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Strictly Speaking: Week 12

Posted on December 9, 2019

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The semi-final offered up the two-dance challenge, which usually gives a strong indication of who’s ready for the final itself. But, in case you were in any doubt, the judges made their views very clear – i.e. no Chris under any circumstances! His (admittedly just OK) dances were given the full killing them with kindness treatment, the panel all but shoving him into a taxi while screaming “THE NORTH, GO, GO, GO!” That would be fair enough if Emma and Anton’s flaws were similarly addressed, but once again they seemed to get a free pass. I can only hope (oh please, dance gods) that this latest foray into a final will satisfy the du Beke ego enough to lead to his retirement, so future female celebs may be spared this trial.

If there’s any justice, Kelvin and Oti are cruising towards a decisive win next week, at least based on their superb semi-final performance – demonstrating, yet again, that they can adapt to every different style, excel in both ballroom and Latin, and are beautifully connected as a pairing. In contrast, Karim and Amy still can’t quite make their partnership click, despite some impressive technical displays, nor get the distinct flavour of each dance.

However, this has been a truly bonkers year, so I take nothing for granted – at this rate, I wouldn’t rule out Gethin Jones crash-landing in and taking one more shot at the glitterball trophy, almost certainly partnered by Kevin Clifton, who WILL NOT BE DENIED. Along with that other minor voting event on the horizon, it’ll be quite a week for taking the temperature of the nation…

Other hits and misses:
  • Angela Rippon, exceedingly elegant Ts and Cs rando. HIT
  • The Strictly 10 is losing its value faster than the pound. MISS
  • Sigh, it’s “What do those ordinary folk in shopping centres think??” VT week. No one comes out of this well. MISS
  • Ooh, hello Carlos Acosta. HIT
  • Niall Horan bopped about. Katya hurled her fearless body at Gorka. HIT/MISS
  • I miss Michelle. MISS

Best in Show
  • Best performance: Kelvin’s quickstep Fab-u-lous.
  • Best costume: Kelvin and Oti’s paso attire Again I say fab-u-lous.
  • Best move: Karim’s lift near-disaster Really the only point of interest in a snoozy routine.
  • Best line: Shirley praising Kelvin’s woodpecker Yes, we all sniggered.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

One day, one day, Tess will find a dress with both sleeves. Claud in smart tux.

Emma B and Anton – All that glitters is not gold
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Emma Barton and Anon Du Beke. Photograph: Guy Levy Courtesy of The BBC.

If you’re going to do traditional Week 1 dances like waltz and cha cha in a semi-final, they’d better be seriously impressive. These were not. The cha cha was particularly egregious: Emma going off time, fudged basics, no hip action, picking her feet up constantly (a big no in this dance), not straightening her legs or checking properly, churning her arms like a stuck propeller, and falling off-balance constantly. Anton… wasn’t much better. Plus a dull routine with too many rest stops, and weird semi-disco/jazz elements – and Emma’s terrifying fixed grin at DEFCON 1. I’d have given it a 2. For the dress.

Song: “Hold My Hand”, Jess Glynne

Judges’ comments: Shirley noted improvement, but needed stronger leg action. Bruno thought she sold it. Craig said it lacked hip action because of the leg action and she lost balance, but good energy. Motsi found it fun and light.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Kelvin and Oti – Raise a glass
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Oti Mabuse and Kelvin Fletcher. Photograph: Guy Levy Courtesy of The BBC.

All hail Goddess Oti, we are not worthy. What a gorgeous routine – not just lively, slick and energetic, but picking out so many beautiful musical accents to give it sophistication and texture. Despite appearances, Kelvin doesn’t have that musicality naturally, but is clearly an excellent student. So much to love here: the stylish vintage setting and apt music, the Charleston breakouts, the crisp footwork and strong frame, the buoyant expressiveness, and – in a year with too much tentative ballroom – proper drive round the floor. Perhaps particularly lovely was the sense of joy along with the elegance: two people evidently having fun dancing together.

Song: “The Lady Is a Tramp”, Glee Cast cover (COPYCAT KLAXON: Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Brendan)

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the musicality – perfection. Craig couldn’t find anything wrong. Motsi was wowed by the complexity. Shirley noted they stayed connected throughout.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40

Chris and Karen – Round the bend
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Karen Hauer and Chris Ramsay. Photograph: Guy Levy Courtesy of The BBC.

Viennese waltz to a fast song was a big, big ask for Chris – especially since he’s dodged ballroom most of the competition. He definitely struggled here, not getting round in the rotations because his weight was pitched too far back and he got dizzy, plus the inconsistent frame meant he lost connection with Karen, leading to mistakes and timing issues. However, an engaging performance throughout, quick recovery from those errors, and the sections out of hold were well handled – some good musicality, and he presented Karen nicely. Overall, too weak for this stage, but no worse technically than Emma’s cha cha cha.

Song: “Somebody to Love”, Queen (COPYCAT KLAXON: Will Thorpe and Hanna, Dan Lobb and Katya, Simon Webbe and Kristina)

Judges’ comments: Craig wanted it smoother, but he is now presenting as a dancer. Motsi praised his performance. Shirley said there were too many mistakes. Bruno appreciated the hard work.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 6, 6 – 26

Karim and Amy – Flower child
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Krim Zeroual and Amy Dowden. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

We’ve had so few Argentine tangos this series (partly due to wretched Couple’s Choice domination), and this one even had the blessing of Vincent Simone, but unfortunately it fell flat. Karim’s “Yes I am growing roses on my thighs” trousers probably should have been our first warning. He was very exposed in this dance, which needs rock-solid partnering; instead, he was wobblier than the Strictly Lamppost, leaving Amy to support herself. The hold was too wide, contributing to a lack of intimacy, and it felt too bouncy and frantic – instead of earthy, subtle, letting a moment land and linger. The lifts were effortful too – and Karim just… comes across as too young for this dance.

Song: “Libertango”, Bond (COPYCAT KLAXON: Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan, Austin Healey and Erin, Dani Harmer and Vincent, Katie Derham and Anton)

Judges’ comments: Motsi liked the intensity and partnership. Shirley noted the difficult routine, but also a few wobbles. Bruno agreed, but loved the final gancho section. Craig said his feet should slide past each other on the basics, and too aggressive.

Judges’ scores: 8, 10, 9, 9 – 36

Emma B and Anton – Missing a beat
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Anton Du Beke and Emma Barton. Photograph: Guy Levy Courtesy of The BBC.

A nice idea in theory: a stripped-back waltz with dreamy classical accompaniment, really putting the focus on the dance. However, that requires exemplary technique – and Anton just hasn’t gotten Emma to that stage, not remotely. As Craig noted, there were tons of missed heel leads (a real fundamental element of ballroom) since Emma wasn’t lowering properly, plus gapping, frame issues, timing issues… This was a really difficult challenge for a celeb, trying to match music without a strong waltz beat, but to me, it felt like she couldn’t get there – and, frustratingly, most of the judges chose to ignore that evident fact in favour of a set narrative.

Song: “Gymnopédie No.1”, Erik Satie

Judges’ comments: Shirley noted some stumbles, but ethereal. Bruno praised the musical phrasing. Craig said she the lost frame and missed a lot of heel leads, but good flow. Motsi liked the purity of it.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 10 – 36

Kelvin and Oti – In good shape
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Oti Mabuse and Kelvin Fletcher. Photograph: Guy Levy Courtesy of The BBC.

Another thrilling blend of theatrical and technical from these two, with a mean, moody paso doble that paid attention to both Spanish line and strength. I agree with the judges that Kelvin could sometimes extend more, and his hips occasionally got too involved here (the music might have been a contributing factor), plus a bit of stumble on that final pose. Otherwise a powerful performance that showed how Oti trusts him to hold a still moment and maintain his shaping, building impact through purposeful smaller movements as well as the big flourishes. An effective mix of dynamics in this paso routine, rather than – as in some others – just pure aggression.

Song: “Seven Nation Army”, The White Stripes (COPYCAT KLAXON: Denise Van Outen and James)

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised the sculptural beauty of his shapes. Craig wanted more extension, but loved the knee walks. Motsi said he kept the posture throughout. Shirley noted he went off-balance, but impressive moments.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 9 – 37

Chris and Karen – Shoulder to cry on
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Chris Ramsay and Karen Hauer. Photograph: Guy Levy Courtesy of The BBC.

Lots of canny choices from Karen here, including adding a more informal element to this rumba by choosing bare feet instead of heels, limiting Chris’s independent movement, and placing the focus on their lovely authentic connection. Unfortunately, that still couldn’t hide the technical defects, like Chris raising his shoulders constantly, the awkward free arms, and the lack of the extension and body action, plus there just wasn’t enough content for a semi-final. However, he did manage some rather nice basics with good hip action, and this had more impact emotionally than Karim’s comparatively mechanical tango, so a decent effort.

Song: “Don’t Watch Me Cry”, Jorja Smith

Judges’ comments: Craig: “Wrong dance, wrong day.” Motsi liked the sensitivity, but wanted more. Shirley noted he executed the three threes very well, but lacked body action. Bruno said it wasn’t technically perfect, but had honesty and depth of feeling.

Judges’ scores: 4, 8, 8, 8 – 28

Karim and Amy – Sweet tooth

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What a weird choice for this American smooth. Why not play to Karim’s strengths and go for big, slick Hollywood impact? He’s just not the type to inhabit this sort of cheesy wedding disco song, nor do they have the kind of cute, giddy chemistry you need to sell a sugary routine like this. They should also have aborted that unstable lift immediately – not worth the risk – and a few bumps in the foxtrot itself, with Karim looking awkward going from in line to stepping outside Amy. However, lots of beautiful musicality, particularly when out of hold, good frame and tidy footwork.

Song: “Sweet Caroline”, Neil Diamond (COPYCAT KLAXON: Claire King and Brendan, Abbey Clancy and Aljaž)

Judges’ comments: Motsi loved the shaping and expression. Shirley praised his footwork and musicality, but the lift wasn’t good. Bruno adored the storytelling. Craig agreed on the lift, otherwise incredible.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 – 38


Kelvin and Oti – 40 + 37 = 77

Karim and Amy – 36 + 38 = 74

Emma B and Anton – 31 + 36 = 67

Chris and Karen – 26 + 28 = 54

No change from last week.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Quality Street sack. Claud back in black.

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Karen Hauer, Chris Ramsay, Amy Dowden and Karim Zeroual. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Chris and Karen versus Karim and Amy – gosh, what tension! Unsurprisingly the judges all went for the latter.

Who impressed you in the semi-final? Do we have the right finalists this year? And who’s your bet for the trophy? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week 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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