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Strictly Speaking: Week 6

Posted on November 1, 2021

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Have I just lowered my expectations so much that we’ve hit 3,000 feet below sea level, or was this Halloween show actually… kind of bearable? Yes, there were some horrendous dressing-up elements (we’re coming to that opening pro number shortly, and the ridiculously overmarked lobsters), but also several brilliant dances that not only survived the theme onslaught but cleverly harnessed it. 

Leading the way, of course, were Rose and Giovanni with their blizzard of 10s – the earliest 40 in Strictly history. That means Gio retains his position as the leaderboard-topping king of Halloween, with Rose a fab-u-lous ice queen. Our first deaf contestant isn’t just offering a salient lesson in accessibility (with a massive increase in Google searches for sign language after last week’s BSL-incorporating number), she’s a serious contender for the glitterball.

Rose overcoming huge challenges, cheerfully and uncomplainingly, makes it all the more irritating that Dan Walker keeps going on about his height as though it’s the biggest challenge any Strictly contestant has ever faced – and justification for traumatising a nation with that godawful shellfish shambles. I still feel seasick.

However, truly it was the pros who brought the horror/“What’s in this drink?” surrealism with that skin-crawling group number. The premise was bad enough (a kind of dance version of the endless cinematic prequels for villains – just let them be evil, not everyone needs a that-dalmatian-killed-my-mother backstory!), the execution was actually terrifying.

Hannibal Lecter doing jazz hands. The Joker giving us sassy hips. Darth Vader pirouetting. Captain Hook paso-ing with… a bearded disco angel? God in drag? Voldemort flinging Hermione into a floor spin and then contempo-wafting with a whimpering Pinocchio – and a random choir sing-whispering the exact shudder-inducing tune that would accompany any one of these dance-monsters axe-murdering you in your sleep, while Pennywise giggles behind his balloon. NO THANK YOU.

Other hits and misses:

  • OK, the ghost paddles were adorable. HIT
  • Seriously, Motsi, what is with the insane scoring? Please get back to the Motsi we loved: handing down serious technical critiques and deserving marks, not word jumbles and giddy 8s. MISS
  • Ts and Cs rando: Stephen Merchant and the Ghostbusters theme. MISS
  • A less horrendous pro dance on the results show, featuring Kai getting sucked into a spooky painting. Immersive art: the Strictly way. HIT
  • Gregory Porter popped by to jazz-croon while sexy skeletons Cameron and Jowita did some breathless jive. Yes, that is the correct collection of words. HIT 

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Rose’s tango Absolutely gaw-jus.
  • Best costume: Aljaž in leather bondage Runner-up: Maleficent Motsi.
  • Best move: Kai trolling everyone by kissing AJ’s hand Smooth moves.
  • Best line: Shirley offering a “mummy hug” Yes, that was scarier than anything the dancers served up.

Saturday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Both in black frocks: Tess with her usual slit and a hideous feathery hem, Claud cute and sparkly.


John and Johannes – Dancing in the moonlight

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I wasn’t wild about this song choice: it was better suited to the Charleston elements than the actual quickstep. The characterisation was fun, though, despite the weird salt-and-pepper-Elvis-haired werewolf styling. Great to see plenty in hold, more lead-swapping, nimble footwork and a nice mix of basic content with flashier elements like the jetés. I agree the routine felt a tad repetitive, and it showed up that John was tiring, since he didn’t execute those repeated elements quite as well in the latter stages: some gapping and his frame was drooping. Would also be interesting to see him exaggerate that follower position more in ballroom, but plenty to enjoy.

Song: “Bad Moon Rising”, Creedence Clearwater Revival (COPYCAT KLAXON: Susanna Reid and Kevin)

Judges’ comments: Shirley called it a spectacular: light on his feet and beautiful footwork. Anton praised his frame as a leader, but the follower frame needs more poise. Craig thought it was repetitive and could have been cleaner, but great energy. Motsi said his ballroom is improving.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 8 – 33


AJ and Kai – Sssssssssensational

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Plenty of Family prop points for AJ’s nieces and nephews, particularly the one who, speaking for all the shippers, demanded that she kiss Kai. As did Claudia, with the same level of subtlety. I mean, it’s a cold, dark world out there, the planet is doomed, and we need some joy: just let us have this, guys. Anyway. Whether or not they’re actually a thing, these two continue to have insane chemistry on the dancefloor, and I loved this dark, snake-infested, Medusa-themed Viennese (despite wardrobe saddling AJ with ripped seaweed wings and hair full of secrets – and tangles). Super strong in hold, with lovely smooth basics, pivots and fleckerls, balanced with exciting, expressive characterisation and a mega floor spin. 

Song: “Dangerous Woman”, Ariana Grande

Judges’ comments: Anton called it exquisite – just fix the head position. Craig noted they maintained body contact and magnificent storytelling, but sometimes sickled in the feet. Motsi said it was her favourite of AJ’s dances. Shirley loved the footwork and frame, just exhale.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 9 – 37


Dan and Nadiya – Shell shock

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Do lobsters jive? “Absolutely!” Bless Nadiya for her manic conviction in that VT. But I call foul here: this theme made NO sense and definitely felt like convenient cover for Dan doing a shoddy dance. Sure, the timing was OK, but no bounce, no retraction in the leaden kicks, basic steps too big, Dan’s feet were flat and turned in throughout (sickling is a problem for AJ, but not for him?), and he still doesn’t know where to put his free arm. Perhaps I’m a grouch, but I remain unamused by the stupid claw hand snapping and horrible waggling eyes growing out of his bleeding ginger dye job – it looked like the result of a terrible head-on collision in a joke shop. Just: no.

Song: “Rock Lobster”, The B-52’s

Judges’ comments: Revel Horwood compared it with a horror film. Flat-footed, stiff and lacked spring. Motsi thought it was more coordinated. Shirley declared it takes confidence to dance in that outfit – are we really giving points for that? Anton said he’d improved.

Judges’ scores: 5, 8, 7, 7 – 27 (WHY MOTSI WHY)


Rhys and Nancy – Make love, not war

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Sigh. At this point, I could just cut and paste any previous Rhys critiques. His response to being in the dance-off was MORE ATTACK, and Nancy, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to grasp the problem. Yet again, we got an utterly mangled dance style because Rhys forced it – frenetic, stiff, over-exaggerated, skittering footwork, jumps that looked more Spider-Man than paso, and no real exchange with his partner. It’s frustrating because he’s clearly talented: the knee walks were impressive, and he hit some great shapes, but nothing was joined, and, crucially, there was no sense of paso’s meaning or intention, no light and shade. Also: more sickling.

Song: “The Eve of the War”, Jeff Wayne

Judges’ comments: Motsi praised his fire and control – despite her mic trying to silence her. Shirley said he had flexibility and fluidity. Anton thought he tried too hard and became jerky. Craig wanted him to dance through the Spanish line, and he was ahead of the beat.

Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 9, 8 – 33


Sara and Aljaž – Here be dragons

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Well, this was… bewildering. A heartfelt VT about how her family supported her in her career – leading us to a Game of Thrones Couple’s Choice where Sara played the mass-murdering Mother of Dragons and Aljaž was her, er, leather-harnessed pleasure slave? I didn’t realise her craft business stretched to S&M outfitting. Add in truly woeful CGI dragons and chain-ography, and there was A LOT going on here. Unfortunately the choreography, which was meant to be empowering, left Sara exposed. She delivered all the content, but with no resistance; the drama was in her face, not her body. However, sweet Aljaž shouldering all the blame, while wearing… that? Irresistible.

Song: “Queen of the Night”, Whitney Houston

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised the dedication, but it didn’t feel right. Anton noted she’s better in hold. Craig wanted more musicality and travelling. Motsi liked that she challenged herself.

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 6, 6 – 23 


Rose and Giovanni – The crowning glory

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Another knockout routine from this incredible pair. Love how committed Rose was to her evil ice queen character (essentially Elsa in a strop – possibly because of her dubious blue rinse), and how she expressed it through every single movement (those sassy shoulder rolls!) and in every simmering exchange with Giovanni. These two genuinely feel physically connected, and they’re now electrifying in hold: they really do move as one. Beautiful frame, crisp staccato timing, excellent footwork, and they used all that technique to power around the floor. Gio is definitely choreographing to Rose’s strengths, as an actress and a dancer, and she seems to have really fired him up this season. Just a joy to watch. 

Song: “Shivers”, Ed Sheeran

Judges’ comments: Anton, in short: “Perfect.” Craig asked for the sign for “You smashed it”. Motsi called it epic and praised their connection. Shirley… has started talking to her prop skull. Come back to us, Shirley!

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (and a 10 from Danny Dyer; and Ed Sheeran)


Tilly and Nikita – Monster mash

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A tough act to follow, and with a Frankenstein cha cha no less, but Tilly pulled this one off. She’s definitely the dark horse this year, turning in a string of quietly impressive dances, and this showed her growing confidence: she did plenty on her own, balancing strong technique with funny, flirtatious characterisation. As Shirley said, those slime-green tights put a glaring spotlight on her leg action, but it was better than most we’ve seen this year thanks to her firm foot placement and pressure into the floor, with gave her nice lines and hip motion. Could have used more continuous cha cha content and a straighter back leg, but a charming performance.

Song: “Spooky Movies”, Gary Paxton

Judges’ comments: Craig loved the character and choreography. Motsi praised her coordination. Shirley liked the flow and timing. Anton called it her best dance.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35


Adam and Katya – Facing the music

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Grand piano containing a Sunnydale-esque hellmouth? It must be a Katya Jones routine. Truly, we are holding her back on Strictly – how long before she’s conjuring up high-concept madness for Cirque du Soleil, or choreographing a David Lynch musical? So, these two are always exciting to watch – Katya is wildly creative, Adam is totally fearless – and this Beethoven fever dream was compelling spectacle, from a tulle-encased Katya crawling out of the piano onwards. However, the actual Viennese waltz had too much rise and fall, lacked fluidity, some dodgy footwork, and, as the judges noted, featured Adam’s protruding bottom. So, while I enjoy the artistic ambition, it feels like he’s being marked on that and not on the dance itself.

Song: “Moonlight Sonata”, Ludwig Van Beethoven

Judges’ comments: Motsi liked the drama and intensity, but the frame became heavy. Shirley told him to fix his derriere, but he’s an extraordinary competitor. Anton noted his right arm is too far back. Craig found it laboured, lacking flow and too low in the knees.

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 8, 7 – 29


Judi and Graziano – Gym bunnies, but scary!

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Since Judi didn’t have time to rehearse a new routine after her bout with Covid, she (unlike others who’ve taken a bye week) instead recycled her planned cha cha. How would they make it “Halloween”? By chucking 1980s elements into a cauldron in a supremely half-arsed and very meta (not a in Facebook way) VT that actually made me howl. Also: some terrible, terrible CGI zombies and rivers of mascara. Huge props to Judi for returning at all, and to Graziano for squeezing into those leggings, but this was a decidedly mixed performance: good timing, but bent legs, she marked the steps rather than committing her weight, flat feet and she kept picking them up.

Song: “Physical”, Olivia Newton-John

Judges’ comments: Shirley thought she stayed in time and attempted straight legs. Anton called her footwork pretty good. Craig found it flat-footed and stompy. Motsi said her technique needs work, but welcome back.

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 7, 7 – 25 


Tom and Amy – On yer bike

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I’m afraid Tom is beginning to feel like an afterthought in this year’s stacked cast – and that’s how his tango came across, rather than the intended grand climax. Firstly, he’s just not a motorbike-straddling devil type, and doesn’t have the acting chops or versatility to convince us otherwise. So, his performance didn’t power the dance, and neither did his body: everything was too soft and passive. Posture issues meant gapping and another protruding “posterior”, and his frame was too sloppy to give us those sharp staccato accents. Also, they were haunted by the Ghost of Strictly Wardrobe Malfunctions: yes, it was a memorial Mark Ramprakash microphone tangle. Sadly this time no Brucie to delight in the “LIVE television!” moment. 

Song: “Highway to Hell”, AC/DC (COPYCAT KLAXON: Lulu and Brendan)

Judges’ comments: Anton said it was too loose. Craig noted he leant over Amy, but good content. Motsi thought it was energetic to match the music. Shirley wants him to be still in frame.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 7, 7 – 29 


Leaderboard

Rose and Giovanni – 40

AJ and Kai – 37

Tilly and Nikita – 35

John and Johannes – 33

Rhys and Nancy – 33

Adam and Katya – 29

Tom and Amy – 29

Dan and Nadiya – 27

Judi and Graziano – 25

Sara and Aljaž – 23

Less movement this week, but AJ and Rhys are slightly up, John and Tom slightly down.


Sunday

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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More black, with Tess repurposing the rest of that bird carcass in a mini skirt and Claud wearing a demure sack with ginormous cuffs.


Dance-off

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Another interesting result here, with viewer votes saving Sara but sticking Adam in the dance-off. Did everyone just assume he was safe, or are they looking for more substance?

Luckily for our Olympian, he was up against Judi, and so unanimously saved by the judges, but he’s definitely looking more vulnerable now. 

As for Judi, it felt like she was coming to the end of her natural “J word” – and she probably needs more time to fully recover, too, but she’s been a fab addition this year and has thoroughly redeemed Graziano after his whole Vick Hope debacle.

What did you make of Halloween Week? Did the right pair land in the dance-off? Will Kai and AJ ever kiss? Get in touch on Twitter to share your thoughts: @mkmswain

See you next week for a (relatively) normal show. In the meantime… keep dancing!

Photographs: Kieron McCarron 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 mkmswain.com.

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