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Strictly Speaking: Week 8

Posted on November 15, 2021

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Well that was a shambles. Are the judges trying to destroy the format of the entire show? Is Adam Peaty’s mum right to cry fix? Does Dan really think he’s the sole representative of Strictly contestants without dance experience? Adam (or his mum) would have a thing or two to say about that – as would Sara, this week sacrificed on the altar of his alarmingly expanding ego. Also: YOU MADE ALJAŽ SAD, YOU MONSTERS.

Now, it wasn’t all bad. Rose and Giovanni utterly destroyed me, in the best possible way, and we had a great samba from John and an unsurprisingly bouncy Charleston from Rhys. Otherwise it was all confusion and infuriating unfairness. It looked like the judges made an early pledge to Get Tough, but only applied it to the first two dances and then completely gave up. They’re not remotely scoring the celebs against one another. Instead, poor AJ got marked against Past AJ’s semi-professional efforts, while Dan got marked against that time he jogged around in a lobster costume. 

Yes, of course we love the J word: seeing someone new to dancing gradually fall in love with it and grow over the series. However, this year’s cast is basically ringer-free – no one came in with dance training, and nearly all of them have grown. Dan is wrong if he thinks he’s somehow special there. I’d also argue that his dance development is pretty minimal; he’s just become more confident in performing and in talking about it. This isn’t Strictly Come Speechifying. 

As for the panel, they’re meant to be objective scorers of the dancing. Then, if we want to save someone who isn’t as strong but brings entertainment value or inspiration, we can do that with our votes. Yet if the judges keep tipping the scales, it makes a nonsense of the whole thing. 

Other hits and misses:

  • Veeery slooow Ts and Cs from Miranda Hart in a Santa hat. It might actually be Christmas by the time she finishes. MISS
  • Lovely Remembrance Sunday routine from the pros, which proved just how powerful those group numbers can be when they’re not groaning under the weight of props and mad ideas. HIT
  • James Blunt popped by just to add to our total time dislocation post-pandemic. Is it 2021? 2019? 2004? Truly, who knows… MISS

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Rose’s Couple’s Choice Highlight of the season.
  • Best costume: Motsi’s highlighter dress Like Craig, I am obsessed.
  • Best move: Rose and Giovanni dancing in silence Makes me cry every time I watch it.
  • Best line: Motsi saying to Rose that sometimes “it’s more than scores and dancing – it’s a moment.” Beautifully put.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Tess heading to an S&M Christmas party, Claud to a summer picnic. Righto.

Tilly and Nikita – Birthday blues

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Our teenager is officially all grown up: Tilly celebrated her 20th birthday this week. Might that have limited her quickstep training somewhat? She didn’t look as well prepared as usual in this hot air balloon-topped number, which never quite took off. The solo Charleston sections were by far the strongest, but we’d expect that from her previous routine. While there was lots of great quickstep content, her feet slid through it, often not properly closing, fudging lots of the steps and sometimes turning in (the short skirt didn’t help). That said, her frame looked beautiful and she had a lovely feeling for the music and style of the dance. Not her best, but didn’t deserve a critical mauling.

Song: “I Won’t Dance”, Damita Jo (COPYCAT KLAXON: Danny Mac and Oti)#

Judges’ comments: Shirley said her frame had improved, but keep working on the footwork. Anton agreed: get more to the left in hold. However, it cheered the whole room up. Craig thought it was sloppy, though loved the Charleston. Motsi praised her performance.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 7, 8 – 29 

AJ and Kai – I will survive

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Not that we would ever fan the flames of a showmance, but this week AJ brought Kai home for dinner with Mum – and yes, AJ’s mum, we agree her Charleston deserved a 40. So, this paso: majorly hampered by the stop-start song and the styling. Apparently in the dystopian future we’ll all be wearing Tudor puffed sleeves and giant yellow skirts that trip us up. Still, this was far from a dance disahhhster. AJ did create some fab shapes, she did have some flamenco elements and she gave us some exciting kicks and drops. Yes, breathing through it would have made it less stiff, and she could have worked off Kai more to get controlled dynamics, but hardly a 6. A 6…!

Song: “Game of Survival”, Ruelle

Judges’ comments: Anton praised the strong performance, but a bit stiff. Craig wanted more Spanish line and connection. Motsi thought the storytelling was good but she felt the nerves. Shirley enjoyed the beginning but thought AJ overarched her back.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 8 – 28 

Dan and Nadiya – Road to nowhere

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Who better to get American smooth advice from than Chris Hollins, who scored… 28. Oh. Although as the absurd popular winner over Ricky Whittle (no, I am not over it), he could probably relate to Dan “The People’s Prince” Walker. Sigh. What to say about this? Nadiya briefly solved the free arm problem by giving him a cane, although as soon as he chucked it, his hand flopped around like a dying fish. Feet still flat and transitions jerky, hold fairly solid but lacked musicality, and one lift looked like he was hefting a corpse into a river. The plodding song helped a bit, though was a weird juxtaposition with their costumes, otherwise mediocre for this stage. Sidenote: Anton, enough with the panting bromance. It is truly mortifying.

Song: “King of the Road”, The Proclaimers

Judges’ comments: Craig said it lacked feeling, style, swing and sway. Motsi said it wasn’t expressive but he concentrated on getting it right. Shirley told him to enjoy it. Anton said he went from Dan the man to Dan the dancer.

Judges’ scores: 4, 8, 8, 9 – 29 

Rhys and Nancy – Boat race

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Pity the ducks that Rhys deafened when screaming about his Charleston. This was the dance he’d always wanted to do, and of course it was a good match for his boundless energy – as well as lacking the constraints, like a ballroom hold, that he’s yet to master. His clowning characterisation worked brilliantly, he had great swivel, and the elevation in his jumps is always impressive. Not quite perfect though – one lift was laboured and he stumbled in another, occasionally just ahead of the beat, and I still want to see more connection between them, but it was definitely a strong moment for Rhys. As ever: can he sustain it in the ballroom dances?

Song: “The Charleston”, Bob Wilson and his Varsity Rhythm Boys (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ruth Langsford and Anton)

Judges’ comments: Motsi called it the Charleston of the season – light and authentic. Shirley praised the choreography. Anton said he smashed the place up. Craig: “A-maze-ing.”

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (justice for AJ!)

Sara and Aljaž – Smoke gets in your eyes

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Hmm. So, as Aljaž explained in their VT, Argentine tango is all about the intimate exchange between two people – and what better way to help us appreciate that than to add the smoke monster at its smokiest and a terrifyingly huge disco ball? Plus music that fought the dance every step of the way. Still, they did a really good job of transcending all of that with utter focus between them – unlike some others, they really do operate as a team, not as individuals. Lovely underplayed drama throughout, good lifts and improved foot articulation from Sara, which helped with the ganchos. Yes, it could have felt more organic, but a strong effort. 

Song: “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)”, Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her posture, precision and beautifully landed lifts. Anton loved how clean it was. Craig wanted looser legs, but great attack and drive. Motsi said she left her heart on the dancefloor.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 9 – 32 

John and Johannes – Party people

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Hello to John’s lovely fiancé Paul, I hope you know that there’s now sky-high expectations for your wedding dance! So, this number wasn’t as conceptually weird as a disco-tango, but still puzzling to trot out proper authentic salsa music for once – and use it for samba. We also saw this pair add to their collection of artisanal gay eateries with a sunny bar. John coped well with a full-on routine: fab changes of rhythm, lovely placement, a nice musical flow, and shimmies for days. Could have used more double bounce action and just selling it more: he was shown up by Johannes, who was working that yellow-trousered tush like a jar of mustard in an earthquake, but hugely enjoyable.

Song: “Acuyuye”, DLG (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ricky Groves and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Anton wants his shoulder weight forward, otherwise unbelievable. Craig agreed. Motsi wants to party with them – great combination of rhythmical and elegant, plus the joy of the dance. Shirley unveiled her new manifesto: weight, time, energy and space. She’s distributing the graphs shortly.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 9 – 38 

Tom and Amy – Fifty shades of grey

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Oh Tom. I am trying, but I always forget you. Probably didn’t help that this grey routine – in costumes and choreography – was like dance camouflage. I see understand Amy put in the open sections, as Tom’s much stronger there, but he was so bad at getting back into hold that it looked horribly messy and emphasised their lack of partnership connection. I’m also bored with Tom’s chilled presentation: yes, he can bring a natural ease to lots of the dances, but he’s just not dialling up the power or performance when it’s needed for a routine like this. We’re in the home stretch now – stop playing it cool and commit.

Song: “Iris”, Goo Goo Dolls (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jan Raven and Anton, Jason Donovan and Kristina)

Judges’ comments: Craig noted the snatched transitions and wild free arm, but “street realness”. (Ah yes, Viennese waltz – that famous dance of the streets. Well, roundabouts.) Motsi wanted more volume. Shirley said the footwork was suspect. Anton loved the fleckerl, but didn’t match the boldness of the music.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 7, 8 – 30 

Rose and Giovanni – The sound of silence

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So, I started tearing up during Rose’s VT, in which she visited Deafinitely Theatre and talked about wanting to inspire her community, and basically lost it during that silent midsection of their dance. It’s almost (ALMOST) worth the curse of Couple’s Choice just for that and not just for how they used art to communicate an experience to millions of people, letting us take that empathetic leap, but showing how extraordinary Rose is as a dancer – how she intuits that timing, musicality and expression without actually hearing the song. I also loved her thanks to Gio for creating something happy: deafness isn’t “wrong”, it’s just different. Plus what a joyful expression of their incredibly fulfilling partnership.

Song: “Symphony”, Clean Bandit ft Zara Larsson

Judges’ comments: Motsi said it was beautiful to be included in Rose’s world, and to understand how we could be more aware of each other. Shirley thought it took us into a deeper place, and the deaf community would be proud. Anton said it’s the greatest thing he’s ever seen on the show. Craig wanted more energy from the floor, but fab-u-lous.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 


Rhys and Nancy – 40

Rose and Giovanni – 39

John and Johannes – 38

Sara and Aljaž – 32

Tom and Amy – 30

Tilly and Nikita – 29

Dan and Nadiya – 29

AJ and Kai – 28

Poor AJ goes from the top of the leaderboard to the bottom. Tom also drops, while Rose and Rhys are up.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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Both in sober black: Tess a slightly bewildering jumpsuit, Claud a safer frock.


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So, a chaotic leaderboard let to a weird result: Sara versus Tilly in the dance-off and Sara going out, despite being a few points higher on the Saturday. 

I don’t think Sara deserved to be eliminated on this routine, nor generally after working so hard and being a great representative of the “normal”, non-dancing viewer – without banging on about it – but I also think Tilly has more to give in the competition and shouldn’t really have been in the dance-off either, so it was a frustrating situation all round.

Obviously I’m THRILLED that AJ didn’t fall victim to a combination of judging incompetency and whatever hypnotic hold Dan has on the nation, but god I hope the panel gets it together soon. This has been such a lovely season overall, transformed by the introduction of pioneering contestants, and I’d hate to see it end on a sour note because the judges engineered an unmerited result.

What did you make of this week’s dances? Were the right people in the bottom two? How would you have scored everyone? Get in touch on Twitter to share your thoughts: @mkmswain

See you again soon for Musicals Week. 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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