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Strictly Speaking: Week 12

Posted on December 13, 2021

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Well, what a semi-final! Usually doubling the dances means halving the standard, at least, but everyone delivered here – even if the judges did get overexcited with the 10s. It’s not that many were undeserved, more than the maximum score has become so completely devalued at this point. Even Motsi realised it, wishing her 10 for Rose could have a crown added to differentiate it. Pro tip: use the lower paddles more and the 10 will indeed feel fully earned.

Anyhow, great to see everyone really fight for their place in the final. Rhys rose to the (admittedly unkind) challenge of the samba, John bared his soul in his Couple’s Choice, Rose became an unlikely Argentine tango siren, and AJ finally nabbed her 40 for a fab-u-lous Fred and Ginger quickstep.

Plus, we got the right three for the final – when did that last happen? Ooh it’s going to be an absolute joy, seeing the best trio duke it out: the three best dancers, the three best partnerships, and three genuinely lovely people who between them represent a diverse mix and have inspired a nation. Bring it on!

Other hits and misses:

  • I normally hate the “normal people” messages for the celebs, but it was genuinely sweet seeing how much John and Rose’s representation, in particular, has meant to people. HIT
  • Oh god, Anton’s got a new gimmick: whipping off his glasses like a defence lawyer in a bad courtroom drama. Please, BBC, make my Christmas and ditch him. MISS
  • Disco Motsi! Topping off a truly spectacular series of looks. HIT
  • Ts and Cs rando: Romesh plugging The Weakest Link. MISS
  • More cringe hip-hop from our ballroom pros. At this point they’re just trolling me. MISS

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Rose’s Argentine tango I actually GASPED.
  • Best costume: AJ’s feathered frock Runner-up: punk ballerina Nancy.
  • Best move: John’s Couple’s Choice lifts Technically impressive and deeply moving.
  • Best line: Craig snarking “I’ve loved being on your show, darling” The perfect riposte to another lengthy Anton speech


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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One of her ketchup outfits fought back with a garrotting scarf. Claud: sparkly black suit. 

Rhys and Nancy – Tunnel vision

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Rhys had apparently fought to dance to this Queen song and… well. Be careful what you wish for. Yes, it gave his tango a rock ’n’ roll energy and plenty of attack, but then energy and attack have never been lacking in Rhys’s performances. His opening solo basically encapsulated his J word: it was brave and demonstrated his potential, but was let down by dodgy ballroom technique and lack of control. He went ahead of the music (as always) and his footwork was fudged. Slightly better in hold – nice soft knees, much improved partnering and frame, although his shoulders got twisted on the turns. Rhys never quite got there in ballroom, but this was a great final effort.

Song: “One Vision”, Queen (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ricky Groves and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Shirley was impressed with the solo. Anton didn’t like the out of hold sections but immaculate frame. Craig enjoyed the power and drama. Motsi noted he covered the floor.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36 

AJ and Kai – Birds of a feather

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Well here’s the argument for using proper classic music and simply letting the dance do the talking. Kai in a tux, AJ wearing the limp bodies of 300 swans, including several as pom-pom accessories, exactly as nature intended. Add in Benny Goodman, a fabulous routine, finely honed technique, and you get pure ballroom bliss. AJ controlled that topline so perfectly, but also released it enough to get swing and sway, and lovely musical expression, and they travelled beautifully around the floor without any visible effort, plus some tricky jazz accents and changes of pace that flowed easily. A teeny bit of gapping, but otherwise GAW-JUS.

Song: “Sing, Sing, Sing”, Benny Goodman (COPYCAT KLAXON: Denise Lewis and Ian, Chelsee Healey and Pasha, Graeme Swann and Oti)

Judges’ comments: Anton said it was worthy of Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom. Craig gave it an “O-M-G, darling”. Motsi praised her conquering a really difficult dance. Shirley said it was pure Strictly magic.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40

John and Johannes – It gets better

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So, I was already welling up watching John’s candid VT, which included the revelation that a teacher outed him to his family (!), and learning that he was apprehensive about dancing with another man on Strictly. I hope he and Johannes are truly proud of what they’ve given the nation with their courage, their brilliant dancing and their vulnerability, particularly the LGBTQ+ community. Representation matters; visibility matters. That emotional outpouring continued in their contemporary Couple’s Choice. Technically, John could have continued his lines more and had more resistance, but this was a really challenging piece delivered with such commitment and heart – and while it was a definite team effort, it was so exciting to see John take charge of it. Bravo.

Song: “Hometown Glory”, Adele

Judges’ comments: Craig wanted more flow, but said that John was the star. Motsi felt he let go, and that we really saw them. Shirley said he helped so many others by sharing his soul. Anton called it powerful and emotional.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 

Rose and Giovanni – The greatest love

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I can’t believe this series will soon be over and we won’t get to see any more ballroom from these two. It really is the greatest pleasure: it feels like all’s well with the world as long as they’re dancing together. Just one niggle here: the weird Dolly Parton-esque cover of the Ellie Goulding track to force it into the right time signature Guys, we’re not short of songs in 3/4. Otherwise this was just sublime: a gentle whisper of a routine that made us all lean in, just as Rose is so sensitive to Gio’s lead and the musicality of his body. The encapsulation of partnership.

Song: “How Long Will I Love You”, Ellie Goulding

Judges’ comments: Motsi praised the beautiful connection. Shirley said Rose has brought us so much joy. Anton… cried. Craig noted one tiny foot fault, otherwise amazing.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Rhys and Nancy – Jungle fever

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It’s the return of Awkward Gogglebox: our couples watching the judges critique them. Not many revelations here, basically just Rhys = energy, for better or for worse. Craig stuck his neck out and said samba would be a good dance for Rhys, and he was basically proved right. It wasn’t a technically great performance: wild footwork and leg action, the usual rushing and he needed to work into the floor more, but I loved how he threw himself into it, leopard-print shirt and all. Some great bounce and hip action, “Help I’m being electrocuted” shimmies, and he worked well off Nancy. That’s a huge change from Rhys the soloist. Sidenote: another woeful music choice. SIGH!

Song: “It Had Better Be Tonight”, Michael Bublé (COPYCAT KLAXON: Katie Derham and Anton)

Judges’ comments: Shirley loved his rhythmic hips. Anton noted one clunky section, but marvellous effort. Craig wanted a smoother bounce. Motsi said he really led and fought for it.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 9 – 38 

AJ and Kai – A match made in heaven

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Two important takeaways here: Craig should have given AJ’s Charleston a 10, and Shirley is a shipper. Oh also AJ isn’t as strong in Latin – can her rumba change all of that? Ooh yes. I actually think her issue is more with fast Latin, but given the time here to perfect her technique, she was a shimmering goddess with gorgeous, languid lines, expressive back bends and (quelle surprise) smoking-hot chemistry with Kai. Never mind the smoke monster; they can generate enough heat between them to solve the energy crisis. A few tiny issues, like her free arm sometimes getting stuck or a leg lacking extension, but really magnificent.

Song: “Show Me Heaven”, Maria McKee (COPYCAT KLAXON: Claire King and Brendan)

Judges’ comments: Anton likes rumba all sophisticated and elegant. Lovely lines. “I rather loved it.” Craig praised the nice turnout and straight legs, and pointed out how difficult the rumba is. Motsi was really impressed at the work AJ put in and said it came together perfectly. Shirley stood and bowed down, praising the sensuality and tracked feet. 

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 

John and Johannes – A higher gear

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A John criticism here already answered by his Couple’s Choice: that he’s reliably good but must not play it safe. Still, I felt like we needed another emotional VT for the sheer trauma of watching our boys dance a jive to this horrendously soporific Coldplay track – where’s the support group for that? It did sap their performance slightly, and yet again lots of side-by-side work which made John look a tad subdued in contrast with the incredible Johannes, especially in the kicks. However, I do think John has silenced that critical voice telling him not to be flamboyant, so this was a crisp, playful jive with strong technique, spot-on timing and loads of personality. 

Song: “Higher Power”, Coldplay

Judges’ comments: Craig wanted more retraction, but “A-maze-ing.” Motsi said she knew John had it in him. Shirley loved the fundamentals and risk-taking. Anton praised the side-by-side work and body action.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 

Rose and Giovanni – Simply the best

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I really shouldn’t be surprised by Rose any longer, and yet I just didn’t think she could pull off a sexy Argentine tango with Gio. Well, more fool me! Not only did their superb lead/follow dynamic mean that they truly responded to each other throughout, but Rose made everything look supremely effortless. She floated into the lifts, her impeccably released legs whirled through the ganchos, and IT WAS SO HOT. Her pulling Gio’s face to hers, the gasp as he rolled her up from the back bend, the eye contact, the intimate little exchanges… It really felt like we were spying on lovers who had a decade of complex emotions swirling between them. Goosebumps.

Song: “A Evaristo Carriego”, Eduardo Rovira

Judges’ comments: Motsi called it the dance of the series. Shirley said it had star quality, and congratulated Gio for the whole series of working with Rose. Anton loved the serenity. Craig said it belonged in the final.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 


AJ and Kai – 40 + 39 = 79

Rose and Giovanni – 39 + 40 = 79

John and Johannes – 39 + 39 = 78

Rhys and Nancy – 36 + 38 = 74

AJ is up, Rhys is down, but it’s a close one… 


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Highlighter pink with a slit. Claud joined Team Leopard Print.


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As expected, it was the boys hitting the dance-off: first time for John… not the first time for Rhys. With jive (39) versus samba (38) it was a close-run thing. Though John is technically superior this wasn’t his best style, whereas Rhys really danced for his life in that samba. However, the judges all saved John.

Rhys definitely grew on me, even if he never really blossomed into a ballroom boy. I wonder if he might have fared better with a more experienced pro? Nancy was a charming addition but probably didn’t help by giving him so many frantic routines. Still, they helped make this a really exciting semi-final and brought a lot of fun to the series.

Hurrah, though – we have an A-MAZE-ING final three! I am so excited for next week. It really feels like anyone could win it, especially if they nail their showdance. Rose is surely the favourite, as the only one never to hit the dance-off and the most extraordinary story, but I expect the other two to push her all the way.

What did you make of the semi-final? Do you think the judges overmarked? Who do you think will win? Get in touch on Twitter to share your thoughts: @mkmswain

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

Photographs: 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

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