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Strictly Speaking: Week 8

Posted on December 14, 2020

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Can we believe we’ve only got one show to go? Sob! Anyhow, this was – understandably – not a vintage semi-final. It feels like the celebs have barely begun, and yet here we are asking them to learn two dances. Overall, this… did not go well.

It was basically the weakest outing for everyone except Maisie, who somehow conquered a busy EastEnders filming schedule and also nailed both of her routines. That’s teenage superpowers right there. Otherwise, we saw HRVY felled by this series’ ONLY rumba, and Ranvir by jive, while Jamie and Bill put in fair-to-middling showings. 

Once again, Jamie landed in the dance-off – and was saved for a fourth time. Does this feel rather like the judges thwarting the will of the people? (Not to sound too Brexit-y.) Well, yes, it does. I’ve long hated the dance-off, especially at this stage of the competition, and if the panel are only using their extra decision-making power to prop up a mediocre and less popular contestant, what’s the point? Once again, it also feels like a weighted, gendered decision – a bias that’s become increasingly uncomfortable this year, as well as rewarding exuberance over ballroom.

However, sad as I was to see Ranvir and Gio leave – I’ve truly loved their relationship this year – I can’t really defend that abysmal jive, and I know there are plenty of people who enjoy Jamie’s boundless enthusiasm. Certainly, he’ll do something bonkers in his showdance, so… there’s that, I suppose. Although given that his routines have essentially been a string of freestyles, we may not spot the difference.

Other hits and misses:
  • The Family prop points, there are just too many. Cue endless string of weepy VTs… MISS
  • Also: not all celeb fans are created the same. There’s the Sugar Hill Gang, and there’s Piers Morgan. There’s EMMA FRICKING THOMPSON, and there’s Piers Morgan. There’s a bucket of fish heads, and there’s Piers Morgan. HIT/MISS
  • Hey, Strictly: if you love disco that much, just add disco to the show already and put salsa out of its misery! MISS
  • Our pros… Oh, I don’t know, danced something about a cursed necklace and Aljaž with feathered shoulders. Just do a nice waltz already! MISS
  • Little Mix performed, while Johannes and Luba did a semi-smoke monster-subsumed jive. So great seeing Luba in her element – get that girl a ringer. HIT
  • Had genuinely forgotten Bruno was even involved with this show any more. MISS
Best in Show
  • Best performance: Maisie’s Viennese waltz Annoying guitar aside – simply gaw-jus. 
  • Best costume: Oti the fabulous flapper Runner-up: Ahoy, sailor. 
  • Best move: Bill dancing straight into a camera Or vice versa. Tsk, social distancing!
  • Best line: Craig telling everyone to boo Shirley The man does have great panto instincts.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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The usual confusion: Barbie-pink gown with Angelina leg and pointy shoulders. Claud in black with fab red shoes.

Jamie and Karen – Boogie wonderland

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Let’s just note the cognitive dissonance of kicking off a show with “Last Dance”. Very 2020. So, as ever with these two, a high-energy, fun, wacky performance that worked really well as sheer entertainment, less so in reference to an actual dance style. Which, BTW, was salsa – not disco. Very messy footwork from Jamie, often turned in and flat, which meant pretty much no hip action. However, a nice relaxed feel, good rhythm, and some surprisingly strong partnering, even if he signposted the lifts excessively. Speaking of which, wasn’t wild about the whole Karen straddling his face thing, nor the floor-bum-spin, which looked more like a tired toddler throwing a tantrum.

Song: “Last Dance”, Donna Summer (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ricky Whittle and Natalie)

Judges’ comments: Shirley called it joyous. Motsi praised the timing and his focus on Karen. Craig wanted more hip rotation and a controlled free arm.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8 – 24

Ranvir and Giovanni – Out of time

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This waltz was so close to a wow moment. We had a lovely song, Gio in tails and Ranvir in a poofy frock, with her hair up to show off her gorgeous neck. I also loved the elegant simplicity of the routine. However, it was exposing, too. Ranvir has developed a truly beautiful frame and connection, as well as sensitive musicality and storytelling, but she needed more convincing heel leads in order to keep up with Gio and power round the floor. Instead, we got little balance issues and interruptions to the flow. An emotive number, but she needed to hit that peak slightly sooner.

Song: “Un Giorni Per Noi”, Josh Groban (COPYCAT KLAXON: Gemma Atkinson and Aljaž)

Judges’ comments: Motsi noted improvements in her extension and timing. Beautiful. Craig pointed out the missed heel leads, but graceful topline. Shirley loved the controlled frame, but needed more drive.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9 – 26

Bill and Oti – What’s in a name?

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In a series stuffed full of “We’re dancing to my late grandad’s best friend’s favourite song from the war”, a distinct pleasure to have a song choice with genuine relevance. Yes, this is the literal making of Bill Bailey! A great Charleston pick too, with plenty of humour and quirkiness. Delightful characterisation and interaction, and some great moments from Bill, like those heel rolls, but it needed to be bigger – in performance, and in physicality. Oti was doing everything with slightly more impact, so Bill had to match that sharpness and dynamism. (If, indeed, any mere mortal can match up to Oti.) Still, these two always put on a great show, balancing comedy with style.

Song: “(Won’t You Come Home) Bill Bailey”, Ottilie Patterson with Chris Barber

Judges’ comments: Craig wanted more movement in Bill’s torso, but he hit all the right positions. Goofy and fantastic swivel. Shirley liked seeing his comic side, but also wanted more in the body. Motsi noted improvement in his weight placement, and great performance.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9 – 25

Maisie and Gorka – The jig is up

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Argh, more Couple’s Choice. Look at the judges’ totally empty comments and casual 10s: it’s just not working in the context of this competition. If they actually got a proper hip-hop dancer on, explained the style and technique, attempted a form of the dance that takes place in the 21st century, and maybe had a judge with similar knowledge, then it would be fair. As it is… Maisie had fantastic energy, and made some difficult moves look natural and fun, if not always crisp or in time enough – though the stupid baggy clothes didn’t help, but compared to the critical mauling for a waltz or rumba, it’s just getting a free pass. 

Song: “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”, Will Smith

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her posture – flawless. Motsi said she left it all on the floor. Craig, apparently, had been waiting all series for that. So much for HRVY the GOAT.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10 – 30 

HRVY and Janette – The one and only

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Well, at least we got a rumba this series. Just a shame that it was, you know, this. On the plus side, HRVY showed off Janette beautifully – not that she needs much assistance in that department. However, compared to many celebs who come in strong, he’s always taken the partnering aspect seriously, so kudos for that. Nice straight legs and good timing, though the latter due to HRVY counting out loud, which really killed the mood – unless your idea of romance is someone mouthing “TWO THREE FOUR” in your face. Lacking in underlying technique as well as sensuality: lots of odd weight placement, little hip action, stiff arms, and pigeon-toed. I’m sure he’s capable of more – perhaps on a less-manic week.

Song: “Only You”, Kylie Minogue and James Corden

Judges’ comments: Motsi praised his leg action and connection, but needed more movement in the transitions. Craig noted it was too stop-start, off-balance and right foot turned in, but brilliant partnering. Shirley agreed: some good aspects, but lacked continuous musicality.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8 – 23 

Jamie and Karen – Why, God, why?

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We forgive a lot of nonsense in a theme week, but here we are in the semi-final, no theme, and yet Jamie’s cheerfully throttling a quickstep with a hoedown – and somehow getting credit from the judges for overcoming that challenge?? Truly baffling. Judged purely as a quickstep (I know, the panel couldn’t be bothered, but I’m giving it a shot): messy cowboy-boot-smudged footwork, sloppy topline and head position, and tons of gapping – that is, for the few seconds they actually danced in hold. Add in chaotic CGI and boot-slapping, and it became utter nonsense. Which… fine, if that’s what the show is now, but how is it fair when other celebs are properly critiqued on their attempts at a distinct ballroom style?

Song: “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”, John Denver

Judges’ comments: Craig disliked the chicken dance on the table, otherwise the fusion won him over. Shirley agreed. Motsi enjoyed it as entertainment.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8 – 24

Ranvir and Giovanni – All at sea

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OK, yes, let’s begin with the important thing here: Giovanni the sexy sailor, escaped from a Jean Paul Gaultier ad or possibly just my dreams. It was almost worth this entire jive ordeal just to have… all of that going on. Unfortunately, the rest was fairly dismal. This was never going to be Ranvir’s dance – she’s much more of a ballroom girl, and of the Latin styles, high-energy jive just didn’t suit. I really wish they’d done a smouldering rumba instead, but perhaps they weren’t given the choice. Technically, pretty grim: weight tipped back the whole time, no bounce or sharpness, feet flat, and kicks floppy. On the plus side, Ranvir didn’t make mistakes and sold it well with her performance, but just too weak for this crucial stage.

Song: “Candyman”, Christina Aguilera (COPYCAT KLAXON: Dominic Littlewood and Lilia)

Judges’ comments: Shirley said it started well, but looked heavy. Motsi noted a great body wave. Craig agreed it was heavy and laboured.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 7 – 18

Bill and Oti – Rock on

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Lots of curiosity about this heavy-metal number, but, as it turns out, not nearly the strangest song-tango combo we’ve seen on Strictly. In fact, it kind of worked: definitely high drama and impact, not a bad tempo and pulse, plus a bit of that Bill Bailey oddness. The only problem was that he got too excited by the song and let that take over, so he lost the strict posture, his shoulders went up, and he tried to power it with his arms rather than lowering into the knees and driving with big heel leads instead. Much as we love rock god Bailey, he didn’t quite fuse the two here – though all credit to Dave Arch, clearly having the time of his life.

Song: “Enter Sandman”, Metallica

Judges’ comments: Motsi said it was epic and entertaining, but should be lower. Craig wanted more technique, though loved it. Shirley praised the atmosphere and attack, but footwork and shoulder line needed work.

Judges’ scores: 8, 7, 8 – 23

Maisie and Gorka – Light years ahead

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Yet another self-imposed handicap. Not quite as egregious as cowboy theming, but still – why, oh, why dance with a clunky guitar for so long? Was this meant to be a callback to Bill’s air-guitaring? Or to Catherine and Johannes’s rumba last year? Very odd. Once that was finally ditched, we got a gorgeous Viennese waltz. Maisie has improved hugely in her ballroom posture and poise, as well as tempering her natural power with lyricism and beautiful expansiveness in her lines. There’s also more emotional purpose in her movement, so they’re telling a real story. Smooth rotations (if the odd missed heel lead), lovely fleckerl, and a bonus sliding split in there too. Really impressive work.

Song: “A Thousand Years”, Christina Perri (COPYCAT KLAXON: Kimberley Walsh and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Craig noted much improved footwork, but wanted more stretch. Shirley said her body is now like a musical instrument. Motsi declared that this dance should put her in the final.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10 – 39 

HRVY and Janette – Here comes the sun

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Um, did this escape from Movie Week? La La Land definitely would have made more sense than sodding Gnomeo and Juliet. An action-packed Charleston, as we’d expect, making the most of HRVY’s stamina, elastic body movements, and sheer athleticism – like the one-handed cartwheel. Really fab swivel, and some nice bits of characterisation in there. However, not always in sync with Janette, and sometimes chasing the (challenging) choreo. I’m also still waiting to be really emotionally bowled over by a HRVY routine – at the moment, I tend to admire rather than love his numbers. I don’t feel he’s grown as a performer in the same way that Maisie has. Sidenote: welcome back, wobbly lamppost! 

Song: “Another Day of Sun”, La La Land cast

Judges’ comments: Shirley said he danced the steps as an artist. Motsi though it was outstanding. Craig: “Fab-u-lous.”

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10 – 30 


Maisie and Gorka – 30 + 29 = 59

HRVY and Janette – 23 + 30 = 53J

Jamie and Karen – 24 + 24 = 48

Bill and Oti – 25 + 23 = 48

Ranvir and Giovanni – 26 + 18 = 44

Maisie nabs top spot from HRVY. Jamie is up, and Ranvir down.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Weirdly deconstructed flag. Claud back in black.


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Ranvir and Giovanni, reprising their waltz, versus Jamie and Karen, doing their disco-salsa. A split decision at this crucial juncture, with Motsi voting for Ranvir, but Craig and Shirley choosing Jamie – the latter particularly noting his fight to stay in the competition. Perhaps all that previous dance-off experience actually worked in his favour.

Personally, I thought Ranvir’s superior technique should have kept her in. I don’t follow Shirley’s logic here: it’s much easier to go big in a dance-off doing a crazy disco-salsa than a restrained waltz.

What did you think of the semi-final? Did the judges make the right decision? And who do you think will lift that glitterball trophy? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week for the grand final. In the meantime… keep dancing!

Photographs: Guy Levy, courtesy of the BBC.


Marianka Swain is a freelance writer and social dancer at several London venues. You can find more of her work at

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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