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Strictly Speaking – week 6

Posted on October 31, 2016

judges BBC Guy Levy e1478101191630

Marianka Swain on Strictly Come Dancing’s Halloween dive into the prop basket

It gives me no pleasure to report that Strictly’s annual Fright Night was even more frightful than usual. Well, some pleasure. An Ed Balls cha cha amount of pleasure. Yes, against all odds, 2016’s fifth-strangest political happening lives on. Meanwhile, the two newly hyped duelling studs both crumbled during this dressing-up box explosion horror show: Danny felled by foxtrot, Ore by an unnecessary giant lollipop. Err, a really macho giant lollipop.

In other WTF news, Craig suddenly launched into a tirade about excess contempo-waft theatricality, which…really, dude? I know that head judge chair looks mighty tempting, but you can’t suddenly pretend you’ve been Mr Ballroom Purity all along. Let’s not add forced collective amnesia to this year’s list of ailments.

Other hits and misses:

  • Truly scary: the scoring. It made sense once, right? Right? MISS
  • The group dance Pete Burns tribute was oddly touching. But is it so much to ask that one pro performance be ballroom? HIT/MISS
  • I’m not sure what was more aggravating: the juvenile costumes or HD-unfriendly make-up that made it difficult to discern who you were actually watching, let alone what they were attempting to perform. MISS
  • Also, for the love of god, stop attempting humour and just STAY IN THE TRAINING ROOM. MISS
  • Full marks to Len for his bare minimum effort costuming: a cape, begrudgingly donned. He really is 82% out of the door already. HIT
  • Laura Mvula…provided some entertainment when Tess added about 10 syllables to her name. Not much otherwise. HIT/MISS


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Ed’s cha cha I KNOW! But I’m still smiling
  • Best costume: Ed the mad professor For the hair alone
  • Best move: Ore’s non-lift tribute Glitterballs has made his mark
  • Best line: Craig’s “It was all a bit Silence of the Lambs – in a good way!” Peak Judge Rinder compliment



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

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

Both in mourning. Tess “Asymmetry addict” Daly faring worse.


Louise and Kevin – Deja vu

Kevin Clifton, Louise Redknapp - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Kevin Clifton, Louise Redknapp – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

At this point, I could just cut and paste my Louise critiques. Still neat, pretty, comfortable and dull. No surprises, no wow factor. If it comes this easy to her (ahem past experience), why isn’t she building on that foundation, taking risks, offering some variation on the same soporifically pleasant performance? This week, she had multi-coloured bunches, comic book backdrop and the controversial Joker/Harley Quinn pairing, and somehow made that vivid abusive relationship quagmire just…beige. Nice side by side, nice lifts, nice Charleston swivel – numbingly nice.

Song: “Crazy in Love”, Emeli Sandé version (COPYCAT KLAXON: Alesha Dixon and Matthew, Kimberley Walsh and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Len thought it was a spot-on comic book Charleston. Bruno liked the pop art elements. Craig thought it was clean and detailed, but too controlled. Darcey was dazzled.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35





Judge Rinder and Oksana – Flying high

Oksana Platero, Judge Robert Rinder - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Oksana Platero, Judge Robert Rinder – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

I’m really trying not to engage with the inane VTs, but BUTTERFLY AND MOTH SANCTUARY? (Again: not Paris.) Another Rinder routine to file under “confusingly brilliant” – he’s actually one of the better contestants this year at producing both dancing and performance, even if it’s not always simultaneously. Strong, committed and confident movement, great partnering, decent shaping, and good characterisation considering he was trying to channel matador, moth, Gaga and small child fluttering a fistful of mum’s silk scarves round the garden. He’s definitely improving, and never less than mesmerising.

Song: “Born This Way”, Lady Gaga

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised the content and drag. Craig thought the shaping was good and loved the knee walks. Darcey liked the aggression and drama, but still a few pouts. Len thought it was powerful and good posture.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32





Claudia and AJ – Practical magic

AJ Pritchard, Claudia Fragapane - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

AJ Pritchard, Claudia Fragapane – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Atrocious “They’re young, guys!” music choice aside, this was a really enjoyable smooth. Less frantic than some of their routines, and actually gave Claudia a chance to shine (with AJ finally pulling back slightly). Fluid, musical and outstanding footwork – those heel turns! – plus impressive lifts, even if the final one had some unfortunate knicker-flashing moments. Could do with a bit more drive, style and animation, rather than relying on power and fixed grins, but a consistent hold – now looking strong, despite the height difference – and charming delivery.

Song: “Black Magic”, Little Mix

Judges’ comments: Craig praised the footwork, frame and lifts. Darcey wants her to raise her eye level, otherwise lovely. Len thought it had good fluidity and the lifts complemented the dance, plus a proper three step. Bruno loved the lyricism.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36





Anastacia and Brendan – Highway to hell

Brendan Cole, Anastacia - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Brendan Cole, Anastacia – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

The footwork-concealing fog monster returns. Actually it probably should have stuck around longer: despite the delights of floating Brendan, Anastasia playing him like a piano (never forget), a giddy 3am party vibe and I want to say cat ears, this was a distinctly dodgy jive. Too heavy, sluggish, kicks awkward, Anastacia taking big steps on the basics, and lots of vacant transitional moments. Timing decent and she’s always a good value performer, but the Gorka renaissance was short-lived.

Song: “Bat Out of Hell”, Meat Loaf (COPYCAT KLAXON: Matt Baker and Aliona)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the characterisation, but flat-footed. Len enjoyed the performance, but flicks were too loose. Bruno wanted more sharpness, pump action and retraction. Craig thought it was laboured and leaden.

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 7, 7 – 25





Danny and Oti – Pray for Danny

Danny Mac, Oti Mabuse - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Danny Mac, Oti Mabuse – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Well, that’s one way to avoid gapping. Despite the conceptual fascination of the red string (their eternal bond? A toddler lead? An expressionistic depiction of Oti’s rage after her partner dared to fail?), this foxtrot could have used more attention paid to basics, with Danny forgetting whether he was dancing in line with or outside Oti, leading to a few stumbles. Also slightly too bouncy and staccato, and hold was inconsistent – sometimes strong, sometimes shifting. But still a good performance, and won’t do him any harm to show vulnerability.

Song: “Take Me To Church”, Hozier

Judges’ comments: Len noted there was still good sway, and we all make mistakes. Bruno loved the drama, and what he did right was very good. Craig rubbed salt into the wound by saying it could have been a 10 based on the theatrical (!) concept, but all went horribly wrong. Darcey said he just got off balance – still terrific.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 7, 8 – 30





Laura and Giovanni – Back in black

Laura Whitmore, Giovanni Pernice - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Laura Whitmore, Giovanni Pernice – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

And the showmance returns. Laura benefitted from a rare decent tango music choice and smouldering partnership (plus some lavish praise from the judges, clearly subscribing to absence makes the heart grow fonder), and this was certainly a strong comeback performance, but heel leads noticeable by their almost total absence. Good frame, musicality and drama, though could have used more grounding and power generated from the standing leg, rather than Giovanni hurling her into moves – which in turn meant the odd wobbly hold moment. But certainly dynamic and enjoyable.

Song: “Paint It Black”, The Rolling Stones

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought it was sharp, precise and musical. Craig noted her left hand wandering, but a-maze-ing. Darcey loved the attack and determination – her best dance. Len wanted better footwork, but sharp and passionate.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36





Ore and Joanne – Sickly sweet

Joanne Clifton, Ore Oduba - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Joanne Clifton, Ore Oduba – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Is this a new low for literal choreography? I think it might be. Just because the song has “candy” in the title does not mean you must spend 80% of your Charleston eating, clutching or hurling sweets. Ore’s weight too far back, which meant slightly flat footwork and off balance, dubious swivel, that botched lift, and vastly irritating stop/start routine and third-rate clowns at kids party characterisation. Plus the distractions of Joanne’s Raggedy Ann get-up and Ore’s teeming ecosystem beard. Another waste of a potential slam-dunk.

Song: “I Want Candy”, Bow Wow Wow version

Judges’ comments: Craig noted his right foot didn’t swivel and he went out of time after the lift. Darcey thought it was cheeky and crisp. Len liked the intricacy, but wanted more Charleston. Bruno said they were perfectly in sync until the mishap.

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 9, 9 – 32





Greg and Natalie – Eternal flame

Natalie Lowe, Greg Rutherford - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Natalie Lowe, Greg Rutherford – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy




























I was bracing myself after Greg’s cha cha – this had dance disaaaaahster written all over it. But kudos to Natalie for smart cover-ups (and really, Craig, are we pretending she’s the first pro to ever do that? SERIOUSLY?), and I actually enjoyed watching Greg. Yes, it needed far more basic rumba content, and the prop vase had more hip action, but he performed the hell out of it – actual storytelling through movement. Some jagged transitions and a bit too much dashing about, but definite improvements: the odd lyrical line, better timing, more secure partnering, and oddly touching.

Song: “Bring Me To Life”, Evanescence (COPYCAT KLAXON: Sarah Manners and Brendan, Alex Jones and James)

Judges’ comments: Darcey loved the intensity and lunges, but wanted more content. Len praised his commitment and improvement, but lacked hip action. Bruno agreed on the drama and stiff hips. Craig thought it was more showdance than rumba.

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 7, 8 – 26





Daisy and Aljaz – Dancing with death

Daisy Lowe, Aljaž Skorjanec - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Daisy Lowe, Aljaž Skorjanec – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Some family prop points for Daisy, while trying to recover from bottom two shock. Guess we’ll see more of those next week. This was an intermittently strong paso – passive moments and sticky transitions mixed in with stylish flamenco and crisp accents. Perhaps her confidence was shaken, or she found it hard coming in and out of hold at speed, but needed more consistency and strength, especially in the upper body. Still well performed, and better to be ambitious than dull, but perhaps should have played it a bit safer if she was struggling to really deliver each element.

Song: “Please Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, Santa Esmeralda version (COPYCAT KLAXON: Darren Gough and Lilia, Matt Baker and Aliona)

Judges’ comments: Len praised her twist turns and attack, but hit and miss. Bruno adored the true flavour of Spain. Craig loved the detail, but lacked hyperextension. Darcey thought it was dramatic and well performed, but needed more exaggeration in body shapes.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 9 – 33





Ed and Katya – Scientific breakthrough

Ed Balls MP, Katya Jones - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Ed Balls MP, Katya Jones – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

If you found this ironically but also kind of disconcertingly sexy, you are not alone. Ed Balls, 2016 heartthrob: stranger things have happened. More to the point, actual glimmers of cha cha – medal for Katya. OK, bent legs, picked his feet up far too much and his weight was so far back that his stomach moved about three seconds before his head, but Cuban breaks and the beginnings of hip action and arm placement, plus all manner of eager thrusting and, err, self-pleasuring. Bonkers for sure, but hit that Strictly sweet spot: the joy of someone learning to dance.

Song: “Love Potion No. 9”, Hansel Martinez version (COPYCAT KLAXON: Bill Turnbull and Karen)

Judges’ comments: Bruno found it “horribly fabulous”. Craig said his bottom moved spasmodically, but it was in time. Darcey thought it was confident, lots of content, though needed straight legs. Len agreed on the content and timing, plus nice strong foot pressure – his best dance.

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 7, 8 – 26






Claudia and AJ – 36

Laura and Giovanni – 36

Louise and Kevin – 35

Daisy and Aljaz – 33

Judge Rinder and Oksana – 32

Ore and Joanne – 32

Danny and Oti – 30

Greg and Natalie – 26

Ed and Katya – 26

Anastacia and Brendan – 25


A leaderboard shake-up this week, with Claudia, Daisy, Laura and Rinder rising at the expense of Ore, Danny and Anastacia.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

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

Double black again. Perhaps we’re also in mourning for the salsa.

Tess Daly, Anastacia, Brendan Cole - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Tess Daly, Anastacia, Brendan Cole – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

In the dance-off: another foregone conclusion, with Daisy and Aljaz knocking out Anastacia and Brendan – no surprises there. We did get the glorious sight of Anastacia going hell for leather and then freaking Tess out with American therapy speak about “getting to know my female”. Is Daisy doomed? For my money, she’s the most consistently enjoyable of the pretty/good girl trio – as above, Louise is plateauing and Laura leans on the showmance – but unless she gets a boost from the judges, she might struggle.

What did you think of Halloween Week? Who impressed you? And did you agree with the bottom two? Come say hi on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week, when relative sanity is restored to the ballroom. In the meantime…keep dancing!


Don’t miss Nicola Rayner’s interview with Neil and Katya Jones in the November 2016 issue of Dancing Times

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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