Dedicated to dance
since 1910.

Buy Latest Issue

Strictly Speaking – week eight

Posted on November 14, 2016

Strictly pro dancers with Madge and Basil Lambert BBC Guy Levy

Marianka Swain is comforted by Strictly Come Dancing’s sparkly pleasures

In this year, it may seem relatively minor, yet it’s still worth acknowledging: #BallsToBlackpool is actually a reality, as 2016’s unlikely saviour prances on. At this rate, he could be Prime Minister by Christmas. Or maybe Reality TV Captain of Galactic Emperor Trump’s Make Space Great Again Moon Base.

This blog is often packed with Strictly gripes (and will continue to be – Blackpool’s comedy VTs are a-comin’), but, given the seismic and frankly horrifying world events, this week’s show was blessedly therapeutic: silly, sparkly, kind, hopeful, a communal pleasure. Thank you to the BBC, the hard-working pros and game celebs. Long may you continue to bring us joy while we cling to one another in our fallout shelters and marvel that the Mayans were only a few years off…

Other hits and misses:

  • Are we going to Blackpool? I do wish someone had mentioned it. MISS
  • Mariachi band: not Chaz and Dave or a nightmare-inducing puppet, so an automatic HIT
  • Louise won the music lottery this week. Danny did not. HIT/MISS
  • Look forward to seeing the BBC parade Mary Berry in every programme to really rub Channel 4’s noses in it. Mary solves crimes! Mary appraises an antique vase! Mary bests the Eggheads! HIT
  • Judges: are you actively trolling the couples? Some vague correlation between comments and scoring would be super. MISS
  • Oh training footage, you beautiful stranger. Please don’t leave us again. HIT
  • Basil and Madge: lovely story. Chloe and AJ’s performance: perfectly charming. But the voiceover severely hampered the (predictably literal) narrative dance – why not have one and then the other? MISS
  • Natalie and Brendan’s actual ballroom dancing also undercut by the customer service hold music version of the late, great Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” from Andre Rieu and his wildly overdressed orchestra (“You SHALL go to the ball – and play violin on the sidelines”). Plus Kate McKinnon’s SNL rendition already destroyed me this weekend… MISS


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Ed Balls Gangnam Style OK, this was utterly atrocious salsa (RIP salsa), but it made me HOWL, which was very much needed
  • Best costume: Greg’s paso trousers Deserved a scoring system all of their own
  • Best move: Danny and Oti’s split lift Runner-up: Ed Balls’s…everything
  • Best line: Bruno discovering that Judge Rinder has a Christian name The next time he does Latin, Tonioli’s going to town on that rolling R



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

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

Poppy on a poppy-red dress, which even the tabloids might consider just a tad OTT. Claudia: swathed in black.


Daisy and Aljaz – Turn back time

Daisy Lowe, Aljaž Skorjanec - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Daisy Lowe, Aljaž Skorjanec – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Lots of effort going into lifts this week, which…kind of showed, with the basics decidedly scrappy. Daisy “Endless Legs” Lowe had trouble getting down into the floor and finding that salsa earthiness, so a bit light on hip action. Decent rhythm and she had fun with it, but too many awkward transitions and traded club vibe for messiness. Not helping: another sodding disco track and the clash-o-rama styling. Seventies decor may be in, but that’s no reason to Maria von Trapp a whole outfit out of it. An unfortunate dance on a competitive week.

Song: “Groove Is In The Heart”, Deee-Lite

Judges’ comments: Len thought it was full of rhythm and sparkle, and she covered up the mistake. Bruno praised the sex appeal, though she lost her footing. Craig said it was disjointed and off-balance – great lifts but sticky transitions. Darcey found it hot and groovy.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31





Greg and Natalie – Quantum leap

Natalie Lowe, Greg Rutherford - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Natalie Lowe, Greg Rutherford – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Greg certainly embraced the manly matador character, just as Natalie embodied, err, Queen of a Thousand Shawls? The ever-dramatic pair did not disappoint, and this number also showed how far Greg’s come, coping well with a challenging song choice and packed routine. As expected, fantastic leaps and knee walks, but perhaps more surprising some rather good flamenco and improved flow through the well-sustained number. His shaping needed to be much more expansive and precise, and footwork rather erratic, but simmering power – a great partnership effort.

Song: “Tamacun”, Rodrigo y Gabriela

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised his strength and complicated choreography in hold, but he lost the shaping. Craig thought it was stiff and footwork errors, though loved the deep lunges, appels and stag leap. Darcey noted his strength and power, which was sometimes too much. Len thought it had aggression and attack, just lost a little finesse.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31





Judge Rinder and Oksana – Blood ties

Oksana Platero, Judge Robert Rinder - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Oksana Platero, Judge Robert Rinder – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Major Family prop points for Rinder’s grandparents (who hilariously panicked Tessbot with the horror that is spontaneous interaction), but it weighted down an otherwise charming foxtrot with rampant emotional manipulation. Needed more drive from the standing leg, swing and sway to look less boxy, and clear heel vs toe leads rather than the odd flat foot, but nice frame, improved footwork, breezy musicality and a really strong attempt at a technically challenging dance. Sidenote: Oksana’s manic hairography grew on me. She feels so young!

Song: “You Make Me Feel So Young”, Harry Connick Jr (COPYCAT KLAXON: Matt Dawson and Lilia, Ann Widdecombe and Anton)

Judges’ comments: Craig wanted more power, but appreciated the controlled face. Darcey noted he’s improved every week and created flow. Len said it was his best dance. Bruno enjoyed seeing proper Robert applying himself.

Judges’ scores: 7, 9, 9, 8 – 33





Ore and Joanne – The friend zone

Joanne Clifton, Ore Oduba - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Joanne Clifton, Ore Oduba – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

The platonic pair decided on a chaste interpretation, which is fine in theory, but more exposing and tends to lack the impact of the dirty, filthy rumbas. Ore had far more lyricism than most male celebs, though tended to stop dead once he’d hit a line and then force into the next one, rather than flowing through, and never settled into his hips fully, plus a rather half-hearted ronde. If you’re stripping out the smoulder, you need astonishing technique (including proper resistance and foot pressure), otherwise it all feels slightly muted.

Song: “Ordinary People”, John Legend

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the tender romance and arm movement. Len thought his timing was great, but needed better foot action. Bruno said he expressed the song through his body. Craig found it too hard and the drag was lumpy, but very evocative.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35





Ed and Katya – Giddy-up

Katya Jones, Ed Balls MP - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Katya Jones, Ed Balls MP – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Trust falls in training, which suggests Katya is still working through some issues. So, salsa first: the steps were there, but it was pretty much unrecognisable – flat-footed, stompy, out of time, no hip action. But honestly, it’s hard to mind when the rest was such sublime silliness, from “Penguin waddling sideways through a narrow tunnel” to the pelvic thrusts and flying crotch leap with invisible horse riding, all delivered with an endearing single-minded determination. Plus, some decently executed lifts! Truly, Katya is the bravest woman in Britain.

Song: “Gangnam Style”, Psy

Judges’ comments: Len loves watching Ed for his entertainment. Bruno called it the “best worst dance” he’s seen. Craig: “Three letters, darling – OMG.” Darcey said it’ll go down in Strictly history.

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 8, 6 – 25





Claudia and AJ – Up and away

Claudia Fragapane, AJ Pritchard - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Claudia Fragapane, AJ Pritchard – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Claudia, back in gymnastics training, is struggling to be graceful and floaty, but this was a very well executed Viennese that had the misfortune to follow Gangnam Ed. Her frame is the most consistent among this year’s celebs and was beautifully maintained here, plus managed not be skippy, and some nice work out of hold. More heel leads would have given it stronger drive, some gapping and could have done with more emotional connection, with both AJ and the audience – she’s producing lovely work, but not always selling it. Sidenote: AJ very much taking hair tips from Fifties Danny.

Song: “Breakaway”, Kelly Clarkson (COPYCAT KLAXON: Carol Smilie and Matthew)

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought it flowed beautifully. Craig praised her movement round the floor, though she needs to look up when she’s spotting. Darcey said she kept in character and it was smooth and serene. Len thought she performed with great maturity and style.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36





Danny and Oti

Oti Mabuse, Danny Mac - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Oti Mabuse, Danny Mac – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Well, this was another clear case of music maketh dance, with a track that was always going to produce a fast and frantic Argentine tango, rather than slow and sensual. A shame, as training showed they were more than capable of exploring that deliberate intimacy, and it muddied the specific character of the dance – as did the upright hold, which suggested a routine executed in tandem rather than led/followed. But this was still mighty impressive, with crisp ganchos, razor-sharp footwork, compelling storytelling and explosive daredevil lifts, showing how much Oti can trust her partner with.

Song: “I Heard it Through the Grapevine”, Marvin Gaye

Judges’ comments: Craig wanted more of an A frame and leading from the centre, not arms, but incredible. Darcey thought it was too aggressive and wanted to see more desire, though exquisite delivery. Len praised the clarity of movement and precision. Bruno thought it was a killer Argentine tango.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38





Louise and Kevin – Fan club

Louise Redknapp, Kevin Clifton - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Louise Redknapp, Kevin Clifton – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

In contrast, this American smooth track was probably the easiest music choice to make work, with lots of helpful accents and jazzy flair. Louise didn’t return to beige, but came close to “perfectly pleasant”, with something of a school talent show feel. It was all nicely done, but not fully or individually inhabited – though there was improved facial animation from her, giant feather fans (and Shirley) need a lot more sass and wit. And you probably shouldn’t throw around the word “Fosse” with such reckless abandon. Foxtrot-wise, travelled well but at the expense of the frame.

Song: “Big Spender”, Shirley Bassey (COPYCAT KLAXON: Darren Gough and Lilia, Richard Arnold and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the details, but her shoulders went up in the lifts. Len noted it’s a great song to choreograph to, and she’ll get a big score. Bruno loved all the accents. Craig enjoyed the musicality and her improved confidence.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 – 37






Danny and Oti – 38

Louise and Kevin – 37

Claudia and AJ – 36

Ore and Joanne – 35

Judge Rinder and Oksana – 33

Daisy and Aljaz – 31

Greg and Natalie – 31

Ed and Katya – 25


Danny and Louise swap lead, while Claudia rises and Daisy falls.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

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

Both in black, with Tess adding a cape – should the Tess Signal go up somewhere in Gotham.

Daisy Lowe, Aljaž Skorjanec, Natalie Lowe, Greg Rutherford - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Daisy Lowe, Aljaž Skorjanec, Natalie Lowe, Greg Rutherford – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

In the dance-off: Daisy and Aljaz (again), and Greg and Natalie. An interesting one, as they had the same score in the first show, but have been on very different trajectories – Daisy beloved by the judges from Week 1 but having a harder time with the public, Greg on the classic “J word” sportsman improvement arc. Daisy corrected some errors in the dance-off but added new ones, while Greg put in a storming performance, really fighting for his place. Craig and Darcey saved Greg, Bruno voted for Daisy, and Len finally got to use his casting vote, opting for Greg.

I’ve really liked Daisy this year, but it felt like the right time for her to go, and I’m enjoying seeing Greg progress – glad he’s got another dance to do so. However, this does mean female celebs are now an endangered species, with only Claudia and Louise remaining.

Who did you want to see leave? Who impressed you this week? And who’s looking good for the final? Come say hi on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week, when we travel to (remind me again? Oh, yes) Blackpool. In the meantime…keep dancing!


Don’t miss Nicola Rayner’s interview with Neil and Katya Jones in the November 2016 issue of Dancing Times


Picture, top: Madge and Harold Lambert with the Strictly professional dancers. Photograph: BBC/Guy Levy

Marianka Swain is a freelance writer and social dancer at several London venues. You can find more of her work at

Connect with Dancing Times: