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Strictly Speaking: Week 4

Posted on October 14, 2019

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Madness. What were the judges thinking with those insane scores? What were the producers thinking with those insane music choices? And why, off the back of Movie Week, inflict this level of dance-obliterating am-dram intensity upon an unsuspecting public? MADNESS.

All of which led to a hugely frustrating elimination. Yes, of course we value the Strictly J word – when it actually happens. But this week, the judges kept spying non-existent “Isn’t that the Virgin Mary in this slice of cheese?” miracles everywhere (or were promised £1 for every use of the word “improvement”), giving ridiculously inflated scores to the tryers while penalising others and upending the leaderboard – and subsequently knocking out one of this year’s genuinely talented dancers, poor Dev Griffin.

Oh, Dev – didn’t you realise you need to come equipped with AT LEAST four camera-ready toddlers, two weeping nans, three existential crises and an X Factor-worthy “story”? Just being a naturally good dancer stymied by a stop-starting cha cha routine isn’t a compelling enough narrative – or not compared with everyone else’s miracle breakthrough/Elton John cosplay/this is for my kids, nan, cousin, neighbour, barista, and that woman I nodded at in the checkout queue in 2003.

BUT that means we’ve now lost a strong couple who would have provided entertainment every week, and might well have challenged for the final – yet still we have Mike Bushell, David James, Chris Ramsey et al gallumphing around. Yes, following the non-dancer’s Strictly trajectory can be incredibly satisfying, not to mention inspiring people (especially blokes) to have a go at dancing, but do we need this many dad-dancers continuing in the competition to make that point? And isn’t it up to the voters to reward improvement – rather than the judges making that choice for us via undeserved scores?


Other hits and misses:
  • I’M DEDICATING THIS BLOG TO MY NAN. No. I kid. No more nans. We have reached Peak Nan. MISS
  • We have also reached Peak Floor Spin. Please, no more polishing the floor with our female dancers’ behinds. MISS
  • Jason Donovan, Ts and Cs rando, voice like a dying goose. MISS
  • Extra frustration/conspiracy theorising with the overwhelmed phone lines not letting voters through. Do better, Strictly! MISS
  • Keith Urban… was available. Kevin and Katya… moved around in his vicinity. MISS

Best in Show
  • Best performance: Kelvin’s rumba Hot. Hot hot. Hot hot hot hot.
  • Best costume: Shirley’s evil queen cape In retrospect, a warning of sinful scoring to come…
  • Best move: Johannes’s full-body flinch when Craig suggested toning it down I mean, did you SEE his Beyoncé?
  • Best line: Motsi to Kelvin: “Hold on, that’s my sister!” Runner-up: Craig claiming that the male celebs actually lead. Eternal LOL.

Saturday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

Horrendous bacofoil stripes – the Seventies called and they DO NOT want this dress back. Claud in pointy-shouldered Gothic LBD, getting in training for Halloween.


Chris and Karen – Fighting spirit

Chris Ramsay and Karen Hauer. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

Kicking off Movie Week 2: Even Movier! was this Rocketman jive, with Chris’s nuanced interpretation of Elton John as “CAMP!!”. Unlike Shirley, I couldn’t abide the flat feet and flexed kicks, plus the gaping mouth returned and he still tracks Karen like a kitten obsessively chasing a laser. Also his feet never closed on the chassés and the back steps were too big on the basics, making him lurch into those transitions and contributing to timing errors. However, great energy right up to the end, and really nice partnership connection. Sidenote: So many bonus points to Karen for making it through Chris’s “comedy” set.

Song: “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)”, Elton John (COPYCAT KLAXON: Gabby Logan and James)

Judges’ comments: Shirley noted the mistakes, but he did work into the floor. Bruno said he disguised the errors well. Craig found it flat-footed, both behind and ahead of the beat, but liked the character. Motsi praised the energy.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 6 – 26


Emma B and Anton – Acting up

Anton Du Beke and Emma Barton. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

The most luvvie segment so far – HIGH bar – with this acting class and level of seriousness denoting a three-month run of experimental gig-theatre as metaphor for climate change and global division. Not, er, 90 seconds of bickering over some Viennese waltz. (Which, also, Oti and Danny Mac have already done, far better, and without angsty soap faces or grey clothes to denote SADNESS.) Good fleckerl and pivots, however only a teensy bit of sustained, proper Viennese – so cheated there really. Basics had a nice frame and movement, but needed to be smoother and flatter. Out of hold, Emma’s free arm goes limp. Atmospheric, yes, but way overmarked.

Song: “Send in the Clowns”, Barbra Streisand (COPYCAT KLAXON: Austin Healey and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised the storytelling. Craig thought it was classy and had good rotation. Motsi called it beautiful. Shirley liked that Emma held her own frame.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35


Dev and Dianne – Full stop

Diane Buswell and Dev Griffin. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

Definitely unfortunate that on the week where everyone else was emoting all over the shop, Dev just got “Explosion at the ketchup factory!” And Shirley’s right: his strength is making the dances feel organic, so a cha cha cha with loads of freezes, poses and spaces for solo swaggering didn’t really suit. However, this was far from being a dance disaaaaahster: still great rhythm and fluidity, good partnering and some hip action. Definitely areas to work on, like finding clearer dynamics, making the walks sharper, and projecting to the audience as well as presenting Dianne, but bags of potential – now wasted. Hmph.

Song: “Dancing with a Stranger”, Sam Smith featuring Normani

Judges’ comments: Craig noted good hip isolations, but not with the straight leg, and could have been cheekier. Motsi said he should try not to focus so much on Dianne. Shirley noted stopping for highlights wasn’t helpful, as he’s not a line-oriented dancer. Bruno praised his musical interpretation.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27


Catherine and Johannes – Tickled pink

Johannes Radebe and Catherine Tyldesley. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

I’m sorry, Catherine – I couldn’t take my eyes off Johannes the first time I watched this. Also the second. Pretty much the third. And this hot-pink, nail bar-themed, Barbie’s Dreamhouse of a Charleston was just pure joy, despite a weird sped-up musical arrangement to make it fit the dance. OK, looking at Catherine too: the lifts were rather laboured, swivel inconsistent, and some ungainly moments, but hugely expressive and I much prefer her going for broke like this than too timid to move. She clearly had fun with it, and she invited us to have fun with her. As for Johannes… he is a gift to us all.

Song: “Single Ladies”, Beyoncé (COPYCAT KLAXON: Dani Harmer and Vincent)

Judges’ comments: Motsi praised her for coping with the speed. Shirley had a blast. Bruno said that every note had a step – well done. Crag noted some messy places and not as sharp as Johannes in sync.

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 8, 8 – 30


Alex and Neil – Spinning their wheels

Alex Scott MBE and Neil Jones. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

I love you, Ginger Neil, but I’m not sure macho biker is your natural avatar. Also terrible music choice with too much faffing about (yes, I’m going full Len, beware future walnut-pickling) – I’d rather they work on communicating a story while in hold. Alex needs to keep her left shoulder down and hold her frame square, rather than twisting it when they turn, and perhaps trust more in Neil’s lead so they work together on elements such as the staccato accents, but some good movement and power without going too aggressive. They continue to have a nice connection, though still awaiting the breakthrough…

Song: “Go Your Own Way”, Fleetwood Mac

Judges’ comments: Shirley said the frame is getting better. Bruno liked seeing a different side of her personality, but staccato too hesitant. Craig felt she was being thrown about and arms need shaping out of hold, but acting improved. Motsi told her not to worry about making the judges happy.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6, 7 – 23


David and Nadiya – Call me Doubting Thomas

David James and Nadiya Bychkova. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

Family prop points thrown around like confetti as David employed not just kids but grandkids in his quest to avoid another dance-off. See also: invoking the power of The Greatest Showman. Anyhow, I’m rather baffled by the judges’ response here. Some nice glimmers, especially in the Charleston, but lots of technical issues remain – he was hunched over Nadiya, so gapping, plus flat feet; out of hold, which was a good half of the routine, free arms chucked around and lines too vague. Definitely nice to see him providing more energy, though I think that’s more the nature of the quickstep (it’s quick!) rather than divine transformation.

Song: “From Now On”, Hugh Jackman

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised his miraculous recovery. Craig agreed. Motsi talked about a phoenix rising. Shirley called him an inspiration.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 8 – 28


Kelvin and Oti – I’ll have what she’s having

Oti Mabuse and Kelvin Fletcher. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

Mmmmmmmmm. Oh Kelvin. Strong and sensual, manly and sensitive, like a fireman holding a kitten or those truly excellent calendars of hot dudes reading. Ahem. In all seriousness, YES to Oti trusting enough in her partner’s talent and work ethic to give him all those exposing (not like that) (well also like that) basic rumba steps and figures, rather than distracting with tricks. This was proper partner dancing: a conversation between two people expressed through their whole bodies, full of simmering details, and a story emerging from the movement, style and technique – not grafted on top of the dance with histrionics and nans. 

Song: “Ain’t No Sunshine”, Bill Withers (COPYCAT KLAXON: Bill Turnbull and Karen, Jimi Mistry and Flavia)

Judges’ comments: Craig loved the machismo. Motsi said he owned the dance. Shirley praised the scintillating hip action, beautiful leg action and sensitive touch. Bruno noted his hip action continued right through the body.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36


Emma W and Aljaž – Kid gloves

Aljaž Skorjanec and Viscountess Emma Weymouth. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

Odd mismatch of song/styling and celeb here – Emma giving the definite impression that she would only wear denim under extreme duress, and even then, she’s awfully afraid the giraffes might judge her. Her jive felt rather the same way: neat and placed, which worked for steps like the toe heel swivels, but hardly any bounce, and her kicks lacked power and retraction – though the speed didn’t help. Every number she does has the same pretty but prim presentation, as though she humouring Aljaž; here, she didn’t work into the floor and so skittered around. She’ll need to show more versatility and commitment if she wants to last.

Song: “Kids in America”, Kim Wilde

Judges’ comments: Motsi said she had good energy and personality. Shirley agreed on the improvement. Bruno said it was bright, lively and compact. Craig thought it was pretty accurate given the speed.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 – 28


Michelle and Giovanni

Michelle Visage and Giovanni Pernice. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

Strictly giveth and it taketh away. Michelle got proper salsa music, hurrah, but also a neon/sequin clashing patchwork dress that looked like the scraps challenge on Project Runway. There was a patchwork feel to their routine too. In theory, organic, spontaneous club salsa is a great idea, particularly on a show that often misrepresents it as jazz-hands disco, but it also worked against Michelle’s strengths – we lost her beautiful details, performance and finish, since she was struggling to keep up with this fast, bitty piece. Still great spins, shimmies and characterisation, but would have liked more hip action, rhythm and connection between them.

Song: “Quimbara”, Johnny Pacheco and Celia Cruz (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ali Bastian and Brian)

Judges’ comments: Shirley liked the subtle sensuality. Bruno praised the spontaneous feel, though a little mishap. Craig wanted more hip rotation, especially on the basics, but thought it was confident. Motsi loved the isolations.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31


Will and Janette – Fusion confusion

Janette Manrara and Will Bayley. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

In yet another baffling song choice, we got the invention here of… flamenco foxtrot? So, after lots of bouncing-around numbers, Will finally came up against a controlled ballroom dance, and, understandably, found the technique challenging. Very stolid in hold, his arthrogryposis probably contributing to a lack of drive or rise and fall, and frame kept strong but with a tendency to hunch and jut his head forward. Also needs to work on finishing his lines and listening to the music, so that he’s expressing it through the movement – rather than stomping out the steps blankly, then embracing the odd embellishment where he can be more dramatic.

Song: “Señorita”, Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised his effort at maintaining the frame, but it cost him flow. Craig said he needs to soften the movements and keep performing in hold. Motsi praised his partnering. Shirley thought he had good posture and no mistakes.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 6, 6 – 24


Mike and Katya – Coming alive

Mike Bushell and Katya Jones. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

All credit to Katya for wrangling Mike into a half-decent quickstep. He sustained a nice frame and almost no gapping, while moving well around the floor – plus the pick-up into hold towards the end was well done. However, definitely still niggles: the odd fudged transition, feet too flat or turning in, and not straightening legs fully or pointing toes. Also wasn’t wild about the “comedy” section, which felt like the trying-too-hard opening titles of a doomed sitcom. So, nowhere near 8s and 9s – this was a well-achieved solid ballroom foundation, on which they might now be able to build style, swing and sway, elegant expression and so on…

Song: “Come On Eileen”, Dexys Midnight Runners (COPYCAT KLAXON: Anita Dobson and Robin)

Judges’ comments: Craig didn’t like the comedy, and he lost posture sometimes, but he’s come into his own. Motsi said hard work pays off. Shirley praised the frame and timing. Bruno said they aimed high and succeeded.

Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 8, 8 – 32


Saffron and AJ – It’s all relative

AJ Pritchard and Saffron Barker. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

Look, I really do think Saffron is a decent dancer, but everything else (another Len-ism) just gets on my wick – from the “I’m a role model” vapid vlogging to the extravagant Family prop points weeping all over her nan in both the VT and the studio. Any genuine emotion just gets washed away. Also an impediment: the smoke monster, in which AJ inexplicably choreographed a bunch of hidden floorwork. So, this Couple’s Choice (sigh) was the expected contempowaft-athon: mainly well-managed lifts and tricks, though Saffron needs to stretch her limbs and express much more in something this lyrical. Cute if cheesy end-of-term showcase, rather than revelatory, mature performance.

Song: “Because You Loved Me”, Celine Dion (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jamelia and Tristan)

Judges’ comments: Motsi liked the vulnerability and great spins. Shirley noted an improvement on the balance issues. Bruno loved their connection. Craig wanted more extension, but great arabesque leap.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 9, 9 – 33


Karim and Amy – Seventh heaven

Amy Dowden and Karim Zeroual. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

Family prop points, plus some bonus points from me for battling through the plague uncomplainingly (I too have had the lurgy, and I was in NO MOOD to tango). Who’d have thought it, Karim was back on form when NOT dressed in a giant panda costume, and Amy produced a great routine, despite the overly frenetic music. Karim could perhaps have softened his knees slightly more, and some gapping, especially going in and out of promenade. But good posture otherwise, strong, sharp, slick and surprisingly sexy – definitely the most mature performance we’ve seen from Karim, and he was really tuned into Amy. Excited to see him do more ballroom.

Song: “Paradise”, George Ezra

Judges’ comments: Shirley loved the staccato and frame. Bruno praised the power, passion and precision. Craig said it felt like he was leading. Motsi called it the best dance of the evening.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 – 38

Leaderboard

Karim and Amy – 38

Kelvin and Oti – 36

Emma B and Anton – 35

Saffron and AJ – 33

Mike and Katya – 32

Michelle and Giovanni – 31

Catherine and Johannes – 30

David and Nadiya – 28

Emma W and Aljaž – 28

Dev and Dianne – 27

Chris and Karen – 26

Will and Janette – 24

Alex and Neil – 23

It’s all change this week: Karim, Emma B, Saffron, David and Mike go up, while Dev, Michelle, Emma W and Alex go down.


Sunday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

Joining the hot-pink party. Claud in smart black and a pussy bow.

Dance-off

Diane Buswell, Dev Griffin, Viscountess Emma Weymouth and Aljaž Skorjanec. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

The bizarre combo of Emma W and Aljaž, and Dev and Dianne. The former, I felt, had an advantage as far as the dance-off went, since she had a high-voltage number that she could just go for slightly more, whereas Dev’s critiques were more about the music choice (laidback, with unhelpful breaks) and routine (ketchup/swagger fest that didn’t particularly suit him). He did chuck in a few more “animated” faces – that surely was enough to put him through given his obvious potential.

YET, NO. All of the judges, clearly still suffering from that gas leak/mass hysteria/bad trip/betting scandal – get your conspiracy theories here! – all voted to save Emma, which is frankly baffling. Yes, she’s a nice enough dancer, and Aljaž is adorable, but we’ll just get more of the same from her. Unlike Dev, who could have developed into a really exciting contender.

What did you think of the dance-off? Did the judges get it right? And what was going on with the scoring? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week, when I hope everyone has regained their sanity. 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 mkmswain.com.

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