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Strictly Speaking – Week 6

Posted on October 29, 2018

Strictly Halloween Oti BBC Guy Levy

Ah, Halloween Week – the annual dumbing down of Strictly. Why have subtext or delicate concepts when you can instead bumble about dressed in the most thuddingly literal, kids-dressing-up-box interpretations of groaningly repeated and/or entirely insane songs?

Under such conditions, the judges’ sudden desire for technical precision seemed rather cruel – although it wasn’t applied fairly across the board, with some marks distinctly more generous than others. Overall, it made for a frustrating viewing experience: playing spot the dancer, then spot the dance, then spot the logic in the critique.

It might have resulted in an odd elimination, with a cluster of celebs at the bottom of the leaderboard, but in the end sanity prevailed and this year’s scandal was dispatched. Farewell, Sean(n) – and also Katya, whose creative choreo will actually be missed. I hope it returns next year in conjunction with a more worthy partner.


Other hits and misses:

Strictly 2018 Celebrities and Pro Dancers – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Ley














  • The opening Day of the Dead number was another Strictly triumph of cultural sensitivity. MISS
  • Seriously, could anyone even SEE with those contacts in? And can I get a pair for next year? MISS
  • Hello, Ts and Cs rando Moira Stewart – who at least brought some gravitas to proceedings. HIT
  • Ordinary annoying VTs >>>>>>>>> Halloween VTs. MISS
  • The copycat klaxon, it groans, it wearies. Is this a sign that Halloween Week has run its course? MISS
  • Oti is a queen who defeats all-comers. Tell us something we don’t know, pro number! HIT
  • Rita Ora sang to the smoke monster and some climbing plants. Also brought her own dancers, making the whole thing extra redundant. MISS


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Faye’s theatre/jazz Still think Couple’s Choice is a redundant showdance rip-off, but this at least wasn’t eaten alive by theming.
  • Best costume: Evil Queen Lauren Bonus points for the bristling feathers.
  • Best move: Faye’s sentient plait Hairography heaven.
  • Best line: Nicole Scherzinger talking so slowly that time began to move backwards And Tess’s frozen horror.



 Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Blood-red gown, Claud in velvet LBD with odd buttons. Bonus nod for Darcey the sexy oil slick.


Graeme and Oti – Fighting for your life

Oti Mabuse, Graeme Swann – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Well, this was kind of inevitable. Cha cha very much not Graeme’s forte, and the “Thriller” theming gave them the opportunity to do as little as possible. Enthusiastic, if mixed, MJ moves from Graeme (the moonwalk got stuck halfway), and another well sold routine, but far too little Latin content for this stage. Plus mistakes, heel leads and very sluggish leg action – sometimes just looked like he was walking. But kudos to Oti for immediately latching onto the excuse that his corpse-like stiffness was a creative choice. Sidenote: never mind zombies – the cover of this song was truly terrifying.

Song: “Thriller”, Michael Jackson (COPYCAT KLAXON: Colin Jackson and Erin, Jimi Mistry and Flavia, Jeremy Vine and Karen)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised the entertainment, but the cha cha needs work. Bruno thought he sold it, but flat feet and mistakes. Craig noted messy arms and stiff hips. Darcey liked the “Thriller” elements.

Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 6, 6 – 21





Stacey and Kevin – Waste of space

Stacey Dooley, Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Ugh. This is the major issue with Halloween for me. Stacey is perfectly capable of doing a dynamic tango, so why distract from that by letting Kevin indulge his inner tween yet again and dress up as a Cyberman? Also, if we’re so excited about lead-swapping, why not FINALLY introduce a same-sex pairing, since that’s a signature facet? Cross-promotion theme nonsense aside, good frame from Stacey, though occasionally flattened (especially when swapped), kept low so nice footwork, if missing some heel leads, and not much in the way of performance – though it’s hard to know what note to strike when you’re a Doctor tangoing with a Cyberman. Existential despair?

Song: Doctor Who Theme

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised her storytelling and focus. Craig thought it was strong. Darcey loved the change of roles. Shirley enjoyed the technical aspects and frame switch.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35




Dr Ranj and Janette – Creature feature

Janette Manrara, Dr Ranj Singh – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

So, there’s sticking the couple with a theme that doesn’t really suit the dance, and then there’s telling someone to jive while wearing a giant vomited-up hairball and insane shaggy slippers. Dr Ranj really drew the short straw here costume wise – or, lord, if this was actually requested…examine your choices, guys. Unsurprisingly, flat-footed, sloppy, stumbling footwork, plus errors and too much faffing about. Lacked dynamic movement, retraction, and working into the floor. Another smiley performance, but we’ve seen plenty of that from Ranj – it’s time for them to start delivering more.

Song: “Monster Mash”, Bobby Pickett (COPYCAT KLAXON: Patsy Kensit and Robin, Dave Myers and Karen)

Judges’ comments: Craig said it was stompy and there were timing issues. Darcey noted lots of mistakes, as did Shirley. Bruno said he was having an off night.

Judges’ scores: 5, 5, 5, 5 – 20




Kate and Aljaž – Cold comfort

Aljaž Skorjanec, Kate Silverton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Another theme that actively fought the dance – rumba is all about fluidity and smouldering passion, being frozen into an ice cube is…not – but I thought the judges were a bit tough on Kate here. Yes, there were clear technical issues, like throwing away her extensions, needing to work through the balls of her feet more, and really connecting through her whole body and with Aljaž, but at least this was a full, recognisable routine, coherently performed, and with some decent hip action and rumba walks. Would have preferred vampy Jessica Rabbit Kate – and that might have given her more confidence too – but not a bad effort.

Song: “Skin”, Rag’n’Bone Man

Judges’ comments: Darcey called her a beautiful ice queen, but needed more extension. Shirley praised her back walks, but some rogue heel leads. Bruno wanted more fluidity. Craig thought it lacked resistance, but good hips.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 5, 5 – 20




Danny and Amy – The spirit is willing

Amy Dowden, Danny John-Jules – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Bewilderingly full deployment of the smoke monster here, hiding everything below the knee for the first half of what seemed like a perfectly fine American smooth. Improving frame from Danny and footwork not bad, though a bit sticky and stolid still, as needs more drive and flow, and some gapping. The lifts were distinctly underwhelming, and rather rough dismounts – symptomatic of a pair who still don’t feel like they’ve really clicked. Also, can we call time on the “flying”? It’s long since lost its impact. Overall, an OK dance, but Danny still not quite convincing in ballroom.

Song: “Spirit in the Sky”, Doctor and the Medics

Judges’ comments: Shirley liked his beautiful arms, but work on the flow. Bruno praised his showmanship. Craig thought it was too staccato and lacked grace, but good musicality. Darcey noted slightly softer knees and good posture, but watch lift dismounts.

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 7, 9 – 30




Ashley and Pasha – Troll booth

Pasha Kovalev, Ashley Roberts – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Ghastly, ghastly song and theming just as painful here – did we have to go completely trolls overboard? Given how strong Ashley is, I was looking forward to a pure, full-ringer-domination Charleston. Instead, it required squinting past the nauseous pink explosion, baby faces, and Pasha’s distracting “sudden steep hillock” physique to appreciate elements like crisp side by side, great swivel, nice kicks, spot-on timing and committed characterisation. In fact, the whole thing is best watched while muted, in black and white, and already making a start on the comedown coffee. Definitely impressive, but in service of something divisive.

Song: “Witch Doctor”, Don Lang (COPYCAT KLAXON: Lisa Riley and Robin)

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought it was astonishing. Craig: “Swivel-icious, darling.” Darcey loved all the details. Shirley praised the choreography and synchronisation.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39




Sean(n) and Katya – Spells trouble

Katya Jones, Seann Walsh – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Ley

Conversely, the best element here was the concept, with Katya as a terrifyingly lifelike doll creatively worked into the routine. If you just watched her, this was a successfully spooky Viennese waltz. However, there was also Sean(n), dressed as the ghost of one of those overlooked middle von Trapp children, and seemingly cursed by some Halloween spirit to lose all sense of timing whatsoever. An OK attempted fleckerl, though with flat feet and again out of time, otherwise just a total fail on the basics here, plus a deflating frame and snatched closes. Disahhhster, darling.

Song: “I Put a Spell on You”, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (COPYCAT KLAXON: Scott Maslen and Natalie, Rachel Riley and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Craig noted he was lagging all the way through, and very skippy. Darcey liked the character, but jerky. Shirley noted some good driving steps, but timing issues and mistakes. Bruno said he lost the flow, but visually intriguing.

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 6, 6 – 20




Charles and Karen – Time after time

Karen Clifton, Charles Venn – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Let’s do the Time Warp again. And again. And again. Really, Strictly? So, yet another go at blending ironic kitsch with competitive jive, and in fairness this pair got the tone pretty spot on in an energetic number with dashes of weird. Charles started strongly, but lots of mistakes crept in as his energy faded, including sickled feet, kicks thrown away, feet lifting on the basic back rock, and an increasing casualness with placement of steps, until he was bouncing into random shapes rather than making distinct, on-time movements. However, definitely well sold.

Song: “Time Warp” from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (COPYCAT KLAXON: Michelle Williams and Brendan, Jamelia and Tristan)

Judges’ comments: Darcey loved his initial attack, but timing issues, and flappy sickled feet. Shirley agreed on timing errors. Bruno liked the wackiness. Craig praised the routine, but needed tidying up.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 6, 7 – 25 (LOL you cruel and amazing judges, the night’s real trolls)




Faye and Giovanni – All that jazz

Faye Tozer, Giovanni Pernice – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

So yes, apparently Couple’s Choice will always come with a whole X Factor tearful life story intro, god help us all. The unnecessary smoke monster returned, otherwise this number was mercifully light on distractions. Superb routine packed with tiny details to show off Faye’s sharp, well-defined movement, ability to find different levels, and of course to go Full Fosse. Loved the upside-down split lift, sleek back bend, strong floorwork and hair-as-nunchucks. Occasionally just a fraction off those very exacting accents, otherwise fantastic work. Sidenote: we’ve endured years of backdoor musical theatre auditions – what’s it going to be like now that celebs have a blatant excuse via this theatre/jazz category?

Song: “Fever”, Peggy Lee (COPYCAT KLAXON: Julian Clary and Erin, Jimi Mistry and Flavia, Kimberley Walsh and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised the small details throughout – first class. Bruno called it Fosse fabulous. Craig: “A-maze-ing.” Darcey praised their stunning performance.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39




Joe and Dianne – The vampire diaries

Dianne Buswell, Joe Sugg – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

PSA: can everyone please stop being weird around the young person? And he may look 12, but Joe’s actually 27 – Tess, adjust your cooing accordingly. Plus there’s a rumoured showmance on the cards here; add that to the “I’ve friended you on LinkedIn, fellow cool dude! Who’s a clever wittle thing?” and I might actually die of second-hand embarrassment. Anyway. A really nice foxtrot! Great to see continual improvement from Joe, including a stronger frame, better driving steps, more expressive movement, and consistent connection with his partner. Could use more swing and sway, even bigger steps, and grander presentation, but I’m hopeful he and Dianne will keep working on those details.

Song: “Youngblood”, 5 Seconds of Summer

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised the improvement and good acting. Craig loved the breakouts. Darcey said his technique is getting better and better. Shirley bestowed both a hug and the nan card.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35




Lauren and AJ – Drama queen

Lauren Steadman, AJ Pritchard – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Ley

Paso doble definitely seemed like it could be a natural dance for Lauren, with its foundation of strength and power, and so it proved. Unfortunately, lacked shaping and Spanish line, which made some of the marching a bit monotonous, but fantastic confidence and intent throughout, felt like she hit her steps more independently, rather than being shoved into place by AJ, and starting to express the music more through her body, instead of just the face. Darcey’s right in pointing out that the rondes were thrown away, and still needs to clean up transitions so she doesn’t have dead spots, but a nice breakthrough moment from one of this year’s J-worders.

Song: “Poison”, Nicole Scherzinger

Judges’ comments: Craig said they needed more shaping, but praised the focus and energy. Darcey liked the determination and intention, though also felt it lacked shaping. Shirley disagreed with Craig on it having “wobbly bits”. Bruno loved the proud, regal performance.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 – 29





Faye and Giovanni – 39

Ashley and Pasha – 39

Stacey and Kevin – 35

Joe and Dianne – 35

Danny and Amy – 30

Lauren and AJ – 29

Charles and Karen – 25

Graeme and Oti – 21

Dr Ranj and Janette – 20

Kate and Aljaž – 20

Sean(n) and Katya – 20


It’s a battle of the blondes once more, with Faye, Ashley, Joe and Lauren up, Charles and Danny down.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Vaguely nice mesh affair – no asymmetry at least. Claud sparkly LBD and blinding neon-green heels.


Oti Mabuse, Graeme Swann, Katya Jones, Seann Walsh – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Graeme and Oti versus Sean(n) and Katya. Marked improvement from the former, and the judges all voted to save him.

Unintentionally amusing exit speeches, as Sean(n) decided we would all remember them most for their Matrix dance, and Katya praised Sean(n) for his “commitment”. Suffice to say they’ve had a rocky road, and definitely feels like the show can go back to normal with their departure.

What did you think of Halloween Week? Did you agree with the scoring? And who did you want to see leave? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week for a return to relative sanity. 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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