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Strictly Speaking: Week 4

Posted on November 16, 2020

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This was quite the Bizarro Strictly, with a sadly absent Nicola and Katya, Motsi joining Bruno in Zoom purgatory, and Anton du Beke finally wearing the producers down and getting his shot at judging – the equivalent of a small child pleading for ice cream repeatedly during a six-hour drive. Yes, fine, don’t spill it everywhere, don’t wreck the show, and let’s all try to ignore the fact that Anton critiquing someone else’s Latin is surely one of the signs of the apocalypse. Along with, you know, the plague.

He basically followed the pattern of all guest judges – overly generous scores, beige comments with blather and flattery, the odd technical detail – and added a Brucie-Len cosplay element. “Haha marvellous, keep me here much longer and I’ll pickle me walnuts, you’re my favourite!”

Which… was OK, purely as an emergency stand-in, but Strictly really doesn’t need to go backwards. By all means bring in another ballroom expert if you want (possibly to replace Bruno) – let’s just look slightly further than the guy who’s been hanging around for ages, aping a previous judge’s act, and who openly admitted he’s not qualified to evaluate the Latin or social styles. 

As for Nicola, she’s been such a lovely, and vitally representative, contestant over these few weeks, and I really hope we see her again on a Christmas special or similar. Also that Strictly, having FINALLY cast a same-sex partnership and seen it well received, gives us another one next series. Maybe even – gasp – two. 


Other hits and misses:
  • Despite all the above drama, we still got a show, so thank you Team Strictly for that. The incredibly hard work behind the scenes is appreciated. HIT
  • 10s, 10s for everyone! Rather felt like this was the designated week to “have a 10”, rather than truly warranted – especially in HRVY’s case. But it’s a shorter series, so here we are… MISS
  • Also felt like the judges made a statement this week that they’re rewarding those who really go for it, versus those who are cautious. Which I do applaud, on the whole, except it didn’t reflect technical distinctions – and led to a slightly weird leaderboard and elimination. HIT/MISS
  • Or perhaps it was foul language that doomed him? Much pearl-clutching over Max George’s accidental swearing at the end of his routine. I guess he had a way to go with that whole “Freddie” Astaire thing. MISS
  • The Ts and Cs annoyance continued with slooooooo-mooooooo Craig David. MISS
  • It was Family Prop Points: Top Trumps Edition this week. Susanna Reid? Try my marvellously unimpressed dog! Of course, JJ smashed the game to smithereens with his Prince Harry card – which bought him a bye this week. MISS
  • Group pro number: excitable supermarket shopping with no masks. Crazy times. HIT
  • The Vamps (no, me neither) tried rocking out to an empty studio, while Neil and Nancy… did a lot of spins. MISS

Best in Show
  • Best performance: Clara’s Charleston Her big breakthrough, finally!
  • Best costume: Clara the fabulous flapper Runner-up: Dianne’s Art Deco dress
  • Best move: Claud diving into glitterballs after Bill forgets about social distancing A truly brilliant live TV moment.
  • Best line: Anton praising Bill on not dancing with irony This from a man who hasn’t done an earnest Latin number since 1992. TALK ABOUT IRONIC.

Saturday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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A rather funereal black duo – Tess a sparkly velvet sofa, Claud tux refashioned into a dress.


HRVY and Janette – Up and down

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So, we got an earnest spiel from Janette about the authentic cultural roots of the salsa, and then… this. Sigh. I love HRVY’s relaxed, organic quality, plus great partnering – impressive pot stir. It might even have looked like club salsa, were it not for Janette climbing him like a tree and throttling him with her thighs. HRVY seemed as perturbed about that as the rest of us. I would have liked fewer tricks and more technique – still flat-footed (and in trainers again, WHY?) so limited hip action, basics too big and timing too casual. Let Harvey shine as a proper dancer, not just a prop for Janette to use in her Cirque du Soleil act.

Song: “Dynamite”, BTS

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised his musicality and leading skills. Anton liked the fluidity, lifts and armography. Craig wanted cleaner footwork, and stilted on transitions going in and out of lifts.

Judges’ scores: 8, 10, 9 – 27


Ranvir and Giovanni – Hips don’t lie

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Hurrah for a decent song choice! Makes such a difference. This routine had much more space for Ranvir to actually feel the music and express it physically – great hip action in the opening, though doing “sexy” Latin on your own isn’t easy. Good to see some proper basics in there too. Technically, a mixed bag: needed to snap her legs straight, use more foot pressure to transition quickly, and turn her feet out on the checks. A bit stilted too, and the arms looked placed, rather than purposeful. However, good timing and chemistry with Gio, so on the right track.

Song: “Oye Como Va”, Santana / “I Like It Like That”, Pete Rodriguez (COPYCAT KLAXON: Christine Bleakley and Matthew)

Judges’ comments: Anton praised the opening sequence. Craig noted her sickled feet and needed straighter legs, but musicality great. Shirley loved her flirtatious performance – now needs to get her weight forward.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 8 – 20


Max and Dianne – It won’t be you

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I’ve found it hard to get excited about Max all series, and this was a real case in point. American smooth has to be sold – it’s all about glamour, style, pizzazz. It also needs real technical detail. But Max’s steps made basically no reference to the music at all. The foxtrot was quick, bumpy and too stiff. Out of hold, the kicks lacked impact, his free arm was casual, and his feet were sometimes turned in. You can get away with some of these things if you project a big, charming performance, but that was lacking too.

Song: “It Had to Be You”, Harry Connick Jr (COPYCAT KLAXON: Patsy Palmer and Anton, Michelle Williams and Brendan, Patrick Robinson and Anya, Aston Merrygold and Janette)

Judges’ comments: Craig said they played it too safe. No style or flair, arms haphazard, hands spatulas. Shirley thought he coped well with lifts, but needs to find the quicks and slows in the music. Anton chucked in a “marvellous”.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 8 – 20


JJ and Amy – Soldier, soldier

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So, I think one can feel both solemn respect for JJ’s military service and sacrifice, and also slightly narked that it’s basically being used as a Get Out of Jail Free card here – particularly roping in Prince Harry. Can we at least confine the backstories and celebrity endorsements to Couple’s Choice? The jive itself likely wouldn’t have been enough to keep him in – so, those annoyed about the strange dance-off this week can ponder that. Technically, it was flat-footed, lacked spring, steps too big and weight too far back, kicks needed retraction, and feet turned in. He kept up with the routine, and is always a likeable presence, but not his dance.

Song: “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, Bette Midler (COPYCAT KLAXON: Judge Rinder and Oksana)

Judges’ comments: Shirley like the celebratory feeling, but needed to get his weight forward to get better kicks and flicks. Anton said he coped on his own. Craig wanted sharper kicks, retraction, attack and energy.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 7 – 17 


Maisie and Gorka

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Wasn’t wild about the Barbie dream house theme – it slightly infected the whole dance with that jerky staccato. Like basically everyone this week, Maisie needed to turn her feet out more. Super timing, decent hip action on her basics and forward locks, some good leg straightening and using foot pressure a bit more, but needs to properly close and then settle into her hip – too much of her weight in between her feet, rather than fully transferring. It also felt like this routine didn’t breathe at all, but I really hope Maisie can grapple with the technique, as she’s so strong.

Song: “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, Cyndi Lauper

Judges’ comments: Anton: “I think the cha cha cha is vile!” More helpful: noting she’s too tight and needed more turnout. Craig loved the timing and concept, but she dances with a rod through her back. Shirley noted she took the comments on board and did try to track her feet, but when you hit a sharp accent, the body must continue to flow.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 9 – 24


Bill and Oti – Playing it cool

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I continue to think Couple’s Choice is a nonsense, but even I have to admit that this… whatever it was made me smile throughout, and again on a rewatch. The routine really played to Bill’s strengths, particularly his ability to hit every little musical accent, and also threw in a bunch of risky props. There were moments when Oti’s movements were slightly larger than Bill’s, so he needed to bring that up or vice versa, but, overall, this took a lot of hard work, coordination and skill to achieve – and yet they made it so fun for us to watch. Irresistible entertainment.

Song: “Rapper’s Delight”, The Sugarhill Gang

Judges’ comments: Craig called him the king of pop and lock. Fantastic detail. Shirley noted that detail comes with hours and hours of work. Anton praised the amount of content and commitment to the role.

Judges’ scores: 8, 10, 9 – 27


Caroline and Johannes – The same again

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The usual story with Caroline. She has such gorgeous grace and elegance, and a lovely feel for the dance and the music. However, there’s still this timidity in her movement, and in waltz, you have to – quite literally – step outside your comfort zone in order to drive round the floor and create impact. She needs to bend her knees, lower and plunge forward on a heel, which will help her stay with Johannes rather than creating gapping. In fairness, their height difference is an extra challenge, but all the more need for her to dance “bigger” than herself. Time is running out… 

Song: “With You I’m Born Again”, Billy Preston and Syreeta Wright (COPYCAT KLAXON: Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan, Mark Ramprakash and Karen, Denise Van Outen and James, Helen George and Aljaž, Davood Ghadami and Nadiya)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her développés and ankle shaping. But missed heel turn and footwork issues. Anton liked her immaculate whisk, but bend knees more. Craig wanted more body contact, but she told the story.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8 – 22


Jamie and Karen – Bottoms up

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Once you got past the matching mariachi costumes, which made the blonde twins look like waiters at a theme restaurant, this was… surprisingly fun? You certainly can’t fault Jamie’s commitment. Technique wise, lots of missing details – he didn’t transfer his weight properly, so missed some hip movement, and didn’t stretch the back leg in the botafogos, plus his feet sometimes sickled when sliding about all over the place. However, it was canny of Karen to keep the routine fast-moving, so they zipped onto the next step, and balanced good content with energetic shimmies and booty-shaking. In contrast to Caroline, far from elegant, but more exciting to watch.

Song: “Bamboleo”, Gipsy Kings (COPYCAT KLAXON: Christopher Parker and Hanna, Gavin Henson and Katya, Natalie Gumede and Artem, Laura Whitmore and Giovanni)

Judges’ comments: Anton praised the bounce action and their partnership. Craig thought the booty action was fun, the batucadas more dubious. Shirley liked the content and the enthusiasm.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9 – 25


Clara and Aljaž – Practically perfect

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Hurrah! I’ve been longing for Clara to have A Moment, after several weeks of undermarking and not quite getting the measure of each style. This Charleston was a real triumph, from her a-maze-ing look to the characterisation and an utterly charming routine. Lovely mix of chic and playful, super swivel, great synchronisation and musicality, nice details like arm placement, and incorporated the lifts smoothly. My only quibble was the ending: instead of a big, dazzling climax, it fizzled out and looked a bit clunky – but, admittedly, that was partly a music issue. Really hope this is a turning point for Clara, and that she attacks the ballroom styles with similar gusto.

Song: “Baby Face”, Julie Andrews

Judges’ comments: Craig “I don’t want to see it again… until the final.” Shirley praised her swivel, shoulder line, rhythm, storyline and “those legs of death”. Absolutely brilliant. Anton agreed.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10 – 29


Leaderboard

Clara and Aljaž – 29

HRVY and Janette – 27

Bill and Oti – 27

Jamie and Karen – 25

Maisie and Gorka – 24

Caroline and Johannes – 22

Ranvir and Giovanni – 20

Max and Dianne – 20

JJ and Amy – 17

A huge leap for Clara to the top, while HRVY and Jamie are up, Ranvir and JJ are down.


Sunday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Wet-look stripes. Hmmm. Claud in a tomato-ketchup frock with spiky shoulders.

Dance-off

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Our first dramatic dance-off: Maisie and Gorka vs Max and Dianne. A very unlucky draw for Max – though Shirley revealed she would have saved him. Might Motsi have gone a different way to Anton? Probably not, but it’s intriguing to speculate… 

Did you agree with this week’s elimination? What about the early 10s? And who’s looking like a finalist? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week for staycation Blackpool. In the meantime… keep dancing!

Photographs: 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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