Posted on November 8, 2021
Happy halfway mark, Strictly watchers! I can normally tell we’ve reached this stage because I’m genuinely surprised to see some of the celebrities in the opening titles. Was Katie McGlynn really in this season? Or poor Robert Webb? It feels like years ago already.
Yet the sheer talent of some of these contestants also makes it feel like we’re in the end stages. AJ’s Charleston: better than 80 per cent of the dances we see in a final – and how did Rose go from disliking Latin to producing a samba that good in just a few weeks? Not to mention John finally breaking the rumba curse. All it took was a message (not in a bottle) from Sting.
However, I’m once again grumpy about the judges trying to force a closer competition. Rhys’s quickstep getting 9s was utterly absurd, ditto Tom’s paso getting 10s. Just because Harry Judd won doesn’t mean that McFly members get some kind of family pass to the final, and though I’d love to see Rhys delivering on his early potential in the ballroom dances, he just isn’t…
Other hits and misses:
Best in Show
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Sparkly beige sack. Claud in a weirdly oversized suit – think she mugged a Blues Brother.
Good: Katya’s enormous tulle-explosion dandelion skirt. Bad: the uninspired pool hall theming, limited to some awkward miming and Adam scrambling onto the table. We expect more from these two. Baffling: Adam’s stripey… date night pyjamas? I know we’ve joked about his clothes being too skin-tight, but this was a strange overcorrection. So, mistakes from the off and Adam seemed to be fighting the rhythm, jumping with heavy feet rather than getting the bounce action. His steps were too big on the basics, and his kicks were sickled and wild – he looked like he was trying to punch out a ghost. Good timing and energy, but he showed the effort on this one.
Song: “Little Bitty Pretty One”, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers (COPYCAT KLAXON: Steve Backshall and Ola)
Judges’ comments: Shirley praised his posture but the errors made him hesitant. Anton liked the energy, but his free leg was random. Craig criticised the heavy ball changes and he needs to dance through the transitions. Motsi said he performed well.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27
Bravo to this brilliant pair for really tackling the samba, and Rose’s comparatively poor Latin, and producing such a great number – and kudos also to Rose for scoring herself some a-maze-ing boots – frankly that’s a way better prize than the glitterball trophy. I know we keep marvelling at Rose’s timing, but that opening section beginning all on her own was SO impressive. Boo to Anton for moaning about the slight nervousness. She also did a fantastic job with all the rhythm changes and getting bounce and hip action in her basics while maintaining a musical flow, and much better free arm placement. Could have stretched her lines and added more characterisation, but a big step up.
Song: “Cinema Italiano”, Kate Hudson
Judges’ comments: Anton said she looked nervous, but fantastic samba walks and locks. Craig disagreed: it looked totally natural. Motsi praised their teamwork – just needs more resistance. Shirley loved the opening and her beautiful leg shaping and hip rotation.
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32
Tom’s tango last week was too soft and passive, and, though danced with much better intention and timing, and with proper trad music, this balletic paso doble had similar issues. Yes, there was some nice Spanish line, but it lacked sharpness and tension throughout, needed more extreme shaping and firmer footwork, and felt too polite: the aggression was confined to Tom’s face, locked into a permanent “Is that dog poo on my shoe?” grimace. The bright red, white and blue costuming didn’t help either – rather than a matador, he looked like the mascot for a British pub in Malaga. Also: what was with the dinky bridge? Was he fighting a bull or answering riddles posed by a troll? Good but madly overmarked.
Song: “Amparito Roca”, Jaime Texidor (COPYCAT KLAXON: Cherie Lunghi and James)
Judges’ comments: Craig praised his pirouettes but wanted more movement round the floor. Motsi liked his posture and proud characterisation. Shirley praised his foot positions. Anton loved the choreography.
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 9 – 38
Another week, another visit to the dressing-up box. Surely what would most help Rhys is a proper ballroom tailsuit and a trad routine, so that he can really grasp what’s being asked of him? Yet no – he’s a mechanic in sloppy overalls, dancing to the Jonas Brothers, in a breathless, jam-packed number. Again non-stop energy (we should offer Rhys to Cop26 as an alternative power source) but no control: he nearly drove Nancy off the floor in that opening section, his steps are still ginormous, his feet are still turned in and not pointed, and he’s still ahead of the beat. And that hold is a mess: dropped arms, bottom sticking out, sloppy.
Song: “What A Man Gotta Do”, Jonas Brothers
Judges’ comments: Motsi praised his rhythm. Shirley said he’s unbeatable in the side-by-side sections, but drops his frame. Anton felt his frame had improved from awful to not bad (somehow warranting a 9??). Craig agreed the frame is inelegant, but he covered the floor.
Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 9, 9 – 34
First of all, Strictly scriptwriters, this is hardly the first ever chess-themed dance, nor do we need The Queen’s Gambit: The Musical when we already have Chess. This is also about our 3,000th royal routine of the season – where’s our plucky peasant-based waltz? Up with the proletariat! Tilly surprised me with her strong paso and she produced another fierce performance in this tango, though it didn’t always translate into the physicality. Good timing, sharp staccato, soft knees and she kept up with a complex routine, but the odd footwork issue that led to some jagged transitions, probably not helped by the tight yet flapping bin bag skirt. Still, a creditable effort – I don’t think she deserved that leaderboard plummet.
Song: “Kings & Queens”, Ava Max
Judges’ comments: Shirley loved the setting but needed more flow and ankle articulation. Anton wants her head over to the left. Craig felt it stopped and started too much but great drama. Motsi praised her posture.
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 7, 8 – 31
“Another stadium? Really?” Nadiya speaks for us all. So, Dan’s Couple’s Choice was inspired by his love of sport… which somehow led to them being off-duty movie stars in a ghastly dad-dancing bop? Suffice to say this was about as street as a middle-class gated retirement development in Surrey – and no, Shirley, Dan’s slack-jawed lip-synching was not a charming addition. It had the sickly-sweet wholesome vibe of brother and sister performing at kiddie Bible Camp. The most dynamic mover on the floor was the Wobbly Traffic Light, cousin of the Wobbly Lamppost. I’m delighted that Dan now enjoys dancing – I just don’t think the rest of us should have to either watch or judge it.
Song: “Classic”, MKTO
Judges’ comments: Anton said it was so sweet he needs to get his fillings checked, but Dan needs to push himself more. Craig called it vanilla and saccharine, lacking earthiness. Motsi saw some groove but a lot of running. Shirley enjoyed that he enjoyed it, and gave an extra point (?!) for singing the song.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 7 – 28
Now that’s more like it! Johannes pitched this rumba so perfectly: a real focus on the basic steps and figures, meaning John could master the technique and maintain that simmering, intimate, wordless chemistry with Johannes – it almost felt voyeuristic watching them, which is exactly how I like my rumbas. John led it so well and had superb technique: great footwork, leg and hip action, and a really charged physical connection so you felt their action/reaction. Yes, he needs to work on his core and could add a bit more of a flourish to match Johannes, otherwise exquisite – and bizarrely undermarked given the emotional response to this vulnerable performance.
Song: “Shape of My Heart”, Sting
Judges’ comments: Revel Horwood said he might steal it for his wedding dance – absolutely gorgeous – but needed straighter legs. Motsi thought the leading hand could have been lowered, but it captured rumba’s essence. Shirley was moved, and noted that you can win a championship with simple basics danced well. Anton said they transcended the rumba.
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 10, 9 – 35
I sometimes forget that AJ isn’t a pro because she’s just so assured in every single dance. However, this triumphant performance was all the more thrilling for seeing her really battle in training to pick up all the Charleston steps and, in particular, those seriously scary lifts. However, just like a pro, she left all of that fear and effort behind and set out to entertain from start to finish. Fabulous characterisation (someone needs to build a show around her stat), amazing technical details like accomplished swivel and pin-sharp arm placement, and the whole thing had a kooky charm that felt so in period – it really was like dance time travel. Which, by the way, is a version of Doctor Who I would totally get behind.
Song: “Don’t Bring Lulu”, Dorothy Provine, Pinky, The Girls
Judges’ comments: Motsi was proud of the authenticity. AJ came in at a high level but has continued to grow. Shirley: “I don’t think I have a paddle big enough for you.” Anton said it was like Josephine Baker had entered the room. Craig: “A-maze-ing!”
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39
Oh dear. Why have the wardrobe department (which, let’s not forget – let’s never forget – gifted us that whole Aljaž in a bondage harness thing) suddenly taken against Sara? This was less Dolly Parton, more primary-school art teacher who let her trainee hairdresser sister have a go at perming her hair. During a hurricane. After sleeping with her sister’s husband. Anyway, lovely to have these two safely back in ballroom, and some strong quickstep content once they got going – with Sara maintaining her energy and sunny performance throughout and sustaining a nice frame. However, lots of gapping, awkward head position and got out of sync occasionally. Enjoyable but not their best.
Song: “9 to 5”, Dolly Parton (COPYCAT KLAXON: Richard Arnold and Erin, Kellie Bright and Kevin)
Judges’ comments: Shirley said it was elegant. Anton loved the choreography but yelped about Sara’s head position. Craig wanted cleaner footwork, but wonderful in hold. Motsi said she looked strong.
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 9 – 33
AJ and Kai – 39
Tom and Amy – 38
John and Johannes – 35
Rhys and Nancy – 34
Sara and Aljaž – 33
Rose and Giovanni – 32
Tilly and Nikita – 31
Adam and Katya – 28
Dan and Nadiya – 27
More movement this week: Tom, Rhys and Sara are up, Rose, Tilly and Adam are down.
Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Hideous scraps of shiny wrapping paper repurposed as a chaotic top. Claud in black with fabulous sparkly boots.
A second consecutive trip to the dance-off for Adam, this time coming up against the stronger Tilly – with viewers (sigh) sparing Dan. Three of the judges saved Tilly, with just Shirley, interestingly, saying she would have gone for Adam instead.
That lack of fanbase doesn’t bode hugely well for Tilly’s future prospects, but then some celebs have bounced back from the dance-off and enjoyed a good run, so all is not lost – and if it pushes her to give more expressive performances, it might even be a blessing.
I’ve hugely enjoyed Adam and Katya this year – their routines have always been entertaining, if not always for the right reasons, but Adam threw himself into the whole experience and took the training seriously, which was lovely to see. I wouldn’t have minded a couple more weeks from them, just to see what they’d come up with next, but they were probably nearing the end of the natural “J word”.
What did you make of this week’s performances? Did you agree with the scoring? Who would you have saved? Get in touch on Twitter to share your thoughts: @mkmswain
See you next week for more fun and games. In the meantime… keep dancing!
Photographs: Guy Levy courtesy of the BBC.