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Strictly Speaking: Week 9

Posted on November 18, 2019

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For once, Blackpool Week just about lived up to the hype, with some fun, exciting and truly outstanding performances. However, as so often in this changeable series, erratic scoring led to another shock elimination. Michelle and Giovanni, one of this year’s most consistent and creative couples, and likely finalists, lost out in the dance-off, as Couple’s Choice, instead of acting as a free pass, proved fatal.

Yet again, I would make a plea for ditching it altogether, or at the very least making clear what these styles are, how they’re going to be judged and marked, and what we viewers should be looking out for – but particularly if you’re doing something as specific as voguing, which seemed to leave all of the Blackpool crowd and most of the viewers at home utterly baffled.

On the other hand, was Michelle’s attempt really worse than Saffron flapping around in her “contemporary”, or Chris’s oh-so-white-boy version of “street”? Or, this week, why did Chris get a free pass for doing basically no salsa, badly, or Emma B those fabled Anton 10s for a messy smooth (more on that later…) – while Michelle was seemingly judged on a different scale? This year, it often feels like manic effort or marginal improvement vastly trumps technique.

Strictly needs to really look at the dance styles it showcases and either a) ensure that they’re all marked fairly and transparently across the board, b) drop those it refuses to take seriously, like Couple’s Choice or salsa (just make the latter disco and be done with it), or c) make the judges’ scores advisory, as they are in the final. Otherwise, we get a competition that feels increasingly unjust, and a skewed leaderboard forcing out yet another exceptional dancer. Yes, it’s also an entertainment show – but why bother having the competitive element at all if you’re not going to do it properly?

Other hits and misses:
  • Kevin (and others) opened the show, with Mr Clifton conducting a dancing orchestra. “OK, Ginger Neil, now I’m going to conduct your character over a cliff OOPS DO I HAVE TO PERFORM WITH ALEX AGAIN.” MISS
  • AJ’s increasingly alarming hair brought a friend. MISS
  • Ts and Cs rando went particularly surreal. Still, keenly await the inevitable 2020 Sooty/Anton pairing. HIT/MISS
  • The Wobbly Lamppost has friends! And wheels! You go, Wobbly Lamppost! Also, Nadiya married Johannes, which, er, may not work out. HIT/MISS
  • Westlife…are apparently still a thing? MISS

Best in Show
  • Best performance: Kelvin’s jive Closely rivalled by Karim’s Charleston.
  • Best costume: Michelle as Marie Antoinette Stylish tribute to Madonna’s MTV Awards appearance.
  • Best move: Kelvin’s flying push-ups
  • Best line: Motsi offering up her hair piece Runner-up: Craig telling Alex she out-performed her hair. Quite the hairy show, this one… 


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

More bacofoil and a droopy strap. Claud in a glittery but also droopy suit.

Chris and Karen – Out on the town
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Karen Hauer and Chris Ramsey. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Well. As a sheer party dance/hanging about on a roller coaster, this was great – another full-force turn from Chris, extending to the wearing of hot-pink trousers and being flipped upside down. It’s an infectious song, and this was an infectiously fun performance, BUT this was also meant to be a salsa routine, judged in a dance competition, in which case I say 9s??!! Teeny sliver of basics on very flat feet, too-large steps, no hip action, flow or Latin rhythm. And yes, they had to accommodate the hordes of Prop Dancers, but a shame to see so little partnering in what is A PARTNER DANCE.

Song: “Uptown Funk”, Mark Ronson feat Bruno Mars

Judges’ comments: Shirley thought he started the show well. Bruno said his hips are starting to unclog. Craig noted it lacked flow and hip rotation, but the timing wasn’t bad. Motsi loved the confidence and energy.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 9, 9 – 33

Emma B and Anton – Take ten
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Emma Barton and Anton Du Beke. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Hmmmmm. Considering Emma has already done a foxtrot, I was expecting far more from this American smooth technically, but not much improvement – right arm locked straight and shoulder raised, too upright, off-balance in the pivots, gapping in places, movement bumpy and tentative, and occasionally off-time. Out of hold, she hit some nice lines, though could have made more of the accents, and amusing watching her light up when being lifted by the Not-Antons. But overall, nowhere near a 10 – and naturally that scoring moment had to be ALL about Anton. Well, now he’s got it, maybe he’ll finally wander off to the “Haha marvellous” golf course in the sky.

Song: “Let’s Face the Music and Dance”, Ella Fitzgerald (COPYCAT KLAXON: David Dickinson and Camilla, Kellie Bright and Kevin)

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought it was glamorous and sophisticated. Craig praised the movement, but face stuck like a china doll. Motsi loved the lifts – her best dance. Shirley agreed.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 10, 10 – 37

Alex and Neil – Get in formation
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Alex Scott and Neil Jones. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

A great example here of how to properly showcase your celebrity – Neil giving his Beyoncé superfan partner a girl power routine that really played to her strengths. Great drama and intensity, and Alex led her all-female squad with total assurance; all those weeks of partner-swapping chaos have left her an independent performer. Paso wise, a decent attempt at the Spanish shaping and lots of good figures in there, though needed some refinement, and she really has to work on keeping her shoulders down, extending her neck, and letting her head fall back to complete the line. Still, it was a number that really commanded the big floor and rose to the occasion.

Song: “Run the World (Girls)”, Beyoncé

Judges’ comments: Craig loved the theatrical, modern take. Motsi was proud of Alex for letting go and attacking it. Shirley praised her for leading the pack, beautiful twist turns and footwork. Bruno noted an error, otherwise imperious power.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34

Kelvin and Oti – Take no prisoners
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Kelvin Fletcher and Oti Mabuse. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Family prop points via a Blackpool nan – plus (and this is genuinely lovely), as a surprise, Kelvin arranged to bring Oti’s mum and godmother to the show. Her mum had never seen her dance live on Strictly before! SOB! Anyhow, jive – this was just pure dancing pleasure, and another clever Oti routine. Fantastic mix of basics and theme stuff (all hail KElvis), with non-stop energy, outstanding jive action, sharp kicks and flicks with great retraction, and great timing. Chassés could have been more compact, but on the whole Kelvin kept his weight forward and thus maintained the speed and dexterity really well. Criminally good.

Song: “Jailhouse Rock” from Smokey Joe’s Café (COPYCAT KLAXON: Dennis Taylor and Izabela, Christine Bleakley and Matthew, Nicky Byrne and Karen)

Judges’ comments: Motsi praised his pendulum action in the chassés. Shirley noted his contra body motion – opposite arm to foot – and coordination, plus great mix of swing and jive. Bruno: “Guilty of a jive of the first degree!” Craig thought the chassés could have been lighter, but loved the push-ups, strength and stamina.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Saffron and AJ – Party animals
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Saffron Barker and Aj Pritchard. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Because AJ will NEVER NEVER NEVER learn, back to fast, frantic and overwhelming in this quickstep – which, yes, is a quick (hoho) dance, but it doesn’t have to be quite this insane. I fear her fearlessness is just egging him on though. Like Emma, Saffron’s right arm is too locked in hold, and issues with head position, staying in sync, and messy finishes. However, lots of impressive work, and the Charleston sections were brilliantly delivered – as was the splits and lift towards the end. Sidenote: the Prop Dancers were particularly annoying here, either getting in the way or pulling focus with Dita Von Teese nonsense.

Song: “Marvellous Party”, Beverley Knight

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her change of directions, but a few missteps. Bruno agreed, and loved the syncopations. Craig noted her left elbow dragging, but fantastic. Motsi liked the fearlessness – just clean it up.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Michelle and Giovanni – Strike a pose
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Michelle Visage and Giovanni Pernice. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

So, Couple’s Choice/street commercial is already fuzzy on Strictly – encompassing everything from basketballs to Aladdin, Ghostbusters and 90s novelty pop. Now we’re adding voguing, a fab choice for Michelle’s personal journey (finally, a dance-relevant weepy VT!), but a mismatch with Blackpool, pairing understated details with a yawning floor and bemused audience. This was as much about connecting to a very particular reference (as I did not to PJ and Duncan), so risky votes wise, and they probably should have added more overt movement to avoid accusations of posing. Just pragmatically, this is the kind of venue where you need those big wow moments alongside stylish, authentic representation.

Song: “Vogue”, Madonna (COPYCAT KLAXON: Julien Macdonald and Janette)

Judges’ comments: Bruno called it a great tribute to the mother of all divas. Craig wanted more definition, but loved the high stylisation. Motsi said they always create a story, and the message is so important. Shirley loved the spectacle of armography and attitude, as well as the sentiment.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32

Karim and Amy – Many happy returns
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Amy Dowden and Karim Zeroual. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

If a scripted comeback following his little cry last week, this Charleston was still a knockout. Yes, it started very weirdly with the whole “Karim is a doll being grabbed by the claw à la Toy Story” (plus blindingly colourful costumes – he turned 26 this week, let him look/perform like an adult!), but once he was finally dancing, a rocket-fuelled routine that never let up, but that he looked entirely in control of, start to finish. Crucially, he didn’t sacrifice the details, like foot placement and hand gestures, and the side-by-side sync was mighty impressive. Plus, super swivel, great tricks, and charming musicality throughout. A-maze-ing.

Song: “Happy”, C2C feat. Derek Martin

Judges’ comments: Craig found it clean, precise and absolutely brilliant. Motsi offered up her hair piece, because a 10 just isn’t enough. (Sidenote: it maintains its value when it’s not handed out to everyone…) Shirley called it absolutely flawless. Bruno said it’ll go down in Strictly history.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39


Kelvin and Oti – 39

Karim and Amy – 39

Emma B and Anton – 37

Saffron and AJ – 35

Alex and Neil – 34

Chris and Karen – 33

Michelle and Giovanni – 32

Karim’s back up, Saffron slides, and Michelle tumbles all the way down.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Tess in a repurposed shower curtain, Claud in eye-watering leopard print.

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Tess Daly, Michelle Visage and Giovanni Pernice. Photograph: Guy Levy courtesy of The BBC.

Who’d have thought it? Michelle and Giovanni versus Saffron and AJ. The judges all saved the latter.

That’s certainly opened up the competition, since Michelle, Kelvin and Karim have looked like the obvious three finalists for a while now. So, who might nab that third spot? Saffron, also getting high marks from the judges? Alex, the “J word” contestant? Anton – I mean Emma? Or consistently popular Chris? If we’ve learned one thing this year, it’s that anything can happen…

What did you make of Blackpool? Do you think Michelle deserved to go? And who’s your pick for the final? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week as we return to the studio. 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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