Dedicated to dance
since 1910.

Buy Latest Issue

Strictly Speaking – Week 2

Posted on October 2, 2017

judges ovation BBC Guy Levy e1506941823319

Oh dear. A few highlights and redemptive dances aside, Strictly seemed to have the Week 2 Blues: an error-strewn performance show with bizarre scoring followed by a sad first exit. I doubt Chizzy would have lasted too long in the competition, but I’d have liked to see a few dances from her – and Brian seemed all too ready to go…

But such is the two-dance, one dance-off lottery. Chizzy’s Week 1 performance might well have saved her, and Brian’s would probably have sent him home. Nevertheless, I rather take issue with the claim that Brian had more dance content this week, as he leaned far too much on disco (ugh, that invasive species) instead of proper Latin – which Craig actually criticised Chizzy for in her cha cha.

Yes, the show is as much entertainment as ballroom competition, but haziness about rules – and not applying them fairly – saps the audience’s investment in the latter. Let’s hope we get back on track next week. In Movie Week. Ah…


Other hits and misses:

  • Seriously, the scores were all over the shop. It did mean a good leaderboard shake-up, but a puzzling disparity between comments and marks. MISS
  • I am now having nightmares about Eamonn Holmes creeping up on me. MISS
  • The Tessbot was even more programmed to the stock narratives than usual. “Football!” “Personality!” And the best/worst, to a nonplussed Jonnie: “You’re an athlete!!” MISS
  • Slightly fewer copycatted songs this week. Hurrah! Though one screamingly awful tango choice. Less hurrah. HIT/MISS
  • BOWLING. A new pro dance low. MISS
  • Emeli Sandé: the musical guest equivalent of Boris Johnson’s opinion. No one asks for it, and yet it’s constantly proffered. MISS
  • Ooh, but: what a night for the jumpsuit. Sunday saw both Shirley in a fabulous one, and then Katya majorly upping the game with her lacy translucent affair. (Tess…also tried.) HIT


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Alexandra’s dramatic paso A strong rejoinder to Debbie’s. These two duking it out in the final, please.
  • Best costume: Gorka’s paso attire (or lack thereof) Serious pecs appeal.
  • Best move: Charlotte’s pot stir flop Awful. But riveting.
  • Best line: Claudia’s scone joke Yes, I’m ultra-British – I laughed.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Claudia Winkleman, Tess Daly – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

Crimes Against Taupe jumpsuit. Claudia safe in an LBD.


Chizzy and Pasha – Read all about it

Pasha Kovalev, Chizzy Akudolu – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

Oh, how can you deny us Pasha’s line readings? They enliven the dullest of “A person I know has come to support me in training!” VTs. Anyhow. I enjoy an interpretative dance statement on the death of print media as much as the next person, but it took FOREVER to get into this foxtrot. Once they did, it became apparent why Pasha wanted a Southern Rail-length delay: Chizzy couldn’t sustain the hold, meaning peculiar body positioning, massive gapping, and no real drive, shaping or style. Still enthusiastic, but lacked conviction.

Song: “I’m A Woman” from Smokey Joe’s Café 

Judges’ comments: Shirley found the technique disappointing – lacked glide, swing and sophistication. Bruno agreed, but liked the sassiness. Craig noted the gapping, and (gasp) too much musical theatre. Darcey praised the performance value.

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 4, 4 – 16





Aston and Janette – Up, up and away

Janette Manrara, Aston Merrygold – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

What’s the best way to prep for an authentic salsa? Go…glamping! I know!! The actual routine was overloaded with lifts and tricks – the Janette greatest hits, but without the charming surprise factor of her similar number with Jake Wood. She also tends to give the impression that her celeb partners aren’t so much “lifting” her as “clinging onto a runaway kite”. A shame, as Aston was impressive in full flow, if more pop-y in style than Latin. Sidenote: just what did they do to annoy wardrobe? It looked like a severely misjudged avant-garde entry on Project Runway.

Song: “Despacito”, Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee feat. Justin Bieber

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the lifts. Craig noted a wobbly dismount and lacked figure of eight rotation, but great isolations. Darcey praised the control. Shirley said there were stumbles, and pointed out the sickled feet again – “Don’t make me mention it a third time!” (APPLAUSE) 

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 9 – 32





Susan and Kevin – A rare bird

Kevin Clifton, Susan Calman – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

The obligatory “Filming another show to capitalise on Strictly exposure but also this cuts down on Strictly training time” VT. So, Kevin is a defence lawyer (/poorly auditioning for Chicago), and Susan is on trial while wearing a dressing gown, which is kind of a boss move. Technically, this Charleston was severely lacking in swivel, bounce and finished lines, but another oddly captivating, exceedingly well-sold performance from Susan, who gave the world the Feverish Flapping Bird With Leg Stuck In Treacle move. All the cool kids will be doing it.

Song: “If You Knew Susie”, Enoch Light and The Charleston City All-Stars

Judges’ comments: Craig: “No swivel.” Darcey thought it needed more exaggeration, but she brought so much life to it. Shirley found it entertaining, bright and well synchronised. Bruno wanted sharper footwork, but great fun. 

Judges’ scores: 3, 6, 7, 6 – 22





Charlotte and Brendan – Going to pot

Brendan Cole, Charlotte Hawkins – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

Oof. I think I still have PTSD from this. So, the VT excitedly built up an attempted pot stir, which…did not go well, unless their intention was for Charlotte to limp round partway and sit down suddenly, like a toddler playing Duck, Duck, Goose. But that was the least of their problems. This was a car crash of a cha cha, with a mistake on practically every step and Charlotte radiating Melania Trump levels of silent cry for help. But, er, the wobbly lamppost returned. And her dress looked nice. Hey, let’s look at Twirly Shirley spinning forever instead!

Song: “Sugar”, Maroon 5 

Judges’ comments: Darcey sympathised with the mistakes, and it’s not easy flirting – so try watching Pretty Woman! (Yes, that was dance advice.) Shirley said the routine should have been simpler. Bruno agreed. Craig called it a “dance disaaaaahster”.

Judges’ scores: 2, 4, 3, 3 – 12





Joe and Katya – Wardrobe malfunction

Katya Jones, Joe McFadden – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

Come on, Joe, cheer us up! Or come totally unstuck in a tango, one of those… This Katya routine felt similarly overambitious, with an odd creative choice to stick Joe in a wardrobe for ages (and NOT make a Narnia joke – Claud claimed that one), and frantic, giddy pacing. Though I will lay some blame on the idiotic, entirely non-tango music choice, which practically demanded bounce and skippiness. Joe was chasing throughout, a few fumbles and he sadly lost his frame, which showed promise in training. Hopefully they can regroup and come back strong.

Song: “Castle on the Hill”, Ed Sheeran

Judges’ comments: Shirley said it took too long to get started, had rise and fall, and hold issues. Bruno found it skippy and messy. Craig thought the attack was misplaced and splayed hand. Darcey agreed.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 5, 6 – 22





Brian and Amy – Night fever

Brian Conley, Amy Dowden – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

We haven’t had much chance to get to know new pro Amy (ahem Brian). I was about to approve of her “underfoot pieces of paper to encourage correct foot pressure” training method, only they then completely surrendered cha cha and just did dodgy, dad-dancing disco. Harrumph. If you wanted to see a sparkly log sliding into a half-split and attempting an absent-minded moonwalk, then this was your night. If you wanted cha cha, you got about five seconds of arrhythmic stomping with zero hip action. BAN. DISCO.

Song: “Shake Your Groove Thing”, Peaches & Herb (COPYCAT KLAXON: Chris Hollins and Ola)

Judges’ comments: Bruno liked the overall entertainment. Craig criticised the timing, footwork and lack of hip action. Darcey thought it was lively, but free arms need placement. Shirley said he knew his choreography.

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 6 – 19





Gemma and Aljaž – Just in time

Gemma Atkinson, Aljaž Skorjanec – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

Phew! We got back on track with Gemma, who smoothly earned some Family prop points before producing a beautifully elegant waltz. Yes, the oft-used tomboy narrative (as deployed by pristine, camera-ready celebs) is tiresome, but this was still a heart-warming moment. Occasional issues with head position and transitions from turns, though much more grounded and connected – and the odd wobble actually served to make this routine rather endearing, differentiating her from this year’s top-flight ringers. A good job by Aljaž and a really nice partnership developing.

Song: “Un Giorno Per Noi (A Time For Us)”, Josh Groban (COPYCAT KLAXON: Alesha Dixon and Matthew)

Judges’ comments: Craig liked her rise and fall and throwaway oversway, but a bit lost coming out of the standing spin. Darcey called it classy and controlled, but finish lines fully. Shirley praised her footwork, frame and musicality. Bruno found it stylish.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 7, 7 – 26





Rev Richard and Dianne – Down Under

Reverend Richard Coles, Dianne Buswell – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

Another “I’m filming a show!” VT, this one just about salvaged by puns. And more mud-coloured costuming – did someone get a job lot of brown fabric? Swiftly abandoned Australian theming, and into a fairly sane American smooth. The Rev made an admirable attempt at foxtrot, but too pedestrian and plodding, and the hold caved in. Unsurprisingly, he was much more fun left to his own devices – his finger points are weirdly riveting, and I spat out my tea when he, well, juggled his imaginary breasts. Sweet but comparatively low-key.

Song: “Love Really Hurts Without You”, Billy Ocean

Judges’ comments: Darcey said it was lumpy and lacked glamour, but he was caring in the lifts. Shirley thought it was in time and entertaining, but needed more technique. Bruno: “More Australian bender than American smooth.” Craig: “The falling petals had more grace.”

Judges’ scores: 3, 4, 5, 5 – 17





Ruth and Anton – Raise a glass

Anton Du Beke, Ruth Langsford – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

Did Eamonn manage to work “Equal camera time for me!” into his wife’s contract? Shoo, Holmes. Well, it’s fair to say goofy and pretend drunk is far more in Ruth’s wheelhouse (which will help…not at all for any other style). Still a bit prim and contained – her contribution to this week’s Charleston menagerie was “Semi-frozen duck at finishing school” – but far less nerves-stricken than last week, perhaps with the aid of a character/sentient wig. Some nice swivel, much better timing and stronger grasp of the routine – now needs to learn not to signpost moves.

Song: “Charleston”, Bob Wilson and his Varsity Rhythm Boys

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her improvement and independence. Bruno wanted more exuberance (and/or booze), but fun. Craig found it limp, lame and lacklustre. Darcey loved the confidence.

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 6, 6 – 20





Simon and Karen – Walk the walk

Karen Clifton, Simon Rimmer – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

Well, this was some pretty effective manipulation: Simon’s waltzing not just for himself, but for Liverpool, Anfield and Hillsborough. Critique that! Erm, I might have to point out that he didn’t move at all initially (Karen sticking with her strategy), and when he did allow his feet to leave the floor, he perhaps took the song too literally, with plenty of walking…if not alone. While others sacrificed hold for movement, Simon took the opposite tack, locking his frame in place and marching stodgily. Sidenote: Football shmootball – JUSTICE FOR CAROUSEL.

Song: “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Carousel

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought it started well, then he messed up. Craig agreed it showed promise. Darcey used the word “emotion”. Shirley one-upped her by giving Simon a tearful hug.

Judges’ scores: 4, 4, 6, 5 – 19





Mollie and AJ – Lady in red

AJ Pritchard, Mollie King – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

Mollie’s determined to develop a fierce tango character…by which she means squawking at AJ because he’s late for school. There was a definite cosmetic element to their transformation – Mollie getting a red dress against black-and-white opening, AJ using more hair gel than all Nineties boy bands combined – but thankfully also more conviction. Mollie still needs strength, tending to blur poses or collapse into wiggling and pouting (and her head spasms gave me sympathetic neck pain), and AJ still out-dances her, but his drive at least works in hold, boosting her attack. Sidenote: NO ILLEGAL LIFTS.

Song: “Addicted to Love”, Tina Turner (COPYCAT KLAXON: Christine Bleakley and Matthew, Alison Hammond and Aljaz)

Judges’ comments: Craig noted the lift and she moved her shoulders too much, but good intent. Darcey praised the passion. Shirley told her to soften the knees, but great frame. Bruno thought they were better connected, but don’t collapse the end poses.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 8, 7 – 25





Jonnie and Oti – Cowboy up

Oti Mabuse, Jonnie Peacock – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

It’s time for a trip to the track – for speed! Well, OK. In other, more practical, news, Jonnie has a new dancing blade. He certainly seemed more confident in his jive – and the hair-down, hunky cowboy look didn’t hurt either. A bit too much hat business, otherwise a fun routine that let him be much more expressive. Still rough around the edges, with a dangling free arm and a few snatched moves, but determination, good rhythm, energetic kicks, a nice feel for the basics, and he and Oti are playing off each other well. Great fun.

Song: “Johnny B. Goode”, Chuck Berry (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ashley Taylor Dawson and Ola)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised his kick ball changes and hat tricks, but free arm splayed. Shirley thought the kicks and flicks were outstanding. Bruno…got creepy. Craig noted a slight hesitation on the back step and sort the arms, but brilliant.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 – 29





Debbie and Giovanni – Smooth sailing

Debbie McGee, Giovanni Pernice – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

“Welcome aboard the Lovely Debbie McGee!” chirped Debbie, as she invited Gio to a boating trip and a winking continuation of their showmance. For the record: I am 100% here for a Debbie win or these two running off together, whichever comes first. Anyhow. Given her ballet past, this lovely, lyrical Viennese was less surprising, but still exquisite. Expressive arms, crisp turns, well-driven pivots, delicate side-by-side sync, and a promising frame. Missing some heel leads, which will prove more critical in other ballroom dances, otherwise another impressive showing.

Song: “She’s Always a Woman”, Billy Joel (COPYCAT KLAXON: Letitia Dean and Darren, Fern Brittain and Artem)

Judges’ comments: Shirley called it absolutely beautiful, and praised Giovanni’s respect for her. Bruno loved the grace and fluidity. Craig: “A-maze-ing.” Darcey thought it looked effortless.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 8 – 34





Nadiya and Davood – Cooking the books

Nadiya Bychkova, Davood Ghadami – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

Hmm. It feels like these two are overly aware of why they’ve been cast and so are wedded to the SEXINESS, but it’s making their dances indistinct – we went from frantic, soft-porn cha cha to frantic, soft-porn quickstep. This time in a library. With stripping. It means we lose details, like the frame, proper heel leads, pointed feet and closes, and instead get another illegal lift. It’s making me cross because Davood has clear potential, as does Nadiya’s creative if overstuffed choreography. Calm it down and let audience engagement happen more naturally.

Song: “Last Nite”, The Strokes

Judges’ comments: Bruno called it a “race to the bedroom” – lacked elegance. Craig noted the illegal lift, but great energy. Darcey thought it was spirited, but watch the upper body. Shirley didn’t like the messing about, lift or drops. “Have the man dance!”

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27





Alexandra and Gorka – Girl power

Gorka Marquez, Alexandra Burke – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

Alexandra rode a mechanical bull, for…reasons. Anyway, a fabulously fierce female celeb paso stole the show for the second week running, hurrah. Because of the breakneck speed, some snatched turns and she didn’t always fully straighten a leg or close her feet, but seriously committed, expressive, sharp, great kicks, and a major challenge to Susan in the Woman Of A Thousand Faces department. Bonus points for Gorka’s lack of shirt buttons, naturally, but even with that competition, Alexandra was the one who commanded attention.

Song: “Ven A Bailar”, Jennifer Lopez

Judges’ comments: Darcey loved the drama, strength and musicality. Shirley thought it had amazing content and she brought it. Bruno was blown away. Craig joined in the standing O, but did not get to speak. Let that be a lesson.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36






Debbie and Giovanni – 30 + 34 = 64

Aston and Janette – 31 + 32 = 63

Alexandra and Gorka – 24 + 36 = 60

Davood and Nadiya – 27 + 27 – 54

Joe and Katya – 29 + 22 = 51

Jonnie and Oti – 20 + 29 = 49

Mollie and AJ – 23 + 25 = 48

Gemma and Aljaž – 20 + 26 = 46

Susan and Kevin – 20 + 22 = 42

Chizzy and Pasha – 21 + 16 = 37

Ruth and Anton – 16 + 20 = 36

Simon and Karen – 17 + 19 = 36

Brian and Amy – 16 + 19 = 35

Charlotte and Brendan – 22 + 12 = 34

Rev Richard and Dianne – 17 + 17 = 34


Debbie dethrones Aston, while Jonnie, Ruth and Gemma rise, and Charlotte tumbles.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Tess Daly, Claudia Winkleman – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

Tess’s love of asymmetric eyesores continues apace. Claud safe in black again.


Formerly Known As Len’s Lens

What, no new pun? No tenuous rhyme? Is this now the Voldemort of segments – It That Must Not Be Named? Claudia muttered the words “dance debrief”, but no one seemed inclined to linger on that.

Anyhow. Not much to report here, other than Craig added his flapping bird to the collection. That Countryfile brand synergy is going well.



Chilly Akudolu and Pasha Kovalev leave the competition – (C) BBC – Photographer: Kieron McCarron

And so we came – with zero enthusiasm – to the series’ first dance-off, with Chizzy and Pasha up against Brian and Amy. The former seemed a tad subdued, and couldn’t exactly fix a host of foxtrot problems in a matter of hours, so three of the judges (all but Craig) saving Brian was vaguely comprehensible, but it still seemed like an odd decision.

Surely Chizzy had more long-term potential as an entertainer, if nothing else? Are they giving the new pro a chance? Or did Brian’s disco summon a mind-controlling Seventies demon? Conspiracy theories on a postcard, please.

More importantly, what did you think of this week? Who stood out? And who did you want to see exit first? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

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


Marianka Swain interviews Shirley Ballas in the October 2017 issue of Dancing Times.

Top: Judges Craig Revel Horwood, Darcey Bussell, Shirley Ballas and Bruno Tonioli. (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Marianka Swain is a freelance writer and social dancer at several London venues. You can find more of her work at

Connect with Dancing Times: