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Strictly Speaking – Week Nine

Posted on November 21, 2016

pros group dance BBC Guy Levy e1479899697541

Marianka Swain reports on Strictly Come Dancing‘s annual pilgrimage to Blackpool

Ah, Blackpool Week: forced VTs, drama, sky-high scoring and the odd great performance amidst the hysteria. The best part for dancers is the chance to use that giant sprung floor – or at least it would be, but once again the couples spent their routines fending off the hordes of backing dancers AKA human props. A real waste, particularly at this stage of the competition when (most of) the celebs are strong enough not to need distractions.

No matter – the 10s were out, as usual, and post-truth scoring inflation spread to Claudia’s so-so jive, though that injustice was rectified by viewer votes landing her in the dance-off. The popular revolt continued with the saving of Ed Balls, but history teaches us he’ll most likely to be gone next week or the following one, as the audience starts to get serious about our finalists. Mind you, it’s 2016. We can’t rule out another kick in the teeth for “experts”…


Other hits and misses:

  • Can’t go wrong with Chorus Line, particularly not when styled with 10 flocks of deceased swans. Canny creative choices – Louise keeping her fans, Rinder getting the flamboyant ceiling drop, Ed Balls staying seated – contributed to one of the best group numbers of the series. HIT
  • However, the Hairspray routine was rather headache-inducing, with both radioactive hues and a million gurning people coming at us. Felt rather like a world record attempt for most people on a sugar high packed onto one dancefloor. MISS
  • It’s worth repeating: NO TO HUMAN PROPS. Very tedious spending half the routine playing Where’s Wally? with our contestants. MISS
  • Also: illegal lifts. Because Blackpool. MISS
  • A mixed bag with the Eighties throwbacks. Simple Minds gave us a weary version of a cracking classic; Rick Astley refused to do an oldie, instead yelping “DANCE” with increasing desperation. HIT/MISS
  • Blackpool always sounds like it’s coming to us from a waterlogged crater in another galaxy, but particularly dodgy sound this year for HD viewers. MISS
  • Oh training footage, we hardly knew ye. Dreadful VTs devoted to Visit Blackpool spots and tenuous outings. MISS


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Danny’s Charleston In a different league
  • Best costume: Katya’s piano fringe Runner-up: Oti’s gorgeous Charleston dress
  • Best move: Judge Rinder’s booty shaking And Darcey’s response
  • Best line: Rinder’s “Don’t be so absurd” The perfect retort to this and every “helpful” VT field trip



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

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

Red, asymmetrical and flirting with disaster. Claudia repurposed a navy car seat cover.


Claudia and AJ – Not much to cheer about

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

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

Does AJ think there are extra marks for speed? Poor Claudia’s spent most of their routines desperately chasing. This number was also overstuffed, with lots of cheerleading, tricks and floor invasion by human props. Yes, the one-handed cartwheel was impressive, but she came into this competition an accomplished gymnast – how about improvement in ballroom? Jive basics here were pretty woeful: heavy and no spring because she was so flat-footed and had her weight pitched back. Also some floppy kicks, awkward transitions and she fell out of a few turns. Not her best.

Song: “Hey Mickey”, Toni Basil

Judges’ comments: Len thought it was sharp and crisp, other than one mistake. Bruno said she took the lead with all the pro dancers. Craig thought it could have been a 10 without the mistake. Darcey called it spectacular.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36





Ore and Joanne – Larger than life

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

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

A visit to Props HQ, just so we all know where to direct our ire. Stylish Mannequin Challenge opening and lots of drama in this number; not so much with the Viennese, other than The Neverending Fleckerl. (Which…again, this isn’t how we’re grading dances. Or at least I’m not.) Actual waltz was rather skippy and lumpy – Ore was forcing the momentum with his arms, rather than driving it from the standing leg. It doesn’t help the celebs that most of this week’s numbers were so stop/start, but this felt like a sacrifice of the dance to the song and performance.

Song: “That’s Life”, Frank Sinatra

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought it was jazzy and slick. Craig noted issues with the topline, but he’s an amazing showman. Darcey praised the fleckerl. Len said it had a mix of flair and care.

Judges’ scores: 8, 10, 10, 10 – 38





Louise and Kevin – Game of thrones

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

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

Louise had to make Blackpool rock, because…something to do with aggression? Watching the VT certainly had that effect on me. Another dance big on drama (fire! Thrones! Giant skirts! Kevin’s guyliner!), though Louise’s face was less Cersei surveying her enemies, more the expression of someone who’s accidentally sat on a hedgehog. Lovely shaping and lines, strong partnering and dynamic moments, but the dance slightly overwhelmed by the trappings and the performance not quite sustained – transitions lost power, and Louise looked down now and again.

Song: “Explosive”, Bond (COPYCAT KLAXON: Emma Bunton and Darren)

Judges’ comments: Craig loved the flamenco and drama. Darcey thought she had beautiful rounded arms and was passionate throughout. Len was blown away. Bruno thought she had beauty, artistry and power.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38





Danny and Oti – Haute cuisine

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

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

Is Danny now an uber-ringer? Yes. Do we mind when he produces routines like this? Not really, no. Went slightly out of sync, but streets ahead of everyone else and thus thoroughly deserving of that 40. What a joy to see a jazzy, stylish Charleston with no silly faces, and this fast, jam-packed routine was so breezily, charmingly executed that it never felt frenetic – exciting, but not nerve-shredding to watch. From the cartwheel and table dancing to the slick tricks and excellent swivel, there were plenty of highlights, but most enjoyable was the seamlessness – it felt like one cohesive performance, rather than a grab bag of ideas.

Song: “Puttin’ On The Ritz”, Gregory Porter (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ann Widdecombe and Anton)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the speed and cartwheel, and said it’s difficult to distinguish who’s the pro now. Len liked that it was right on the edge – fantastic. Bruno said it was like watching a Broadway show. Craig: “One word – fab-u-lous.”

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40





Ed and Katya – Tickling the ivories

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

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

How could Ed top “Gangnam Style”? Well, they gave him a flying piano WITH FIRE and a quiff that probably shouldn’t be that close to an open flame, but this was otherwise a step back – neither brilliant dancing, nor hilariously weird and entertaining. His timing and musicality remain impressive, and the total joy he took in playing air piano was pretty infectious, but the jive was very ploddy – close to just stepping in place. Katya gave him some nice content and he managed most of the steps, but sapped them of any style.

Song: “Great Balls of Fire”, Jerry Lee Lewis (COPYCAT KLAXON: Martin Offiah and Erin, Jodie Kidd and Ian, Harry Judd and Aliona)

Judges’ comments: Len said he made Blackpool rock. Bruno said it did at least look like a jive. Craig thought his kicks were sloppy and he needs to be lighter on his feet, but committed. Darcey wanted more retraction.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 7, 6 – 23





Greg and Natalie – Grease is the word

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

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

Greg did some training on a train and…no. Can’t be bothered. So, this was another weird music choice, making the quickstep too giddy and frenzied, though Greg has improved in his control. He’s one of the series’ biggest improvers generally, but this showed up a few weaknesses in his frame and footwork, plus he was sometimes sprinting as much as travelling through ballroom technique. A joyful performance that showed how far he’s come, and we’ll always have Natalie’s manic running splits face, but not quite enough.

Song: “Hand Jive”, Sha Na Na

Judges’ comments: Bruno thought it was sporty and needed refining in the footwork. Craig said the power made it look bouncy, he messed up the jeté and his thumb was sticking up, otherwise brilliant. Darcey noted mistakes, but he had fun and so she did too. Len said it’s hard to keep the frame quiet, and the only thing he really mucked up was the leap.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32





Judge Rinder and Oksana – Bootylicious

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

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

Stepping into the OMG spot left vacant by Ed Balls was Rinder and his merry band of highlighter pen-styled salsa chums. In an acid trip floral carnival. Dancing to the Spice Girls. A dodgy first lift, styled out with aplomb, and a really nice feel for the dance – great shimmies, rump shaking, armography, fluid basics with decent hip action, and a fairly organic quality interspersed with glittery-eyed mania. Very entertaining, though with a more trad song and fewer distractions, this could have been a standout salsa.

Song: “Spice Up Your Life”, Spice Girls (COPYCAT KLAXON: Mark Foster and Hayley, Chelsee Healey and Pasha, Julien Macdonald and Janette)

Judges’ comments: Craig thought it was hip-tastic, and rechristened him Judge Grinder (or, err, Grindr). Darcey was impressed by his booty shaking, hips and presage lift. Len said he got a bit overexcited and rushed. Bruno thought it was a great way to end the night.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8, 8 – 33






Danny and Oti – 40

Ore and Joanne – 38

Louise and Kevin – 38

Claudia and AJ – 36

Judge Rinder and Oksana – 33

Greg and Natalie – 32

Ed and Katya – 23


Ore rises, otherwise not much change, with Danny retaining his lead and Ed his bottom spot.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

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

Bizarre grafted-on fringe. Claudia’s best accessorised by Blackpool props. Excess foil all round.


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

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

In the Olympic dance-off: Claudia and AJ, and Greg and Natalie. Now, how do we think the dance-off should work? Is it a decider based purely on that dance, or an opportunity for the judges to save a strong contestant who’s had a bad week? The former is the argument usually articulated by the judges, but in that case, they should probably have saved Greg here – better in the actual ballroom content than Claudia, who improved on her jive but still didn’t convince. (For what it’s worth, I’d have scored her a 6 or 7, so below Greg.)

I do think she’s a potential finalist – if AJ can actually choreograph to her abilities and showcase her properly – but sad to see Greg go. He’s arguably improved far more than Claudia and outdanced her in this scenario, but perhaps the judges had to justify their 9s – and/or wanted to retain one of only two remaining female contestants.

What did you think of Blackpool? Who did you want to see leave? And how long do you think Ed Balls can last? Come say hi on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week, when we’re back in the studio and facing the Cha Cha Challenge. 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

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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