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Strictly Speaking – Week 7

Posted on November 6, 2017

Aston Merrygold leaving BBC Guy Levy e1509969459562

WHAT. DRAMA. Week 7, and this series of Strictly serves up its first proper “shock” exit – Aston Merrygold joining the likes of Pixie Lott and Gabby Logan in the Surprise Early Departure Lounge.

He was unlucky to hit a dud dance (and/or one the judges chose to properly critique) on a week where comedy acts Ruth and Susan delivered, and bottom two lurker Davood finally had his breakthrough moment – though the semi-salsa duo of Gemma and Jonnie can be very thankful for their audience support.

Should Aston have stayed in longer? Arguably yes, on sheer dance talent, however I – and perhaps those voting at home – have become increasingly fed up with his reliance on a previous pop/hip hop skill set, rather than adapting to new ballroom styles and technique. It’s the same issue I had with Peter Andre, which does call into question Janette’s methods.

Fine to break out the dressing-up box when you’ve got obvious flaws to hide; why do it with a strong celeb? It’s not clear whether this week’s dubious song choice, costumes and theming were her choice, Aston’s, the Strictly team’s, or some combination of them all, but it should serve as a lesson – one I hope the dancers and producers heed. We want to see proper transformation and “J words” on the show, not shortcuts via props and wigs.


Other hits and misses:

  • Who doesn’t love a “seh-ven”? But not terribly helpful to have so many doled out – Craig the sole differential between four couples. MISS
  • Tessbot knows judging order. Tessbot not deviate. TESSBOT FACED WITH HUMAN INTERFERENCE. TESSBOT. CRASH. Hilarious all round. HIT
  • First Shirley gave Debbie an imaginary crown, then Craig knelt to worship her. God only knows how Bruno will top that… HIT
  • Weird, weird music choices this week – brutally so in the case of Debbie’s otherwise fab tango. Just sours the dance for everyone. MISS
  • Many VTs also vastly irritating. My recap in short: JUST. TRAIN. MISS
  • A special pro routine treat: ballroom! Haha just kidding. Random Prince tribute, carry on. MISS
  • The Stereophonics droned. Neil and Chloe wafted. Sidenote: when oh when will they get on the main show? This result could signal a much-needed pro switch-up… MISS


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Davood’s American smooth I do love a Strictly “moment”.
  • Best costume: Jonnie’s…lack of Hair down, chest out. He’s not messing around.
  • Best move: Ruth and Anton enacting the Strictly Curse Serves you right, camera-hogger Eamonn.
  • Best line: Darcey, speaking for a nation: “Well that was strange, wasn’t it?” Runner-up Debbie, apropos of nothing: “I’m looking forward to seeing Davood’s snow globes.”



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Bustier and trousers, at odds with ginormous hair. Claud in a sequinned sack.


Alexandra and Gorka – Don’t stop the music

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

Finally, here comes Alexandra to break the recent streak of timid or car crash cha chas. Not quite perfect – the odd error and stumble, could be sharper in footwork, and both arms and spins a tad wild – but such a relief to see someone actually hit those steps with clarity and confidence. Great forward walks and locks, rhythmic throughout, decent hip action, and infectious enjoyment in the dance. Plus amusingly literal to have her mouth opened wide enough to swallow all the music, GET ALL THE MUSIC IN ME, RIGHT NOW BABES.

Song: “I Got The Music In Me”, Marcia Hines

Judges’ comments: Shirley said her forward walks looked professional, good rotation and syncopated Cuban breaks, and cheeky performance. Bruno called her a cha cha goddess. Craig teased a “T…for turnout”. Straight legs, hip action and sass. Darcey said her hard work paid off.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39





Mollie and AJ – Call me maybe

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

I’m struggling to muster much excitement about this vanilla pair, but they can usually be relied upon for fluffy Disney ballroom – with Mollie’s core strength issues better disguised in hold. They almost managed this week with their foxtrot, until a very noticeable stumble. Also continuing frame issues – though it’s better maintained now, Mollie’s shoulders went up and her right arm is too straight (which she’s been warned about before). Could take bigger steps as well, and create a more extreme shape in hold. Generally needs more impact and risk – still lacking commitment.

Song: “Call Me Irresponsible”, Connie Francis

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought it was beautiful until they went wrong. Craig noted pivots on a flat foot rather than a heel, but classy and stylish. Darcey found it elegant and nice flow. Shirley noted the mishap, but they picked up back up again.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27





Joe and Katya – Soldier of fortune

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

Sometimes the Strictly gods give you James Bond, sometimes toy drummer boy. It did work with the playfulness of Charleston, on the whole, if the odd awkward moment (hard to be a wooden soldier and simultaneously create a lithe swivel, and the music was a bit low-key). But fantastic precision with all the sync and shadow work, lifts worked in well, spot on timing, and Joe definitely shines when he has a clear performance element: here producing a dizzying array of facial expressions and waggling his head like Churchill the dog in a wind tunnel.

Song: “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, Ella Fitzgerald

Judges’ comments: Craig thought it was brilliant, praising the characterisation, ragtime and opposition moves, but left foot lacked swivel. Darcey said it was charming and had surprising details. Shirley called it effortless. Bruno thought he did a great job with a demanding routine.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36





Gemma and Aljaž – Island fever

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

Oh dear. Gemma’s expression from the off made it look as though she’d been sentenced to this dance, rather than invited into the, er, delightful cultural mash-up of salsa in a Hawaiian tiki bar. The basics were heavy, and the alarming lifts (variously: rolling over a speed bump, struck by lightning, wrestling with an acrobatic bear) were delivered with the grim determination of a copper kicking in a door. Isolated strong moments of body motion and rhythm, and good splits, but lacked a continuous flow and felt like the hard work it was.

Song: “Sun Comes Up”, Rudimental feat. James Arthur

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised her splits, but the lifts were laboured. Shirley said the upper half of her body was well coordinated. Bruno wanted movement throughout, not overthinking. Craig found the lifts clunky, and no figure of eight on basics.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26





Aston and Janette – Cut loose

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

Now, if we’re looking for people to learn and grow on Strictly, is letting them live out their teenage Stars in Their Eyes fantasy, again, really the best idea? And was Viennese waltz crying out for an obstructing barber shop chair and distracting MJ attire? A lot to overcome to make this look and feel like proper ballroom – and that’s hardly been this couple’s forte. Technically, too much rise and fall, lacked proper drive through heel leads so felt jagged, got stuck in the pivots, and posture issues. Only really worked out of hold – which is the whole problem…

Song: “Who’s Lovin’ You”, The Jackson 5

Judges’ comments: Shirley noted an attempt at a fleckerl, but needs to absorb through the knees to stay flatter. Bruno said it was all sharp edges – lost the style. Craig agreed it had too much attack, lacked grace, posture problems, feet not closing, and rise and fall. Darcey said his energy dies in hold.

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 7, 7 – 25





Ruth and Anton – Rough and tumble

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

Well, the paso hot streak lives on – if in extraordinary fashion. This was one you either love or hate; I fell into the former camp, and “camp” really is the operative word. To whit: Ruth and Anton The Very Frilly Matador chasing one another up and down a rickety staircase, Ruth hurling props at the band (we’ve all felt the urge), Ruth shaking dandruff off her shoulders, giving up altogether to stare in bewilderment at the singer (again…urge), and a climactic tumble resulting in Ruth mounting Anton like a small pony. Plus some half-decent paso round the edges. Per Anton: MARVELLOUS.

Song: “The Shady Dame From Seville”, Julie Andrews

Judges’ comments: Bruno compared it with Manuel from Fawlty Towers. Craig said they went the Victor/Victoria drag route. Darcey praised Ruth’s sticking to the narrative and stalking kicks. Shirley said they went for parody, but she’s laughing with, not at them.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6, 6 – 22





Debbie and Giovanni – Me against the music

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

USE PROPER TANGO TRACKS. Ali Bastian cha cha-ed to this, but frankly it should never be heard again. Anyway. MUTE, and you can better appreciate the fantastic intensity that first wowed us in their paso, the combination of elegant lines and sharp staccato, the supple back bends, controlled pivots and tantalising preview of their Argentine tango (which could well melt down the studio). A few niggles – occasional odd head position and loss of posture, and chasing the steps on a fast sequence – but a seriously impressive display. My only worry: will the audience think they’ve peaked too soon?

Song: “I Gotta Feeling”, The Black Eyed Peas (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ali Bastian and Brian)

Judges’ comments: Craig left his chair so he could bow down to Debbie, the big ham. Darcey called it extraordinary; she’s on a par with her professional. Shirley praised her fast feet, soft legs, no rise and fall – outstanding. Bruno said it was a tango master class.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40





Jonnie and Oti – Eyes up here

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

A canny routine, putting the focus on Jonnie’s distinctly charming groove (and upper body), and his ability to connect with and showcase Oti. Definitely a more enjoyable salsa than Gemma’s, since he made it feel like a fun time rather than the cruel and unusual punishment dreamed up by a dance-loving dictator, though a load of technical issues. Jonnie hardly moved his feet at all – when he did, very flat, no hip action, and steps kept as noncommittal as possible. But spectacular lifts, led Oti decently in the spins and armography, and nice feel for the music.

Song: “Turn Me On”, Kevin Lyttle

Judges’ comments: Darcey noted lack of hip rotation, but made up for in ease of upper body. Bruno liked his groove and lifts. Shirley praised the pulse in his upper body and leading. Craig wanted more salsa, but he showed Oti off.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27





Susan and Kevin – Paint the town

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

Back on form after last week’s Red Wedding of a judging, and back bringing the joy – hurrah. Jive definitely suits Susan’s buoyant personality better, and Kevin in short dungarees was…quite a sight. Lots of decent basics – a bit flat, but finding spring somehow, good pumping action in the kicks, fantastic energy throughout, and endearing interaction with Kevin. Also her confident wielding of a paint roller suggests the Scottish curling team should get recruiting sharpish. Sidenote: nice to see Susan’s wife Lee warmly featured on a show not always renowned for its progressive outlook.

Song: “The Ole House”, Shakin’ Stevens (COPYCAT KLAXON: Michael Vaughn and Natalie)

Judges’ comments: Shirley noted you can choreograph all pure basics and still entertain (QUITE). Bruno praised her rhythm and pumping action. Craig said it was a vast improvement. Darcey loved the energy, bounce and facial expressions, but wanted more contraction.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 – 29





Davood and Nadiya – Love lifts us up where we belong

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













I was all set to dislike this – we’ve had so many false starts with Davood, the set dressing looked like someone had robbed a florists – but no: a startlingly fab number! Cynics among us will note it comes when Nadiya can (legally) choreograph out of hold and with a bunch of lifts, so this could well be a fluke – in hold, still gapping, lacked drive and sway, rushing the music. But so many charming details (Davood skipping ecstatically!), and the lifts were really great – worked into the routine organically, except for the big climactic one, which was a proper showstopper.

Song: “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)”, Natalie Cole (COPYCAT KLAXON: Zoe Lucker and James, Lisa Riley and Robin)

Judges’ comments: Bruno said they looked like movie stars. Craig praised the lifts, but wanted more swing and sway. Darcey shared the delightful name “bum lift” with us. Shirley said it all worked well.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35






Debbie and Giovanni – 40

Alexandra and Gorka – 39

Joe and Katya – 36

Davood and Nadiya – 35

Susan and Kevin – 29

Mollie and AJ – 27

Jonnie and Oti – 27

Gemma and Aljaž – 26

Aston and Janette – 25

Ruth and Anton – 22


Debbie’s still on top, but some topsy-turvy leaderboard action: Davood, Susan and Jonnie rising, Gemma and Aston falling.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Tess in Barbie pink. Claud, planning a holiday, in a hippy-dippy crocheted beach dress.



Mollie King, AJ Pritchard, Janette Manrara, Aston Merrygold – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

The first genuinely tense results show in forever. The unlucky pair dropping into the dance-off were Aston and Janette, and Mollie and AJ – both judges’ favourites at various points, and the former at least tipped for the final.

Mollie produced a cleaner if understandably nervy routine, Aston added more flourish to what we’ve already established was a theming-doomed number. Craig said both improved, but technically Mollie did better. Darcey picked Aston for his more assured performance. Bruno waxed lyrical about Aston’s magical transformation and saved him.

And in her first proper casting vote, Head Judge Shirley – quite rightly on the basis of these two numbers – picked Mollie for technical accuracy, flow and full engagement with the dance. Which meant an early exit for Aston. WHAT. DRAMA.

What did you make of the shock elimination? Did Aston deserve to go? And who impressed you this week? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week for more fun and games. 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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