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Strictly speaking

Posted on September 21, 2010


Week 1

Hello and welcome! It’s nice to see you, to see you…

I really hope you all yelled “nice” at your screens. Series 8 of “Strictly Come Dancing” took its first hesitant steps onto the floor at the scandalously late time of 9pm on Friday (no need to do your shopping early), and it was all change, with new titles and new set.

The Dirty Dancing-esque titles feature rather salacious hip-brushing and entwining and end with our couples’ poses replicated behind them, like a snazzy hall of mirrors. The new set seems wonderfully spacious, but was a change of venue any excuse to remove the opening Bruce and Tess creeping down the steps, rictus grins in place? Perhaps Tess has her eye on some particularly skyscraper heels this series and BBC insurance won’t cover her descent.

Unfortunately, the contestants have yet more stairs to navigate, as they now follow their performance with an on-camera creep up to Tess’s boudoir in the sky. As Patsy demonstrated admirably, this may prove a step too far for some.

However, some things never change, like Tess’s hit-and-miss outfits (Cadbury’s Dairy Milk-purple goddess dress on Saturday: hit; bat-winged LBD on Friday: miss) and Brucie’s Jonathan Ross jokes and introduction of “the stars of our show”. First impression of said stars’ outfits: some winners (fringing goddess Michelle), some losers (Tina in a pink puffball) and some strategic choices (Ola in her standard not-very-much, please-don’t-look-at-my-partner’s-footwork).

But down to business. Our couples performed either a waltz or a cha cha cha in their first outing, with seven couples performing on Friday night and the other seven on Saturday (at 6pm, avoiding the ratings bully that is X Factor). No voting, but the judges’ scores are carried over to week 2. More importantly, I’ll be rating each performance on our exclusive Dance Today sequin-o-meter: 1 = struggles to sparkle, 2 = simply so-so, 3 = strictly sensational.

So, in order of appearance…


Felicity and Vincent– Good, but not hip




Sequin-o-meter: 2 – simply so-so

Song: “Sunny”, Boney M

Judges’ comments: Still recovering from the horror of Alesha calling Felicity “a sex kitten” and then “babe” – just, no – I agree with Len that she was confident but too careful. Bring the fire next week – and do it for Bruno!

Judges’ scores: 4, 5, 7, 7 – 23

“I’ve still got it,” promised the pint-sized actress, and with Vincent “I’m the best dancer on the planet” Simone by her side, how could she fail to impress? Well, the absence of any hip action whatsoever didn’t help her cha cha cha, nor did her Hunchback of Notre-Dame shoulder, but her cougar-like devotion to her partner and sunny charm (and dress) pulled her through.

Overall: Our English rose failed to tap into any Latin flavour, but may fare better in the ballroom dances.




Scott and Natalie – Jack the lad steams up the ballroom



Sequin-o-meter: 2 – simply so-so


Song: “I Never Loved A Man”, Aretha Franklin

Judges’ comments: Predictably, the raunchiness offended Len but thrilled the other judges, with Bruno sighing over the “frrrrrrrrrrrissson of sexuality” that “Ssssscottttt” brought and Craig calling it “dangerously romantic”

Judges’ scores: 6, Len’s first seven, 8, 8 – 29

Scott is doing “Strictly” to redeem himself after messing up during “Eastenders”’ live show, but seemed more interested in throwing temper tantrums in rehearsal than learning steps. Natalie cleverly pulled an Alastair Campbell and played up to his soap-stud image with a sexed-up waltz routine (including dramatic hair-flicking during a standing spin), and Scott maintained a decent frame and had some nice movement round the floor, despite hit-and-miss footwork.

Overall: Plenty of potential, but he needs to hide his concentration and maintain more of a performance (there’s bound to be a week calling on his “acting skills” as part of his “journey”).


Goldie and Kristina – Cha cha cha like it’s 1986



Sequin-o-meter: 1 – struggles to sparkle

Song: “Tik Tok”, Ke$ha

Judges’ comments: Bruno transported us to back to 1986 “Top of the Pops” by mimicking the ghastly body rolls, which Craig imagines most two-year-olds could replicate (though not, apparently, Brucie)

Scores: 3, 6, 6, 5 (with body roll) – 20

DJ/Bond villain/joker Goldie squared things with Joe Calzaghe before taking on Kristina, who apparently has eyes in the back of her head (how do dance teachers develop that skill?). She was certainly out to impress on Friday with an Ola-esque outfit that left her breasts making a desperate bid for freedom. Unfortunately, it looked liked her partner wanted to escape as well, with his usual cool and rhythmic swagger severely depleted by her cheesy routine that lacked any real cha cha cha. Ke$ha and disco – why???

Overall: Goldie has plenty of natural talent, but needs stronger choreography to showcase it.


Patsy and Robin – Doctor, doctor, we’ve got a bad case of nerves



Sequin-o-meter: 1 – struggles to sparkle

Song: “When I Need You”, Leo Sayer

Judges’ comments: Craig wants Patsy to learn to spot to avoid dance disaaaaaaaaster. Alesha told her she looked beautiful (as she did Felicity: is this going to be her comment for every female celeb?), and advised her to work on her mysterious “breathing techniques” (more? less? in? out?)

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6, 6 – 22

Watch out, Robin – Patsy’s back on the market after splitting with husband number four, and hopes “Strictly” will be the “perfect tonic”, while new pro Robin wants to give the old boys “a run for their money”.

Hunky Robin provided good support for his nervous partner during rehearsals, but the lady in red was still crippled by self-doubt during her waltz performance, stumbling several times and looking awkward and embarrassed, particularly when out of hold. Robin proved to be a reality-TV natural, complimenting her on “giving it 110 per cent”.

Overall: If she can get her nerves in check and sell a performance, Patsy could do well – she created some nice lines.


Matt and Aliona – Who knew elbow patches equalled sex appeal?



Sequin-o-meter: 3 – strictly sensational

Song: “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, Diana Ross

Judges’ comments: “One to watch” for Craig and “best cha cha of the night” for Len. Alesha liked the wellies.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

The boy scout of the group, whose CV includes “Blue Peter” and “Countryfile”, is certain partner dancing will come naturally to him, as he has experience handling animals – a comparison Aliona will surely be delighted with.

The couple kicked off their cha cha cha with gymnastics and a farm-based gimmick and then BLEW MY MIND by making Matt, dressed in a tartan-edged waistcoat and sporting elbow patches, really rather sexy. The boy has great rhythm, control, a decent amount of hip action for week 1 and can really show Goldie how a body roll should be done. Aliona (who apparently has been doing some activity that resulted in her getting leaves in her hair, ahem) is on to a winner here.

Overall: The boy scout became a man. Astonishing debut.


Pamela and James – Nothing funny about it


web_pamelaSequin-o-meter: 3 – strictly sensational strictly_sensational

Song: “If I Ain’t Got You”, Alicia Keys

Judges’ comments: Craig thought it was de-licious and Len noted that, although you can’t win in week 1, you can make a fantastic impression. There may be some revised odds coming out today.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Pamela thinks “Strictly” gives her a licence to flirt outrageously and gets no complaints from James, who uses groping as a training technique. But despite the hijinks in rehearsal, the couple performed a seriously beautiful and assured waltz, bravely opening with a mini-solo from Pamela and including a combination of strong figures and crowd-pleasing romanticism. Unlike her halting fellow celebs, Pamela injected her waltz with natural grace and relaxed into it, keeping a close-to-genuine smile on her face throughout.

Overall: A new favourite emerges. If the vivacious Pamela can do this well with a waltz, are we in for a treat when she hits the Latin?


Paul and Ola – Liked it not a lot



Sequin-o-meter: 1 – struggles to sparkle

Song: Predictably, “Could It Be Magic”, Barry Manilow

Judges’ comments: “Could it be tragic!” tittered Bruno; “Lip-synching for your life,” intoned Craig; “It was as though you’d been sprinkled with fairy dust,” giggled Len; “Well done for giving it a go,” patronised Alesha. Paul countered with a joke that a section of the Twitter community (and subsequently the Daily Mail) deemed homophobic, but apparently is reference to Craig taking over Paul’s job as British Sausage Week taster, a role ripe with Carry On potential.

Judges’ scores: 2, 5, 5, 4 – 16

The joker in the pack spent much of his zany VT hiding from Ola (behind a pillar, behind a curtain, behind a, hmm, ping pong bat), and, despite being dealt a bad hand, last year’s champion pasted on a ballroom grin for their desperate cha cha cha. A lengthy magic trick revealed Ola’s costume distraction (feathers! frills! flesh!), but it was hard to look away from the bizarrely camp, dad-dancing, sing-along performance from Paul, who, with good humour, stated that “Whatever Craig says, I agree with him.”

Overall: Never mind, Ola. There’s always next year.



Another show, another glimpse of costumes to come. Once more, we had good (Tina trading in the puffball for a negligee over a silver swimming costume; Kara vamping it up in leopard print), bad (Pamela in red cellophane; Ann in a second sparkly cardigan) and strategic (Goldie and Kristina in…well, gold; Ola splitting open her mirrorball trophy and arranging it across her chest as a sequinned armour plate). And we had seven more performances, starting with…


Jimi and Flavia – It’s a step up from The Guru


Sequin-o-meter: 2 – simply so-so

Song: “Don’t Upset The Rhythm”, Noisettes

Judges’ comments: Len felt the dance matched the standard of the previous night, but Craig compared Jimi with the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz – great isolation but lacking control.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 6, 7 – 26

The actor has named hair gel “the smell of ‘Strictly’”, though that may change to sweat judging by the amount he was literally wringing out of his t-shirt (ick ick ick). Flavia is hoping to replicate her success with Matt Di Angelo by cutting her hair and presumably trying whatever else catapulted her to the final that year. Jimi showed boundless enthusiasm and energy during a challenging cha cha routine, but timing issues and wild arm gestures hampered his performance, as did his partner being attacked by fake flowers.

Overall: Lots of potential – great charm, performance and ability, plus confidence in side-by-side work.


Peter and Erin – Own goal


Sequin-o-meter: 1 – struggles to sparkle

Song: “Take It To The Limit”, Eagles

Judges’ comments: Bruno mixed metaphors, telling Peter he was diving in the deep end and tasting something he’d never tasted before (chlorine?), with Len contributing a “first parachute jump” comparison, and Craig labelling it “pothole-ish”. Alesha – please don’t call anyone “my love”; it’s just wrong.

Judges’ scores: 4, 6, 6, 5 – 21 (‘Mid table’, noted Peter)

Peter cheerfully jinxed himself by saying he was going to “try and win it”, while Erin mournfully observed that she is the only professional female left from the first series, but has never won the show. Sadly, despite some imaginative teaching methods from Erin (“That’s your goal area,” while in hold) and themed costuming to make it clear to the audience that THIS IS THE FOOTBALLER, their waltz was rushed, skippy and panicked, with Erin employing fancy footwork to keep out of her partner’s way.

Overall: Not likely to improve on Erin’s record with her previous footballer Peter.


Michelle and Brendan – The spirit is willing, but the legs are weak


Sequin-o-meter: 1 – struggles to sparkle

Song: “Stone Cold Sober”, Paloma Faith

Judges’ comments: Craig and Bruno were disappointed by Michelle’s unbalanced performance (Brendan stepped up to defend her honour, but decided to “let them off this week” – best to pick your battles). Len thought it a fatal combination of long legs, short skirt and bad technique. Alesha, ever the optimist (or perhaps hoping to talk Michelle into a duet post-“Strictly”), enjoyed the show.

Judges’ scores: 5, 6, 7, 6 – 24

And if you thought Peter’s jinx was bad, Michelle demanded tens, but said she wouldn’t be happy with anything less than an eight. Guess the judges didn’t get that memo. The “ones to watch” jogged energetically down from the top balcony and burst into a fearless but otherwise rather flawed cha cha cha. Despite Michelle’s zealous hairography (has she been watching Glee?) and shimmying, she resembled Bambi on ice, teetering on her heels and losing her footing frequently.

Overall: If Michelle can bring her technique up to her performance level, she could excel, but there’s lots of work to do.



Gavin and Katya – Welsh wonders never cease

web_gavSequin-o-meter: 2 – simply so-sosimply_so_so

Song: “You Light Up My Life”, Debby Boone

Judges’ comments: Craig felt Gavin was too cold and deliberate, but called it a brave attempt. The other three were pleasantly surprised, and Bruno “can’t WAIT to see him in the Latin” (steady).

Judges’ scores: 6, 8, 7, 7 – 28

Rugby player Gavin is feeling the pressure, following in the footsteps of past “Strictly” stars Matt Dawson and Austin Healey. But he’s a natural ballroom boy, already indulging in leg-shaving, hair-styling and eyebrow-plucking. Katya worried about getting the romance out of him, but seems to have found the key, as the couple had a nice natural chemistry both on and off the floor. Little-boy Gavin still had bashful and awkward moments in his waltz, but maintained good posture and even managed a smile. Newly brunette Katya had one of the evening’s nicer dresses: a pale-peach prom dress with copious amounts of back bling.

Overall: Better than expected, but if he finds the waltz hard to express, how will he cope with a samba or rumba? Katya is on the case. (“Is she good in the tackle?” snorted Brucie.)


Tina and Jared – Back to (high) school


Sequin-o-meter: 1 – struggles to sparkle

Song: “California Girls”, Katy Perry

Judges’ comments: Len, Craig and Alesha wanted more from the routine than cute. Bruno warned Tina not to stop performing if she went wrong (Alesha: “She did carry on.” Bruno: “Not very well.”)

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 6, 6 – 24

What a love fest. “Jared is so beautiful,” tittered Tina. “My partner is drop-dead gorgeous,” jabbered Jared. “It’s like a first date,” added Tina, in case there was any doubt that this is one of the show’s annual “are they/aren’t they” pairings. Unfortunately, the love fest ended with their cha cha cha routine, which had a fun “Dancing with the Stars”-esque set-up – slinky Tina seducing nerdy Jared – but not nearly enough content or technique, and (“to be fair”, sighed Tina) a fair few mistakes. Surprising, given her obvious capability.

Overall: If Jared can push his partner more and create a strong routine, they could still challenge the leaders.


Ann and Anton – Politically correct


Sequin-o-meter: 3 – strictly sensational

Song: “My Cherie”, Al Martino

Judges’ comments: Bruno likened Ann’s courageous performance to ‘watching the Ark Royal taking on the stormiest of seas”, which she followed with a quick-witted remark before Craig could begin: “The submarine, here he comes.” She also brushed off his “local authority” critique with, “If you think that’s bad, you should see the salsa.” Her waltz kick reminded Len of “Germany during the ‘40s”

Judges’ scores: 2, 5, 5, 5 – 17

And now the one we’ve all been waiting for. Bruce introduced the highly anticipated couple with a joke that was ACTUALLY FUNNY. I know. I was stunned, too. Not brilliant  – “We were going to get the Miliband brothers, but they insisted on dancing together, and they couldn’t decide who would lead” – but still, topical, not about Bruce’s age, and not involving tap dancing.

Ann proved entertaining in rehearsal, putting Anton firmly in his place: “You silly man, why didn’t you say so?” And her waltz, while not the most elegant ever performed on the “Strictly” stage, was certainly respectable, especially given the 8ft height difference between her and Anton.

Overall: Far from the car crash expected, this was charming and amusing in equal measure. Can’t wait to see her salsa!


Kara and Artem – Animal magnetism

web_kara_credit_guy_levySequin-o-meter: 3 – strictly sensational strictly_sensational

Song: “I Like It”, Enrique Iglesias

Judges’ comments: “Miaow, catwoman, come and take me!” panted Bruno. Alesha rightly labelled it the best dance of the night.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 7 – 30

Kara looked like the cat that got the cream discussing Russian sex god Artem, who happily returned the compliment. However, when Kara got the giggles during training, Artem turned into “Mr Terminator”.

This couple get the prize for best week one outfits, Kara in dominatrix barely-there leopard print and Artem in what Claudia Winkleman clarified on Twitter as “a faux-suede hooded waistcoat”. Whatever it was – yum. More, please.

Kara began with every contestant’s worst nightmare – a fall – but recovered well and took a wardrobe malfunction in her stride during a seriously hot routine. (“Has anyone ever fallen over before?” she moaned. Oh yes. Yes, they have.)

Overall: This smouldering pairing (shouldn’t they have been in the post-watershed show?) look a good bet for the final stages.



Week 1 leaderboard

Pamela/Matt 31

Kara 30

Scott 29

Gavin 28

Jimi 26

Michelle/Tina 24

Felicity 23

Patsy 22

Peter 21

Goldie 20

Ann 17

Paul 16

And we ended with a tribute to the rekindled Robbie and Gary bromance – in traditional boyband fashion, sitting on special high stools. More big names like that, please, “Strictly”! Back next week for foxtrot and salsa, plus Claudia’s debut on the Sunday results show, and “It Takes Two” every weeknight (Come on!). In the meantime…keep dancing!

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