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Strictly speaking

Posted on November 24, 2014


square-robin-baackPost-Blackpool week is traditionally a Strictly slump, and there was malaise in the form of Frankie enduring Viennese, Steve wincing through jive and Mark visibly relieved to survive tango. However, we also had the majestic return of Jake’s hips, Pixie’s jazz hands and Simon’s prospects.

A less-welcome return? Ballroom-lite numbers and accompanying hyperbolic scoring. Like the rest of the nation, I Macarena-ed at home while whooping for Jake, but that was not – repeat NOT – a perfect samba. Steve’s illegal lifts went unremarked upon, and Caroline’s decided lack of foxtrot only got the briefest mention by the judges.

This is happening on our watch, people. Do we want conceptual performances that bear only the faintest relation to ballroom AKA Dancing with the Stars? That seems to be new director of choreography Jason Gilkison’s endgame, and it saddens me deeply. We have plenty of shows featuring ballroom cameos (Got To Dance, Britain’s Got Talent and so on) – only one where it gets a starring role.

That is, until it’s ousted by shaky props and whatever travesties will occur during “Around the World” week. After which we won’t have to worry about voting to leave Europe. The whole world will disown us. Thought an international theme would sensitively and intelligently explore the dances’ cultural heritage? THINK AGAIN! Step forward Holland, Turkey and – ye gods – Argentine tango to “Zorba the Greek”. End. Of. Days.

In happier news, Claudia is back, and she’s brought a fez. Fezzes are cool. The one moment of genuine emotion on Saturday night came from her teary reaction to the warm response from dancers, judges and audience alike. I may have had something in my eye…

Less successful: her co-presenter’s dogged campaign to provide constant commentary for the easily distracted. Why bother watching or listening to the show when Tess is there, echoing every word and pointing out every standing ovation? What a vital contribution to humanity! Low point: bothering Mary Berry, Our Lady of Baking. Bezza, in turn, treated Tess with the polite disdain she normally reserves for subpar scones.

Other hits and misses:

  • The judges reaching a new level of hamminess in their opening: Craig Charleston-ing for dear life, while Len “pretended” to nap. HIT
  • Vastly annoying camerawork this week, ensuring most footwork remained a mystery and Frankie wasn’t alone in her motion sickness. MISS
  • Sunetra’s train noise is the new Judy’s Spartacus. HIT
  • Much as I loved seeing Claudia, I was rather sad to lose Zoë. Can we please trade in Tess pronto? MISS

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Frankie’s Viennese More solid than spectacular, but the most polished ballroom of the week. Best entertainment, of course, goes to Jake and Janette’s gleeful lunacy.
  • Best costume: Caroline’s deceptively attractive evil dress Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…
  • Best move: Director breathlessly zooming in on Jake’s twerking Get those two a room.
  • Best line: Claudia’s “Hello, Mr Payer. I’ve missed you.” We’ve missed you too, Claud. Runner-up: her list of Tom Jones puns, and this: “That’s your highest score! Other than Donny Week, and we all know that doesn’t count.”


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Voluminous white sheet that screamed last-minute toga party.

Steve and Ola – Dropping the ball

steve-7585638-low res-struggles sparkleThis backdoor pilot for Strictly Come Bring It On! (coming to our screens hopefully never) confirmed that cheerleaders do indeed lift one another, and… cue reel of lifts. We’re not even pretending these are illegal anymore, are we? Right. Civilisation is crumbling. You heard it here first. Actual jive, tossed in between tricks, was stiff, clompy and laboured, lacked bounce or pointed feet, and both Steve’s top half and fixed manic goldfish grin assumed Judy-like MDF rigidity. Ola also let the side down by finding a cheerleading outfit that was somehow less obscene than her usual attire. Bye bye dad votes.

Song: “Little Bitty Pretty One”, Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers

Judges’ comments: Len made the requisite “tough dance for big burly sportsman” excuse, but noted “a few suspect things”. Bruno said he tackled jive like a charging quarterback, though lost timing. Craig called it stompy and flat-footed, timing atrocious and free arm troubling. Darcey said he played it well, but wasn’t on top of the beat.

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 6, 6 – 23

Caroline and Pasha – Take the rough with the smooth

caroline-7585673-low res-simply so soThis may be my favourite ever Terrible Pasha Acting segment, and believe me, it’s a long list. Poor Caroline, finally getting over her understandable desire to perform as though teetering on a rickety bridge over hot lava, threw caution to the wind and was duly sabotaged by her suddenly sentient gown, which conspired to tangle with her heel multiple times. Unsurprisingly, that affected her performance and made her particularly cautious in lifts and transitions, but still a lovely jazzy smooth with strong accents. Only a teeny glimmer of foxtrot, most of which we weren’t privy to because of the infuriating camerawork, and again perhaps choreographed just beyond her level – grabbing at details rather than fully embodying them.

Song: “Mack the Knife”, Robbie Williams (COPYCAT KLAXON: Roger Black and Camilla)

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised her sex appeal and Pasha’s choreography. Craig loved the moment on the stairs, lines and kicks, and good save from the stumble. Darcey said she was brave to attempt so many tricky transitions and very accomplished performance, but wanted more extension. Len liked the class and glamour, though wanted more in hold.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 9, 9 – 33

Pixie and Trent – All that glitters

pixie-7585699-low res-strictly sensationalThis week in Pixie’s Very Glamorous Pop Star Life, a radio awards ceremony in Edinburgh at which she performed without even taking her coat off. GLAMOUR! Far more stardust in their showgirl Charleston, which (hurrah) actually offered a sexy, stylish version of the dance rather than the usual gurning cartoon, albeit giving off something of a musical theatre school end-of-term show vibe. High voltage and insanely jam-packed, but impressively delivered, only stalling on the lifts. Pixie’s legs were a bit too bent, which made the basics look squat, otherwise strong, slick and compelling.

Song: “Sparkling Diamonds” from Moulin Rouge!

Judges’ comments: Craig praised her precision and enormous amount of detail. Darcey’s never seen someone fit so many steps into one dance, and Pixie still found time for detail and style. Just needs the same dynamics in the lifts. Len enjoyed the razzle dazzle and attack. Bruno said it had “the explosive brilliance of a firework display”, and loved the steps overload: “In my case, too much is never enough.”

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 – 37

Mark and Karen – Monkey business

mark 7585819-low res--1simply so soWeep for Mark, forced to trek all the way to Tenerife for his “day job” AKA leeching off a low-rent dating show by interviewing deluded wannabes. He’s really in touch with the working man, you know? Anyhow, this meant limited training time, evident in their slightly rough tango with wandering hold and too-straight legs, meaning it was decidedly lacking in proper drive. However, decent staccato and intent, canny dramatic drag from Karen, and end leap that went from powerful to alarming in a matter of seconds – less lovers’ quarrel, more the kind of escaped zoo animal attack report that ends “…and all they found was her right shoe.”

Song: “Love Runs Out”, OneRepublic

Judges’ comments: Darcey thought he brought drama, but led from the arms rather than the core and transitions needed finessing. Len liked the intensity, though it went a bit wild and a little incident. Bruno compared his end lunge with Planet of the Apes’ Caesar and noted some mistakes. Craig said it was testosterone-fuelled, but focused.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32

Frankie and Kevin – Spinning out

frankie-7585981-low res-strictly sensationalStop press: Viennese waltz makes people dizzy! Kevin… Oh, never mind. I lost patience with this VT. More important, it’s the return of the wobbly lamp-post – and it’s brought a friend! Frankie (beaded shawl and the carcasses of a thousand robins festooned around her hem) clearly endured rather than enjoyed this dance, but a graceful hold, decent swing and sway, clean if occasionally skippy delivery and I think a good fleckerl, but who the hell knows? It was rendered meaningless by the sugar-high cameraman scampering round them madly focusing everywhere but on their feet. In contrast to Caroline and Pasha’s ambitious tendencies, slightly too sweet and safe – needed more power to truly wow – but consistent.

Song: “What’s New Pussycat?”, Tom Jones

Judges’ comments: Len loved the detail. Purring Bruno called it “effortlessly beautiful”. Craig praised her hands, but noted her right foot turns in. Darcey agreed: lovely technique, though sickle in feet ruining the lines in her leg lifts and slide.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38

Jake and Janette – Shake your tail feather

jake-7586074-low res-strictly sensationalAfter an uninspiring tour of Albert Square, lovably dour Jake transformed into the snake-hipped loon we all adored in his salsa. The hip action returned, if not particularly connected to actual samba motion, plus the admirable commitment to entertaining at no little cost to personal dignity (see also: Janette growing actual tail feathers). Clompy footwork meant wild, sometimes forced basics, lacked arm extension and samba rolls stuck in flypaper, but shimmies galore, an unforgettable climactic crotch jump and some of the filthiest Macarena I’ve ever seen. And I went to leavers’ discos in the early Noughties. As pure samba, a hot mess – and certainly not 10-worthy; as a bonkers party dance, totally irresistible.

Song: “Macarena”, Los Del Rio

Judges’ comments: Bruno pointed out the sticky rolls, but “unashamed out-there mental fun, and I loved it”. Craig thought the bounce was false, but shimmies fantastic and “your bottom went off like a jackhammer”. Darcey was reduced to alternately laughing and weeping. Len called it a “wham-ba of a samba – what it lacked in technique it made up for in spirit”.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 9 – 38

Sunetra and Brendan – Less is sometimes less

sunetra-7584383-low res-struggles sparkleSensing imminent bottom-two disaster, Sunetra brought out the big guns AKA an entire school’s worth of cute kiddies, as her son turned assembly into Strictly reconstruction. Family prop points: 10. Unfortunate that she had to follow Jake’s crowd-pleasing hips-a-thon, which made this understated waltz fall slightly flat, not helped by a few stumbles and Brendan having to nudge her back into hold every three seconds. Beautiful elegance, style and feeling as always, but need more at this stage: crisper footwork, distinct rise and fall, exaggerated shaping. Perfectly pleasant rendering of another resolutely trad routine from Brendan, bucking the conceptual madness trend, but simplicity can expose faults. She might have been better served by a clearer “theme” – the supposed train romance was stalled by engineering works.

Song: “Last Request”, Paolo Nutini

Judges’ comments: Craig said she followed beautifully, but gripped onto Brendan. Darcey praised her movement across the floor, though her topline loosened. Len liked the romantic feel, pivots and ronde, but a bit shaky and a little incident. Bruno said her turns and body contact improved, though agreed her topline needs work.

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30

Simon and Kristina – Boy wonder

simon-7584409-low res-strictly sensationalThe “comedy” VT movie trailer for a Simon-themed film was tragically awful, but – even more tragic – looked more coherent than most big-screen dance ventures. Their salsa hinged on the meeting of Simon, a BIG STAR (rather a stretch), and Kristina, his oh-so-intense, slightly deranged super-fan (less of a stretch). Once that nonsense was disposed of, the salsa itself had fantastic rhythm, high energy, ambitious lifts (Kristina has taken out Janette’s health insurance) and wonderfully intricate armography, but giant steps meant snatched transitions and noticeable lack of hip action, plus rather too manic towards the end. Swapping out two or three tricks to create breathing room would have made all the difference, but still a big improvement for the once doomed pair.

Song: “Let’s Hear It for the Boy”, Deniece Williams (COPYCAT KLAXON: Scott Maslen and Natalie)

Judges’ comments: Darcey said he got a bit overexcited and noted the overlarge steps, but wonderfully relaxed. Bruno: “Footloose and fancy free! That’s what a salsa should be.” Craig praised the “incredible” armography, but wanted more hip rotation.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36


Frankie and Kevin – 38

Jake and Janette – 38

Pixie and Trent – 38

Simon and Kristina – 36

Caroline and Pasha – 33

Mark and Karen – 32

Sunetra and Brendan – 30

Steve and Ola – 23

Slight movement in the leading pack, with Frankie and Jake rising at the expense of Simon and Pixie, while Steve drops to the bottom.


In this week’s uniform fetish dress-up, the boys were policemen, the girls a cross between convicts and high-end strippers. More important: the return of fallen comrades Anya and Robin! It was like the last scene of Les Mis. Also a tiny glimmer of same-sex ballroom, just to get the Mail frothing at the mouth.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

True story: I nearly bought a muted off-white cushion cover that looked exactly like this dress. I decided it was too dull. And I live in an entirely monochrome flat.

Barry Manilow and his astonishing Madame Tussauds work-in-progress face, the one moving independently of the other, got the audience going with boogie-tastic “Copacabana” and then weirded them the hell out by summoning the ghost of Louis Armstrong and stomping all over his song. The quickest rise and fall in Strictly history.

Len’s lens highlights:

  • Jake’s best Chippendale moves.
  • Len explaining a 10 doesn’t necessarily signify perfection, so much as it’s better than a 9. OH LEN. This makes no sense, and yet it explains so much…
  • Darcey twerking like someone’s drunk aunt. Just NO.goodbye-7586414-low res-
  • Poor Caroline having her slip repeated in slow mo.

In the dance-off: Steve and Ola, and Sunetra and Brendan. Darcey saved Steve for – I quote – “the guns”, while everyone else saved Sunetra for non-pervy dance reasons. Classy exit speech from Steve. Brendan looked… less than thrilled to be staying.

What did you make of post-Blackpool week? Who impressed you? And what do you make of “Around the World”? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week, when the cultural mash-up horror is upon us. In the meantime… keep dancing

In the November issue of Dance Today, Strictly‘s Robin Windsor speaks to Zoë Anderson about recovery from injury; in the December issue of Dance Today (on sale on December 8), Pixie Lott and Trent Whiddon speak to Claire Saul about training and technique. Dance Today is now available in around 80 WHSmith stores across the UK.

Simon Oliver has been production editor of Dancing Times since 2010 and is highly experienced in design across print and online magazine production. Throughout his career, Simon has worked on a diverse range of subjects including music, family history, book collecting and poker.

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