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Strictly Speaking: Week 5

Posted on October 21, 2019

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Which was more incomprehensible on so-called Super Saturday: wherever we may or may not have landed with Brexit, or guest judge Alfonso Ribeiro’s “critiques”? For the sake of my sanity, the latter shall not be recorded here. Suffice to say that, as someone who’s never seen Fresh Prince of Bel Air, and thus doesn’t even have a vaguely nostalgic emotional tie to Ribeiro, I remain uncharmed by his egocentric, nonsensical waffle. (See also: Brexit.)

ANYHOW. Even with the Alfonso Scoring Inflation Rate, we somehow wound up with marks and critiques a little closer to reality this week – rewarding both the strong dancers and those who showed actual, rather than producer-scripted, improvements. Also… there was Couple’s Choice, increasingly the Get Out Of Jail Free Card of dances, since no one bothers to (a) establish any sort of criteria on which to fairly judge it, or (b) actually judge it. That’s an insurmountable problem in a competition format with comparative scoring, where strange marks (see last week) can result in us losing good dancers too soon, but hey – good thing we kicked out Dev for a just-OK cha cha, otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten to see David “It’s Hard For Tall Men” James butcher the jive, or Mike burn the samba to the ground and salt the earth! Right, guys? Right???

Other hits and misses:
  • All hail Queen Motsi and her amazing eye make-up, we are not worthy. HIT
  • Joe Lycett, Ts and Cs rando, had to hug the camera in order to read said Ts and Cs. Should have gone to Specsavers. MISS
  • The copycat klaxon got a breather this week, but many of the song choices remain baffling. The celebs shouldn’t have to succeed in spite of their music. MISS
  • Our pros walked the red carpet. As expected, the real diva delights were Johannes, WORKING IT in heels, and Goddess Oti. HIT
  • Mabel droned. Gorka, Dianne, AJ and Nancy gamely bopped. MISS

Best in Show
  • Best performance: Alex’s Charleston Breakthrough, finally!
  • Best costume: Karen’s quickstep combo She’s really on fire this year.
  • Best move: Joe Lycett vs Stairs Watch and weep.
  • Best line: Motsi to Mike “You made me need therapy.” Once more speaking for a nation.


Tess’ dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Are we at a winter wake or a summer wedding? Ill-fitting velvet flares for Tess, floaty polka dot frock for Claud.

Kelvin and Oti – The rhythm is gonna get you

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

Aston Merrygold not only inflicted his “hit” “song” upon us, but also visited the training room to offer advice (on how to get eliminated in Week 7). Kelvin, amusingly, could not have cared less. Nor did he look thrilled to be stuffed into a printed denim jacket – clearly, Wardrobe were on orders to combat his overwhelming machismo after that Rumba Sex Riot. Still, he managed a good cha cha – fantastic rhythm, crisp footwork, great synchronisation and communication with Oti, and nice presentation. Agree with the judges that it needed more flow, and could have straightened his legs more, but a fun number – making tricky content look easy.

Song: “Get Stupid”, Aston Merrygold

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised his body action – get stronger leg action to help with fluidity. Craig thought the walks were stiff, but amazing rhythm, isolation and arm placement. Motsi liked the foot speed and natural, flirty expression.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 9 – 33

David and Nadiya – Nightmare

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

Once more we say: look what the judges’ rampant overmarking hath wrought. Did we really need another week of David? A whisper of a performance, off-time throughout – not helped by stomping with flat feet and taking giant steps – and too many mistakes to count, even with Nadiya wisely choreographing a sizeable chunk of distraction tricks while David just stood, somehow still behind the beat. Any sort of sync move showed the vast disparity between Nadiya, dancing jive, and David… kinda moving, as though trapped in a jar of treacle. Underground. In 1972. BRING BACK DEV.

Song: “Such a Night”, Michael Bublé

Judges’ comments: Craig noted the timing issues and lack of energy. Motsi said the upper half of his body had fun, but mistakes. Shirley said at least he carried on.

Judges’ scores: 3, 4, 4, 5 – 16

Catherine and Johannes – Gilded cage

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

A mixed bag here. I rather enjoyed Johannes’ extravagant theming, especially as it was kept to the beginning and end of an actual tango (and Catherine’s feather-tastic dress), rather than taking over the whole number. However, felt slightly caught between the performance side and nailing down technique, which was erratic: an improved frame from Catherine, but not always maintained, good timing and staccato, but missed heel leads and didn’t always close her feet properly. She needs more strength to keep connected to Johannes at speed. Hugely improved in confidence, though, and the characterisation seemed to help her find the style of the tango, so that was a clever choice.

Song: “Little Bird”, Annie Lennox

Judges’ comments: Craig noted they’re not always dancing as one unit, and issues with footwork and gapping, but loved the head placement, staccato and drive. Motsi praised Catherine’s versatility, but needs resistance. Shirley said it was passionate and fierce, but work on footwork details.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 8 – 28

Karim and Amy – The tail wagging the dog

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

First of all: puppets are creepy, that dead-eyed mutt is no exception. Secondly: WHO LET THIS SONG OUT? Yet another Karim number marred by a ghastly production choice. It pushed him back into his hip hop comfort zone – the trainers probably not helping either, making him flat-footed and bouncy, rather than working into the floor – and good luck finding light and shade in that relentless nonsense. Yes, the timing, energy and tricks were impressive, but I would have loved to see more attention paid to salsa details – like taking smaller steps and getting proper hip action, isolating the body action rather than shaking everything, and more fluidity.

Song: “Who Let the Dogs Out?”, Baha Men

Judges’ comments: Motsi praised the quick changes, lifts and leading. Shirley liked the coordination – a delight to watch. Craig noted the basics were too big and he dances too hard sometimes.

Judges’ scores: 8, 10, 9, 9 – 36

Michelle and Giovanni – Don’t stop moving

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

Family prop points for Michelle via a long-distance call with her daughters. At least it’s not a nan. So, my expectations may have been too high for this rumba, which was perfectly nice, but didn’t really set the dance floor alight. All credit to them for focussing on basics, rather than tricks, but it exposed missing elements – like Michelle not settling into her hips, so felt too stilted and upright. Good foot placement, but needed to continue the movement right through her centre, and also keep extending the arms. Plus: they could have pushed the sexiness a bit more (was it the watching daughters…?). Lovely storytelling, though.

Song: “Too Good at Goodbyes”, Sam Smith

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised the choreography and elegance, but lacked sensuality through the centre. Craig wanted continuous movement, but brilliant performance. Motsi agreed, though liked the emotional, lyrical feel.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 8 – 29

Emma B and Anton – Tough break

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

Ah, ye olde “EastEnders schedule is killing me” plot line, so good to revisit the classics. May well have contributed to another crazy-eyed psycho performance from Emma – she’s found her niche and she’s sticking with it – but nothing else particularly exciting about this paso. Very little shaping in the body, lacked power and drama (Emma conveying a lot in the face, not in the movement), too stiff, and either anticipating or working against Anton’s lead, which led to wobbles and clashes. Some nice moments of flamenco, but underwhelming. Sidenote: LOL at the suggestion she should have scorching chemistry with Anton. Not sure we can blame Emma for that one…

Song: “Nothing Breaks Like a Heart”, Mark Ronson and Miley Cyrus

Judges’ comments: Craig wanted more fire, and her free arm is haphazard. Motsi liked the character, but she needed to soften up physically. Shirley agreed it lacked passion, and too placed.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26

Alex and Neil – Strong suit

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

Happy birthday, Alex – have the present of a dance the judges actually like, and some of those mad scores everyone else has been enjoying! This was a really fun, unusual Charleston, superbly tailored to Alex (as was that natty suit). Good swivel, loved all the accents and details, and the cool wit and laidback charm were irresistible – it was a modern take on vaudeville, with these two the perfect suave double act. Could still work on getting stronger lines by keeping her shoulders down and extending, but Alex lifting Neil was a great use of her athleticism. Plus the rare instance of a music choice really paying off.

Song: “Pump Up the Jam”, Swingrowers

Judges’ comments: Craig said it was unbelievable. Motsi thought she was light on her feet and entertaining. Shirley praised her for taking control, and a lovely dynamic between them.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 9 – 33

Emma W and Aljaž – Love is blind

Aljaz Skorjanec and Viscountess Emma Weymouth. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Just to be sure, the producers covered Emma in Post-it Notes, all saying, “Justify the dance-off…”, “Justify the dance-off…” Yes, a floaty Viennese with Aljaž, Whitney and Mills and Boon billowing drapes is many people’s idea of Heaven, and Emma is certainly happier in lyrical ballroom, but still lots of niggles here – variable footwork (partially hidden by the smoke monster and a dead swan hem), lots of gapping, wrong head position and frame inconsistent. Lovely movement round the floor, and they’re certainly pretty to look at, but in a week where many others were called out for technical issues, it felt like they got a free pass. HMMMM.

Song: “Saving All My Love for You”, Whitney Houston

Judges’ comments: Motsi called it beautiful. Shirley agreed, though work on the frame. Craig said Aljaž had worked wonders.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36

Mike and Katya – Jumping the shark

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

Samba is dead. RIP samba. Ugh, where to begin with this travesty… Cravenly courting Alfonso with a gimmick that’s meaningless to most viewers? Mike’s level of fake tan coming scarily close to a BBC tribunal on race relations? The singers yelping out non-sequiturs as though being electrocuted? Actual samba wise: looked utterly bizarre, because Mike was mincing through the steps up on his toes and with his bum sticking out, legs held awkwardly apart like a constipated goat. No rhythm, no hip action, and the mad staring eyes of a man who has sold his soul to a forgotten 1990s TV sidekick. BRING. BACK. DEV.

Song: “Apache (Jump On It)”, The Sugarhill Gang

Judges’ comments: Shirley called it a crowd-pleaser. Craig recoiled in horror. Motsi said it was all wrong, but entertaining.

Judges’ scores: 3, 6, 5, 7 – 21

Will and Janette – Life story

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

Could Will possibly top Saffron’s Couple’s Choice tale of how she likes filming people on her phone? Well yes, clearly. Once you introduce a children’s hospital into the mix, that pretty much dictates our response to the ensuing number. HOWEVER. As Will is also a hard-working, determined competitor, I feel slightly uncomfortable about the show’s handling of him here, as it essentially rendered the dance irrelevant. There was actually lots of good work from Will, with real intention and expression, if sometimes limited movement and too many lifts, but it felt like we were only allowed to call it “inspirational”, rather than really engage with their routine.

Song: “7 Years”, Lukas Graham

Judges’ comments: Craig praised the emotional storytelling, but needed more free movement in the torso. Motsi was crying too much to speak. Shirley said it was inspiring.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 9 – 32

Chris and Karen – Purple patch

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

Hands up who was dying to visit Chris Ramsey’s old school? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? So, a decent enough go at quickstep, but stilted in hold versus energetic out of hold. By now, we really want to see the celebs driving a dance with a strong heel lead throughout. Posture marginally improved, but topline shouldn’t bounce around, shoulders up, and head in the wrong position. However, I do enjoy them as a pairing, and it’s clear they’re working hard to entertain (without forcing it like Mike and Katya). Sidenote: Chris, please close your mouth, else I’m going to enlist the studio audience to throw sweets at you.

Song: “Let’s Go Crazy”, Prince

Judges’ comments: Craig wants more floor coverage and topline issues, but great personality. Motsi noted improvements. Shirley agreed, but too flat-footed.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 7, 7 – 25

Saffron and AJ – Cane and able

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

Well, look – if you’re going to devote your whole VT to the JEOPARDY of props, we’re going to root for a cane drop. No such joy, though Saffron was nearly thumped in the face with it near the end. Anyhow, a lovely old-school routine from AJ; though Saffron doesn’t add musicality naturally, she does well when it’s choreographed in, as it was here. Good frame, with just a tiny bit of gapping, and strong footwork on the basics, though occasionally the heel leads (this is picky) were almost too firmly placed, interrupting the flow. Would also like to see her extend more and build up core strength, but a fab number.

Song: “New York, New York”, Frank Sinatra (COPYCAT KLAXON: Colin Jackson and Erin, Michael Vaughan and Natalie, Thom Evans and Iveta, Anita Rani and Gleb)

Judges’ comments: Motsi praised the technique and feeling. Shirley loved the heel pulls, heel turn and timing. Craig said she brought it to life, and enjoyed the cane section.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 – 38


Saffron and AJ – 38

Karim and Amy – 36

Emma W and Aljaž – 36

Kelvin and Oti – 33

Alex and Neil – 33

Will and Janette – 32

Michelle and Giovanni – 29

Catherine and Johannes – 28

Emma B and Anton – 35

Mike and Katya – 21

Chris and Karen – 25

David and Nadiya – 16

Saffron nabs top spot, while Emma W, Alex and Will rise, Emma B and David fall.


Tess’ dress: impressed or depressed?

Glitter versus glitter, the one less tacky than the other. (I’m sure you can guess.)


The bottom two couples Nadiya Bychkova, David James, Katya Jones and Mike Bushell. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

A dismal dad-dancing dance-off, with David’s lacklustre jive versus Mike’s not-samba. The judges all saved the latter.

What did you think of this week’s show? Are you an Alfonso fan, and who’s looking like a real contender? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week for Halloween madness. 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

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