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Strictly Speaking: Week 6

Posted on October 28, 2019

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A dark curse has been placed upon this series of Strictly – by a very powerful witch, or possibly a disgruntled ex-pro. How else to explain… THE INVASION OF THE DANCE-SNATCHING DAD-DANCERS. For not only did David “Vacant” James outlast genuine contender Dev, but we are now going into Week 7 with both Chris “Goldfish” Ramsey and Mike “Rasputin” Bushell somehow still clod-hopping on. Oh ye dance gods, why have you forsaken us?

There’s plenty of blame to go around here – starting with the producers who made ghastly choices even by Halloween standards. Horrendous music and theming smothered most of the routines and contributed to a peculiar leaderboard, exacerbated further by our judges once again losing their collective minds and confusing marginal improvement with miraculous brilliance.

Was Mike’s tango less egregious than his not-samba? Yes. Does that mean we should be subjected to yet another week of his outthrust posterior jiggling around “hilariously” to a rhythm known only to Mike Bushell? NO, IT DOES NOT. And (sob) this means we lost our lovely Johannes, as well as a dancer who, yes, had a weaker number this week, but still had way more potential: Catherine.

What on earth is the point of the dance-off – terrible TV, usually just one awful dance followed by a slightly less awful one – if the panel won’t even use it to save the stronger dancers? That was the whole rationale when it was introduced. At this point, the judges are both actively manipulating the show through insane, unfair scoring – and then failing to make a pragmatic choice when it actually counts. If they can’t do their jobs, well then let’s just make their scores advisory, ditch the dance-off, and have the public decide instead.

Other hits and misses:
  • The Curse also took out Will and Ginger Neil, with Kevin stepping (er, probably LEAPING) in for the latter. Per Twitter, Gorka was… less than pleased with that decision. MISS
  • Ts and Cs rando: actress Anna Maxwell Martin of Motherland, in a bit of BBC cross-promotion. Halloween bonus: fighting off a cursed cloak. HIT
  • Much dressing-up box raiding for the pro numbers too. The result show’s Goth fest was marginally more bearable. HIT/MISS
  • Adam Lambert yelped. Our pros were rejected. Rude. Bringing your own dancers to Strictly is like turning up to a dinner party with a pizza. MISS
Best in Show
  • Best performance: Michelle’s Morticia foxtrot The role she was born to play.
  • Best costume: Michelle and Giovanni I mean really.
  • Best move: Karen’s wig making a bid for freedom Hair-raising stuff.
  • Best line: Claud’s “I don’t think it’s true about Snapchat” Plus more accidental shade from Motsi, enthused that she could actually tell what dance Mike was attempting!


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Ginormous witchy sleeves for Tess, tulle confusion for Claud.

Emma B and Anton – Stacking the deck
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Emma Barton and Anton Du Beke. Photograph Guy Levy courtesy of THE BBC.

Is this all about giving Anton one last hurrah before he departs for the “Ha ha marvellous” golf course in the sky? There must be some sort of explanation for why the other celebs get universally dinged for clear technical errors, and Emma just… does not. This tango had dramatic music and styling – and that was it. Emma was FAR too upright throughout, dancing on her toes instead of softening the knees, practically no heel leads, bouncing up and down, clear gapping in promenade, strange head position, and Anton kept hauling her into the next step rather than Emma providing independent movement and attack. And yet 8s?!

Song: “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor”, Bach

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised the Viennese crosses, but (LOL) still wants more chemistry. Bruno loved the premise. Craig said it lacked drive, the staccato needed work, and Emma has to up her game. Motsi liked her posture and character – push it more.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 8, 8 – 28

Emma W and Aljaž – Party piece
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Viscountess Emma Weymouth and Aljaž Skorjanec. Photograph Guy Levy courtesy of THE BBC.

Another Emma getting off lightly – this one as continued justification for the judges saving her over Dev methinks. For we had here (yawn) yet another dance done prettily and passively, making Charleston look very like her jive, cha cha etc… What’s the point of seeing another style when they’re all performed the same way? On the plus side, confident lifts and a half-decent swivel, but it was placed rather than hit – Charleston doesn’t have to be all-out gurning, but you do need distinct, quirky accents, instead of sliding through the movements and lying behind the beat. Sidenote: Aljaž was admittedly charming as a frostbitten Old Father Time.

Song: “A Little Party Never Killed Nobody”, Fergie feat. Q-Tip and GoonRock

Judges’ comments: Craig thought it lacked energy and sharpness. Motsi disagreed, saying it was beautiful. Shirley praised the lifts. Bruno said she sold it.

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 8, 8 – 30

Chris and Karen – Most haunted
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Chris Ramsey and Karen Hauer. Photograph Guy Levy courtesy of THE BBC.

Yes, this really was a ghostly costume drama samba danced to the Backstreet Boys. No, you have not confused your meds. (Can’t speak for the producers.) Coherence, obviously, was never going to be a possibility. Actual samba? Lots of timing issues, Chris didn’t get down into his knees to produce the bounce or hip action, not hitting any strong lines, and far too many shimmies. Credit to them both for actually attempting some proper samba content (ahem Mike), and he continues to have a winning attitude when it comes to learning, but it rather feels like we’ve hit a ceiling here…

Song: “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”, Backstreet Boys

Judges’ comments: Motsi said it was fun and had good energy. Shirley noted the mistakes, sickled feet and needed more hip action, but lots of content. Bruno advised dancing with the music. Craig thought his joints needed WD-40.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 6 – 23

Saffron and AJ – Spells trouble
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Saffron Barker and AJ Pritchard. Photograph Guy Levy courtesy of THE BBC.

Well, the 1990s Sabrina the Teenage Witch look totally worked for Saffron (though I don’t remember the original doing quite so much knicker-flashing…). Less helpful? A frantic song choice that had them fighting the music the whole way through. Shame, as it had tons of promise, with nice crisp jive kicks and spins from Saffron. But took big steps on basics, hurling her weight back and contributing to her losing the rhythm, which meant AJ yanking her into position. Agree with the judges she needs to work on details – but that requires AJ pulling back on his choreo, and the producers not dooming them with the song.

Song: “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic”, The Police

Judges’ comments: Shirley loved her flick ball changes, but advised work on details and timing. Bruno praised their performance and partnership. Craig said it was the first dance he’d enjoyed tonight. Motsi liked her commitment, but work on transitions.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 9 – 33

Mike and Katya – Curiouser and curiouser
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Mike Bushell and Katya Jones. Photograph: Guy Levy. Courtesy of The BBC.

Firstly, that horrific Bunny Mike will play a starring role in all my future anxiety dreams. Taking an exam? Bunny Mike invigilating! Falling off a cliff? Pushed by Bunny Mike! So, this tango. Was it closer to the actual dance than we usually see from these two? Yes – although, we still had Wonderland costumes, (messed-up) clock-ography, writhing on the ground to the bewilderment of the studio audience etc. Was the dancing closer to the actual style? Again yes – BUT still flat-footed, bottom out, shoulders up and twisted. So, marginal improvement; does that really warrant keeping him in the competition? After all, this isn’t just a private lesson – this is someone performing to the nation.

Song: “What You Waiting For?”, Gwen Stefani (COPYCAT KLAXON: Matt Di Angelo and Flavia)

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised their intention. Craig noted posture issues and it was stompy, but good concept. Motsi thought it was better than last week, and he attempted the frame. Shirley liked the work ethic.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 7, 7 – 26

Karim and Amy – Stranger than fiction
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Karim Zeroual and Amy Dowden. Photograph: Guy Levy. Courtesy of The BBC.

Please, for the love of god, just let Karim do a normal dance to a sane tune. This paso was doomed from the start: a niche Stranger Things theme that they spent the whole VT trying to explain (which went about as well as explaining the punchline of a confusing joke), and a song that didn’t allow for the light and shade or distinct paso styling the judges wanted. (Since we’re NOW marking on pure ballroom…) Yes, his dances can be too busy, reliant on tricks and technique from previous training, so it’s a good note for Amy moving forward – but I can’t see she had much choice here.

Song: “Smalltown Boy”, Bronski Beat

Judges’ comments: Craig loved the jetés and double pirouette, but too frenetic. Motsi thought it lacked intention and impact. Shirley said it was too continuous, so he didn’t sell the paso posture. Bruno found it thrilling, original and creative.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 8 – 29

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

Not even a visit from her Corrie castmates could spare Catherine from this year’s dance of doom: the cha cha cha. It started well, with confident characterisation and movement (albeit adding an illegal lift), but got more and more scrappy: Catherine didn’t differentiate between straight and bent legs, looked wobbly on the turns, and picked her feet up too much. The performance also went in and out – sometimes great, sometimes she was looking at the floor. While certainly not their strongest, it was far from a dance disaaaaahster – the scores seemed comparatively harsh (technically, I’d put this on a par with Emma B). Still some good partner work and glimmers of potential.

Song: “Scared of the Dark”, Steps

Judges’ comments: Motsi praised her sass and upper body, but needed more details with the arms and footwork. Shirley noted a great accent on the 1, but mistakes. Bruno said she sold it, then went wrong. Craig agreed.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 5, 7 – 24

Michelle and Giovanni – Oh snap
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Michelle Visage and Giovanni Pernice. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.

Hello, first dance I enjoyed in the entire Halloween show! Thank you, Dark Goddess Michelle and excellent Gomez Giovanni: this was pure joy. Some minor niggles – would have loved to have seen more of her footwork, but the smoke monster wasn’t having it, and Michelle could still pull up more in hold and exaggerate her head position – but a superb balance of characterisation and ballroom, witty, creative and elegant. A good heel turn, lovely smooth movement round the floor, well-maintained hold with almost no gapping, and great transitions from hold to jazzy accents. See, producers? Theming can actually support a dance when done right.

Song: “The Addams Family Theme”, Vic Mizzy (COPYCAT KLAXON: Scott Mills and Joanne)

Judges’ comments: Shirley said it was phenomenal – lovely musicality and frame. Bruno liked the combination of classic, Gothic and sassy. Craig struggled to find much wrong with it. Motsi said they got the technical aspects and also put on a show.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Kelvin and Oti – Mad, bad and dangerous to know
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Kelvin Fletcher and Oti Mabuse. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Hello, second and final dance I enjoyed in the entire Halloween show! A few more annoyances here – the smoke monster out in force again, plus Kelvin flying wasn’t an interesting enough effect to justify the amount of faff it took, with Oti having to vamp while he got out of the harness – but this was still a powerful tango that, overall, accommodated the theme without surrendering to it. Excellent staccato, good footwork, great movement, held the frame strong and steady, and maintained the mood throughout. A couple of little errors and occasionally off time with the music, otherwise impressive – and bodes well for future ballroom.

Song: “Bad Guy”, Billie Eilish

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the hypnotic intention. A mistake, but mesmerising. Craig thought it was incredible. Motsi praised the strength, precision and controlled frame. Shirley found it terrifyingly fabulous.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36

Alex and Kevin – All change
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Alex Scott MBE and Kevin Clifton. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

This is such a tricky one to judge in the circumstances. Yes, Alex managing to pull this off with a new partner – who didn’t really know the routine – showed incredible mental strength, and also illustrates how far she’s come as a confident performer. On the flipside, it was (understandably) scrappy, and I’d imagine there would have been much more interaction with Neil to sell some of the cheesier aspects of this street routine. Like last week, it showcased Alex’s athleticism and great to see her having fun with it, though lacked sharp definition. Will be interesting to see how she fares when back with Neil and back in ballroom.

Song: “Ghostbusters”, Ray Parker Jr. (COPYCAT KLAXON: Sid Owen and Ola, Georgia May Foote and Giovanni)

Judges’ comments: Craig said she was earthy and did well, but floated through the moves too much. Motsi loved the locking and performance. Shirley praised her for coping with the partner swap. Bruno said she delivered under pressure.

Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 9, 9 – 34


Michelle and Giovanni – 39

Kelvin and Oti – 36

Alex and Neil – 34

Saffron and AJ – 33

Emma W and Aljaž – 30

Karim and Amy – 29

Emma B and Anton – 28

Mike and Katya – 26

Catherine and Johannes – 24

Chris and Karen – 23

Michelle and Alex rise, Karim and Catherine fall.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Back in black, again. Alarming asymmetry vs nightie.


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Mike Bushell, Katya Jones, Catherine Tyldesley and Johannes Radebe. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Catherine and Johannes versus Mike and Katya. They were certainly close in the dance-off – arguably, Mike kept it together slightly more, though still technical issues on both sides.

A split judges’ vote: Motsi and Bruno voted for Catherine, Craig and Shirley – with her casting vote – for Mike. BOO. That meant we lost a good dancer in Catherine and a wonderful pro in Johannes (SAD FACE)… in favour of more “comedy” desperation and Mike stomping about. Hmph.

So, another judges’ decision that makes for a more boring, less competitive and less varied series. I completely value the Strictly “triers”, encouraging us all to have a go, but we don’t need to keep them all on indefinitely – surely, at this point, we should start prioritising those who can really compete, and who most entertain the audience.

What did you think of Halloween Week? Who impressed you? And did the judges get it right? 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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