ride

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

Appealing performance, supported by a helpful music choice – lovely flow and connection. However, I’m with Craig in that it didn’t have enough Viennese – slow to get going, and then jumped into pivots too soon before breaking hold again. The main challenge of Viennese is sustaining the rotation (as Joe attempted), with just small breaks for elements like fleckerls; this was closer to American smooth. Technically, lacked heel leads, frame inconsistent with elbow sticking up, and out of hold, posture and lines too casual. Their prioritising ease of performance over technique always seems to win coded praise from the judges – “natural”, “genuine” – in contrast to others.

Song: “You’re My World”, Cilla Black (COPYCAT KLAXON: Peter Andre and Janette)

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised her genuine quality, but watch the free hand. Craig called it a dance of two halves – cheating by doing a first half of American smooth. Darcey found it charming and understated. Shirley said it was fantastic.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 10, 9 – 36




Joe and Dianne – Man down

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

It rather felt as though Joe was doomed here, given Strictly’s narrow view of masculinity as expressed through Argentine tango – namely, that it’s all about aggression and overpowering. The dance definitely needs a clear lead, but it’s also a conversation, and I’ve seen five feet women leading it with total conviction when they have the right connection with a partner. However, too many tango routines this year have featured laboured tricks with no foundation – or, as here, dubious music. Generally clean delivery from Joe, and showed how much his partnering has grown, but lacked smoulder and organic build-up, and clunky in places.

Song: “Red Right Hand”, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Judges’ comments: Craig said it looked stompy and didn’t feel like he was leading. Darcey wanted more aggression. Shirley thought he did lead well. Bruno could see the effort.

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 8, 8 – 30



Ashley and Pasha – Up, up and away

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

A big, old-school, razzmatazz American smooth. Lovely transitions, spins and expressive arms, plus some risky action on top of a car (well at least it’s not jiving on a surfboard). One lift had a slight bobble, but the developing lift sequence was astonishing, showing Ashley has a core of steel and/or NO FEAR, so adjust your betting accordingly for the climactic Ashley/Faye fight to the death. Could have used more foxtrot, plus right arm still too straight, otherwise gorgeous. Sidenote: dubious about Ashley’s skirt, which (a) looked like someone leaving the plastic on the furniture to “keep it nice”, and (b) had such a high slit that she flashed her knickers every three seconds.

Song: “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”, Dean Martin (COPYCAT KLAXON: Fiona Phillips and Brendan, Robbie Savage and Ola, Katie Derham and Anton)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the tricky lifts. Shirley thought it was stunning on every level. Bruno called it “American splendour”. Craig just applauded.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40




Lauren and AJ – In deep water

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

Oh dear. While Faye fought her way through samba, Lauren succumbed. She started off decently, selling the star-crossed romance of two people wearing VERY CLASHING PRINTS (at least I think that was it), albeit with lacklustre voltas and a samba roll that looked like it was being driven up a very steep hill, but errors knocked her off the routine and she never quite recovered. Not their best. Sidenote: “Well there’s a boat in the song, so let’s give them a BOAT.” “You don’t think it might be a metaph-” “BOAT!” Ah, Strictly – never change.

Song: “Rock the Boat”, The Hues Corporation (COPYCAT KLAXON: Lisa Snowdon and Brendan)

Judges’ comments: Shirley noted the mistakes. Bruno said she did at least carry on. Craig thought could have covered it up more by throwing her hair around. (Err… really?) Darcey said she’s come so far, but with two dances this one suffered.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 6 – 23



Faye and Giovanni – I’ll drink to that

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

Well this was already my favourite number of the night when Faye started swilling her red wine in the dark like the unhinged protagonist of a Mike Bartlett drama. Yes, this one just about killed the copycat klaxon, but what a difference good music makes – especially for a dance like Argentine tango that needs to create atmosphere. Fantastic moody intimacy throughout, well-controlled leg and foot action, beautifully intricate decorations, and a thoughtfully balanced routine. Still would have liked more basics and organic connection, as the odd awkward transition showed the lack of real lead/follow, but a strong number and proved Faye’s determination to reach the final.

Song: “La Cumparsita”, Machiko Ozawa (COPYCAT KLAXON: David Dickinson and Camilla, Lisa Snowdon and Brendan, Ann Widdecombe and Anton, Caroline Flack and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised the level of musicality. Craig noted one clumsy moment. Darcey adored the intense drama and articulation of every tiny movement. Shirley said she’s in love with Faye’s feet.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39





Ashley and Pasha – 36 + 40 = 76

Faye and Giovanni – 37 + 39 = 76

Stacey and Kevin – 39 + 36 = 75

Joe and Dianne – 29 + 30 = 59

Lauren and AJ – 31 + 23 = 54

The blondes back locked together, and the judges making their preferred finalists fairly clear…


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Sleeveless jumpsuit with strange hairy bust. Claud wearing the Xmas wrapping paper I just bought.


AJ and Lauren take their final dance – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Ashley and Pasha (again) versus Lauren and AJ.

Ashley, to her credit, did not end her dance by roaring “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?” and driving their car into the audience, but instead put a brave face on what must feel like pretty cruel personal rejection.

Lauren also ended on a really positive note, dancing their tango strongly and then delivering a lovely speech to AJ. I have so enjoyed this couple – definitely one of my favourites to follow through the series.

Lauren began petrified, with no performance experience at all, and nervous about partnering; now, she’s open, engaging, has a lovely relationship with AJ, and is a joy to watch. That’s a true J word, and I’m sure she’s inspired so many people.

AJ, too, has had a fantastic series, changing his choreography to suit Lauren – calming it down, which is a good thing generally, but also working round her disability in creative ways. That’s adapting every hold, connection, lead, balance, line. Neither of them have made a big deal about it.

What did you make of the semi-final? Who was your favourite, and who’s got your backing to win? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you again soon for the grand final. 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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