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Strictly Speaking: Week 8

Posted on November 11, 2019

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Rejoice, for our long national nightmare is over! Finally, Mike Bushell has left the Strictly dancefloor, taking his “comedy” with him. And about time – lord knows what tricks Katya was going to introduce next in sheer desperation (Katya hangs over shark-infested waters while Mike does an uncertain chasse nearby! Katya leaps over a pit of fire while blindfolded! And Mike is also there!).

So, going into Blackpool, we actually have a fairly competitive pack. Yes, the obvious finalists are Kelvin, Michelle and Karim, but the latter pair had an uncertain week – one landing in the dance-off, almost certainly due to wardrobe sticking her in a vile green asexual cushion cover, the other stumbling over a lighthouse repeatedly and then substituting tears and birthday pleas for an actual dance worthy of votes.

Meanwhile, Saffron topped the leaderboard in a dance that (GASP!) actually had some breathing space. Will AJ learn a vital lesson here? Er, history suggests not. And there’s still hope for “journey” candidate Alex, now reunited with her Ginger Neil. Rumours of Kevin eagerly buttering the stairs are entirely unfounded.

Other hits and misses:
  • A quick shoutout to all of Motsi’s impeccable outfits throughout the series so far. Please let us end on a full fashion show – god knows it’d be more entertaining than one of the interminable montages. (And bring back Johannes!) HIT
  • Remembrance Sunday dance involving teary train station farewells. Rather beautifully done, other than asking us to buy Anton and Amy as a couple. HIT
  • Luke Evans crooned “Bring Him Home”, because unless someone does that song on telly every other week, the world will spin off its axis. Johannes and Amy wafted. HIT/MISS

Best in Show
  • Best performance: Saffron’s waltz Runner-up: the return of Kelvin’s hips.
  • Best costume: Amy’s Viennese dress Although the sentient sleeves had it out for her partner.
  • Best move: Giovanni falling at Michelle’s feet Quite right.
  • Best line: Motsi’s accidental “affair” comment Oh to be a fly on the wall when someone fills her in on the events of last series. Also loved Claud telling a weeping Karim that they’d bring him back some rock from Blackpool #savage


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Claudia Winkleman & Tess Daly. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Gold foil and a tail. Huh? Claud in a black sack edged with pearls.

Alex and Neil – Together again
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Alex Scott and Neil Jones. Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Welcome back, Ginger Neil! A sunny, retro jive that suited these two well – allowed for more of a relaxed, earthy, lindy-hop feel, and gave Alex a character to play. Fab energy and musicality, and nice organic transitions, but needed more attention to details like closing her feet on the chasses, pointing her toes on the kicks and getting better retraction. Also tends to bury her head in her shoulders too much. However, I disagree with Craig on anticipating the beat – this song and style of routine had a laidback groove, and Alex physicalised that really well. Great fun.

Song: “Let’s Twist Again”, Chubby Checker 

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised the concept, short connections, lightness, and mix of basics and more complex steps. Bruno noted her growing confidence and great timing, but get sharper retraction on flicks. Craig thought she was slightly off-balance and needed more attack, but sold it. Motsi…made her affair analogy, MAJOR AWKS.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Mike and Katya – So long, farewell

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Mike Bushell and Katya Jones. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Well, what a waste. Fab traditional music and styling…and yet all we could possibly get is an OK-ish semi-paso doble, because at the centre of it is Mike Bushell – looking like an angry mannequin partly brought to life by a witch who gave up partway through. As ever, flat-footed and stompy, arms more like signposts than a matador, and might as well have been danced to the sound of someone banging their head against a wall (that would be me) for all the musicality he exhibited. Oh, and finished with the inevitable “Katya does what?!” move – this time, looking very much like goat yoga.

Song: “Tamacun”, Rodrigo y Gabriela (COPYCAT KLAXON: Greg Rutherford and Natalie)

Judges’ comments: Bruno noted the effort, but heavy and stilted. Craig said he went horribly wrong, too rigid and placed, no flow. Motsi praised the opening. Shirley liked the commitment, but agreed it lacked flow.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 6 – 25

Karim and Amy – Shipwreck
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Amy Dowden and Karim Zeroual. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

So, I can see Amy’s logic here: since Karim is clearly allergic to Viennese waltz, why not spice it up with ringer content like lovely pirouettes? However, it had the effect of making the dance in hold look even worse, since Karim visibly tensed up every time he went from happy, free solo work to gloomy waltzing. His issues were largely footwork-based – lack of heel leads meant it was skippy and lacked drive, so hard to power the rotations, plus feet too turned out and knees apart. Also: having a whacking great lighthouse in the way not helpful. But frame not bad and often expressive.

Song: “Give Me Love”, Ed Sheeran

Judges’ comments: Craig noted mistakes, too much rise and fall, and needed to be smoother. Motsi praised his fluidity in the solo parts, and put it down to nerves. Shirley wanted heel leads, but good fleckerl and frame improving. Bruno appreciated the creativity.

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 8, 8 – 30

Chris and Karen – No laughing matter
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Karen Hauer and Chris Ramsay. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Not the greatest sign when you need literal bursts of fire to add drama to your tango, and, indeed, this was focussed but hardly thrilling. Chris’s personality is an asset in the exuberant dances, but for something like this, you need technique and movement quality to really wow – and he’s just not there. The main issue was taking very small, timid steps, rather than powering through (or keeping up with) Karen, which made it look more like walking while slightly miffed that Pret ran out of your favourite sandwich. Also missed heel leads, and posture and timing issues. Plus that whole Nöel Coward velvet smoking jacket/inexplicable necklace situation…

Song: “Survivor”, 2wei

Judges’ comments: Motsi liked the intensity, but footwork issues. Shirley thought the footwork was OK, and frame improving. Bruno praised the intent, but he was walking it. Craig said he needs to up his game – technically a disahhhhster.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26

Michelle and Giovanni – Love and marriage
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Giovanni Pernice and Michelle Visage. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

OK, the outfit did make a BIT more sense once we got to see the whole delightfully kitsch, camp take on grumpy husband and frustrated housewife – and, as ever, thoroughly enjoyable storytelling through movement from this clever pair. But it also felt like an oddly buttoned-up (quite literally) choice for such a raunchy song, particularly given the Diet Coke ad of it all. Dancing wise, nice clean foxtrot in this American smooth, though needs to close her feet more precisely on occasion and work on head position, and fantastic flourishes in both choreography and performance, including a creative burst of swing and lots of witty power play.

Song: “I Just Want to Make Love to You”, Etta James (COPYCAT KLAXON: Alison Hammond and Aljaž)

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised the lifts, and the mix of sophistication and sass. Bruno loved that it was all so clear and flawless characterisation. Craig: “You are the mistress of detail.” Motsi likes how she uses her technique to fuel the performance.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36

Emma B and Anton – Hang up your hat
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Anton Du Beke and Emma Barton. Photograph by Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Some Family prop points for Emma via her parents/deceased grandparents in an otherwise snoozy Couple’s Choice VT – and one that very much omitted her playing Roxie in Chicago. Given that information, and the massive redemptive dance build-up, this number was rather a letdown. The routine was paint-by-numbers, vaguely-Fosse-referencing jazz. Anton was checked out. And Emma gave it her usual bulging-eyed intensity, but with nothing like the kind of polish and precision of someone who’s actually danced this style professionally. Out of sync a lot, isolations blurred, lacking in dynamics and verve. Aggressively mediocre.

Song: “Right Now”, The Pussycat Dolls

Judges’ comments: Bruno noted the sync issues, but fantastic. Craig said it was understated and stylised. Motsi agreed on the subtlety. Shirley also pointed out the sync problems, but (ouch) “one of your better dances”.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8, 8 – 33

Saffron and AJ – Simply beautiful
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AJ Pritchard and Saffron Barker. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Hallelujah: a routine that does not feature Saffron doing 300 spins before being hurled through a basketball hoop! And what do you know – when given time and breathing space, she produces a beautiful performance. (Of course, next week we’ll be back to AJ hurling her around the ballroom as though dodging a sniper.) Lovely footwork, great movement and frame – though, like Michelle, needs to keep her shoulders down, get a consistent head position, and close her feet. Nice double reverse spin and balance, plus did a great job with the timing given the unhelpful music. I don’t find this pair as emotionally stirring as some others, but definitely a strong number.

Song: “Your Song”, Ellie Goulding cover (COPYCAT KLAXON: Darren Gough and Lilia, Susanna Reid and Kevin)

Judges’ comments: Craig: “Gaw-jus.” Motsi said it’s the best dance she’s seen on her first Strictly. Shirley found it sensitive, superb footwork, and made it look easy. Bruno was swept away.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Kelvin and Oti – Hip hip hooray
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Oti Mabuse and Kelvin Fletcher. Photoraph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

This week, I really feel that, as a nation – besieged by electoral nonsense, floods, plagues of locusts etc. – we EARNED this salsa. Kelvin’s hips = Britain’s salvation. Yes, I would have preferred Latin music and accompanying outfit, instead of the race car stuff, but earthy, rhythmical movement, excitingly risky though generally well-handled lifts, lots of wonderful hip action, shimmies and body rolls, Oti ON FIRE, and Kelvin beaming throughout. The basics were rather flat-footed and muddied, not helped by the trainers – needed sharper foot placement and hip rotation, with clear timing – but it’s hard to watch these two in action and not feel happy.

Song: “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”, Deniece Williams (COPYCAT KLAXON: Scott Maslen and Natalie, Simon Webbe and Kristina)

Judges’ comments: Motsi praised his body motion, speed, leading skills and smile. Shirley loved his musical hips and lifts, though the odd timing issue. Bruno praised his confident performance, delivered with ease. Craig: “Hip-tastic.”

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35


Saffron and AJ – 39

Michelle and Giovanni – 36

Kelvin and Oti – 35

Emma B and Anton – 33

Alex and Neil – 31

Karim and Amy – 30

Chris and Karen – 26

Mike and Katya – 25

Saffron and Emma B rise, Karim, Mike and Chris fall.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Claudia Winkleman and Tess Daly. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Sparkly blue with horrible netting hem for Tess, smart tux for Claud.


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Katya Jones, Mike Bushell, Michelle Visage and Giovanni Pernice. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Mike and Katya, again, versus – sad face – Michelle and Giovanni. However, this did mean that the judges had no choice but to FINALLY eliminate Mike Bushell, thank the dancing gods.

Who impressed you this week? Did you agree with the scoring? And who’s looking like a finalist? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week for that trip to some place up north, I think they might have mentioned it. 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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