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Strictly Speaking: Week 12

Posted on December 12, 2016

AJ Pritchard Claudia Fragapane BBC Guy Levy

Marianka Swain on a closely fought semi-final

Two-dance week: often a recipe for disappointing half-dances. But this was actually a decent semi-final, if inconsistent – in performance and in judging. Ah yes. Overmarked, undermarked, wandering free. The judges of Strictly, erratic are we. At this point, Bruno’s 10 is more devalued than the pound, and Darcey actually managed to underscore the other three – while in other places merrily overcompensating.

Should the increasingly questionable judges’ scores count at this stage, or just act as a guide, as they do in the final? The earlier high marking has caused them major problems – everything under a 10 gets soundly booed and feels anticlimactic, but it’s leading to scores that feel unwarranted, plus it gives them arguably too much power to decide at a point where it’s more a matter of taste. All four celebs are good, but have very different strengths – for example, Ore is a much bigger performer than Claudia, but her quickstep topline was far superior.

Louise was the weakest this week, and deserved at least a dance-off spot, but she’s clearly built up enough audience goodwill with her musicality and Mail on Sunday’s You magazine persona to make it a two-thirds Clifton final. Danny’s dance-off spot was bizarre, but won’t do him any harm to have shown vulnerability, given his only barrier to the trophy is being too perfect. I do wonder what Claudia’s showdance might have looked like (it’s entirely possible AJ would actually have killed her) – Louise had better not bring the bland, otherwise there will be rumblings…

Strictly Come Dancing Pro Dancers - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Strictly Come Dancing Pro Dancers – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy





Other hits and misses:

  • Banal messages from the public – bleurgh, no. We already have Twitter. MISS
  • An early montage, weirdly – way to steal the final’s montage thunder… MISS
  • Judges: we realise you’re Ore fans. A little subtlety would be super. And Len wouldn’t have to trumpet his non-ringer, model student status if we had more VT footage of the celebs actually learning to dance. MISS
  • Darcey trying to start Kevin and Louise showmance rumours is a new low in the fake news era. MISS
  • Though bless Jamie Redknapp and his total inability to fake it – that was the only time on Strictly he didn’t look bored out of his skin. Closely rivalled by Ore’s marvellously impassive dad. HIT
  • Oh good, more contempo-waft. You read my mind, show. Though I did like what I assume was a metaphor for tango caged by terrible music choices. MISS
  • Sting dropped by, because apparently we haven’t suffered enough in 2016. MISS
  • But Claudia on a crash mat was all kinds of wonderful. HIT


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Danny’s American smooth Runner-up: Claudia’s quickstep
  • Best costume: Oti’s salsa tinsel Merry and indeed Christmas
  • Best move: Bruno’s telegraphed chair-tumbling There’s no one left who believes this fiction, yes? It’s up there with the “Sunday” results show?
  • Best line: Darcey once again amazed by Claudia’s fitness OLYMPICS



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Shoulders, shoulders everywhere. Tess coming out on top with a monochrome jumpsuit, Claud back in lace.


Louise and Kevin – Bad all over

Louise Redknapp, Kevin Clifton - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Louise Redknapp, Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

I’m not which element irritated me more: the conveyer belt, the cult-like happy happy take on tango, or the M&S casual collection mating with a toga to produce a colour blocking experiment gone horribly awry. All of which just about distracted from a noticeably poor Louise performance. Yes she’s musical, yes she can hit nice lines, but there was an awful lot of stumbling and skating over footwork, plus the frame went completely walkabout. Convinced neither in tango performance nor technique. The music (too fast and inappropriate) is certainly to blame for some of that, but not all.

Song: “Glad All Over”, Dave Clark Five

Judges’ comments: Len said it was full of attack and attitude, though a mistake. Bruno was pleasantly surprised by this “happy tango”. Craig wanted a V-shape in frame and she was thrown off balance, but dynamic and sharp. Darcey loved the details.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 – 37





Danny and Oti – Bag of tricks

Oti Mabuse, Danny Mac - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Oti Mabuse, Danny Mac – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Finally, a chink in the Mac armour. (If I were a conspiracy theory-toting cynic, I might even think it was deliberate.) He just didn’t look entirely comfortable in this salsa, which lacked continuous flow, pulsating rhythm and that joyful abandon. It did have great armography, partnering and innovative, death-defying lifts – I particularly liked the “Hold my inner thigh while I fling you into a cartwheel” one. And, as ever, great timing and well performed. But would have liked to see more basics and more breathing room. These two are most fun to watch when it feels organic.

Song: “Vivir Mi’ Vida”, Marc Anthony

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the fluid sequence of underarm turns and naughty routine. Craig thought it lacked figure-of-eight hip rotation, but lifts were a-maze-ing. Darcey praised the intricate lifts and tricky dismounts, but wanted more wildness in basics. Len has been sitting on an Oti porridge pun for three months.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 – 37





Claudia and AJ – Last legs

AJ Pritchard, Claudia Fragapane - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

AJ Pritchard, Claudia Fragapane – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Well, this was always going to be a struggle – even if Claudia isn’t quite the ickle wickle foetus the show makes out, emotional maturity isn’t exactly a hallmark of her performances. Nor, in fairness, AJ’s. Even so, she had more chemistry with the chair in this rumba. Neat, precise and outstanding control, which meant they hit some great lines, but she never settled into her hips, making it stiff and disjointed. As ever, I wonder what a different partner might have brought out of her.

Song: “Bleeding Love”, Leona Lewis

Judges’ comments: Craig found it too square – she hit all the positions, but lacked flow and chemistry. Darcey praised her extensions, but needed more emotional connection. Len said it was a quality rumba, if lacking hip action. Bruno thought it was beautifully placed but lacked continuous body motion.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35





Ore and Joanne – Hell’s Angels

Joanne Clifton, Ore Oduba - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Joanne Clifton, Ore Oduba – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

We’ve upgraded from tango bike to quickstep motorbike. YAY. Also: Jo’s got her eye on a We Will Rock You touring cast. This was a stylish, high-voltage number with performance that just about covered a multitude of sins – the speed, energy and fantastic travelling round the floor achieved by yanking the frame about and gapping as far as the eye can see. A bit of a cheat, rather than true “J word” endpoint, but still a strong bid for the final – certainly can’t accuse Ore of not wanting it enough, and compared favourably with a nervy start by the others.

Song: “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?”, Jet (COPYCAT KLAXON: Kara Tointon and Artem, Ashley Taylor Dawson and Ola)

Judges’ comments: Darcey said he came alive – terrific footwork and didn’t get carried away by the music, though fighting to hold the frame. Len praised his combination of speed and control. Bruno thought he got both the rock‘n’roll character and quickstep. Craig noted posture issues, which made Len froth at the mouth.

Judges’ scores: 8, 10, 10, 10 – 38





Louise and Kevin – Party pooper

Louise Redknapp, Kevin Clifton - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Louise Redknapp, Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

“Is Louise a party animal?” wondered the judges, who are also stumped by “Is the Pope Catholic?” Well, if they needed further evidence, here comes an oh-so-English samba – safe, polite, upright, and embarrassed by the very suggestion of sex. Louise, styled like a Lidl Carmen Miranda, did her usual neat and pretty thing, and she did in fairness deliver lots of ballroom samba content – just with no stylistic detail or real feeling for the dance. Yes, she’s never going to be a shimmy-tastic, flamboyant performer, but this was still a disappointment for the semi-final.

Song: “Brazil”, Thiago Thomé

Judges’ comments: Len praised the content, rhythm and improved performance. Bruno agreed on the ambitious content. Craig wanted more bounce and upper body energy and resistance, but vivacious. Darcey loved the joy, but she lost energy.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36





Danny and Oti – Golden Age

Oti Mabuse, Danny Mac - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Oti Mabuse, Danny Mac – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Craig already thinks Danny is the second coming of Gene Kelly, but this American smooth – with yet more ravishing choreography from Oti – really clinched it. Lovely Viennese, and though I slightly agree with Darcey that the “koala hugging a tree” lift stuck out, bizarre to mark it down on that basis given everything she’s given a 10 to in the past. MGM old school style and glamour, risk-taking (with a literal leap of faith) and seamless storytelling: clear, articulate emotional beats throughout, and a real conversation between two people – as partner dancing should be.

Song: “Misty Blue” Dorothy Moore

Judges’ comments: Bruno was swept away by it – exquisite storytelling. Craig loved it. Darcey thought the Viennese was beautifully controlled, though one lift looked clumsy. Len said it was right up his alley as well as up Craig’s street (where on earth are we?).

Judges’ scores: 10, 9, 10, 10 – 39





Claudia and AJ – All smiles

AJ Pritchard, Claudia Fragapane - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

AJ Pritchard, Claudia Fragapane – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Well, the judges wanted more characterisation, but I’m not sure how Claudia was meant to achieve that while quickstepping at a million miles an hour – a problem throughout the series for this couple. Nevertheless, this was an utterly charming number: buoyant, intricate and joyful, with Claudia hanging onto her topline and producing some strong footwork while still delivering a packed routine at high speed. Shame about the gapping – the height difference not helping – otherwise my favourite of theirs, and a bittersweet note to exit on.

Song: “When You’re Smiling”, Andy Williams (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jan Ravens and Anton)

Judges’ comments: Craig thought she kept in character and danced for her life. Darcey said it was light, energetic and great topline, but slight gapping. Len praised them for overcoming the height difference. Bruno found it weightless and loved the turns with sway.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38





Ore and Joanne – Head game

Joanne Clifton, Ore Oduba - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Joanne Clifton, Ore Oduba – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Judges: “Bring emotion!” Ore: “Have you met me?” Definitely not lacking mood in this Argentine tango, nor (a somewhat forced) seduction, but looked a bit too much like Ore was a prop stick for Jo the seething boa constrictor – certainly didn’t feel like her movement was instigated by his, as it should in Argentine. The posture didn’t help, with Ore hunched and bringing back the Rutherford Rear, plus he stumbled during a lean. But another committed performance, meaning he showed decent consistency across two dances, even if he didn’t nail either.

Song: “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, Kylie Minogue

Judges’ comments: Darcey said it was fast and furious with moments of intensity and attentive partnering. Len emphasised that Ore’s the last remaining non-ringer, and a terrific performance. Bruno found it mesmerising. Craig noted he lost balance on one of the lunges, but he should be proud.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39




Ore and Joanne – 38 + 39 = 77

Danny and Oti – 37 + 39 = 76

Louise and Kevin – 37 + 36 = 73

Claudia and AJ – 35 + 38 = 73


A gender divide: Ore leaps to the top, narrowly dethroning Danny, while Louise and Claudia languish.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

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

Ooh, a red-hot number with no asymmetry – THE CURSE IS BROKEN! Claud in sparkly black.

Oti Mabuse, Danny Mac, Claudia Fragapane, AJ Pritchard - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Oti Mabuse, Danny Mac, Claudia Fragapane, AJ Pritchard – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

In the dance-off: Danny and Oti, and Claudia and AJ – meaning my two favourite routines of the night reprised to decide an elimination, so HMMM. Everyone saved Danny, naturally. Claudia got rather unlucky here, as she’s often been throughout the series. Danny, on the other hand, may well get a boost from his brush with death.

What did you think of the semi-final? Did you agree with the judges? And who’s your champion? Come say hi 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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