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Strictly Speaking – Week 9

Posted on November 20, 2017

Strictly Come Dancing celebrity and pro dancers BBC Guy Levy

Well, this wasn’t exactly a vintage Blackpool Week. Alexandra was pretty much the only celebrity to rise to the heights of breathless “Mecca of Ballroom” hyperbole, and even then she had the ever-irritating Human Props to contend with.

Otherwise, we had a string of just OK numbers – some beset with errors, some wallowing in nostalgia, most not really living up to potential. Exhibit A: the hot pitch that Kevin has been trying to get on the show for five years (Strictly Ballroom, TRULY ground-breaking), and which died a quiet death in the, er, death slot. Have we finally run out of Kevin adolescent fantasies? Tune in next week to find out!

The real drama came in the results show – not of Aston proportions, certainly, but Debbie dropping into the dance-off was at least fairly unexpected. However, the judges have been accused of over-marking her, which can in turn hamper public support, and this was the latest in a string of exuberant but not entirely convincing Latin dances. Plus, it probably won’t hurt her to have shown some vulnerability going forwards…


Other hits and misses:

  • We’re going to honour the home of ballroom dancing with…steampunk circus! Northern Soul hip hop! Bad wigs! FIRE! MISS
  • Ugh, the Human Props. Occasionally a tiny bit of help, like in adding volume to Jonnie’s subdued tango, but that was the rare exception. Yes, it’s a big floor to fill, but that’s not a problem with clever choreography and camera angles – there’s no need to bury our couples in randos. MISS
  • Because it deserves its own bullet point: all hail Shirley’s red-hot dress, chosen with great foresight, as its volume lent a show-and-tell aspect to her flamenco putdown. HIT
  • Tears for Fears added to the nostalgia overload. And no dancing. Because it’s not like we’re on the world’s best ballroom floor or anything. MISS
  • Michael Ball and Alfie Boe yelped and growled competitively. Surely NOW we’ll get a ballroom number, right? Wrong. Well, about 10 seconds of foxtrot and many lifts. What a criminal waste. MISS


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Alexandra’s quickstep The clear highlight of a ropey night.
  • Best costume: Davood’s Chicago backing dancer nipple-protruding mesh Did it evoke either matadors or James Bond? God no. Was it riveting? Well, we’re only human.
  • Best move: Gemma’s effortless lifts Such an improvement.
  • Best line: “Debbie McGee doesn’t come for free, she’s a real lady.” I’ll just leave that there.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Tess in highlighter yellow, Claud unfortunate frilled mossy curtains.


Mollie and AJ – Birds of a feather

AJ Pritchard, Mollie King – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Nana Klaxon: have some Family prop points, Mollie. One extra for the subtext that this poor relative somehow got stranded in the North, gosh! Now, you may have thought this was a strange music choice for Charleston, and congratulations, you were right. Nor was it improved by grindingly literal choreography (“Wings = bird? OMG wear bird wings!!”). Also, an unintentional swipe at the fact that Mollie’s dancing is best when up in the air. You know, not dancing. Many lifts, some convincing, some alarming. Otherwise dodgy footwork, floppy limbs, the usual. But wings!!

Song: “Wings”, Little Mix (COPYCAT KLAXON: Patrick Robinson and Anya)

Judges’ comments: Shirley liked the mix of sensuality and attack, and lifts executed well. Bruno liked the confidence, but lost concentration during links. Craig noted lack of turnout in swivel, so looked lumpy, and feet floppy, but lifts a triumph. Darcey agreed the lifts were daring, but she lost her frame in one.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 – 29




Susan and Kevin – “We have a disqualification”

Susan Calman, Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

So, this theme was rather high-risk. You leave those who don’t know Strictly Ballroom baffled, and those who do have mighty high expectations. I could forgive it being a pale imitation of one of the great movie dance scenes, except that it seemed to be roughly 10% about Susan, 90% about Kevin’s boyhood dream. He was noticeably out-dancing her, and stranding your partner to do flamenco work is a weird choice when your appeal is chemistry as a couple, not her outstanding solo dance technique (instead, clear lack of correct footwork, shaping, Spanish line etc.). Some power, not a good enough paso.

Song: “Scott & Fran’s Paso Doble” from Strictly Ballroom (COPYCAT KLAXON: Lesley Garrett and Anton, Mark Ramprakash and Karen)

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised the flamenco and drama, but needed bigger shaping. Craig found it too wafty. Darcey said should bend her knees to travel more and exaggerate shaping, but flamenco stamps sold it. Shirley thought the flamenco should be kept more inside the body, but covered the floor.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 7, 7 – 25




Debbie and Giovanni – Too much of something

Debbie McGee – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

A more universal reference point here, but similarly lost the couple in the theme – Debbie as Ginger Spice, Giovanni as…a sartorially challenged 90s fan? Also pushed the dance into pop territory, when Debbie was already struggling with the notoriously tough samba technique. Some good basic steps in there, but far too upright – she needed to be softer in the knees and get more rhythm by working into the floor. Fun, high energy, great samba rolls, and Debbie was confident leading her pack of Backing Spices, but not her best. Also: medley. Never again.

Song: “Wannabe/Who Do You Think You Are”, Spice Girls medley

Judges’ comments: Craig found it spiky, but loved the splits and timing exceptional. Darcey praised the shadow rolls and promenade runs, but ran out of energy. Shirley agreed the rolls were outstanding. Bruno thought she brought “Girl Power to the Tower”.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 9, 9 – 33




Jonnie and Oti – Back to the future

Oti Mabuse, Jonnie Peacock – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Top tip: if you’re having protruding posterior problems, maybe don’t stick neon on it? Actually, this constant criticism (which partly relates to Jonnie’s prosthetic) ­­seemed a tad cruel, but suggested he’d gone as far as he could. The futuristic robot framing was a good way of adding striking visuals and papering over the fact that he still isn’t the most expressive performer, plus decent use of the Human Props in the well-timed sync section – though I was less sure about the group hug/several pairs of tights knotted together in the wash move. Decent staccato, but odd frame and head position, and slightly underpowered.

Song: “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)”, Eurythmics (COPYCAT KLAXON: Louisa Lytton and Vincent, Russell Grant and Flavia, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Brendan)

Judges’ comments: Darcey loved the focus and clipped transitions, but frame too high and bottom still out. Shirley suggested he think of keeping his spine in a straight line. Bruno liked the techno tango and sync section. Craig said he was leaning over Oti, missed the V shaping, stompy and didn’t feel like he was leading, but loved the routine.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 6, 7 – 26




Gemma and Aljaž – Out on the town

Aljaž Skorjanec, Gemma Atkinson – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Well, phew – Gemma produced the first really convincing dance of the night with this charmer of an American smooth. Massive improvement in lifts, going from frantic hostage vibe in her salsa to elegant and well controlled here. Could use more heel leads (especially in pivots), but great flow, some lovely lines, good frame and really nice transitions. Occasional “My first dance recital” fixed grin moment, but then Gemma’s candid approach as a student has endeared her to audiences – and might even give her the edge on the more obvious ringers as we get into the home straight.

Song: “Downtown”, Petula Clark

Judges’ comments: Shirley praised her partnering, beautiful arms and head position. Bruno liked the weightless flow, elegance, and the fact she applied their critiques. Craig noted pivots with a toe lead, but beautiful throwaway oversway and improvement. Darcey said her body was much more taut in lifts, and great lines.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38





Davood and Nadiya – You only move twice

Nadiya Bychkova, Davood Ghadami – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

When Davood pictured himself playing James Bond, did it involve a slow descent hanging from a life raft and then standing round like an embarrassed footman while his glamorous girl does a bunch of dramatic (illegal) lifts with other random guys that completely overshadow his subsequent contributions? So many distractions in this one – flames! Music! A horde of angry exes! – but Davood’s actual paso wasn’t all that impressive. Stompy and stodgy, lots of static figures, and lacked nuance and finesse in shaping. A strong leap, otherwise a lot of power through external trappings, rather than the actual dance style.

Song: “Live and Let Die”, Paul McCartney and Wings (COPYCAT KLAXON: Letitia Dean and Darren, Caroline Flack and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought he earned his licence to thrill. Craig noted fingers splayed, but powerful performance. Darcey liked the drama and attack, but agreed on hands. Shirley praised his twist turn.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35




Alexandra and Gorka – Hitting the jackpot

Gorka Marquez, Alexandra Burke – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Hurrah, loved this quickstep – a number that worked brilliantly because of its Blackpool setting, not in spite of it. Travelled beautifully round the big floor, light, jazzy, effervescent, great Charleston interludes, and maintained the frame nicely throughout a fast, energetic number. Occasional odd head position from Alexandra, and could have done without the Human Props entirely, but at least the latter were minimised as much as possible. Musical and joyful. Sidenote: the “peaked too soon” mutterings persist – is Alexandra too good to win? I hope that doesn’t rule her out, as they’ve been such a consistent pleasure this series.

Song: “The Gold Diggers’ Song (We’re in the Money)” from 42nd Street

Judges’ comments: Craig spied gapping, but said there’s nothing she can’t do. Darcey loved the choreography, great topline, gorgeous. Shirley praised the musicality, and disagreed with Craig on gapping. Bruno loved the detail and style – like a classic Hollywood movie.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39




Joe and Katya – Turn back the clock

Katya Jones, Joe McFadden – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

And yet another retro number – one that either evoked a flood of memories or left you bewildered. Salsa wise? Flat-footed, likely exacerbated by Joe wearing trainers, lacked hip action and flow, half-hearted shimmies, and generally much more club rave or aerobics video in style. Lifts certainly ambitious, verging on dangerous, with Katya doing a lot of work to prevent disaster. Particularly liked the “HERE ARE MY SPREAD LEGS!” lift (she’s not shy) and “Koala bear slides down a tree OH GOOD GOD is she actually going to hit the floor?” lift (should ideally look more like this). High energy, but not convincing salsa.

Song: “Ride on Time”, Black Box

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the armography and lifts, though the latter could be smoother. Shirley noted they saved the wobbles. Bruno thought it was a great party. Craig wanted fluidity and hip action, and lost balance, but what a routine.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34





Alexandra and Gorka – 39

Gemma and Aljaž – 38

Davood and Nadiya – 35

Joe and Katya – 34

Debbie and Giovanni – 33

Mollie and AJ – 29

Jonnie and Oti – 26

Susan and Kevin – 25


Alexandra reclaims her top spot, Gemma rises, and Debbie and Susan drop.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

Tess in sparkles AND feathers. Claudia in leopard print. All a bit hen do.



Farewell to Jonnie Peacock and Oti Mabuse – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Jonnie and Oti versus (OOH) Debbie and Giovanni. Everyone saved Debbie, of course, and Jonnie gave a really classy exit speech, thanking the panel for judging him “as an equal”. He’s been a great addition to the show – funny, hard-working, never banging on about the challenges he faced, and forming a lovely partnership with Oti. What a class act.

And with that, another male celeb bites the dust…

What did you think of Blackpool? Did you agree with the dance-off? And who’s next to go? Get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week, when we’re back to (relative) normal. In the meantime…keep dancing!


In November’s Dancing Times, Marianka Swain reports on the future of same-sex dance, while Strictly‘s Oti Mabuse tells Nicola Rayner about her partnership with Jonnie Peacock


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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