Posted on November 12, 2018
It might seem a strange statement to make while the BBC is shoving Stacey towards the glitterball, and Joe’s YouTube views have now surpassed the last six series, but one thing I’m enjoying is this year’s unpredictability. Who could have guessed that none of Lee, Vick, Dr Ranj or Danny would make Blackpool? Or that the latter would be ousted by our resident cricketer?
But, in a year with both excitingly strong ringers and enthusiastic tryers who are showing real improvement, you can’t just float along in the middle of the pack, coasting on pre-series skill or your cult status among CBeebies viewers. And that does mean that we’re getting a fascinating watch, with proper weekly jeopardy and a host of different stories.
Danny’s is a firm rebuttal to Matthew Bourne et al dismissing all ringers as having it too easy. In this case, he never shook off his previous dance experience enough to get into the ballroom style (though whether that was the difficulty of undoing muscle memory, too short a time to learn, or a disinclination to change everything up for Strictly is unclear).
Two weeks of tabloid slating probably didn’t help either, cementing some viewers’ impression of Danny as perhaps seeming above it all – not great when you’re in the bottom two and need the public to rally round. For me, much as I admired him, it’s almost a relief that I can now stop hoping he’ll build on his initial promise and hit that magic breakthrough moment.
In cheerier news, we’re going to Blackpool, did anyone mention it, and also the family prop points are being scattered like confetti. Bonus points to Joe for combining the two once again with his mystical nan – who had better be EPIC telly after all this build-up.
Tess in a poppy-red sack with confused geometric flap, Claud once more embracing the dark sparkles.
Reminiscing about Kate’s nuptials (shout-out to Aljaž’s amazing scarf) in preparation for a wedding-themed quickstep. Good return to form for these two, bringing the confidence and zany energy of their early weeks, but with a much more refined topline and footwork. Nice intricate sequences, kept light and bright, and good movement round the floor, though the now traditional out of hold section was basically cheery jogging. Kate needs to work on her topline too: left elbow hanging off Aljaž, sometimes back-weighted, which created gapping, and too square – should extend more and introduce swing and sway. But overall a fun, lively number.
Song: “I Want You to Want Me”, Letters to Cleo (COPYCAT KLAXON: Gavin Henson and Katya)
Judges’ comments: Shirley said she didn’t miss a beat, but pivots needed strong heel lead. Bruno thought she’d regained her freedom of movement, in sync and joyful. Craig noted gapping, but effervescent. Darcey agreed it was a delight, though gapping.
Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30
Tabloid rumblings about a spat in practice, so everyone was VERY CHEERY in their VT. Caribbean carnival samba to capitalise on Danny’s Dominican heritage, but another type of heritage dominated. Ringers get scoffed at for saying previous dance training can be a problem, but it really is here; Danny’s never managed to transition to a different style of movement. So, the usual: strong content, crisp presentation, lovely arms, but far too stiff, upright, straight legs, harsh transitions, and lacking organic bounce and hip action. Even the shimmies looked overly placed. And for a ‘party’ dance, the audience didn’t really feel invited.
Song: “Feels Like Home”, Sigala, Fuse ODG, Sean Paul, Kent Jones
Judges’ comments: Bruno found it too sharp and staccato, especially in the partnering. Craig said it was spiky, stiff, lacked fluidity, and weirdly too much energy. Darcey praised the lack of mistakes, but needed more undulation and softer bounce. Shirley liked the bounce, but didn’t continue fluidity through the body.
Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27
Ashley’s Couple’s Choice was dedicated to her dad, who passed away earlier this year, and though this would seem to invite cynical eye rolls, it actually resulted in a really heartfelt contemporary – adding vulnerability to Ashley’s technical prowess. Lyrical, absolute commitment, sensational lifts, seamless partnering, and storytelling positively subtle by Strictly standards. (By which I mean there were, of course, moments of HOLDING ON while UNSTEADY, but the sense of loss was woven through more sensitively.) I think 10-tease Craig meant it was quite frantic, with lots of explosive accents and less reaction time, but that’s a pretty subjective critique of a powerful, expressive number.
Song: “Unsteady”, X Ambassadors (Erich Lee Gravity Remix)
Judges’ comments: Craig said Ashley is super incredible, but wanted more breath. Darcey praised the mix of strength and flexibility, and emotional expression. Shirley thought it was sincere and danced from the heart. Bruno said it was a hauntingly beautiful tribute.
Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39
Hello, guest choreographer Jenny Thomas. Is your appearance Oti-mandated, so we know this nonsense isn’t entirely her doing? Well, it’s entirely possible Graeme wouldn’t have pulled off a pure salsa, and this was at least, er, memorable, but OH MY – still recovering from the Eighties neon spandex explosion and exercise class madness with props galore. Actual glimpses of salsa flat-footed (ugh more trainers) and lacking hip action, though good timing from Graeme throughout this fast and furious number, strong lifts and high energy. Really hoping it’s a pre-Blackpool-panic aberration and not them giving up on serious dancing – I’ve enjoyed their gradual progress this series.
Song: “Follow The Leader”, Soca Boys
Judges’ comments: Darcey strangely loved it and praised the commitment, though flat-footed. Shirley praised the impact and rhythm. Bruno felt the burn in his retinas (quite). Craig found it odd, but Graeme handled the complex routine well.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31
Do not mess with Faye – she has a LITERAL ARMY. (AKA a well-timed endorsement from British troops abroad.) In other news, Giovanni is Italian and therefore ice cream! Well, that was a short brainstorming session, wasn’t it? Oh, also eventually a jive – with neat kicks and flicks, pin-sharp turns, and fab sync in the side-by-side, though a rather aggravating amount of knicker-flashing skirt-swishing. Slightly upright, which threw off the style, and I think Shirley wanted more variation: a stronger difference between linking steps and really punching the accents. I tend to agree – it’s part of Faye sometimes leaning on that pretty lyricism – though still a superb effort.
Song: “Reet Petite”, Jackie Wilson (COPYCAT KLAXON: John Barnes and Nicole, Denise Van Outen and James, Laura Whitmore and Giovanni)
Judges’ comments: Shirley called it competent and capable, but wanted more dynamics. Bruno said it was a picture-perfect 1940s jive. Craig loved it. Darcey thought she coped with the speed brilliantly – a great job.
Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 8, 10 – 36
Pier opening to escape the ever-growing fog monster, and then a nicely pitched waltz – natural flow, and just about avoided saccharine. Also some impressive content, including Stacey attempting heel turns, but the technique was variable – in said heel turns, didn’t quite bring her feet together or roll onto her toes, and though her movement round the floor is improving, still needs a lot more drive. Sometimes hit good positions, but frame inconsistent, and needs to commit more, whether it’s a kick or her lines out of hold. Overall, good to see her pushing out of her comfort zone, but needs the specific dance style to match the steps.
Song: “Moon River”, Audrey Hepburn (COPYCAT KLAXON: Esther Rantzen and Anton, Tom Chambers and Camilla, Louis Smith and Flavia, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Brendan)
Judges’ comments: Bruno said it was genuine, but maintain flow through arms. Craig agreed the upper body needed expression, but a well-studied performance. Darcey praised the routine and connection, though wanted more finish. Shirley noted the difficult content, and she had some flow.
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32
Another sighting of the “technical party dance” (LOL), and Joe fared rather better than Danny, though still some issues. A more relaxed feel and got down into the floor, therefore some good natural hip action and the beginnings of a nice samba bounce; conversely, foot placement could have used more precision, ditto arms. Another major difference is that Joe and Dianne have developed a tangible connection, and that Joe is able to let us enjoy the dances with him, so we’re more forgiving of technical errors – here, some of the rhythmic changes and transitions overstressed. But nice musicality, and a creditable attempt. Sidenote: coveting Dianne’s rainbow car wash fringe.
Song: “MMMBop”, Hanson
Judges’ comments: Craig thought it was exaggerated, but did like it. Darcey was distracted by his mouthing. Shirley thought he gave it 100%. Bruno said it was another hit.
Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 9 – 32
Credit to AJ for – as Lauren pointed out – figuring out how to reposition ballroom to work around her arm. It’s got to the stage where I almost don’t notice the adjustment at all. Really endearing Viennese waltz, with another confident performance from Lauren, great timing and flow, and lovely partnering, but would have liked to see more heel leads, a softer free arm, more shaping in hold, and more in hold generally – instead of (groan) floor spins. But they’re definitely one of the most improved couples this series, with a noticeable dance chemistry developing, and theirs is a really inspiring J word.
Song: “You Are the Reason”, Calum Scott and Leona Lewis
Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the ease and transitions, though wanted more exaggeration in the topline. Shirley thought she ticked all the boxes. Bruno bestowed hugs (Shirley hug > Bruno hug, let’s be honest). Craig felt she was dancing for the first time.
Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34
Window cleaning theme, which meant Charles getting the guns out, more hankies, and, inexplicably, the Flavia wig. Good swivel, unusual tricks (some genuinely great, others… you could understand why they’re not often seen), nice sync and confidently presented. Might have had more impact if it didn’t so closely resemble their Couple’s Choice (#bancoupleschoice), and while that had James Brown characterisation, this Charleston was just sort of…genial. I agree with Craig that it needed more zaniness and a sense of teetering on the edge – the slapstick was po-faced, and all felt a bit too cool – but then I’m not sure if that squares with The Great Charles Venn, Thespian and Sex Machine.
Song: “No Diggity”, Minimatic (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ben Cohen and Kristina)
Judges’ comments: Shirley praised the timing – superb. Bruno liked the hip-hop elements, and their best dance yet. Craig found it too controlled – lacked eccentricity. Darcey loved the swivel and sync.
Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35
Ashley and Pasha – 39
Faye and Giovanni – 36
Charles and Karen – 35
Lauren and AJ – 34
Stacey and Kevin – 32
Joe and Dianne – 32
Graeme and Oti – 31
Kate and Aljaž – 30
Danny and Amy – 27
Ashley retains top spot, Charles and Lauren rise, while Stacey and Joe drop slightly. No movement at the bottom.
Tess in a white blanket, Claud a giant bow. Hmm.
The slightly bizarre spectacle of Danny and Amy versus Graeme and Oti. The same mixed bag from Danny, plus an error; another enthusiastic and fairly slick, if manic, performance from Graeme.
Craig voted for Danny (as the stronger dancer), Darcey, Bruno and Shirley went for Graeme (Bruno, conversely, just basing it on the dance-off).
Who got your vote this week? Did the right couple go home? And who’s looking like a finalist? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain
See you next week for the usual insane Blackpool live show. In the meantime…keep dancing!