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Strictly Speaking – Week 8

Posted on November 13, 2017

Pro dancers remembrance weekend BBC Guy Levy e1510572066196

Pre-Blackpool Week saw many couples in something of a dilemma: do we go easier and hope to win over the audience with a fun performance, or risk tougher routines to impress the judges? Actually, I think voters also appreciate growth, particularly at this stage, but the majority’s adherence to technique yielded distinctly mixed results.

At least having “Let’s learn to dance” as a theme (oh joy) meant ACTUAL TRAINING FOOTAGE (OH JOY). Amazing the difference it made, having insight into particular challenges the couples faced – it enriched the experience of seeing them perform, and made us much better informed as voters. Bonus: no one trying to deliver a “comedy” script. Of course, it’ll all go to pot in Blackpool.

On the downside, the dubious music choices and arrangements continue to aggravate – in some cases actually leading to poorer technique or muddled routines. Though newly Serious Susan deserves an Oscar for finding such emotional depth and meaning in – ahem – Katy Perry lyrics…


Other hits and misses:

  • It can’t be said enough: TRAINING FOOTAGE! HIT
  • What a shame there was such a button shortage this week. Somehow, we’ll weather this sartorial crisis together… HIT
  • Score inflation again. Lord knows what’ll happen in Blackpool – 40s all round, probably. MISS
  • Remembrance Day number somewhat marred by a John Lewis Christmas advert cover of The Proclaimers. Also, er, travelators. A waltz would have done perfectly well, is all I’m saying. MISS
  • Seal, in a coat (possibly also a taxi with the engine running), did some crooning. Anton and Nadiya wafted. MISS


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Alexandra’s Argentine tango First of the series, and sets a sizzling high bar.
  • Best costume: Gemma’s Viennese frock Runner-up: with training footage comes renewed appreciation for Debbie’s training attire.
  • Best move: Debbie’s insane lifts I actually yelped at one of them. Apologies, neighbours.
  • Best line: Bruno: “You have to do the steps at the right time. All the way through!” Groundbreaking wisdom.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Bed sheet with weird cutouts. Claud back on the stylish menswear.


Susan and Kevin – Playing with fire

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

The comic acts are particularly prone to this mid-series crossroads: go bigger with the silly stuff, or attempt to compete on dance grounds? Respect to them for choosing the latter path, though it may not take them much further. This tango was certainly competent, with no obvious errors, but felt more like determined hill walking – robust and unfaltering, however lacking in style (music really not helping). Needed more extreme shaping, a better controlled hold, dynamics, and elegant lines. But good timing and commitment. Sidenote: way too early for Christmas tree shopping.

Song: “Firework”, Katy Perry

Judges’ comments: Shirley said she danced from her heart and lovely footwork, but frame issues. Bruno noted she stayed on time. Craig wanted a proper V shape, more attack, and her feet didn’t always close. Darcey loved the drama, but the emotions meant her frame collapsed.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 8, 8 – 27





Joe and Katya – One on one

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

Katya hedged their bets here – yes, Joe danced basics, but also some patented standing on the spot while the female pro whirls around like the Tasmanian Devil. And as male rumbas go, managed to find a happy medium between “Block of petrified wood” and “If Len were here he’d be muttering about dire threats to traditional masculinity”. On the 4/1, Joe seemed reluctant to commit his weight to the standing leg and flow through the body, and some weird interpretative dance business with the free arm, but glimmers of decent hip action and strong partnering.

Song: “One”, U2 and Mary J. Blige

Judges’ comments: Bruno liked the balance of the routine, but don’t break the lines. Craig found it jolty and pigeon-toed, but good hip action and presenting of Katya. Darcey thought it was earthy, well controlled and some fab lines. Shirley praised the basics, fluidity and leading.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 9, 9 – 33





Ruth and Anton – Horsing around

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

In training, focus was on Ruth’s frame, but that was unfortunately just one of many issues in this foxtrot. After a very lengthy and equally messy hats and canes opener, we were into a routine that – as the judges noted – was all quicks. The music certainly encouraged it, but felt more like Anton had attempted controlled slows with Ruth and decided not to risk it. Lots of errant bobbing about, gapping, too square, and lacked pizzazz. My favourite moment was Ruth’s wincing reaction to someone chucking a cane at her – very much what mine would be.

Song: “Mack the Knife”, Bobby Darin (COPYCAT KLAXON: Roger Black and Camilla, Caroline Flack and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Craig said they lacked style in the side by side, messed up coming down the stairs, and trotting like a horse. Darcey thought it needed glide, too much rise and fall, and swimming in hold. Shirley wanted more slows. Bruno said she did the steps but at the wrong time.

Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 4, 5 – 18





Davood and Nadiya – Apples and pears

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























I hesitate to call this is a streak, since it’s only Dance Two, and both have involved big lifts and minimal dance in hold. But still nice to see the Davoodaissance continue, particularly in a week with plenty of struggles. Some wildness in feet, swivel disappeared when combined with a trick, and the odd timing issue, otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable cheeky chappie Charleston – animated facial expressions, good sync work, and another impressive climactic lift. Sidenote: has anyone solved the mystery of why Nadiya came to an East End fruit stall dressed in a scandalously short flapper dress?

Song: “The Lambeth Walk”, The Pasadena Roof Orchestra

Judges’ comments: Darcey loved the character and swivel. Shirley called it flawless. Bruno said he’s getting better and better. Craig: “A-maze-ing.”

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38





Gemma and Aljaž – Poker face

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

Training suggested a level of ambition that, while admirable, was perhaps inadvisable, since Gemma was only just grasping the routine. In performance, she delivered a lot of the difficult Viennese content – fleckerl and reverse, multiple pivots into a standing spin – but couldn’t sell it, meaning we saw the effort rather than the emotion or performance. Her eye level has improved, and some really nice shaping, but didn’t stay flat enough, and largely maintained hold though with visible tension in her shoulders. Also a weird musical arrangement with stop/start pauses and very subtle beat, which probably didn’t help.

Song: “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me”, Brenda Lee

Judges’ comments: Shirley wanted more emotion, and too much rise and fall. Bruno agreed she should play the part more. Craig said it felt rushed and lacked expression. Darcey praised her effort.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 7 – 28





Alexandra and Gorka – Fanning the flames

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

Argentine tango time! I wasn’t wild about the stairs bit (however well negotiated), but definitely can’t fault the dramatic impact of that opening pose up on the balcony, Alexandra wielding the world’s biggest red fan and giving the camera sultry side-eye. Given that her weakness has probably been lack of footwork definition, the level of control and sharpness here was impressive – she’s a ringer who still works to improve every week. Legs sometimes too bent or wide apart, but great ganchos, loved the walking on Gorka’s feet trick, well-integrated lifts, and a seriously powerful and steamy number.

Song: “Mi Confesion”, Gotan Project

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the sharp series of ganchos. Craig called her incredible. Darcey praised the beautiful lines and passion, but the emotion went into her shoulders. Shirley was transported to a nightclub where it was just the two of them dancing. Superb.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38





Mollie and AJ – Here we go again

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

Well, I had this one pegged for the dance-off, but perhaps voters wanted to reward their effort and/or pleas to avoid more bottom two ignominy. The actual paso, despite all that build-up, was another frustrating performance from them – Starts Well, Goes Floppy: The Mollie King Story. Once again sliding past shapes rather than hitting them cleanly and with conviction on the beat, stumbling off balance, skirt work that looked like she’d got tangled while folding a duvet, too much looking down, and they lacked physical connection as a partnership – needed more tension from her to absorb AJ’s lead.

Song: “Layla”, Derek and the Dominoes (COPYCAT KLAXON: Cherie Lunghi and James, Laila Rouass and Anton)

Judges’ comments: Craig noted awkward shapes and her shoulder came up, but good presence. Darcey enjoyed the attitude, but she threw too much away – a core strength issue again. Shirley liked the content, but she struggled out of hold. Bruno said by going for power, they lost control, artistry and timing.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 6, 5 – 22





Jonnie and Oti – Sometimes it hurts instead

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

All praise to Jonnie for not begging sympathy votes, but nevertheless interesting to see in training the physical challenge of getting foxtrot movement without sticking his bum out, since he lacks an actual ankle joint. In performance, however, it was clearly still an issue. The song and a lovely expressive Oti routine helped distract from it, but in hold definite awkwardness – slightly hunched, not getting down into floor to drive properly, movement stodgy, and bottom still out. Nice pivots and good partnering, but felt like one he got through rather than really performed.

Song: “Someone Like You”, Adele (COPYCAT KLAXON: Kimberley Walsh and Pasha, Frankie Bridge and Kevin)

Judges’ comments: Darcey said he seemed uncomfortable, and right shoulder drifting forward. Shirley noted some improvements, but his head position threw his balance and footwork variable. Bruno found it emotional, but hands like shovels and lacked va-va-voom. Craig thought it was dull.

Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 6, 6 – 21





Debbie and Giovanni – Eye candy

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

We’ll ignore the wholly unnecessary opticians intro, shall we? So, salsa! The basics of this were just OK – Debbie tending to slide her feet around, rather than planting them on clear counts – and a shame about the mistake on the spins, but great to see her going for it; success in party Latin really comes down to willingness to let loose. Strong armography, and oh my word, those lifts. The first one, where Debbie released hold so Giovanni was purely supporting her by the…er…lovely McGee was particularly daredevil, as was the upside-down face straddling. Hot stuff.

Song: “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”, Boys Town Gang (COPYCAT KLAXON: Susanna Reid and Kevin, Jill Halfpenny and Darren)

Judges’ comments: Shirley noted mistakes, but she still went for the lifts. Bruno loved her sauciness and fluidity. Craig: “Whatever you’re on, darling, I want some.” So say we all. Darcey found it incredibly impressive.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 8, 9 – 35






Davood and Nadiya – 38

Alexandra and Gorka – 38

Debbie and Giovanni – 35

Joe and Katya – 33

Gemma and Aljaž – 28

Susan and Kevin – 27

Mollie and AJ – 22

Jonnie and Oti – 21

Ruth and Anton – 18


In this series of surprises, Davood takes top spot. Gemma’s up, while Susan and Debbie drop slightly.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Another missing left sleeve for Tess. Claud also in black – two sleeves, no insane cape, the show-off.



The Strictly Come Dancing 2017 contestants – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

A battle of the foxtrots: Ruth and Anton versus Jonnie and Oti. The latter managed a slightly better encore performance, and the judges all duly saved him. One last pile on for the road.

Who impressed you this week? Did the right couples wind up in the dance-off? And who’s looking like a finalist? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week for…where is it again? Birmingham? In the meantime…keep dancing!


In November’s Dancing Times, Marianka Swain reports on the future of same-sex dance, while Strictly‘s Oti Mabuse tells Nicola Rayner about her partnership with Jonnie Peacock

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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