Dedicated to dance
since 1910.

Buy Latest Issue

Strictly Speaking – Week 5

Posted on October 23, 2017

3 judges BBC Guy Levy e1508754277109

The big news this week was Italian gesticulator Bruno Tonioli missing his first ever Strictly, apparently because of American work commitments. It’s FINE, Bruno, go be with your OTHER family, we don’t CARE.

Actually, with Craig providing a pitch-perfect impression (complete with chair tumble), Bruno’s contribution was basically covered – and it meant more time for the remaining judges to give detailed comments.

My only fear was that a leaderboard full of tied scores would result in some weird, shock exit – but no! We had exactly the right pair in the dance-off (Dad Dancer vs Dad Dancer 2: Even Dadder!), and the belated exit of Brian Conley, who’s been giving off low-key “Just wanted a quick profile boost to up my panto fee, quite like to get off home now” vibes for a good long while. Let’s hope Simon joins him soon. Onwards!


Other hits and misses:

  • So, which annoying VT was the worst crime against humanity? For me, it’s a close call between the training plane and the sumo. MISS
  • Rather a weird trend of “So this is what you normals do for work!” theming. Let’s maybe not fetishise the service industry? MISS
  • Ye Olde Ten Second Rule, which Moses carried down from Mount Sinai, was conspicuously absent this week. Colour me stunned. MISS
  • The results show brought us Sixties speed dating (ugh) and whimpering from The Script (double ugh), though the latter at least enlivened by the unfeasible hotness of Oti and Aljaž. HIT/MISS
  • Darcey’s retort to excuse-making Simon that he should swivel on his uninjured leg, which subsequently became judging lore, may be my favourite thing she’s ever done. HIT


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Debbie’s rumba A classic ballroom routine, beautifully performed.
  • Best costume: Anton’s sentient ruffled sleeves Runner-up: Aston’s airport romantic novel cover-esque voluminous blouse.
  • Best move: Jonnie’s flirting down the camera Only enhanced by Tess’s startling inability to tell which camera we’re on.
  • Best line: “Claud, did you get us something to nibble on?” As Pasha is wheeled in. Ahem.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Tess Daly, Claudia Winkleman – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Hurrah, a red dress with the minimum of baffling asymmetry. Claud with a chic take on menswear.


Davood and Nadiya – Extra shot

Nadiya Bychkova, Davood Ghadami – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Annoying VT: Davood is such a “method actor” (Miranda look to camera) that he just HAD to get some barista experience. Plus, you know, life skill if this acting lark doesn’t work out. So, I guess we have to give up hope – we’re always going to get frantic numbers from this pair. Their caffeinated (I guess? Is that the point of the theme? Am I just clinging to logic in a cold, chaotic universe?) jive was messy and skippy, with Davood flat-footed throughout. High energy, though, and Nadiya dressed as an exotic bird of prey for illogical bonus points.

Song: “Tell Her About It”, Billy Joel

Judges’ comments: Shirley noted he attempted the toe heel swivel. Craig thought it was heavy-footed, bent legs, uncontrolled upper body and lacked retraction. Darcey found it light and energised, but watch the free arm.

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 8 – 22




Mollie and AJ – Pier pressure

AJ Pritchard, Mollie King – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Annoying VT: Right, I’m going mad. I swear we just did the motion sickness storyline. Endless hanging about on a pier intro (thank god we don’t have a well-established, consistently applied rule about such things), setting the tone for a number so schmaltzy I joined Mollie in her nausea. Frame still comes and goes, and feels like AJ is providing most of the drive, plus a terrifying moment where Mollie attempted to detach her partner’s head from his body while smiling widely like a psycho, otherwise an effective Viennese.

Song: “Anyone Who Had a Heart”, Cilla Black (COPYCAT KLAXON: Patsy Kensit and Robin, Sunetra Sarker and Brendan)

Judges’ comments: Craig liked the opening, though too long, and good posture. Darcey enjoyed the romance, but she had one arm dead straight, ruining her topline. Shirley praised the chemistry (…) and content.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8 – 24





Simon and Karen – Last legs

Simon Rimmer, Karen Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Annoying VT: Trip to whatever Simon’s day job is, for jocular chat with some other guy I am happy to remain ignorant of. What glamour. Anyway, Simon is…still here. This week delighting us with out-of-sync, low-energy, flat-footed Charleston in Rupert the Bear banana checks. Also miming that suggests he’s never seen a violin before, and a marked lack of swivel – quite, Darcey, never mind the leg he lost in the war, chin up and blooming well use the other one! We didn’t build an empire by sitting around moaning!

Song: “Fit as a Fiddle (And Ready for Love)”, Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor

Judges’ comments: Darcey wanted more swivel and character. Shirley liked the slapstick. Craig agreed on lack of swivel, plus he was late with his jumps.

Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 6 – 16





Debbie and Giovanni – Paging Bruno

Debbie McGee, Giovanni Pernice – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Less annoying VT, as Debbie acquainted Gio with her late husband, Paul Daniels. Not how I imagined their dates, but OK. Loved this rumba routine – full of classic ballroom content and technique. Actually harder to nail that than the flashier tricks and poses (which is why the latter tend to get more use in Strictly), so the odd wobble from Debbie in more exposed elements like pure rumba walks, but a massive improvement in foot pressure, leg and hip action from last week, and a lovely understated connection between them.

Song: “Baby Can I Hold You”, Tracy Chapman

Judges’ comments: Shirley loved the basic figures, poise and her beautiful straight standing leg. Craig channelled Bruno magnificently. Darcey praised the superb leg lines. Her best dance.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9 – 27





Brian and Amy – Bye-de-Bye

Amy Dowden, Brian Conley – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Annoying VT: Off to Wales, where Amy was determined to crowbar in some camera time. This routine was already handicapped by trying to jive to a samba track, and further hamstrung (for me anyway) by the cheesy holiday camp theming. But a technical mess too, with Brian never getting his weight in the right place, stomping on the spot and kicking aimlessly, chucking out spatulistic hands, and adding a particularly shambolic knee slide. Timing decent in some parts, in others looked like he and Amy were dancing completely different routines.

Song: “It’s Not Unusual”, Tom Jones (COPYCAT KLAXON: Alex Jones and Lilia, Victoria Pendleton and Brendan)

Judges’ comments: Craig found it flat-footed and no retraction. Darcey thought he had more energy in his face than in his body. Shirley liked the content, but he’s safest in hold.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6 – 16





Susan and Kevin – The ex factor

Susan Calman, Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Ooh actual training VT, treasure it. Love Susan’s determination to master at least some of the dance elements, rather than skate by purely on comedy, even if Kevin’s routine shifted the balance a bit too much in the favour of the latter with the lengthy post-break-up framing. It was pretty much the full titles of a Nineties sitcom. Needs to make steps smaller and turn out on checks, not much in the way of hip action, and the splits were slightly alarming. But I do enjoy her (unintentional) back-leading of Kevin, and spirited performance.

Song: “Shout Out to My Ex”, Little Mix

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the content, but keep steps tighter. Shirley thought she brought cheekiness and commitment, but needs to make arms more beautiful. Craig loved the energy, but turned in and no hip action.

Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 7 – 16





Aston and Janette – Falling short

Janette Manrara, Aston Merrygold – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Annoying VT: It’s time to deploy The Baby. You know, that thing disturbing Poor Aston’s sleep. (Ha.) Another neverending intro, and one that made me doubt this was a waltz at all – is it actually contempo-rumba week? In fact, this routine pretty much encapsulated why I struggle to warm to this couple: Aston still isn’t leaving his comfort zone by adapting to different dance styles, not helped by Janette’s choreography. In hold, myriad posture issues, gapping, no fluidity or swing and sway, rushed and spiky. Given his experience and capabilities, disappointing.

Song: “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, Elvis Presley (COPYCAT KLAXON: Tom Chambers and Camilla, Harry Judd and Aliona)

Judges’ comments: Shirley liked the mix of ballroom and contemporary. Craig found it too sharp, and hands flat or splayed, but loved the opening. Darcey thought it was fussy and over-detailed, but beautiful partnering.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8 – 24





Ruth and Anton – I have to help Wayne with his bogo pogo

Anton Du Beke, Ruth Langsford – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Annoying VT: The training plane. But all was forgiven once they ditched the stupid airline theme to go full Strictly Ballroom – I mean Anton’s sleeves alone, holy ruffles, Batman! And those must be the pinkest trousers ever created. I’m with Craig in that it’s hard to critique such a deliberate pastiche. But it was kitsch and giddy and oh yes possibly a samba if only refracted through a retro Baz Luhrmann haze, which is basically Anton’s Latin sweet spot. (Not sure anyone even noticed Ruth, which is probably just as well.)

Song: “Love Is in the Air”, John Paul Young (COPYCAT KLAXON: Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan, Ashley Taylor Dawson and Ola)

Judges’ comments: Craig loved the send-up, if not the technique. Darcey said she was having fun, but needed more body motion. Shirley noted mistakes, but enjoyed the content and parody.

Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 6 – 16





Gemma and Aljaž – Round and round

Aljaz Skorjanec, Gemma Atkinson – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Fairly annoying VT: Another victim of the Strictly dizziness epidemic. So, a lush Aljaž ballroom number – generally a winner – and some technical and performance improvement from Gemma, but still a fair few issues left exposed by this unobtrusive foxtrot. Gapping, needs more drive, some awkwardness in head positioning and free arms, and the odd nervous moment. But even though this style probably isn’t Gemma’s forte, they’re quietly one of the most consistent couples this year, which bodes well. Sidenote: does anyone, ever, look good in brown?

Song: “Believe”, Madilyn Bailey

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised her quality and versatility, but overstretching her neck. Shirley loved the elegance, but glide more. Craig: “The frontrunners need to look behind them.”

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8 – 24





Joe and Katya – Listen to the rhythm. Don’t be scared

Joe McFadden, Katya Jones – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Annoying VT: Sumo wrestling. LIKE THE MATADORS DO. Cracking routine from Katya, going for full paso drama with a bare-chested Joe, proper trad music, and some kind of warrior queen flower arrangement on her head. Needed more extreme shaping in places, shoulders went up, and odd habit of turning his body while keeping his feet stuck in place, but fantastic commitment, good style, impressive double spin, and another great comeback for the yo-yo pair. Sidenotes: not sure of the 10, but kind of amusing that he beat Aston to it. Also delighted that he borrowed Scott Hastings’ jacket.

Song: “Diablo Rojo”, Rodrigo y Gabriela

Judges’ comments: Shirley loved the shaping and knee walks. The best male paso so far. Craig noted some stilted moments, but strong, controlled and he owned the space.

Darcey praised the traditional style and shaping.

Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 10 – 26





Alexandra and Gorka – Foot faults

Alexandra Burke, Gorka Marquez – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Annoying VT: Never mind the book balancing exercise – does Alexandra not have a SINGLE book in her home?? Call out the emergency mobile library, stat. Earthy, sexy samba, about as far removed from Anton’s pink fantasia as possible, with great rhythm, body action and steamy performance. But messy as well: footwork approximated, legs too bent in places, and turns slightly off balance. However, Alexandra’s commitment and confidence means she’s always fun to watch, and her openness to technical critique is promising – harder for the ringers to go on a “journey”, but she might manage.

Song: “Shape of You”, Ed Sheeran

Judges’ comments: Craig said she’s amazing, but pigeon-toed in this dance. Darcey loved the isolations, but concentrate on details of footwork. Shirley praised her performance, but agreed on details – brush feet past each other and articulate ankles.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8 – 23





Jonnie and Oti – Shop till you drop

Oti Mabuse, Jonnie Peacock – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Annoying VT: The acting coach cometh. Which basically resulted in Jonnie doing a few cheesy faces down the camera, so congratulations – you have now attained the acting level required for Strictly. Well, I partly jest. There was definitely more animation in this quickstep, particularly once we got past the supermarket nonsense, and technical improvements too. Posture is looking much better – next needs to work on swing and sway, but maintaining the frame now. Travelled strongly, lovely light footwork, coped well with the content, and a fun ending.

Song: “Part-Time Lover”, Stevie Wonder

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised his speed, characterisation and detail – just watch the right elbow. Shirley liked the pendulum swings and ease of movement. Craig said all the elements are coming together.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 9 – 24






Debbie and Giovanni – 27

Joe and Katya – 26

Mollie and AJ – 24

Aston and Janette – 24

Gemma and Aljaž – 24

Jonnie and Oti – 24

Alexandra and Gorka – 23

Davood and Nadiya – 22

Susan and Kevin – 16

Ruth and Anton – 16

Brian and Amy – 16

Simon and Karen – 16


Debbie, Joe and Mollie rise, while Alexandra and Susan tumble.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Tess Daly, Claudia Winkleman – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Both in black, with Tess’s version trying to throttle her (or possibly save her from the terrifying finger-in-socket hair).



The bottom two couples Karen Clifton, Simon Rimmer, Amy Dowden, Brian Conley – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

So. Much. Yellow. Two pretty dismal numbers – not much to choose between them. Craig saw a glimmer of swivel in Simon, and Darcey said he was more finished (well we enjoyed both when they finished), so he squeaked through.

Who impressed you this week? Did the right person leave? And did you miss Bruno? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week for (shudder) Halloween. In the meantime…keep dancing!


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


Top: Craig Revel Horwood, Darcey Bussell and Shirley Ballas – (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: