Posted on October 4, 2021
Welcome to the Thunderdome! Week 1 was all pats on the back for even finding your way into the studio; now, the real Strictly judging begins. Well, sort of. Once again, we found our panel in a mercurial mood, dishing out everything from 3s to 9s with the whimsy of a giggling child dictator. Most startlingly, Craig went full panto villain – but then championed the “choreographic choice” of Dan the psychotic soft-rock gladiator. That, also, is a choice.
To my dawning horror, I found myself agreeing with Anton’s technical comments. Yes, we are in the Upside Down! Oh, until he switched over to describing every dance in terms of whether he himself would want to do it and/or employing lazy sub-Len clichés, or making terrible, terrible jokes that only Tess even attempted to pity-laugh at. When Tess is judging your humour, you know you’re in trouble.
From amidst this chaos came our first elimination, and it was poor Nina Wadia and Ginger Neil who got the boot. This definitely feels unlucky more than anything. Yes, their tango was a mess, but that samba was fab – if they’d had those dances the other way around, they’d still be in. Also, at least both their routines had plenty of recognisable ballroom content, unlike some others. Nina, we will always have your Beyoncé moment, and Neil… better luck next year.
Other hits and misses:
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Happy Flaunt Your Left Lower Leg Day! Tess in black sequinned armour, Claud in a tomato sack. Also a shoutout to Shirley and Motsi’s black jumpsuit sync, and whatever magic kept Shirley’s… everything in place.
Cha cha is Nancy’s favourite, because the poor cha cha is only a demon dance on Strictly. However, this routine took too long to get going, due to the Motown opening/Rhys’ barely veiled audition for a jukebox musical, and was pretty cha cha-lite. Also, Rhys’ movement was forced and spiky, with alarming groin thrusts, ginormous steps like he was vaulting a muddy ditch, irritating mouthing, and a marked absence of settling into the hips. Still great potential, but he needs to exhale and find variety in his performance. At the moment, it’s the dance equivalent of shouting everything through a megaphone.
Song: “Reach Out, I’ll Be There”, Human Nature (COPYCAT KLAXON: Alesha Dixon and Matthew, Jay McGuiness and Aliona)
Judges’ comments: Shirley praised his straight legs and rhythm. Anton liked his open work, but needs more fluidity. Craig agreed it was stiff and lacked hip action, but great freestyle. Motsi suggested he direct his energy and listen to the music.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 7 – 30
Three of Nina’s former EastEnders castmates joined her in training, looking like a forgotten early-2000s boyband reuniting for a charity special. So, Nina had always wanted to do the tango, but sadly, despite another committed performance, this was nowhere near her surprisingly strong samba: clunky footwork, unsightly lines, posture issues and mistakes. I disagree with Craig that you can’t add Argentine flourishes, but these just looked messy and should really have been culled. Especially since Nina’s best moments came with the basic content in hold. Sidenote: Neil creating a routine around the horrors of infidelity was, er, interesting given his own experience of the Strictly Curse…
Song: “Would I Lie To You?”, Eurythmics
Judges’ comments: Anton noted the mistakes, and head in the wrong position. Craig criticised the frame, Argentine elements, footwork and rounded shoulders. Motsi liked the effort. Shirley praised her recovery, but pick up the ribcage.
Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 5 – 18
There’s the Olympics, and then there’s training with Katya. Poor Adam just about survived the week, but the stress showed in a frantic number. There was a lot going on conceptually: a train meet-cute where Katya is a… lost genie? Also we’re meant to buy that Adam is a nerd because GLASSES and yet he’s wearing trousers that somehow leave less to the imagination than Speedos (not complaining, just observing). Plus a manly Kelvin Fletcher-esque flying press-up. Quickstep-wise, went off time frequently, some footwork fumbles, frame issues and lost contact with Katya too much, but he kept the energy up, so all is not lost.
Song: “Are You Gonna Be My Girl”, Jet (COPYCAT KLAXON: Kara Tointon and Artem, Ashley Taylor Dawson and Ola, Ore Oduba and Joanne)
Judges’ comments: Craig noted gapping and timing issues, but good characterisation. Motsi sensed panic. “Breathe in, calm down, rock the floor!” Shirley saw mistakes, but liked the competitive drive. Anton said his arms were too far back.
Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 5, 5 – 19
Hands up who fancies a jive masterclass with Gorka? He won my heart with the adorable line “It’s not wrong, it’s different”. Although, you know, also wrong. Speaking of which: what has Katie done to incur the wrath of the Strictly wardrobe department?! That goth ballerina look was truly hideous. No wonder she kept hiding in her locker. Anyway, a more engaging performance than last week’s tango, but you really don’t want to spend a whole VT explaining the importance of technique and then do… this. Steps too big and heavy, skittering footwork rather than getting pressure through the floor, didn’t close her feet on the chassés, kicks wild and timing issues.
Song: “Good 4 U”, Olivia Rodrigo
Judges’ comments: Motsi said it was fun, but weight too far back. Shirley noted mistakes, but infectious personality. Anton missed the mistakes. Craig did not – “A little note for Anton”. No retraction, stompy, lacked stamina.
Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 5, 6 – 21
Ah, Couple’s Choice: like mince pies in the supermarket, it gets earlier every year – and no one wants it. This was the ultimate “problematic” Couple’s Choice: so loaded with emotional backstory that it was basically un-judgeable. Yes, I too got teary when Greg talked about his late disco-mad sister; this past year has left us all so much more appreciative of both carers and our loved ones. I also liked that it was celebratory, rather than mopey contemporary, plus good partnering and performance. HOWEVER. If we’re criticising the technique, as with everyone else: some goofy dad-dancing, scrappy footwork and underpowered moves.
Song: “If You Could Read My Mind”, Ultra Naté, Amber, Jocelyn Enriquez
Judges’ comments: Shirley said it was joyous and moving with outstanding lifts. Anton praised the partnering. Craig liked the opening, but too placed. Motsi wanted more groove.
Judges’ scores: 3, 6, 7, 7 – 23
Spin-off road trip with these two, please! John overcoming his inner critic in order to be flamboyant was an endearing story, and one with particular significance for our first all-male couple. So I’m thrilled that he went for it in this crisp, rhythmic cha cha with fluid hip action and very impressive synchronisation. However, I do wonder if Johannes chose to do so much open work because he was worried about public perception, or if he was just looking to challenge John to dance on his own? Hopefully, we’ll get much more in hold from next week. Sidenote: The geeking out over Olly Alexander? SO PURE.
Song: “Starstruck”, Years & Years
Judges’ comments: Anton… went on about John’s body. Awkward. Craig loved the style, power and punch. Motsi praised the sync and timing – just add more highlights. Shirley wanted more in hold, but outstanding.
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 7 – 31
The “turning makes me sick” narrative in the foxtrot rather than Viennese waltz? Revolutionary! Plus the classic “I’m really not a graceful ballroom girl OH WAIT NOW I’M A FRICKING PRINCESS” one, which I can’t resist. All credit to Kai for his teaching and more beautiful choreo – he’s a great addition this year – and to AJ for her evident dedication in training. The footwork wasn’t perfect, she could elongate her neck in hold and add more expression, but very promising indeed for Week 2 (hello, heel turn!) and another lovely serene performance that made it a total pleasure to watch. So excited to see more from them.
Song: “Tears Dry On Their Own”, Amy Winehouse (COPYCAT KLAXON: Lisa Snowdon and Brendan, Louise Redknapp and Kevin)
Judges’ comments: Craig said she was amazing. Just turn out the feet. Motsi loved her queenly posture. Shirley called her refined and elegant, but wants more musicality. Anton called it dreamy and praised the heel turn.
Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 7, 8 – 31
Oh. My. Has the Strictly ballroom ever seen the like? Well, just to be a downer for a quick moment, the samba was a mixed bag: some great rhythm and flow, but too flat-footed and lacked the proper leg action and articulation. That said, it’s really hard to focus on that when Judi is popping her sequin-fringed booty to camera like some kind of posterior-based semaphore system. Plus, talk about using the music: you could watch this whole thing on mute and still know exactly what’s going on, although then you’d miss out on the exceptional opportunity to hear Dave Arch and his wonderful orchestra doing Sean Paul. Truly, we are blessed.
Song: “Get Busy”, Sean Paul
Judges’ comments: Motsi wants to party with Judi. YES. Shirley had a go at the twerking. Anton… is now blind. Craig called it a technical disaster, but he loved it.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 6, 6 – 25
ELBOWS. One more for the road, Dianne. So, I much preferred this version of Robert: tackling the dance properly rather than spoofing it, although there’s hopefully a middle ground between last week’s parade of manic faces and this week’s constipated accountant who has just been served a cheese roll and is too conflict-averse to refuse it. Great movement round the floor, good timing and frame, and a cool intensity throughout. Now needs to fix the awkward quizzical-owl head position, and a bit skippy in places, otherwise fab. Sidenote: Welcome back, wobbly lamppost! How we’ve missed you and your shaky ways.
Song: “La Cumparsita”, Machiko Ozawa (COPYCAT KLAXON: David Dickinson and Camilla, Lisa Snowdon and Brendan, Ann Widdecombe and Anton, Caroline Flack and Pasha, Faye Tozer and Giovanni)
Judges’ comments: Shirley called it sophisticated and praised the footwork. Anton loved the choreography and style. Craig noted some posture issues, but a wow of a tango. Motsi thought it had beautiful partnering.
Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 6, 7 – 27
This week we met daredevil Rose, who was all about the risky lifts, and they really did look fantastic: very little signposting, so they had great impact, and incredibly well timed between her and Gio – all the more impressive considering they’re using counts and muscle memory instead of the music. The actual salsa had buoyant energy and a nice natural feel, with good rhythm and body action, isolation and armography. Her basic steps were too big, which limited the hip action, and her untidy foot placement needs work, but still plenty of potential here. Really intrigued to see how she fares in ballroom.
Song: “Cuba”, The Gibson Brothers (COPYCAT KLAXON: Chris Hollins and Ola, Jay McGuiness and Aliona)
Judges’ comments: Anton felt awkward when he did salsa. WE KNOW ANTON. Craig wanted more resistance and pointed feet, but great fluidity. Motsi was impressed by her dancing solo. Shirley thought the lifts were spectacular, just work on dismounts.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 6, 7 – 26
Find someone who talks about you like Aljaž talks about the foxtrot. Mind, after this truly staggering transformation, I’m a convert. I feared for Sara when the smoke monster came roaring out, but no! No need to hide footwork because her footwork was fab-u-lous. So was her frame, her body contact, her lines, her timing, her elegant placement. I MEAN. Could have used more drive and swing and sway, but this was simply beautiful. Sidenote: No, I do not understand the giant paper boat, maybe they had one hanging around in storage after the props team went nuts in lockdown, but we did have Aljaž and his majestic scarf doing origami, so swings and roundabouts.
Song: “Dream A Little Dream Of Me”, Cass Elliot (COPYCAT KLAXON: Will Thorpe and Hanna, Kellie Bright and Kevin)
Judges’ comments: Craig said it was absolutely wonderful. Motsi called it the biggest improvement of the week. Shirley loved the heel turn, the grace and the poise. Anton wants to dance with Sara now. Gordon Ramsay liked it too.
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34
From the sublime to the ridiculous. Or, at least, puzzling. Aggravating. Traumatic. First, let’s address those looks: very much the couple heading to Comic Con who firmly believe their homemade outfits beat out anything the “corporations” might be selling. Only Dan the intergalactic gladiator also has trousers, because he’s heading straight from the Ancient Roman bullfight to the opera, plus added guyliner in case Adam Ant needs him. Righto. This was very much the angry walking school of paso, and Dan can definitely… take big steps. Not so much with the finesse, though. Forget Spanish line – he looked like the Tin Man trying to vogue, in a blizzard. No, thank you.
Song: “Giant”, Calvin Harris, Rag‘n’Bone Man
Judges’ comments: Motsi was confused. Join the club. Shirley said he shouldn’t just hit a shape and stop. Anton started yelping like a tortured puppy. Craig wanted more shaping, but defended the concept.
Judges’ scores: 7, 6, 6, 7 – 26
Well you can’t help but beam when you hear this song, and it adds instant joy to the quickstep. Ugo has evidently worked incredibly hard, too. This was so much more controlled and precise than last week – still messy in parts, particularly the transitions (he needs to maintain his posture and style out of hold), but a really promising frame, nimble footwork and sweet partner connection. Now, he needs to drive more, and balance the discipline with a more expressive performance. As Craig said, the eyeline was too high – it looked like he was following the wandering star from Sara’s routine, but, hey, maybe it’ll lead him to her magical craft room.
Song: “Bring Me Sunshine”, The Jive Aces (COPYCAT KLAXON: Lisa Riley and Robin, Susan Calman and Kevin)
Judges’ comments: Shirley thought he was light on his feet, and a huge improvement. Anton said he had an immaculate left arm, but bring the right one forward. Craig wants him to keep the top still, but enormous growth. Motsi said the panic had gone.
Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 6 – 25
Oscars all round for this poor pair pretending to enjoy a picnic while the wind whipped their scones into the next field, and bonus points for Nikita’s “BECOME THE CHARLESTON”, swiftly followed by the eye-watering “Get comfortable with the uncomfortable”. Amazingly, after all that, this really was a fab Charleston. Tilly made for an adorable baby flapper, adding enough characterisation without it becoming a total gurn-fest. Her swivel was good, as were the lifts, tricks and witty racquet-ography. Unlike her tentative waltz, she was committed. Sidenote: can’t wait to find out what murder mystery this plucky pair will solve. Lord Butterfield, in the study, with the antique grape scissors? Well golly gosh!
Song: “Yes Sir! That’s My Baby”, Firehouse Five Plus Two (COPYCAT KLAXON: Laila Rouass and Anton, Jason Donovan and Kristina, Tameka Empson and Gorka)
Judges’ comments: Anton loved the verve and animation. Craig praised the mastery of the tricky rhythms and props. Motsi said she made the dance her own. Shirley was shocked by how good it was.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 8 – 36
AJ and Kai – 34 + 31 = 65
John and Johannes – 30 + 31 = 61
Rhys and Nancy – 27 + 30 = 57
Tilly and Nikita – 21 + 34 = 55
Sara and Aljaž – 17 + 34 = 51
Dan and Nadiya – 24 + 26 = 50
Adam and Katya – 30 + 19 = 49
Judi and Graziano – 24 + 25 = 49
Rose and Giovanni – 22 + 26 = 48
Greg and Karen – 24 + 23 = 47
Robert and Dianne – 20 + 27 = 47
Katie and Gorka – 22 + 21 = 43
Ugo and Oti – 18 + 25 = 43
Nina and Neil – 24 + 18 = 42
A huge leap up for Sara and Tilly, while Adam, Greg and Nina plummet, but AJ, John and Rhys look consistently strong at this early stage.
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Judo chic – is that a thing? No. No, it is not. Claud back in black.
Katie and Gorka versus Nina and Neil: battle of the soap actresses. This was a split judges’ decision, with Anton voting for Nina and the rest for Katie – which means, once again, I agree with Anton. SEND HELP.
I really thought Nina edged this, cleaning up lots of her tango mistakes, while Katie’s jive was still unconvincing. So it looked like a vote based on potential rather than an actual comparison and yet, even then, I’d argue Nina’s samba promised great things.
What did you make of Week 2? Who got your vote? Did the right couple go home? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain
See you next week for our trip to the movies. In the meantime… keep dancing!
Photographs: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.