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Strictly Speaking – Week 6

Posted on October 26, 2017

Strictly Halloween BBC Guy Levy e1509460182374

Oh Strictly Halloween. Every year I forget how grim your Fright Night will be, and every year I am gripped anew with its frightfulness.

So, once more with feeling: if you’re not sure whether this week is meant to be entirely surrendered to the dressing-up box or somehow magically balanced with brilliant ballroom, how on EARTH are the couples meant to know? Poor Susan and Kevin really epitomised the problem: trying to fuse Queen and Game of Thrones with elegant foxtrot. Does. Not. Compute.

As ever, Halloween judging was all over the map: sometimes a lack of pure dance was condemned, sometimes rewarded; one person’s bold creative choice was another person’s terrible betrayal of the ballroom gods.

Oh, and the VTs were just spectacularly awful – wasting not just our time but the dancers’, when a good day or so must have already been devoted to The Great Halloween Conundrum. Just stay in the training room. Dance. It worked for our Strictly forebears. And it will make our total trouncing of X Factor all the sweeter.


Other hits and misses:

  • Bruno returned, after being in a magical sleep for a THOUSAND YEARS. Dial it down, love, not that much changed in your one week off. MISS
  • Steps performed! Steps were fun. And not a cobweb in sight. (Well, not literally.) HIT
  • From the past winning pros being frozen in time to Brendan’s angsty contempo-waft tantrum, the group numbers were decidedly meta this week. Also: WIGS. Less so ballroom. MISS
  • Sigh, the scoring. I love Debbie, but obvious errors do not a perfect 10 make. Nor “bopping” in paso. This is what comes of early over-marking. MISS
  • At the other end of the spectrum, is Halloween now the recognised “Bury your bad news week”? Loads of weaker styles dispatched – tactically shrewd, but made for deathly viewing. MISS
  • The (mumble) Dance Debrief gets a mention, purely because Shirley had a hilarious pop at Claud’s posture and started rearranging her bosom on live TV. Why we bothered with a dance-off instead of spending another 10 minutes on this… HIT 

Craig Revel Horwood, Darcey Bussell, Shirley Ballas, Bruno Tonioli – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy



Best in Show

  • Best performance: Alexandra’s tango Would love to see it again without all the theme shtick.
  • Best costume: Shirley “Cruella” Ballas The critical gesticulating all the better in blood-red gloves.
  • Best move: Shirley’s mimed transferral of her crown While Debbie got stuck in the judges’ desk cobwebbing.
  • Best line: Giovanni’s “DEBBEH!” If the 10s were purely for that, I rescind my objections.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Terrifying amount of velvet and Morticia Addams shoulders. Claud in sparkly black.


Jonnie and Oti – Shipwreck

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

OK, I’m ignoring the VTs for pure sanity reasons, but must just say this one was almost (ALMOST) salvaged by Jonnie’s endearing bad pirate voice. Ditto the routine (ALMOST) by their sizzling pirate double act – something for everybody there. Unfortunately, this was otherwise a disappointment, as cha cha (traditionally a friendly beginners’ dance, but truly we are in the Strictly Upside Down) continues to fell celebs. Though the steps were just about in place, style most certainly was not: flat-footed, lacked hips, bottom sticking out again, hands splayed, and performance not enough to paper over the cracks.

Song: “Troublemaker”, Olly Murs feat. Flo Rida (COPYCAT KLAXON: Nicky Byrne and Karen)

Judges’ comments: Shirley noted the lack of rotation and body action, but he’ll come back strong next week. Bruno…had lots of pirate metaphors. Craig found it stompy. Darcey wants more character.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 5, 5 – 20





Ruth and Anton – Nosedive

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

So much to take in here: Ruth’s frame wobbling all over the studio, but her Eighties power hairmet never moving an inch; Anton sporting a tail that made him look like a vandalised soft toy leaking stuffing. Also a quickstep. A confident one on Ruth’s part – and it’s been great to see her confidence grow – but a mixed bag technically. Decent movement, however dropped in and out of sync numerous times, lots of gapping, too square in hold, her frame collapsed like a failed soufflé, and mistakes.

Song: Bewitched Theme Song (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jason Donovan and Kristina)

Judges’ comments: Bruno noted frame issues and errors. Craig said she gripped Anton, lacked style and chassés out of time. Darcey thought it was charming. Shirley, teaching Anton the Brendan Lesson: “Don’t make me count those mistakes, darling.”

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6, 6 – 22





Simon and Karen – Why why why

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

So this was apparently (consults notes) a Sweeney Todd-themed American smooth. Which you could be forgiven for confusing with two fright wig-sporting London Dungeon guides attempting to walk off horrible indigestion. Total absence of heel leads and thus drive, never clear whether he was attempting to close his feet or cross them, plenty more of the patented “Standing still while Karen whirls around like a manic scarf” move, and capped off with increasingly weird post-dance munching. Why why why, I ask again.

Song: “Delilah”, Tom Jones (COPYCAT KLAXON: Kelly Brook and Brendan, Abbey Clancy and Aljaž)

Judges’ comments: Craig called it “the dance of the living dead”. Darcey found it lumpy. Shirley: “Never underestimate the power of a little bit of technique.” Bruno thought it was more American horror story than smooth.

Judges’ scores: 2, 5, 5, 4 – 16





Gemma and Aljaž – Welcome to the Hellmouth

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

Jive probably wasn’t going to be an outright winner for Gemma, but this did look better in training – lots of errors on the night, of course, god bless you Halloween. Decent energy and performance, but needed more punch and spring in basics – too upright and flat on her feet. Kicks oddly inconsistent: some good retraction, others thrown away. Very much one of those “Grit your teeth, stick Aljaž in a leather jacket and get through it” dance styles. Sidenote: Definitely more Buffy the movie than Buffy the TV series.

Song: “Ever Fallen in Love”, The Buzzcocks

Judges’ comments: Darcey liked her pump action and side-by-side work. Shirley noted mistakes and posture issues, but nice link and rotation. Bruno praised the content and her growth in confidence. Craig said it lost synchronicity and lumpy moments, but good spins and energy.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 7, 8 – 30





Joe and Katya – Tangled web

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

I’m in two minds about “Arty” Katya’s choreo: great to see her getting more creative, post-Ed Balls, but does sometimes feel like a stretch for Joe to really master. I mean, it takes years of dance experience and some kind of special voodoo power to make rolling round on the floor look like a convincing part of foxtrot, and not a toddler falling off a slide. When actually in hold, travelled well, super pivots and some great lines, but needs to smooth out transitions and maintain drive without getting jagged or stompy.

Song: “Trouble”, Coldplay

Judges’ comments: Shirley said it was flat-footed, but good flow and frame. Bruno praised the combination of character and dance. Craig liked the energy, bit of swing and sway, and storytelling. Darcey thought there were uncomfortable moments, but he looked in control.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32





Mollie and AJ – The devil’s in the detail

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

Mollie backsliding majorly here, pretty much relying on her catsuit to do the work. Lots of wiggling on the spot and flapping her tail around, but it’s Week 6 – she needs to start delivering proper content, power and technique in Latin. Steps fudged, so hip action only coming independently, not through real leg action. As Shirley noted, core strength is a real issue – she’s still too unstable, not cleanly hitting a line or maintaining a movement, so lacked sharpness and snap. Disappointing.

Song: “Better the Devil You Know”, Kylie Minogue (COPYCAT KLAXON: Russell Grant and Flavia)

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised their connection, but needs to work on foot placement. Craig wanted straighter legs and balance issues. Darcey said her weight was too far back, but cheeky. Shirley reiterated her concerns about core strength – Mollie’s collapsing in the centre, so her shoulders go up and she can’t coordinate her limbs.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27





Alexandra and Gorka – Come on strong

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

Phew! This was the first Halloween number I thoroughly enjoyed. Not perfect, the odd stumble, but a still a cracking tango – thanks in large part to Alexandra’s full-throttle commitment. Essentially the opposite to Mollie in movement terms, as she makes sure every single step and accent is crystal clear – sometimes so much so that she throws herself off, and, as Bruno noted, could use a bit more light and shade. But also meant power, passion, staccato, speed, and the excitement of seeing her really push herself and take visible risks.

Song: “Maneater”, Nelly Furtado (COPYCAT KLAXON: Emma Bunton and Darren, Rachel Riley and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Craig loved the intent, purpose and sharp accents. Darcey thought it was fierce, strong and terrifyingly good. Shirley noted one little mistake – almost a perfect score. Bruno wanted a moment of stillness, but great.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 8 – 35





Davood and Nadiya – Too sexy for my shirt

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

A quick poll: Davood wore a look of piteous terror throughout this rumba because a) He’s the greatest actor of our time, move over Mark Rylance; b) He was running so very late to the Undead Magic Mike tryouts; c) The wind machine froze his face in place; or d) He shared my despair at their continuing lack of properly danced basics? So…hmm. As a floaty contemporary dance with glittery pecs, and a level of emoting that often escapes male celebs, a pretty decent effort, but so hard to judge on rumba terms given the glaring lack of it.

Song: “Wicked Game”, Chris Isaak (COPYCAT KLAXON: Michelle Williams and Brendan)

Judges’ comments: Darcey thought it was strong and fluid, but wanted more rumba basics. Shirley said it was just lunge after lunge, so no flow. Bruno liked the arms and intensity, but needed hip action. Craig liked his presentation of Nadiya, but needed better basics.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 6, 7 – 25





Susan and Kevin – Mother of Dragons

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

This number began with a chastening reminder of the difference between HBO and the BBC’s dragon budgets. (Endless CGI! One up from a bath toy!) Tricky tension here between winking, parodic Game of Thrones cosplay – complete with more smiling than either character has done in years – and, er, foxtrot. Though, in fairness, the latter had decent movement and a slightly improved frame, if plodding and square in places. I mean, was foxtrot ever NOT going to be upstaged by flames? Think the only other option was giving up and playing entirely for laughs – otherwise trapped in an impossible position.

Song: “Killer Queen”, Queen (COPYCAT KLAXON: Fern Brittain and Artem)

Judges’ comments: Shirley wanted more grace, and a few mistakes. Bruno liked the madness of it all. Craig found it pedestrian and out of hold too long. Darcey noted better frame and arms, but don’t get excited and lose them.

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 5 – 18





Debbie and Giovanni – In a flap

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




























I would feel better disposed towards this zombie-prom-reunion-Charleston if it didn’t feature an endless costume change…just to reveal Debbie now wearing the blue flapper dress we could already see. Anyhow, fun to watch her letting loose, and some superb dancing as well – fantastic swivel, really lovely stylistic details in each movement, and a confident, expressive performance. But oh those lifts – one made me yelp in fright, and not sure about the end position being basically “…and that’s where babies come from!” Still fantastic, but not quite perfect.

Song: “Frankie”, Sister Sledge

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought it was brilliant. Craig found the lifts clunky, but loved everything else. Darcey praised her precision, speed and fearless lifts. Shirley handed over her Queen of Latin crown.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39





Aston and Janette – The spirit of the law

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

And then we came to the end. A good high-impact number from Aston, and much closer to the actual dance style in question than we’ve seen from him in previous weeks, though still not entirely transformative. Perhaps it was the music, or the choreo, but weird glimpses of hip hop and even Latin movement in there, which I found distracting, and slightly too frantic for proper paso (lost little details, like throwing away the free arm or shoulders coming up). However, some nice shaping, convincing power and attack, confident solo, and great leap.

Song: “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Nirvana

Judges’ comments: Craig noted the routine was full of hip hop, but amazing. Darcey loved the drama and he owned it. Shirley said it wasn’t conventional paso, but executed well. Bruno thought it was the perfect Halloween treat.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 – 38






Debbie and Giovanni – 39

Aston and Janette – 38

Alexandra and Gorka – 35

Joe and Katya – 32

Gemma and Aljaž – 30

Mollie and AJ – 27

Davood and Nadiya – 25

Ruth and Anton – 22

Jonnie and Oti – 20

Susan and Kevin – 18

Simon and Karen – 16


Debbie stays on top, while Aston and Alexandra rise, and Jonnie and Susan fall.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Both in black – Tess with a fabric tail, for reasons known only to Tess.



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

What a tense dance-off! Thanks, show! Well, obviously the judges all saved Mollie and AJ over Simon and Karen – and would have whatever happened, short of Mollie actually impaling her partner on her trident. Farewell, another dad dancer, off to the great garden shed in the sky. The surviving pair I hope will take this as a wake-up call.

What did you make of Halloween Week? Did you approve the 10s? And were the right celebs in the bottom two? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week for (hurrah) a non-theme show. In the meantime…keep dancing!


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


Top picture: The Strictly Come Dancing contestants and professional dancers – (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

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