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Strictly Speaking – Week 9

Posted on November 19, 2018

Strictly Blackpool week

Ah, Blackpool – home of ballroom. Or, in Strictly’s case, home of prop dancers, inflated (in most cases) scores, and alarming combos like fire, feathers and copious amounts of hairspray. At its best, it provides history, spectacle and a thrilling element of risk. Elsewhere…a well-intentioned mess.

Highs this year included paddle-tease Craig finally locating his 10, plus the actual sighting of Joe’s fabled nan – who really deserved a whole David Attenborough-narrated segment. (“HERE…we have the lesser-spotted Phyllis species, which our experts have been tracking since September. SEE how its defensive cocoon inflates when confronted with the Inane Chattering Tess…”)

Lows: wildly inconsistent comments and marking yet again, taking me dangerously close to James Jordan tinfoil hat conspiracy theory territory – particularly in how poor Lauren was judged against others dancing ballroom-lite numbers with tons of technical issues. However, we did wind up with what felt like a fair elimination result, so for now my rant will be contained below. For now…


Other hits and misses:

  • GLORIA! Definitely the best musical guest this series – albeit against basically no competition. HIT
  • Speaking of which: Take WTF? (Some of) the band, in beat poet polo necks, severely testing our long-standing loyalty. MISS
  • Blackpool Ts and Cs rando: Paddy McGuinness. MISS
  • “Our tango’s set underwater, so of course we’re going diving with sharks… Obviously our dance begins with a hot air balloon…” Oh Strictly. How far you’ve fallen. MISS
  • I want a Scrooge McDuck-style video of Happy Pasha swimming in all his 10s. HIT
  • The absolute star of the night, performing in – and nailing – nearly every number, was new pro Johannes. Get him a celeb partner, stat! HIT
  • Less endearing: the mock-homoerotic macho-off between Giovanni and (checks notes) Graziano, further demonstrating the redundancy of the latter. MISS


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Joe’s quickstep Demonstrated phenomenal progress, and one of the few to create impact through the ballroom dance style itself.
  • Best costume: Mary Poppins Oti Runner-up: Giovanni being Very Serious in see-through mesh.
  • Best move: Ashley and Pasha’s insane tablecloth trick A proper yelp from me.
  • Best line: Claud’s “I’d like to be in Pasha World” So say we all.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Claudia Winkleman, Tess Daly – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Christmas comes early – Tess in turkey bacofoil, Claud sparkly wrapping paper.


Stacey and Kevin – Party animals

Stacey Dooley, Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Remember when Strictly used to content itself with Len’s “stick of rock” critiques? No more – now we must have someone actually RIDING one. It set the tone for a dance that was all Blackpool party: split-second glimpse of salsa, danced with natural rhythm and hips but stompy flat feet, otherwise pop dominated – with very limited partnering and sloppy delivery. Big, fearless lifts, and another fun performance, but it feels like Stacey’s the least improved – her dances blend together, with the same issues every week. Fine to champion the less experienced celebs, but we have to actually see them go on that J word. Otherwise what’s the point?

Song: “Ooh Aah… Just A Little Bit”, Gina G

Judges’ comments: Shirley noted missing details, but fantastic. Bruno said she let her hair down. Craig criticised her legs in the lifts and haphazard dismounts, but great hip action. Darcey thought it was exciting, but too wild.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 9, 9 – 33




Lauren and AJ – Waving, not drowning

Lauren Steadman, AJ Pritchard – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Well, the underwater concept lasted for about two seconds – on balance a good thing, since it was represented by the primary school play “shaking sheet”, but seemed odd to just abandon it. Anyhow, intimate Argentine tango not the best fit for Blackpool’s big floor, plus issues like Lauren needing to point her toes more, find that action/reaction fluidity, and also hit lines with more definition, but I actually thought this was a decent number. Some really nice shapes, connected partnering (huge progress for them in that area), sustained tension, and they delivered a strong, content-packed routine, without gimmicks. In a night of delirious overscoring, their tough judging was conspicuous.

Song: “River”, Bishop Briggs

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised her determination and shapes, but wanted more intimacy. Craig said she looked stuck between steps and needed looser legs. Darcey could see the hard work, but wanted passion. Shirley thought the kicks and flicks were nice, but lacked changes of mood.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 7, 7 – 25




Graeme and Oti – Rain check

Oti Mabuse, Graeme Swann – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Choreographer Bill Deamer popped by to give these two a charming but slightly bland Couple’s Choice theatre number. Loved the styling, and the brolly-ography was great, but could have used a more obvious build, stronger dynamics, and – given that this pair has fantastic chemistry – partnering. The presence of other dancers demonstrated how well Graeme could keep pace, but made it look like he and Oti were part of a chorus, rather than dancing together and having the others backing them. I take Craig’s point about it lacking a story, but there didn’t seem to be one to tell. Enjoyable and confidently delivered, but a tad underwhelming.

Song: “The Trolley Song” from Meet Me in St. Louis

Judges’ comments: Craig wanted more style and story. Darcey thought it had a cheeky character, style and timing, but needed sharper lines. Shirley said he didn’t miss a beat. Bruno loved the character and stagecraft.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 9 – 32




Faye and Giovanni – Playing with fire

Giovanni Pernice, Faye Tozer – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Ooh, actual training VT! It’s worth savouring every one of these before the species is wiped out completely. So. Hmm. Difficult to separate this paso from its “Magic isn’t cheesy, it’s DARK and SEXY and COOL – LOOK, FIRE!” Vegas-y trappings. Overall, great drama and excitement, so effective choices by Giovanni/the creative team. But just looking at Faye’s actual dancing: committed performance, slick in the (illegal!) lift and did really well with all the partner swapping, however too soft in the legs, lacked extreme shaping and clear Spanish line, and there were times the ensemble choreography lost the character of the dance.

Song: “Unstoppable”, E. S. Posthumus

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised her balance of attack and femininity. Shirley thought it was powerful. Bruno loved the dynamics and partner swapping. Craig enjoyed the drama and aggression.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38




Kate and Aljaž – A labour of love

Kate Silverton, Aljaž Skorjanec – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Well, the hot air balloon was nice. And these two are always delightful company, particularly when everything is as pink and hazy as the world must have looked through Kate’s nitrous-huffing eyes. But this American smooth did rather signal that their J word was probably coming to an end, with its distinct lack of drive, occasionally tortured topline, and Kate’s rigid upper body leading to gapping (the latter possibly due to the injury). The lifts also looked as if they were rather done against her will. Lots of bubbly personality out of hold, and moments of nice footwork and elegant shaping, but too inconsistent for this stage.

Song: “Everlasting Love”, Love Affair

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her timing, but needed to stride more. Bruno thought it had wonderful lightness. Craig wanted more energy, and coming in and out of lifts graceless, but loved the routine. Darcey thought it was classy, but she grabbed at him in the lifts.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30




Charles and Karen – The bare necessities

Charles Venn, Karen Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

It’s not enough that Charles is constantly on “an emotional roller coaster”; we actually have to watch him ON a roller coaster. Strictly: where metaphor comes to die. So, great energy and content, and managed not to make samba look like the dance your captors have demanded for the hostage video. Plus – seemingly hypnotising the judges – rippling abs and rampant Magic Mike-ing. But samba wise: stompy flat feet, didn’t properly finish moves (like bending into the front knee and stretching the back leg on the promenade runs, or doing a full hip rotation on the voltas). Part of the reason for the ease was because it skimped on technique. Apparently a 10-worthy strategy…

Song: “La Bamba”, Connie Francis (COPYCAT KLAXON: Dennis Taylor and Izabela, Frankie Bridge and Kevin)

Judges’ comments: Bruno said he made it look natural. Craig was riveted by the abs. Darcey praised his confidence and flow. Shirley thought he owned it.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38




Joe and Dianne – In full swing

Dianne Buswell, Joe Sugg – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Nan klaxon! Is she telly gold? Not exactly, but we do get some amusingly frank feedback at least, plus understandable incomprehension at Tess’s whole…Tessness. A thoroughly enjoyable quickstep that demonstrated just how far Joe’s ballroom has come – he’s probably most improved in that respect. Beautiful tranquil topline, the first male celeb this year to introduce swing and sway, lovely fluidity and accented details, and nice to see some trad styling as well. Really felt like a number that used the big floor for the dance, not just for spectacle. The piano break didn’t add all that much, and moments where Joe could point his feet more and also drive through Dianne more strongly, but a superb number.

Song: “Dancin’ Fool” from Copacabana (COPYCAT KLAXON: Chris Hollins and Ola, Jason Donovan and Kristina)

Judges’ comments: Craig wanted broader lines out of hold, but he’s a dark horse. Darcey praised the effortless lightness – stunning. Shirley loved the frame, sway, footwork and timing. Bruno enjoyed the Hollywood glamour, plus he mirrored the pros.

Judges’ scores: 8, 10, 10, 10 – 38




Ashley and Pasha – Oh my cod

Pasha Kovalev, Ashley Roberts – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Kind of love Ashley approaching fish and chips like it’s the strange custom of some remote tribe. “And then they MUSH UP THE PEAS and dedicate them to the souls of their ancestors!” Plus: more Pasha acting, joy of joys. Well this was just a straight-up brilliant jive: super-sharp kicks and flicks, crisp basics, kept up the energy through a fast, packed routine, and really fun delivery with every step distinct. Not sure we needed another week of skirt-swishing/knicker-flashing choreo (and even more here, because the Battle of the Blondes is ON), but two wow moves: the tricky tollgate, superbly controlled, and the risky tablecloth trick. Ringer perhaps, but undeniable entertainment value.

Song: “Shake a Tail Feather” from The Blues Brothers (COPYCAT KLAXON: Alesha Dixon and Matthew, Susanna Reid and Kevin)

Judges’ comments: Darcey loved the energy – she was (err) literally floating. Shirley loved the tollgate and kick ball changes – fantastic. Bruno invoked the holy name of St Jill. Craig: “Fab-u-lous.”

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40





Ashley and Pasha – 40

Faye and Giovanni – 38

Charles and Karen – 38

Joe and Dianne – 38

Stacey and Kevin – 33

Graeme and Oti – 32

Kate and Aljaž – 30

Lauren and AJ – 25


Ashley’s still on top. Lauren takes a tumble, otherwise not much movement.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Claudia Winkleman, Tess Daly – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Tess clearly got a two for one on the bacofoil. Claud in floaty leopard print.



Kate and Aljaz leave the competition Tess Daly – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Graeme and Oti versus Kate and Aljaž. Slightly sharper this time round from the former, who’s both a fierce competitor and a bottom two veteran; distinct “This has been lovely, but…” vibes from the latter.

I’ve so enjoyed Kate and Aljaž, particularly in their earlier, sexy Jessica Rabbit incarnation, but she lost a bit of confidence over the weeks, plus the injury, so this felt like a nice time to go out – plus they got a big Blackpool send-off and left on a positive dance.

What did you make of Blackpool? Did you agree with the scoring? And who was in your bottom two? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week as we return to the studio, plus (hmm) introduce a lindy hopathon. In the meantime…keep dancing!


Pictured, top: The Strictly Come Dancing contestants and professional dancers – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

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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