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Strictly Speaking: Week 2

Posted on November 2, 2020

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Marianka Swain on Strictly’s first elimination this year.

Is Strictly the last remaining thread holding this nation together? Arguably yes, given that the BBC had to cut away from Boris Johnson’s press conference on Saturday lest riots break out in the streets. Perhaps also because there are only so many ill-formatted graphs one person can take. Even Jason Bell dad-dancing in retina-burning neon is a less painful sight.

Anyhow, god bless Tessbot performing the world’s creakiest pivot from “The Prime Minister has no clue how to counteract a fast-spreading pandemic and we’re all doomed” to “No really, the HIGH STAKES are whether or not Jacqui Smith does a dodgy samba – this is when IT GETS SERIOUS!” In fairness, the fact that elimination now means returning to endless weeks of baking banana bread, fighting over the last pack of Andrex and wondering whether your sofa looks better on that wall did add extra drama to this series’ first ejection from the ballroom.

A deserved early exit for Jacqui “Frozen hips” Smith and Anton “I haven’t bothered to choreograph properly since 1983” du Beke – though who knows how the former might have fared if her pro had actually bothered to coach her on the basics, instead of faffing around with feathers…

Otherwise, another excellent show in what’s shaping up to be a great series – er, lockdown drama permitting. The very organised production team have apparently prepared for all eventualities, and I think it’s no exaggeration to say that ending Strictly early will in fact bring down the Government. Don’t tangle with our tangos, BoJo.


Other hits and misses:

  • “I was watching!! Honestly! With both my eyes!” Bruno doth protest too much. Also: his Zoom contribution was basically useless. MISS
  • No Halloween theme for celeb dances, as it’s too soon in this later series… but you can’t stop rebels like Aljaž going spook-tacular. HIT
  • Was Anton creepier in the pros’ Halloween group number, or sporting a massive bouffant and dead-behind-the-eyes smile in the samba? Hmm, tough one. MISS
  • Oh sigh, we’re still getting Ts and Cs randos – just socially distanced ones. Gordon Ramsey read off his lines like a grumpy hostage. MISS
  • “Energy!” was clearly on the judges’ Word of the Day calendar. Mix it up, please. MISS
  • Mums, nans, sisters, dogs… All out in force this week. The Family prop points are piling up way too soon. MISS
  • A CATERPILLAR OF DANCE. I’m still processing that amazing image of socially distanced queuing. “Cashier number four, please…” HIT
  • Sam Smith crooned, our spare pros contempowafted. HIT/MISS

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Bill’s quickstep Fab teaching and choreo from Oti, a delightful performance from Bill. Who… really is in it to win it? Time will tell.
  • Best costume: Karen’s fierce smooth dress Runner-up: gorgeous blue-velvet Johannes.
  • Best move: Luba styling out that pot stir gaffe Runner-up: Clara conquering her wardrobe malfunction.
  • Best line: Bill’s rescue birds appeal shoehorned into quickstep training Next week: do a waltz, save the coral reef.

Saturday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Ooh, an actually rather nice black jumpsuit! Claud drowning in a disco curtain.


Max and Dianne – Red card

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The Halloween ghosts were out in force here, with Max taking on the song associated with our beloved Shrek Pasha, and also encroaching on the holy land of St Jay’s Miracle Jive. Did he prove a worthy successor? Hmm. His clompy, flat-footed steps were exacerbated by the trainers – it became walking, jogging and warm-ups at football training, rather than proper spring-based jive action. His kicks and flicks floated, with no retraction, and his basics were far too big. On the positive side, good timing, no obvious errors and nice partnering.

Song: “I’m A Believer”, The Monkees (COPYCAT KLAXON: Chelsee Healey and Pasha, Jamelia and Tristan)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised the improvement, but needs to work on coordination and getting his chin up. Motsi said he should push it, but great rhythmical changes. Craig thought it was more like street commercial than jive, and needed to be lighter, but spectacular timing.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7 – 20


Clara and Aljaž – Fright night

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Love that Aljaž chose as his theme the battle round the dinner table, very much getting in on the Lockdown 2 angst early. The dark drama of this routine was excellent, Clara fully committing all the time she was out of hold, and she coped admirably with the ultimate Strictly Halloween horror: When Dresses Attack. However, the actual Viennese waltz was bumpy and skippy. A lack of drive via heel leads from Clara meant gapping and a struggle to get either basics or the pivots properly round, plus she lost her neck because her shoulders were so hunched.

Song: “You Don’t Own Me”, SAYGRACE (COPYCAT KLAXON: Greg Rutherford and Natalie)

Judges’ comments: Motsi noted the posture issues, but great effort. Craig agreed on her frame and wanted it smoother, but great drama. Shirley praised her footwork, but she didn’t take the pivot on a heel lead.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6 – 17


Bill and Oti – Taking flight

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I’d like to report that Bill talking to a bird in rehearsal was the strangest animal encounter this week, but no – we also had terrifying CGI creatures photobombing their otherwise excellent quickstep. Honestly, I nearly had a heart attack when a demon monkey mounted the blackboard, and perhaps the most surreal happening in a year where that word has lost all meaning was a ginormous elephant suddenly crashing into shot. Anyhow. The dance itself was light, bright and nimble, with neat but buoyant steps from Bill, a lovely calm frame and super timing. He needs to point his feet on the kicks, and I’d love more in hold, but a great ballroom foundation.

Song: “Talk to the Animals”. Bobby Darin

Judges’ comments: Craig wanted better hand shaping, but fantastic. Shirley was amazed by the improvement in posture. Motsi praised the stamina, consistency and clear intention.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8 – 24


JJ and Amy – Smokescreen

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So, hurling this many production elements at a number can sometimes elevate a strong routine to an all-time Strictly classic. Or it can show up a celebrity who hasn’t quite got a handle on the dance. Unfortunately, JJ was in the latter camp, looking rather lost up on the podium, battling crazy lights, the smoke monster at full strength, and Amy giving us full 1970s sci-fi B-movie with that mad styling. He got out of sync and kept looking to Amy for guidance, rather than taking charge of the dance. Some decent shaping, but the walks were too casual and sickled.

Song: “Believer”, Imagine Dragons

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised his arm shaping, but needs to work from the standing foot to get more power. Motsi said he understood the character of the dance, but lost energy. Craig wanted a more confident lead, but nice Spanish line.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6 – 17


Jamie and Karen – A night to remember

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What a charming, old-school routine from Karen – and a much happier outing from Jamie, who managed the nerves better and had some classy moments in this American smooth via jazzy accents and rather good lines. However, he really needs to work on his posture and placement in hold, get the goldfish mouth under control, and find proper rise and fall so he can drive forward on heel leads and make the transitions smooth, instead of hopping around on tiptoe with copious gapping. Sidenote: can’t ever see someone suspended on a sparkly moon without wondering if they’re going to be the next Dorothy.

Song: “Night and Day”, Frank Sinatra (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jan Raven and Anton)

Judges’ comments: Motsi loved the Hollywood feel, but less good in hold. Craig agreed the open sections were great, but the foxtrot had poor footwork and gapping. Shirley praised his enthusiasm, but work on staying connected and better flow.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6 – 17


Maisie and Gorka – The sky’s the limit

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I’ve decided to support Maisie in fully embracing her ringer-dom. She’s going to get pegged for it either way, so why not go for broke? Meanwhile, Gorka seems determined to punish every single person who dared put him on the subs’ bench last year. Smoke monster aside, this was a fierce, exciting but beautifully controlled tango, with a superb frame, great timing, dynamic staccato and two bodies really working as one – plus, staying in hold, hallelujah! Some missed heel leads, though: in future ballroom, Maisie needs to lower more and drive properly. However, they still got pretty decent floor coverage, especially for Week 2.

Song: “Midnight Sky”, Miley Cyrus

Judges’ comments: Craig noted she didn’t take the pivots on a heel, but drama and power. Shirley loved the poise and sharp head movements, but pay attention to footwork details. Motsi noted how difficult the choreography was, staying in hold almost the whole time.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8 – 25


Jacqui and Anton – SOS

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When Ed Balls is dishing out dance advice, to you and your Latin partner Anton, you know you’re in trouble. Add in terrible sub-Vegas fan work, and Jacqui wound up looking like a lamed bird crying out for Bill Bailey’s sanctuary. The actual samba was horribly wooden, Jacqui skittering instead of working into the floor to get bounce and hip action, and Anton dragging her round as though wrestling with a drunk auntie who refuses to leave the wedding even though it’s 1am. The swing was yet another cop-out from Anton, and, well, she’s not exactly Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge – less sparkling diamond, more rock bottom.

Song: “Help Yourself”, Tom Jones (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jodie Kidd and Ian)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her corta jaca, but listen to the music. Motsi said she needs to soften so her body absorbs the bounce action. Craig was thankful for the swing.

Judges’ scores: 2, 5, 5 – 12


HRVY and Janette – Spin cycle

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I wasn’t wild about this routine – rather frantic and bitty, with far too much zipping in and out of hold. More attention paid to the actual Viennese waltz might have helped, since HRVY clearly has bags of potential, but technical issues here: bobbed up and down instead of staying flat, because he was up on his toes instead of driving into a nice smooth heel lead, too jagged in the transitions, and – like Clara – he just did a standing spin instead of a fleckerl, which seemed a waste given his skillset. However, he’s got a natural suavity which is very endearing, and he presents his partner well.

Song: “Stuck With U”, Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber

Judges’ comments: Motsi praised his youthful authenticity. Craig criticised the head placement, rise and fall, and hard edges, but great standing spin. Shirley agreed on the frame, and work on details with the feet.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 9 – 24


Ranvir and Giovanni – Flower power

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First of all, I developed terrible hay fever just watching this routine, and did we really need to put Ranvir in a floral chintz sofa cushion-turned-frock? Also, way too much time spent cuddling up to the bench. Unless Bruno’s hiding under there, it’s not getting you extra points. That aside, this quickstep was a very pleasant surprise: light, musical, good body contact, and charmingly sold by Ranvir. She needs to keep her head properly to the left in hold, and a few mistakes, including a botched pendulum and missed heel leads, but if she can clean up the details, she’s got real potential in ballroom.

Song: “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, Stevie Wonder

Judges’ comments: Craig noted the errors, and needed cleaner footwork, but great partnership and storytelling. Shirley said her frame was superb – now work on absorbing the movement in her ankles. Motsi loved that she’s open to the Strictly transformation, but work on stamina.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8 – 21


Nicola and Katya – Back in the ring

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Well, you all know how I feel about Couple’s Choice and its X Factor-ing of our poor show – along with introducing yet more non-ballroom styles. I’d much rather see Nicola start to build a base for her Latin in this shorter series, instead of get really good at airing awkwardly sized bedsheets. However, Tommy Franzén and Lizzie Gough’s routine was, cannily, more of an emotive, lyrical take on street commercial, emphasising Nicola’s inspirational boxing story. She looked very comfortable in this style, but needs to find more extremes in her physicality and sharper timing when performing side-by-side with Katya.

Song: “Shine”, Years & Years

Judges’ comments: Shirley loved the choreography and Nicola’s awareness of Katya. Motsi said that when music picked up, she let go, but needed to be softer at the beginning. Craig thought the dance suited her and loved the story.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8 – 24


Caroline and Johannes – Grab the bull by the horns

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This is how I like my pasos: trad music, serious intent, and at least one person doing fabulous leaps that show off their red stockings. We also got elegant kicks from Caroline, intricate flamenco hand movements, lovely spins and lots of great basics, but it needed more of a build to a big climax, and that never came. It wasn’t quite “Can I have the next dodgy slide, please, while the entire nation waits to hear their fate”, but given Caroline’s skills as both performer and dancer, I really hope Johannes pushes her more. There’s strong competition this year, and fewer weeks, so no time to hold back.

Song: “El Gato Montes”, Ramon Cortez (COPYCAT KLAXON: Dominic Littlewood and Lilia, Ali Bastian and Brian, Natalie Gumede and Artem, Tameka Empson and Gorka)

Judges’ comments: Motsi loved how she used her hands, but too careful. Craig agreed – a bit too polite. But wonderful port de bras. Shirley liked the expression and shaping, and she’s graceful in whatever she does, so go for it more.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7 – 21


Jason and Luba – Blind date

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Have you suffered an injury in the workplace that wasn’t your fault? I swear I’ve lost an eye to Jason’s salsa, thanks to those radioactive costumes – I’m definitely putting in a claim. So, once we’d all adjusted our televisions, fetched sunglasses, or just decided to watch from a different house altogether, this was… OK? Salsa definitely suits Jason’s laidback, grounded, genial vibe, and Luba wisely used him as support while she did most of the work. Other than a few choreographed wiggles, Jason’s hips remained absent, though, and there was no transitioning between steps, so no flow. Also: that was not a happy pot stir.

Song: “Get Lucky”, Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers (COPYCAT KLAXON: Rachel Riley and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Craig noted the lack of hip action and feet too far apart on basics, but great energy. Shirley wanted more rotation and foot pressure. Motsi could see which steps he loves, and which he doesn’t.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 6 – 18


Leaderboard

Maisie and Gorka – 24 + 25 = 49

HRVY and Janette – 25 + 24 = 49

Nicola and Katya – 21 + 24 = 45

Ranvir and Giovanni – 21 + 21 = 42

Caroline and Johannes – 21 + 21 = 42

Bill and Oti – 15 + 24 = 39

Max and Dianne – 17 + 20 = 39

JJ and Amy – 19 + 17 = 36

Clara and Aljaž – 18 + 17 = 35

Jason and Luba – 16 + 18 = 34

Jamie and Karen – 14 + 17 = 31

Jacqui and Anton – 13 + 12 = 25

Maisie now shares top position with HRVY, while Nicola and Bill move up and JJ moves down. But generally pretty consistent between the two weeks.


Sunday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Rather fab sparkly mini-dress. Oh my god – is the curse broken?? Or perhaps transferred: Claud in alarming giant slacks.


Dance-off

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Jamie and Karen versus Jacqui and Anton. Unsurprisingly, all the judges saved Jamie.

Who did you enjoy in Week 2? Do you need Strictly in your lockdown? And did the right couple go home? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week (we hope) for Movie Week. In the meantime… keep dancing!

Photographs by 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 mkmswain.com.

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