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Strictly Speaking – Week Seven

Posted on November 7, 2016

judges BBC Guy Levy

Marianka Swain on musical mistakes and a triumph for ballroom nerdiness

We’ve reached the halfway point, and with the leading pack tighter than Ore’s salsa trousers the “shock” bottom twos keep coming. Well, it was rather a shock that Doomed Daisy somehow survived a dismal slot in the running order and the most saccharine routine known to man, but the public clearly aren’t as enamoured of Laura as the tabloids are, and there are just too many nice/blandly good contenders this year. Farewell, Laura – no longer shall I strive to remember that you’re on the show.

In other news: Strictly music, it giveth and it taketh away. Louise finally did something of interest, helped in no small part by a cracking Argentine tango track, while Claudia’s paso was DOA thanks to a totally nonsensical choice. And so it continued: Judge Rinder, blessed by the music gods; Ore stuffed, proving that no one listened to the judges’ comments about Claudia’s samba being too frantic.

Clearly we can’t have all trad tracks all the time, but is it too much to ask for some degree of logic? The right mood, style and/or time signature? Ironically, the most dramatic and entertaining routines of the night came from the more conservative music choices and limited theming. You can beat Simon Cowell without even trying, producers – and it makes the victory all the sweeter when Strictly does it while going full ballroom nerd.

Other hits and misses:

  • Fireworks puns – always a damp squib. Ditto Chaz and Dave. MISS
  • “If you were attempting one, it didn’t happen.” We shall furthermore apply this excellent Craig snark to each and every hellish Tess joke. HIT
  • The plague of time-wasting VTs grows worse. Show. Me. The. Money. I mean training footage. MISS
  • A pro dance dedicated to Oti’s formidable reign of Strictly 2016. Can’t argue with that. HIT
  • Gary Barlow redefined bland with a performance from his musical The Girls. Our pros wafted. Fully dressed. No comically placed WI items. Missed opportunities all round. MISS


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Louise’s Argentine tango The plateauing pair finally deliver the goods
  • Best costume: Oksana’s dress Feathers, feathers everywhere
  • Best move: Danny’s split leap Runner-up: Ed Balls’s penguin walks
  • Best line: “You have a beautiful aura in hold.” And thus Darcey goes full Paula Abdul



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

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

Very confused, asymmetrical (WHY TESS WHY) jumpsuit, plus monitoring tag. All the cool kids are wearing them. Claudia: frilled blanket.


Danny and Oti – The higher the hair, the closer to God

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

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

Redundant pool-playing VT. Swaggering Fifties smoothie Danny is among the less appealing Dannys in my book, though he certainly made a good play for the next touring production of Grease. This swinging jive was a little weak in the basics –picking his feet up rather than springing from the floor, didn’t close on the chassés, and kicks could be punchier – but irresistible in the performance, style, musicality and ringer-tastic tricks. Worthier of 10s than their quickstep? Arguably not. But a showstopping number, oddly scheduled for when the show had barely begun…

Song: “Long Tall Sally”, Little Richard (COPYCAT KLAXON: Natalie Cassidy and Vincent)

Judges’ comments: Len said he could have straightened his legs more, but full of content, speed and energy. Bruno praised the dexterity of movement and complicated chorography. Craig thought the pirouettes and split leap were amazing, though needed more retraction on kicks. Darcey found it sharp and stylish.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 – 38





Daisy and Aljaz – Two wheels good

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

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

Redundant market VT. So, after two weeks of dance-offs, our pretty pair went on a rampaging Wes Anderson charm offensive: how can you not love us when we’re this cutesy-wutesy quirky adorkable? We have fruit and flowers and ribbons and a miniature basket and winsome air cycling! The song sapped the Viennese of its power, and the actual dancing could have used a lot more drive – Daisy was too straight-legged and thus too skippy, and frame occasionally loose, though I take Len’s point that at least it doesn’t look forced.

Song: “Daisy Bell”, Harry Dacre

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the childlike quality and tandem section. Craig thought she coped well with the changes of direction, nice frame and quirkiness, though occasional shuffles and issues with the throwaway oversway. Darcey wants a more exaggerated topline, but a beautiful (snort) aura. Len found it charming and seamless.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34





Ore and Joanne – Offbeat

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

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

Ooh, actual training VT! So, another nail in the salsa coffin, this time with screechy disco music and a routine mainly memorable for Jo’s vigorous fringe-shaking and hairography, and a lift dismount that took about 10 years. Somewhat sloppy and scrappy in the transitions and lacked hip action in basics – not helped by Ore taking giant steps. But good rhythm and performance, a strong sync section, and lifts at least not life-threatening (this is the new bar set by Ed Balls), if occasionally ungainly. Plus, err, light-up palm trees.

Song: “Turn The Beat Around”, Vicki Sue Robinson

Judges’ comments: Craig praised the lifts and syncopated accents, but no figure of eight hip action. Darcey loved the armography, but too much emphasis on dancing from the arms. Len thought the lifts were cracking and the hips were hypnotic. Bruno thought it had to be syncopated (and light on hip action) because of the music choice.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 9 – 34





Ed and Katya – Silence is golden

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

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

Semi-redundant VT of Ed the silent movie star – given this was a dance breakthrough week, I’d much rather have seen Katya working teaching miracles. Anyhow, this canny quickstep showed improvement without losing Ed’s USP, i.e. the politician that launched a thousand gifs. We had Penguin Ed carrying a plank of wood, wide-eyed hat work, and actually intentional slapstick, but also better posture, travelling, a decent pendulum, and confident transitions in and out of hold. Still footwork errors and trying to control the frame made some sections stodgy, but a good effort. Sidenote: this week Katya gets the Flavia wig, which is being passed around like the class hamster.

Song: “Help!”, The Beatles (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jessie Wallace and Darren)

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised the slapstick, light on feet when travelling and improved posture. Len thought he needed help with footwork and posture, not with fun and entertainment. Bruno noted lots of content and lots of effort, but a bit jumpy and lost his neck. Craig said his thumb stuck up, but he’s actually improving.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27





Laura and Giovanni – Spinning out

Giovanni Pernice, Laura Whitmore - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Giovanni Pernice, Laura Whitmore – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

Redundant red carpet VT, other than a moment with the marvellous Joan Collins – much better casting for the show than the sweet but eminently forgettable Laura. Samba is always a challenging dance, and it exposed a lot of weaknesses here, with snatched lines, flimsy leg action, lack of hip action, and far too much strutting and pouting – Judge Rinder’s expressions must be catching. Also, as noted by the judges, Giovanni overpowered her and shamelessly snatched the limelight with his end spins, though the fast music certainly didn’t help either. Leaned too hard on sexy and came off awkward and uncomfortable.

Song: “Bamboleo”, Gipsy Kings (COPYCAT KLAXON: Christopher Parker and Hanna, Gavin Henson and Katya, Natalie Gumede and Artem)

Judges’ comments: Len noticed a mistake, and the music was too fast – they sacrificed technique for impact. Bruno thought she delivered. Craig was surprised they didn’t include any batucadas, and wasn’t impressed by Giovanni’s solo. Darcey said it was a shame she went out of sync and needed to straighten her back leg on the running promenades.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 9 – 32





Judge Rinder and Oksana – Swing while you’re winning

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

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

Almost relevant VT about Judge Rinder struggling to get the counts. Huzzah! His transition from comedy contestant to possible dark horse has hit a few bumps, but this wonderfully faff-free quickstep was a big step forward – light, jazzy, well controlled and bags of old-school charm. Some gapping and could get up on his toes more, plus frame sometimes wanders, but definite improvement in posture and footwork, and managing to cut down on some of the errors and eccentricities (facial expressions aside, and I’m now immune to those). A foxtrot next week could give them momentum going into Blackpool.

Song: “It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)”, Chantz Powell version (COPYCAT KLAXON: Martin Offiah and Erin, Alex Jones and James, Tony Jacklin and Aliona)

Judges’ comments: Bruno enjoyed their proper quickstep, other than the trout pout. Craig thought it was a really good dance. Darcey loved the classy, sophisticated Judge Rinder, if occasionally getting carried away. Len liked the joy of dance coming out through his expressions.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8, 8 – 33





Louise and Kevin – Tango-a-go-go

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

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

Actual training VT, letting us in on the secret that this nice couple from the suburbs likes to role play on weekends. And lo, here comes the Streetlamp of Passion! The trad Argentine tango styling and music helped enormously, but this was definitely the most interesting I’ve ever found Louise, FINALLY showing us something beyond bland competence. One too many back bends and a couple of unbalanced moments (kindly highlighted in Len’s Lens), otherwise a strong, sultry, dynamic routine, with Louise really committing to each step and giving us variation in movement and expression.

Song: “Tanguera”, Sexteto Mayor (COPYCAT KLAXON: Mark Foster and Hayley)

Judges’ comments: Craig thought it was wonderful to see her serious and feisty. Darcey praised her control and drama. Len: “There was nothing I didn’t like.” Bruno said she was irresistible.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39





Greg and Natalie – Couch surfing

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

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

Redundant VT, other than some Family props points. Midway and getting antsy? Deploy the toddler! It’s pretty marvellous to see Natalie finding her ham soulmate, with yet another screamingly OTT number from this drama queen pair. I mean, there was a whole chaise longue melodrama (bringing to mind this blissful scene). Viennese wise, Greg did look a tad dizzy and needs to stay more upright in hold and maintain his wide frame, but good rotation, travelled well, better timing and great performance. Another week of improvement.

Song: “You Don’t Own Me”, Grace

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised his confidence, easy with rotation and control, but throws away his free arm out of hold. Len said he lost energy and needed more fluidity, but he’s back. Bruno enjoyed his powerful leading man performance. Craig noted his thumb went up and hand shaping is odd out of hold, plus a bit skippy, but exceptional choreography and beautifully acted.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32





Claudia and AJ – Facing the music

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

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

Redundant basketball VT that actually made me black out for a moment. Now, this really was The Song That Killed The Paso, with a great CHA CHA track making it far too cheery, plus pink costumes that wouldn’t so much scare the bull as invite it to a tea party. Crisp, confident and lots of great elements, but didn’t quite come together – at some points Claudia floated through it with too much lyricism, at others she struggled to join up all the moves. Again, AJ not making allowances with this ambitious routine, shoving her into lines and overbalancing her on the spins.

Song: “Shut Up And Dance”, Walk The Moon

Judges’ comments: Len thought AJ overpowered it. Bruno noted she shouldn’t freeze on a pose. Craig loved the power. Darcey praised the attack and energy, but needed more shaping and consistent character.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 9 – 33






Louise and Kevin – 39

Danny and Oti – 38

Daisy and Aljaz – 34

Ore and Joanne – 34

Judge Rinder and Oksana – 33

Claudia and AJ – 33

Laura and Giovanni – 32

Greg and Natalie – 32

Ed and Katya – 27


All change again, with Louise and Danny rising at the expense of Claudia and Laura.



Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

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

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

Some good Daily Mail Sidebar of Shame trolling with an illusion dress. Claudia back in black lace.

Tess Daly, Laura Whitmore, Giovanni Pernice - (C) BBC - Photographer: Guy Levy

Tess Daly, Laura Whitmore, Giovanni Pernice – (C) BBC – Photographer: Guy Levy

In the dance-off: Ore and Joanne (surprising) versus Laura and Giovanni (less surprising). The judges all saved Ore, who did perform well second time, while Laura fixed some mistakes while introducing new ones.

How impressed you this week? Who did you want to see in the dance-off? And who’s going to make it to Blackpool? Come say hi on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week, when Ed Balls salsas to “Gangnam Style”. No, really. 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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