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Strictly Speaking: Week 5

Posted on October 25, 2021

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Well that’s more like it. After a rather exhausted, grouchy hangover show last week, Strictly was back on form with several really impressive routines, a scattering of 10s, a new bread-based-ography, and the judges wandering idly down memory lane. The race to the final is still too close to call, even if it felt like some of the chasers were given an extra boost in scores this week to help close the gap. 

We say farewell to poor injured Ugo, who groaned his way through a rumba while everything about him signalled “Would like very much to be lying down now please.” He’s been a lovely presence on the show, and it’s a shame his “J word” was cut short, but equally it’s a high standard this year and I’m not sure he would have lasted much longer even at full strength. That means no hat trick for Goddess Oti, but she still reigns supreme among us.

We were also missing Judi Love, who tested positive for COVID-19. Obviously we all wish her well and hope to see her back next week, but it did make me wonder if this system extends through the whole series. What if you tested positive in the quarter-final – do you go straight through to the final? Is the programme ever going to address the whole several pros still aren’t vaccinated issue? It does feel like the safeguarding is quite lax compared with last year (Strictly, as ever, a microcosm of Britain). 

Other hits and misses:

  • Anton. Sigh. I just… It’s getting worse. It’s like he brewed up a batch of Len Goodman Polyjuice Potion, only he forgot a vital ingredient somewhere along the way. MISS
  • The VTs remain pretty much sane. Hurrah! Though we had yet another deluge of Family prop points. See: Adam playing his nan card and the Family Walker. HIT/MISS
  • Has Grumpy Craig had enough of Strictly? I really hope not – he’s the only judge left on the panel who gives every critique in complete sentences, rather than word salad, cliché bingo or dying animal noises. MISS
  • Ts and Cs rando: John Bishop, who – gasp! – was in front of an audience. What a reveal. MISS
  • The pros went back to the Swinging Sixties, aka the setting of every other jive, moving on. MISS
  • Craig David and MNEK performed from an abandoned ice palace, while Neil and Dianne did some random 1990s hip-hop. Cool cool. No further questions. MISS

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Rose’s Viennese waltz Fantastic blend of ballroom and drama.
  • Best costume: Adam’s jeans Runner-up: AJ the tangoing exotic bird.
  • Best move: The synchronised baguette cartwheels Hollywood Handshake-worthy.
  • Best line: Shirley’s “Thank you for the memories!” Yes, that marital spat of a Viennese hit a little too close to home… 


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Sparkly cream one-shouldered frock, Claud two sparkly black sacks. Shoutout also to Shirley’s Christmas tree-at-the-office and Motsi’s watermelon sweet wrapper.

Dan and Nadiya – Hearts and flowers

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Did someone rob a florist? Suffocating floral theming for this Viennese waltz, even extending to poor Nadiya, who looked like a burst piñata. Dan also piled on the family man shtick: his wife’s favourite song, the kids trotted out in training (10s all round or no pocket money). So, I do think Dan’s overall performance skills have improved hugely, and his partnering is very sweet, but he looks to Nadiya to set the pace, rather than leading the dance himself and really powering forward with those super-long legs. Also some messy footwork, slightly constricted frame, a few errors, and a bit of a cheat hiding the free arm behind his back.

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

Judges’ comments: Shirley Ballas praised his consistency, but he needs more belief. Anton noted an early error. Craig wanted more feeling and his hands were spatulistic. Motsi liked the atmosphere, but move more.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 – 28 

Adam and Katya – The jean genie

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I mean, you have to hand it to these two: they understand their appeal, and they’re more than happy to play up to it. Hence that totally pandering yet frankly irresistible opening striptease, plus Adam testing the very limits of his skin-tight jeans with a series of eye-popping Magic Mike gyrations and crotch thrusts. Which was particularly staggering coming off the back of a wholesome nan visit. Samba-wise, great timing and good attempt at lots of the basics, like the walks and batucadas. Still too much random lunging though and the hip action in the actual steps felt forced. A fun confident performance with, er, obvious charms, but comparatively overmarked. 

Song: “Faith”, George Michael (COPYCAT KLAXON: Matt Dawson and Lilia, Abbey Clancy and Aljaž)

Judges’ comments: Anton thinks samba is ridiculous. Thanks Anton! Craig said it lacked fluidity, but extraordinary isolation. Motsi enjoyed the hips. Shirley praised his musicality and promenade runs.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 7 – 29 

Sara and Aljaž – One love

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I should really stop being surprised by Sara, and yet here I am once again, enjoying a dance that I feared would be a trainwreck. I’m not just saying that because her VT featured slo-mo Aljaž cucarachas. This also ignited ye olde “Rumba: love story or pure filth?” debate. Evidently Sara and Aljaž came down on the side of love, keeping their union together even while under the looming Eye of Sauron (visual representation of the Strictly Curse). Really impressed by Sara’s articulated foot action, improved hips, lovely expressive arms and feeling for the music, plus lots of pure Latin content. Could have extended the lines further and needed more varied dynamics, but a creditable effort.

Song: “You’re Still the One”, Shania Twain (COPYCAT KLAXON: Julian Clary and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Craig thought it lacked passion. Motsi praised her lines and connection, but wanted more Cuban motion. Shirley said it was balletic and warm. Anton preferred this to bump and grind rumba, but her weight is too far back.

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 7, 7 – 25 (seriously, Craig?)

Tom and Amy – Sugar rush

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So, was this a full 9 points better than Sara? Definitely a more dynamic performance (albeit in a very different style), and I loved Tom’s combination of hitting all the musical accents while making it look natural and organic. However, his footwork was messier – not helped by the wretched trainers – and so lacked hip action, plus this had similar wildness to Rhys’s effort last week. When you take big skidding steps with flat feet, it feels much more like freestyle street or disco than salsa, plus Tom continues to look much happier out of hold. The lifts were indeed big and risky, but also signposted and wobbly, especially the “toddler Amy wants airplane!” one. Fun but flawed, and overmarked – are they trying to force his “J word”?

Song: “Watermelon Sugar”, Harry Styles

Judges’ comments: Motsi liked that he didn’t play it safe. Shirley, doubling as a driving instructor, praised his directional focus and peripheral awareness. Anton noted he got whacked by Amy in the first lift, but carried on. Craig said it should be more grounded and needed figure of eight hip rotation, but great one-handed cartwheel.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 8 – 34 

Tilly and Nikita – Call me maybe

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Hello, Tilly’s uni friends AKA two more blonde clones to add to their burgeoning cult. Hello also to Strictly Does Weirdly Formal Text Flirting – yes, that is absolutely the teen way in the year of our lord 2021. Anyway, this was another really lovely foxtrot to add to our collection (what is happening this series?), with good control, no gapping, and lots of basics really nicely danced. However, a bit skippy in the transitions, could widen the frame more, and missed some heel leads – which then limited the drive. I’d love to see her push past the endearing phase; she’s absolutely capable of it, as we saw last week with her mature riposte to that ghastly LBC host.

Song: “Little Things”, One Direction

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised their physical connection and improved frame. Anton called it joyous. Craig loved the flow and grace. Motsi said she’s beautiful and classy.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36 

AJ and Kai – On the edge of glory

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Ooh, now that’s more like it. Loved the sheer drama here – simmering intensity all the way through, but also interesting variations. Loads of great Argentine tango content too, and they didn’t just rely on lifts to create impact. However, it’s so tricky to find the balance for this dance (quite literally!). Yes, as Craig said, you want it to feel reactive, but you also have to control your own actions and keep the legs and core really toned. At times, it looked like AJ was leaning on Kai too much. Also needed to be more compact in the hold and brush the legs past each other instead of leaving big gaps. That said, great intention in every single movement. 

Song: “Edge of Seventeen”, Stevie Nicks

Judges’ comments: Anton said it was terrific. Craig wanted more follow and reaction, but amazing. Motsi called it phenomenal. Shirley thought it was world championship level.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 10, 9 – 35 

Ugo and Oti – Not back for long

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Alas, poor Ugo. There’s really no dance that doesn’t involve using your back – and just because rumba is slow doesn’t mean it’s not physically taxing. No wonder that Oti had to resort to the patented “Celebrity Maypole” routine, i.e. Ugo mainly standing still while she does her level best to distract by dancing around him. Not even Oti, however, nor the terrifyingly ginormous romance novel drapes or 1970s sofa cover costumes, could hide Ugo’s limitations here. In fairness, he sold it fairly well, but it was basically just wooden steps, lunging (again with the lunging!) or running around in a circle with his arm out like a signpost stuck in a whirlpool.

Song: “Leave the Door Open”, Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic

Judges’ comments: Craig said it was stiff and heavy-footed. Motsi thought he created “sultry hot chocolate sauce” (!), but should have been clearer. Shirley agreed. Anton noted some fear.

Judges’ scores: 3, 6, 5, 6 – 20 

John and Johannes – Bread of heaven

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What a tasty treat of a dance. I agree with Motsi that it felt like a full-blown production number, but this was also pure classic Charleston. Gorgeous swivel action, both at full speed and in the slow-motion segment, and the synchronisation was just astonishing. It really did look like two professional dancers who’d been partners for years. The characterisation was charming, too, and a great balance of basic action with fun tricks (cartwheels while holding baguettes!) and slapstick – the custard pie to the face was the perfect end. Also: I want all of those pastel delights, especially the cravats. Oddly, they almost made it look TOO easy – could maybe have pushed for a riskier, “wow” lift – otherwise fab-u-lous.

Song: “Milord”, Edith Piaf

Judges’ comments: Motsi called it spectacular and said they’re the couple to beat. Shirley thought it was flawless. Anton loved the baguette-ography. Craig was transported back to his days “dancing at the Moulin Rouge in a G-string with a blue fish on my head”. Let’s just sit with that image for a moment.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38 

Rose and Giovanni – Get out of my ballroom!

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We got our first proper sighting of dramatic Rose and ooh, it makes me so excited for her upcoming dances. This was a whole soap opera episode, as well as a phenomenal Viennese waltz: the story fuelled the movement, and vice versa. I LOVED the BSL opening – it added something really special and fresh to the routine, and created a beautiful link with the physical storytelling of dance. This sophisticated number also showed how much Rose has grown: her improved posture, lovely wide frame and stronger footwork, with just the odd error, and her ease with some tricky timings. The whole thing flowed beautifully and they really did move as one. Bravo!

Song: “Fallin’”, Alicia Keys (COPYCAT KLAXON: Gethin Jones and Camilla, Ben Cohen and Kristina)

Judges’ comments: Shirley said it was like watching her life story with her past husbands. Yikes! Anton praised the routine, but she missed a fleckerl. Craig: “Fab-u-lous.” Motsi said it had the “it factor” – magical.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 9 – 37 

Rhys and Nancy – Much too much

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Oh sigh. Can we please wrest these two away from the dressing-up box? The airline pilot thing added precisely nothing to their American smooth, other than giving me the opportunity for silly wordplay. (Was there turbulence? A bumpy landing? You bet!) An improvement on, say, running around the room pretending to be Spider-Man, but it’s still a battle to contain Rhys’s… everything. It’s almost comical how he strains in hold, the energy bubbling up in his flapping shoulders and shaking frame, and then as soon as he’s released he starts leaping around like an electrified cat. Yet, with his sliding feet, he’s not actually driving the dance so they don’t travel. Perhaps that’s why they only had 14 seconds in actual ballroom hold. Sigh. I’m losing patience.

Song: “I’ve Got the World on a String”, Michael Bublé

Judges’ comments: Anton said his open work is outstanding, but his arms are too far back in hold. Craig noted he fell out of his turns and his frame moves. Motsi said he makes the choreography his own. Shirley wants the enthusiasm contained.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32 


John and Johannes – 38

Rose and Giovanni – 37

Tilly and Nikita – 36

AJ and Kai – 35

Tom and Amy – 34

Rhys and Nancy – 32

Adam and Katya – 29

Dan and Nadiya – 28

Sara and Aljaž – 25

Ugo and Oti – 20

John, Rose and AJ are up, Sara is down.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Strapless LBD for Tess, very covetable leopard-print leggings for Claud.


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Interesting: Ugo and Oti versus Rhys and Nancy, with viewers saving Sara from the bottom two and also sparing Dan and Adam. Perhaps others, like me, are tired of seeing the same thing from Rhys week after week – or just assumed he was safe in mid-table and weren’t particularly excited about voting for their smooth.

Obviously, this wasn’t a close call – all the judges saved Rhys – but that means he’s in a vulnerable position, sandwiched between some super-strong dancers and those with loyal fanbases.

Would you have put those two in the bottom? Are you sad to see Ugo leave? Who got your vote this week? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week for the scariest night of the year: Strictly’s Halloween show. In the meantime… keep dancing!

Photograph: 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

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