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Strictly Speaking – week 8

Posted on November 16, 2015


claudia-winkleman-tess-daly-bbc-kieron-mccarronWe need to talk about music. Strictly precariously straddles the worlds of ballroom and entertainment, so it can’t – and shouldn’t – be wall-to-wall Victor Silvester, but we’ve reached a crisis point. Song and theme choices (as I understand it, some suggested by pros, but producers hold sway) are now actively handicapping couples, who can only hope to hint at the style they’re supposed to be doing rather than actually dance it. Beginners really don’t need the extra challenge, nor, apparently, will it earn them goodwill from the increasingly outspoken judges.

And it’s a problem for the audience too. Who can seriously engage with samba when there’s an egregious Erasure cover ringing in their ears? It’s saying something when Jeremy’s mining quickstep to The Jam isn’t the night’s most insane offering. Of course we want fun and innovation, but not at the expense of the show’s soul. Overcompensating production team: X Factor is no longer a threat. You don’t need to smite your enemy with crazy concepts. Just sit back and watch it implode.

Other hits and misses:

  • In happier news, another week of actual training footage! I guess Santa got my letter. HIT
  • If Claud makes a knowing reference to the number of ingratiating Blackpool mentions, does that make it better? I’m going with no. See also: black-and-white Battersea Dogs Home-style needy montage. MISS
  • All hail Nadiya from Bake Off, giving excellent reaction face as always. HIT
  • The Great Judging Bias continues, with Anita’s quickstep getting short shrift while Peter’s dubious Viennese (rightly called out as more American smooth) is massively overmarked. MISS
  • Speaking of which, is it time for a reminder of the Strictly ballroom rules? There was a time when Len would excommunicate anyone who came out of hold for more than two seconds. As ever, consistency would be swell. MISS

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Georgia’s Charleston Slick, courageous and great fun. Let’s hope self-designated Chicago gatekeeper Ruthie Henshall approved.
  • Best costume: Katie’s va-va-voom rumba dress Watch out, Radio 3 Christmas party.
  • Best move: Georgia’s insane lift Not celebrating: those calculating Strictly’s new insurance premium.
  • Best line: Darcey to Jay: “Think of why you’re placing your head on her chest.” If you have to ask…




Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Squaring off in the Ill-fitting Varieties Of Blue Contest: Tess in straining velvet top and alarmingly high-waisted trousers, Claudia in a swirling sack.

Anita and Gleb – Tough love

anita-rani-gleb-savchenko-bbc-kiieron-mccarronstrictly sensationalHurrah, Gleb is finally allowed a personality trait other than “distractingly handsome”! This week, it’s Strict Russian Teacher Gleb (OK, some backsliding into cultural stereotype), challenging Anita to test her limits during training. That translated into an action-packed quickstep, which demonstrated her hugely improved posture. Body contact impressive except for when they bounced in and out of hold during the annoying and unnecessary faffing about. Variable footwork, particularly in the heel leads department, otherwise a strong, connected and buoyant number. Sidenote: first date on romantic bridge nonsense was ghastly, but thankfully kept to an absolute minimum.

Song: “Don’t Get Me Wrong”, The Pretenders (COPYCAT KLAXON: Harry Judd and Aliona)

Judges’ comments: Len called her an all-rounder and praised their fast and clean performance, though footwork could be better. Bruno found it easy, bright and breezy. Craig noted her feet sickle and a small amount of gapping, but excellent timing and movement round the floor. Darcey praised her consistency and beautiful jeté.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32

Jay and Aliona – Poker face

jay-mcguiness-aliona-vilani-bbc-kieron-mccarronsimply so soAre we stunned that Jay didn’t achieve a ginormous, TV-friendly performance breakthrough while dancing foxtrot? No, we are not. Still, Aliona went all out with her Mills & Boon romance: billowing drapes, soft-focus chandeliers and, well, basically turning foxtrot into American smooth-contempo-rumba. (Rumba music not helping.) Strong technique, as always, though still not driving through her enough. In terms of the bigged-up performance arc, pretty dismal, as he still doesn’t communicate much through his face or frame, though expressive arms out of hold. A couple of glaring mishaps – Jay tripping over Aliona’s dress, and then Aliona whacking him in the face – otherwise pretty beige. Ah well. I’m sure a big performance-based comeback is already scripted for Blackpool.

Song: “Lay Me Down”, Sam Smith

Judges’ comments: Bruno liked the touchy-feely contemporary introduction and exquisite arms, but mistakes. Craig found it bland, noting his face went dead, missed connection and a trip. Darcey praised his technique, but lacked intention. Len thought it was poignant, and great swing and sway.

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 8, 8 – 30

Jamelia and Tristan – The daily grind

jamelia-tristan-macmanus-bbc-kieron-mccarronstruggles sparkleThis week, Jamelia took Tristan to Loose Women. Hasn’t the man suffered enough? Their dubious theme was “Exotic dancer fulfils geek’s dreams on Prom Night!”, but even a gimmick-free samba would have been torpedoed by the caterwauled Erasure track. The dance itself wasn’t much better, with Jamelia channelling all her energy into music video grinding and Tristan giving up on technique altogether (both teaching her and displaying it himself). Dodgy footwork, weight pitched back and no straight legs, so zero samba bounce, and arms stuck straight out like she was trying to herd unruly sheep into a pen. A teeny bit more controlled than her previous Latin and certainly more confident, but still a hot mess. And not in a fun way.

Song: “A Little Respect”, Erasure

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised the energy, but too wild and missing steps. Craig thought her hands were unattractive, bent knees and “unnecessary grinding”. Darcey loved the upper-body isolations and the story (?), but needs to bring her weight forward. Len said she lost hip action and legs too heavy.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26

Helen and Aljaž – River deep

helen-george-aljaz-skorjanec-bbc-kieron-mccarronsimply so soAh, welcome to “Too nice to tango”, Strictly’s variant on the “Flaws? I’m too much of a perfectionist”. Never mind the fact that Helen’s job is to, you know, pretend to be someone else. Anyhow, none of that matters because we have yet another ridiculous music choice – anyone who could actually wring a tango out of this deserves a medal. The usual pros and cons from Helen’s ballet training, with crisp, polished movement but too high and lyrical – needed to get down into the knees and drive into heel leads. Head too far to the left and gapping, but enjoyably OTT prima donna characterisation. And on that note, let’s welcome back (or not) the Giant Emoting Sheet, and bemoan the literal, distracting river graphic.

Song: “Hold Back The River”, James Bay

Judges’ comments: Darcey loved the choreography and drama. Len criticised her head position and loses balance on turns, but great tango. Bruno loved the high fashion style. Craig agreed on the balance issues, but powerful lines and they worked well together despite the music.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8, 9 – 34

Katie and Anton – All about that Bassey

katie-derham-anton-du-beke-bbc-kieron-mccarronsimply so soMeet Katie’s husband. He earns a handful of Family prop points. Never mind the Nineties hip hop – this was the night’s real time warp. Actual rumba basics, in a rumba? Madness! Shades of Cherie Lunghi in this deliberately understated routine, which played to Katie’s strengths: classy, elegant, a tad stately, but room for full-on Bassey diva flourishes. (See? HELPFUL MUSIC.) Graceful leg action, but didn’t settle her weight so lacked hip rotation, especially on the rumba walks, and not exactly seductive as a couple with Anton grinning away. Arms sometimes gorgeous, sometimes wild, a couple of timing issues and an accidental lift, but she sold it beautifully. Sidenote: as per the backdrop, are we on another planet? It’s a bearable Anton rumba, so that would track.

Song: “Never Never Never”, Shirley Bassey

Judges’ comments: Len enjoyed the basic content. Bruno praised her elegance. Craig thought it was melodramatic, her foot came off the floor and some neck issues, but loved it. Darcey praised the classy love story, but wanted more eye contact.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Kellie and Kevin – Boom and bust

kellie-bright-kevin-clifton-bbc-kieron-mccarronsimply so soWell…yes. As Craig pointed out, this was a love/hate routine, and I am in the hate camp. Maybe it was the KKs bopping around obnoxiously from the intro onwards, or that indulgent “Kellie’s Nineties glory days” VT, or the fact that the whole thing was fuelled by a desperation to be liked and get attention after a shock bottom-two visit. The samba itself was rather rushed, so she didn’t transfer weight properly and stretch legs to complete movements, but crisp footwork and held her own with some ambitious content. Overshadowed, though, by the booty-shaking, lip-synching, exceedingly white hip hop and eyesore retro styling. So. At least it’s not Fifties nostalgia. Kevin’s moving in the right direction, if aggravatingly.

Song: “Boom! Shake The Room”, DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought the mash-up worked. Craig eventually agreed. Darcey praised the assured performance, but thought the mix caused problems – weight needs to be back for street and forward for samba. Len wasn’t wild about it either, but the samba she did do was terrific.

Judges’ scores: 9, 8, 7, 9 – 33

Peter and Janette – Keep holding on

peter-andre-janette-manrara-bbc-kieron-mccarronstruggles sparkleNot to be outdone, Andre deployed both his camera-ready kids (no Family prop points – he wants it too much) AND the ghost of Cilla Black. Pace yourself, dude. I wish I could tell you about the footwork in their Viennese, but the smoke monster conveniently hid most of it/fuelled our conspiracy theories. Certainly struggled with the too-fast music, which meant frantic movement and no time to drive into proper rotation. Occasional gapping – he’s still a bit uncomfortable navigating Janette in hold, though he’s his usual OTT Andre self when released. And yes, too much out of hold, though the same could be said for most ballroom routines this series. Just OK.

Song: “You’re My World”, Cilla Black

Judges’ comments: Craig could see the effort in every gear change, and needed to be in hold more. But (BBC prompt) he loved it. Darcey gushed over the Disney magic, though right shoulder tilting at times. Len liked the musicality, but agreed it was more American smooth. Bruno loved all the embellishments.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8, 9 – 34

Georgia and Giovanni – All that jazz

georgia-may-foote-giovanni-pernice-bbc-kieron-mccarronstrictly sensationalNo lesser figure than Ruthie Henshall came to witness their Chicago training, bestowing her wisdom and a slightly strained smile. Anyhow, this was a welcome sane music choice, with built-in appropriate characterisation, style and storytelling. Georgia coped brilliantly with the exposing side-by-side movement, swivel action, glimmers of Fosse and daring lifts, though she did fall out of the turns at the end and there was the occasional loss of sync. Still, by the far the most complete, coherent and convincing package of the night, and arguably the series so far.

Song: “Hot Honey Rag” from Chicago (COPYCAT KLAXON: Patsy Kensit and Robin)

Judges’ comments: Darcey thought it was tight, clean and brilliant. Len: “You put the ‘go’ in Chicago.” Bruno was “razzle-dazzled”, and said she’s grown not just as a dancer, but as a performer. Craig: “Three letters: L-U-V.” Given that it took everyone about 10 minutes to get it, I’m not sure that one’s a keeper, Craig.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Jeremy and Karen – At the coalface

jeremy-vine-karen-hauer-bbc-kieron-mccarronstruggles sparkleProps to Jeremy for proclaiming “This is like walking through the FUTURE!” while visiting a Crossrail tunnel. Lesser mortals would have been muttering about dire school trips and when can we visit the gift shop? He was far less convincing in the actual routine, though it was certainly the weakest framing so far: sketchy mining theme, and the fun grinding to a halt whenever they went into laboured, constrained quickstep. Ah, the mid-series comedy act dilemma: continue going for laughs or actually try to deliver some ballroom? This was pretty much the worst of both worlds, as he never figured out how to get those long legs to actually drive the movement and his hold looked incredibly awkward, but it wasn’t as charmingly bonkers as usual either.

Song: “Going Underground”, The Jam

Judges’ comments: Len noted some mistakes, but he’d be missed in Blackpool. Bruno, in backhanded compliment fashion, praised his determination and resilience. Craig compared it with dressage. Darcey said his topline was too stiff, but improvement.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6, 5 – 21


Georgia and Giovanni – 39

Helen and Aljaž – 34

Peter and Janette – 34

Kellie and Kevin – 33

Anita and Gleb – 32

Katie and Anton – 31

Jay and Aliona – 30

Jamelia and Tristan – 26

Jeremy and Karen – 21

Georgia’s back on top, while Helen rises and Jay tumbles.


jeremy-vine-karen-hauer-exit-bbc-kieron-mccarronLove was celebrated in all its forms in the pro dance – you know, its heterosexual forms, with firmly traditional gender roles. (See: male boss Brendan hitting on his female underlings.) Oh yes, and Years and Years droned, combining dreary pro number and dreary musical performance into one eminently skippable package.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Tess continues the Ill-fitting Varieties Of Blue Contest, while Claud opts for an LBD with sporty stripes.

More music. Lucky us. Brandon Flowers (AKA Harry Styles the wrong side of 40) sang something that was most definitely not a samba, despite Oti and Aljaž’s best efforts.

Len’s lens highlights:

  • Len got excited about Katie’s Aida
  • Craig bemoaned Jamelia’s hands
  • Bruno lauded Georgia’s performance, while a slo mo once again showed sync issues. Curse you, slo mo!

In the dance-off: Jeremy and Karen, and Jamelia and Tristan – the latter setting a new dance-off record. Ouch. The judges, of course, took the opportunity to ditch People’s Champion Jezza. We will miss his brand of crazy, but perhaps good he went before causing the exit of any real contenders. Jamelia…has one more week. Stay strong, Tristan.

Who impressed you? Did you agree with the scoring? And did you want to see Jeremy go? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week at Blackpool. In the meantime…keep dancing!

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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