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Strictly speaking

Posted on November 26, 2012


Week 8

The only good thing about Strictly‘s disaaaahstrous Wembley Week is that the following show, bathed in the rosy light of Television Centre, automatically becomes one of the best of the series. We can hear human speech! The mob is not roaring outside the gates! No one feels the need to feign the gift of flight! LET US DO THE DANCE OF JOY!

Giddying relief aside, this was actually a fairly strong show, one in which the ratio of dancing to gimmicks was almost sane. In fact, I only have three reasons to moan:

• The “comedy” VTs – why, god, why?? THEY ARE NEVER FUNNY
• Speaking of which… Ah, Brucie. He loses the battle with the autocue nine times out of ten, and worse still is his cringe-worthy attempt at spontaneous humour. Time to put him out to pasture
• Is it fair to judge against expectations? I applaud the panel getting tough with Louis, but is he being punished for his Olympic gymnast past? And did the amazement at Nicky’s improvement (and bounce-back from the bottom two) inspire crazily high marks, while consistent Kimberley gets another week of “Could do better”? (Yes, she didn’t do heel leads, but no one ever does!) Meanwhile, according to the judges, Lisa needs to do every dance as though it’s her upbeat cha cha while simultaneously transforming completely. So that’s helpful

We opened with a painful mock Friends montage, for a spot of “current” humour. I will not comment further, because we are back in the studio and I am happy.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?
Ooh! Not horrendous! Flowing silver-grey gown only marginally blighted by the flowers growing out of her bust.

Dani and Vincent – Put a ring on it

danistrictly_sensationalBest. Song choice. Ever. And it bought this adorable couple endless goodwill. I didn’t even howl at Dani’s banana corseted fringe monstrosity. Well, not much. She kicked off a strong samba with a confident shimmying solo and transitioned well from a range of basics to the requisite Beyoncé moves, making another full Vincent routine look easy and fun. They’ll need a bit more wow factor, either in the delivery or the connection between them, to get those elusive 10s, otherwise they’re beginning to look like definite finalists.

Song: “Single Ladies”, Beyoncé

Judges’ comments: Len: “You got this party started!” He praised the brave solo opening and strong basics. Bruno thought it was “as bubbly as Babycham”, loving her footwork and hip and bounce action. Craig called her “one hot little dancer” with great arm placement, body ripples and “Beyoncé quotations”. (He’s the only judge to include footnotes.) Darcey agreed, but wanted stronger arms in the running promenades.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36

Overall: Fantastic start to the show.

Kimberley and Pasha – I am woman, hear me roar

kimberley-and-pashastrictly_sensationalI watched this dance through a haze of PTSD after Bruce’s threatened striptease. Shudder. Anyhow, Kimberley is JUST TOO NICE for angry tango, but then the hair department stuck a Danish pastry on her head and she found her moody character, conveyed mainly through cartoon pouting. This was a dynamic routine with some great lines and lots of travelling, although Kimberley’s frame still tends to sink like a soufflé every few bars and her footwork was hit and miss.

Song: “When Doves Cry”, Prince (COPYCAT KLAXON: Rachel Stevens and Vincent for their Argentine tango)

Judges’ comments: Bruno called her “an ultra vixen with a killer attitude” and a Joan Collins pout, and praised her staccato action. Craig noted a slight wobble in the middle, but loved the drama and hand shaping, particularly her thumb nicely placed in the crack (unfortunate) of Pasha’s armpit. Darcey enjoyed the storytelling and attack. Len liked the mood, but her hold was loose and she didn’t do any heel leads.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8, 9 – 34

Overall: Another strong performance.

Victoria and Brendan – Nothing sweet about me

victoria-and-brendanstruggles_sparkle“It’s a showboating dance – you have to sell it!” Poor Brendan – salsa and Victoria was never going to be a glorious combination. The production team added their hints that it was her time to go, saddling her with a loopy pink crop top and beaded-curtain skirt and finger-in-socket Diana Ross hair, plus a garden of oversized lollipops. Oh yes, and her footwork was diabolical, she had no hip action or musicality and every lift was Brendan’s personal battle against the force of gravity.

Song: “Candy”, Robbie Williams

Judges’ comments: Craig: “The prop candy sticks had more fluidity than you.” Darcey was amazed by the armography (or possibly just wanted to say “armography”) and by Victoria’s strong core. Len, hoping for a Great British Bake Off crossover, thought it was “a light Victoria sponge” – lacking oomph. Bruno compounded pink-shirted Brendan’s misery by calling him Brenda and told Victoria she looked good when she stood still.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6, 5 – 21

Overall: Woeful.

Louis and Flavia – We didn’t start the fire

louis-and-flaviastruggles_sparkleGood news! Louis has finally learned how to perform! Oh wait. That’s strictly limited to Michael Jackson moves. Despite promises of a passionate macho breakthrough, his paint-by-numbers paso was yet another strong but soulless number – a garden without sun, a boat without oars, a doughnut without jam, a Mail without casual xenophobia. Flavia could only do so much, as she was being slowly consumed by a giant ruffle monster.

Song: “Dirty Diana”, Michael Jackson (Not a copycat, but used on Dancing with the Stars this week for a lift-tastic Argentine tango)

Judges’ comments: Darcey thought it was clean and precise, but had no performance or storytelling. Len agreed it lacked attack and fire. Bruno said he had the lines, but there was nothing behind them. Craig: “In order for you to move up the leaderboard, you have to learn to act these dances – you can go no further unless you give yourself up.”

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Overall: Disappointing. Again.

Lisa and Robin – Leave it to diva

lisa-and-robinsimply_so_soThere was plenty to like about this rumba. Lisa’s wingèd red dress, gently clashing with her hair; Robin’s emoting chest; their undeniable connection; and a complete commitment to the performance, including Robin’s fabulous romcom run to Lisa and patented boy band “grab thin air and pull it towards you in show of heightened FEELINGS” move to end. Unfortunately, Lisa rushed through lots of the steps and her footwork was messy, but you can’t fault them for effort.

Song: “As If We Never Said Goodbye”, Barbra Streisand

Judges’ comments: Len liked the detail, but “it wasn’t exciting, so I can’t get excited about it”. Bruno liked that it was understated, but expected something more fiery, while Craig, confusingly, thought it was too tempestuous and aggressive, so it lost its sensuality. But she danced it well. Darcey noted it’s hard to sustain slow moves and she’s better suited to bubbly Latin dances.

Judges’ scores: 7, 6, 7, 7 – 27 (A 6, Darcey?! This was as bad as Victoria?!)

Overall: Flawed, but passionate.

Michael and Natalie – Tango or bust

michael-and-nataliesimply_so_soIt’s a long way from British cricketer to Argentine love god, but at least Michael had a burgundy velvet smoking jacket to bridge the gap – and Nat, sporting a very distracting fringe (hair, not dress, for once). The pair with the best work ethic made it through a strong, simmering Argentine routine with great lifts, despite some missteps and awkward moments and an unmistakeable look of panic from Michael whenever Nat launched herself at him.

Song: “Bust Your Windows”, Jazmine Sullivan (COPYCAT KLAXON: Chris Hollins and Ola)

Judges’ comments: Bruno was distracted by Michael’s intense concentration and asked for more of a relationship. Craig wanted more resistance and lead and thought the adornments were stiff, but liked the choreography. Darcey praised his partnering, lifts and hard work, but wants a domineering man. Just FYI. Len’s over-share of the week: “I wish I had a stiff adornment!” He thought the routine was great, and argued that none of the celeb boys lead the pros.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 6 – 26

Overall: Decent effort.

Nicky and Karen – You don’t have to be mad to dance here…

 nicky-and-karenstrictly_sensationalNicky knows how this game is played. Week 8 equals time to bring out the big guns – AKA impossibly adorable kids mimicking the judges (mini Craig is positively chilling). In fact, he had no need of VT vote-grabbing, as his wild and wacky dancing was a great match with the zany Charleston – have his arms always been that long?! Still lacking technical precision, but enjoyable musicality, charming storytelling and great fun.

Song: “Doop”, Doop

Judges’ comments: Craig thought it suited him down to the ground. Darcey compared it with The Artist and loved the quirkiness. Len: “Bottom two last week – you’re going to be top two this week.” Bruno enjoyed the “character-driven slapstick” and imaginative routine, though noted some steps looked more like hip hop.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36

Overall: Wonderfully loopy.

Denise and James – Smooth operators

denise-and-jamesstrictly_sensationalDrama! Rehearsal injury! Dangerous lifts! James killing his wife in a similar dangerous lift! THERE’S NOTHING BORING OR PREVIOUSLY TRAINED HERE! Well, despite all that build-up, their smooth was just that – serene, lovely, incident-free. I was slightly perplexed by the styling (why was Denise wrapped in a pink sheet?), the production (why were there Chinese lanterns?) and the end lift (why did James want a human feather boa?), but beautifully precise and slightly clinical as always.

Song: “Imagine”, Eva Cassidy version

Judges’ comments: Darcey thought it was a pleasure to watch, praising the beautiful lines and effortless lifts. Len compared it with the sea – “wave after wave of effortless motion” – but there were “a couple of foot things”. Bruno said it had the “weightless quality of the finest silk”, while Craig hilariously pretended to critique James “Ego the size of a dancefloor” Jordan before calling it another triumph.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 – 37

Overall: Delightful.


Denise and James – 37

Dani and Vincent – 36

Nicky and Karen – 36

Kimberley and Pasha – 34

Louis and Flavia – 27

Lisa and Robin – 27

Michael and Natalie – 26

Victoria and Brendan – 21

Denise stays at the top and Victoria languishes at the bottom. Leap up for Nicky and a fall for Michael.

And a random observation: this was the week of covert Glee, with “Single Ladies”, “As If We Never Said Goodbye”, “Imagine” and “Bust Your Windows” on the playlist. Next week I expect some rockin’ Downton covers.


Well, ITV got Alesha, so now we get Britain’s Got Talent‘s Flawless –  the crew so street they can make snug red trousers look gangsta. Ish. The Strictly pro girls quite forgot their skirts in their excitement at this injection of testosterone, in a segment that in no way confirmed the stereotype that guys who do hip hop get scantily clad girls and guys who do ballroom get…bedazzled.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Oh Tess. Just when I think we’re making progress. This beige-edged corset with insane flared hem and skintight leggings ensemble can only be characterised as low-rent sci fi teen hooker. And Claudia (oh Claudia!) compounded the night of sartorial woe by throwing on her goth cleaning smock.

Safe couples: Kimberley and Pasha, Louis and Flavia, and Nicky and Karen. In the dance-off: Michael and Natalie.

Claudia, the judges and Len’s lens highlights

• Len entering the studio with “a little botty smack” and labelling Louis’s dancing “a bit blankish”
• Craig earnestly defending his crack comment – “The armpit! The armpit!”
• Bruno rocking the “Single Ladies” dance
• The boys weeping with laughter after Darcey scored Lisa 6 – they all did a comedy “OOOH” and got the giggles

More safe couples: Dani and Vincent, Denise and James, and Lisa and Robin. In the dance-off: Victoria and Brendan. FINALLY.

Another squawking falsetto boy band “delighted” us with their performance, this one adding unconvincing rap. (A bemused Strictly audience gamely clapped out of time.)

The dance-off happened. Victoria lost control of her feet altogether, but Brendan was the happiest he’s ever looked and Michael and Natalie managed a dynamic performance second time round with fewer errors and much more conviction.
Craig saved the couple who “completely smashed it and were fantastic” – Michael and Natalie.
Darcey agreed, saving Michael.
Bruno saved the best performance – Michael.
Len agreed – and so did Victoria, bless her.

Yet more tears from Victoria, who is launching her own line of Olympic Kleenex (“Faster, higher, stronger than other tissues!”), but she gave a graceful speech about stepping outside her comfort zone and Brendan recalled that distant moment when he was thrilled to get her. Good times.

What do you think? Was it their week to go? Who was your favourite? And who’s on track for the final? See you next week for more shenanigans (Louis is apparently doing Charleston – the mind boggles). In the meantime…keep dancing!

The November issue of Dance Today features interviews with Denise Van Outen and Aliona Vilani, while Marianka Swain writes on major ballroom centres around the world. We have a HALF PRICE offer for new subscribers – get 12 issues for the price of six (£11.70) if you subscribe before January 31. Call 020 7250 3006 to subscribe.

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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