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Strictly Speaking – the final

Posted on December 21, 2015


Never question the commitment of boyband voters. A final that zigzagged between possible winners (well, apart from Katie) ended up feeling somewhat redundant as Jay’s fans carried him over the finishing line regardless of his distinctly underwhelming performance. Aliona’s dubious choices – an unshowy showdance, not repeating their jive lest they sully a “perfect moment” – made it look like we were heading for another Puppetgate, but many viewers seemed happy to base votes on total series performance. Essentially the reverse logic of the dance-off; the judges following that in previous weeks would, of course, have given us a very different line-up in the final. And it was hard to not miss Anita and Gleb, who would have injected some much-needed energy into an evening that was, for the most part, fairly lacklustre.

So, the judges. It’s possible – POSSIBLE – they wanted Kellie to clinch it, but they keep their cards SO close to their chests. And thus ends another futile campaign to guide the public to the “right” decision. If there’s one thing we abhor, it’s rampant bias. Still, the producers should be happy with the first male winner since Louis Smith in 2012, while Aliona completes a triumphant comeback by cruising to her second pro victory. That’s the real J word.

Despite the usual exhortations about this series having the highest standard ever, it was far from a vintage final. However, reflecting a year with far too much interference, theming and gimmicks, that was mainly due to creative decisions rather than the dancing itself. Judges’ Choice is crying out to be scrapped (why not Viewers’ Choice instead?) – picking routines that need improvement only works if it’s just the performance that could come up a level, not the choreography, styling and music choice. Let’s go back to basics: two successful routines (preferably a ballroom and a Latin), so we can see everyone at their best and vote accordingly. Otherwise it becomes more Strictly Come Choreographing than Strictly Come Dancing.

Other hits and misses:

  • A winner of an opening number, whizzing around backstage to show everyone hard at work, Craig rehearsing for Look Back in Anger, and Gleb reunited…with the camera. HIT
  • Montages. Montages. So many montages. The second show in particular was overflowing with filler, recapping and timewasting so relentlessly that the result itself felt muted. Janette’s “Yawn” sign became a rather apposite summary. MISS
  • Mary Berry filled a good 20 minutes reading the terms and conditions aloud. She’s forgiven because she’s Mary Berry. HIT
  • We have an epidemic of pivots. Please stop. MISS
  • My personal highlight was, without doubt, the returning contestants’ group number – a glorious mess from start to finish. Also a reminder of how little we missed Andre. (Seriously? Children come up to you to gush about your Jack Sparrow? Like hell they do.) HIT
  • Not much in the way of showmance this year, but Jay and Aliona’s lingering winners’ embrace should fuel speculation for a day or so. HIT
  • It really was the Ellie Goulding of finals. And also featured Ellie Goulding. MISS

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Georgia’s Charleston Fab-u-lous.
  • Best costume: Aliona’s glitterball paso bra Just needed a trophy to match.
  • Best move: God of Thunder Pasha descending from the heavens Give the people what they want.
  • Best line: Claud advising Georgia to watch one of Craig’s shows before committing That’s one of his many “West End shows”. Ahem.

First show

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

tess-claudia-bbc-guy-levyAh, one final accessorising disaaaaahster for the road. What, oh what, was that ginormous belt-cum-corset? Claud: another sack.

Judges’ choice

Just cruel to invite people to a private cinema and NOT show them the new Star Wars film. Also cruel: these picks.

Jay and Aliona – Final exam

jay-mcguiness-aliona-vilani-quickstepbbc-guy-levysimply so soFirst time round, this disappointing quickstep was littered with errors and overshadowed by the previous week’s wonder-jive. (Do you sense a theme here?) Still an overloaded, choppy routine from Aliona stymied by the absurd music choice, myriad technical issues because of the complexity, and far too much faffing at the start with mortar boards and gowns, but fewer obvious mistakes and more consistent topline from Jay at least. Would have loved to see a number he could really perform, as that’s the aspect he’s needed to improve most over the series – if Judges’ Choice is about growth, it seems odd to select a routine that doesn’t allow for much of it.

Song: “My Generation”, The Who

Judges’ comments: Len noted mistakes, but very slick. Bruno agreed he’s incredible, despite the stumbles. Craig said he danced with ease and maintained his topline. Darcey thought he was in charge and led Aliona beautifully.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36 (Up from 25)

Georgia and Giovanni – The emperor’s new clothes

georgia-may-foote-giovanni-pernice-rumbabbc-guy-levysimply so soWell this is just silly. Len HATED this rumba routine first time round, so asking for a repeat is asking for either a) another failure or b) a massive overhaul of the number during a week when the couples have another two dances to worry about. In the event, it was still a stubbornly static rumba with way too much languid posing, but Len decided to pretend it was all amazing now, lest anyone stop to question the infallible logic of Judges’ Choice. Plus he spent all week thinking up that “double-oh heaven” pun. How about instead we have a routine that involves Georgia actually moving her feet? Well performed, but essentially flawed.

Song: “Writing’s On The Wall” from Spectre

Judges’ comments: Bruno was “smitten by the sex kitten”, but a balance issue. Craig saw more hip action and control, and loved the “delicious” back bend. Darcey said she’s become a “sensuous lady”. Len imagined lots of great new content.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36 (Up from 27)

Kellie and Kevin – A swing and a miss

kellie-bright-kevin-clifton-bbc-guy-levysimply so soAnother Judges’ Choice, another dodgy number. Sigh. Did anyone want to see this ghastly NotTango again? They did not. Did it deserve Craig’s first 10 of the series? Oh my god did it not. Still an interminable intro with sub-Austin Powers mugging and a music choice that MAKES NO SENSE. Once in hold, clean delivery, less skippy than last time and stronger topline, but still too upright, lacked elegant shaping, and the smiley Swinging Sixties concept stopped it from fulfilling Len’s “fiery” tango brief. Kevin mouthing the lyrics to camera really didn’t help with that.

Song: “You Really Got Me”, The Kinks (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ricky Whittle and Natalie)

Judges’ comments: Craig said it was sharp, clean and dynamic. Darcey decided the weird mix with the Sixties worked, and “yummy” topline. Len said they ironed out all the kinks. GROAN. Bruno called it different and imaginative.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (Up from 27)


Katie and Anton – No quick fix

katie-derham-anton-du-beke-bbc-guy-levystruggles sparkleAnd let’s complete the terrible Judges’ Choice set with a fiendish quickstep that Katie hasn’t a hope in hell of delivering. What fun! It began oh-so-promisingly with Katie getting her hat stuck to her face, and the mistakes followed from there: stumbles, fudged transitions, tons of gapping and went out of sync several times. Moments of gorgeous style, but needed much longer training time to join them up into a coherent number – footwork still miles behind her serene upper body. Promising in Week 7, glaringly out of place in a final.

Song: “42nd Street” from 42nd Street (COPYCAT KLAXON: Matt Baker and Aliona)

Judges’ comments: Darcey said she did well under pressure and the style suits her. Len noted mistakes, but great posture. Bruno loved the lush presentation, and she covered it slightly better when she went wrong. (I’ll miss Bruno’s backhanded compliments.) Craig pointed out the hat problem, chasses were out of time and she had to jump into one of the sections, but improvement.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31 (Up from 26)


Kellie and Kevin – 40

Jay and Aliona – 36

Georgia and Giovanni – 36

Katie and Anton – 31


It’s time to throw out the rulebook – unlike every other week on the show. With the usual ballroom and Latin routines sliding ever further into showdance territory, perhaps it’s time to redefine the concept of “showdance”, lest we end up with a bizarre grab bag of ill-conceived numbers…

Jay and Aliona – Master of none

jay-mcguiness-aliona-vilani-showdance-bbc-guy-levystruggles sparkleDoing a greatest hits number is a perfectly fine idea, but you do need to jazz it up a bit – look at e.g. Mark Ramprakash’s showdance, which combines a series summary with new, risky elements. Other than the upside down wirework opening – less Spiderman, more dead bird falling off its perch – and alarming addition of Aliona’s luminous yellow knickers, there was nothing revelatory or thrilling here. It was basically the routine you do when trying not to distract from the musical guest in the results show. Only a rehearsal of that. At half-speed. Accomplished, but dull.

Song: “Can’t Feel My Face”, The Weeknd

Judges’ comments: Len said it was a trip down memory lane, but wanted more excitement. Bruno said it was well put together. Craig was disappointed – he’s capable of so much more, and it needed a proper climax. Darcey praised the delivery, but wanted him to go out with a bang.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35

Georgia and Giovanni – Blind alley

georgia-may-foote-giovanni-pernice-showdance-bbc-guy-levysimply so soGiovanni really loves his team-building exercises. First the rumba trust fall, now a chunk of the dance where he guides blindfolded Georgia around the floor (and straight into Janice from Accounting). It’s an engaging stunt, and does show both the strength of their partnership and how much she’s grown in confidence, but this is another one that doesn’t really go anywhere. Giovanni cures her blindness through the power of DANCE, yes, otherwise it’s confetti, contemporary wafting, lots and lots of spinning, and some slightly half-hearted ballroom. Definitely more emotional engagement than Jay’s limp effort, and admirable commitment to a risky routine, but not quite a wow moment. Also: Coldplay dirge. Oof.

Song: “Fix You”, Coldplay

Judges’ comments: Bruno made the obligatory Fifty Shades reference, and praised the seamless fusion and chemistry. Craig noted her shoulder came up, but loved the blindfolded section and passion. Darcey found it lyrical and emotional. Len said it was poignant and she’s a lovely ballroom dancer.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36

 Kellie and Kevin – Full steam ahead

kellie-bright-kevin-clifton-showdance-bbc-guy-levysimply so soAnother retro number from Kevin (colour me stunned), complete with nostalgic steam train and gurning, flapper-tastic lindy hop. Unashamedly aimed at both the Len vote and the granny vote, but the crazy energy levels and OTT musical theatre characterisation do wake everyone up after two soporific showdances. It could use more tonal variation, and messy in places, chasing both music and steps – just because it’s lindy rather than ballroom doesn’t mean it gets a free pass. Also makes their choice of Charleston for the final round a bit suspect, as there’s a fair bit of overlap. But great fun to watch, and her professional delivery – though a bit distancing – is certainly impressive.

Song: “Ding-Dong Daddy of the D-Car Line”, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies

Judges’ comments: Craig: “A-maze-ing.” Darcey said she stretched herself, and also kept the control. Len called her the belle of the ball. Bruno said she brought her A game at the right time – that’s how a champion wins. (Or, you know, not…)

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 

Katie and Anton – Flaming out

katie-derham-anton-du-beke-showdance-bbc-guy-levystruggles sparkleYeah. Let’s try not to think about the Gleb Special-filled showdance that this replaced. It will make us too sad. Basically, Anton went for full operatic excess, and landed somewhere near am dram, third-rate magic show. The flames, Ancient Rome styling and wildly excessive music showed up their comparative weakness – clunky transitions, underpowered tango, casual shaping, and lifts brave but looked like a major struggle. Yet another trust fall, this one nearly ending in back surgery. Commendable effort, but the end result was vaguely camp and unintentionally hilarious.

Song: “O Fortuna”, Carl Orff (COPYCAT KLAXON: Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan, Richard Arnold and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Darcey loved the opening, but they didn’t match the strength of the music. Some nerves and unsure in transitions. Len agreed the music overpowered them. Bruno saw some stumbles, but good storytelling. Craig said it wasn’t up there with the rest of them – too rigid and stiff.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31


Kellie and Kevin – 40 + 40 = 80

Georgia and Giovanni – 36 + 36 = 72

Jay and Aliona – 36 + 35 = 71

Katie and Anton – 31 + 31 = 62

Second show

…and out Katie goes. Once more, was this really the right choice of finalist?

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

claudia-tess-bbc-guy-levyNight fever, night fever. We know how to do it. Claud: in a repurposed rug.

Contestants’ choice

Welcome to the NotJive/Is there a new film out this week? portion of our evening.

Jay and Aliona – Olé!

jay-mcguiness-aliona-vilani-paso-bbc-guy-levystrictly sensationalAliona reiterates that Jay is her favourite partner. Harry Judd punches another hole in his wall. They picked a dance they can improve on (making Judges’ Choice…even more redundant), namely the “bull’s bollocks” paso. Frankly I can’t see Bruno improving on that comment. Anyhow, this was a strong number first time out and even better here, showcasing Jay’s excellent technique and cool control. Still not the meanest matador around – more likely to win over a bull with his puppy eyes than slaughter it – but superb shaping, much more intent and focus, better outward projection, and fantastic partnering.

Song: “It’s My Life”, Bon Jovi (COPYCAT KLAXON: Ray Fearon and Camilla)

Judges’ comments: Len thought it was powerful and clean, and he’s loved watching him. Bruno praised his exceptional arm movements. Craig said he had no personality to start with, but now dances with drive and passion. Darcey can still see the sensitive man within, but he’s added confidence and strength. He’s number one in her book (if not in her scores).

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (Up from 33)

Georgia and Giovanni – Razzle dazzle

georgia-may-foote-giovanni-pernice-charleston-bbc-guy-levystrictly sensationalNot much to improve on in this brilliant Charleston, which benefitted from a great music choice that, rather than actively sabotaging the dance, supported and elevated it. Strong, confident, excellent style, more stable spins, fab swivel action, daring lifts, and a lovely buoyant performance. Arguably the most complete package of the series, and if too late to really challenge for the title, they definitely finished on a high.

Song: “Hot Honey Rag” from Chicago (COPYCAT KLAXON: Patsy Kensit and Robin)

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the Fosse touches, but she made it her own – she’s grown as a dancer and a versatile performer. Craig said she’s had one of the biggest journeys and now tells stories through dance. Darcey loved their musicality – she nailed it. Len wrote down “pure joy”, and said he would always hold it up as a great example of Charleston.

Judges’ scores: 10, 10, 10, 10 – 40 (Up from 39)

Kellie and Kevin – Jedi mind tricks

kellie-bright-kevin-clifton-starwars-bbc-guy-levysimply so soYou have to admire the brazen piggybacking onto a defining cultural event – or perhaps you don’t. The opportunism of repeating a Star Wars routine in this of all weeks was pretty shameless, but more than that, doing a NotCharleston right after a superb classic Charleston seemed strategically dodgy. Still too much side by side work in this (and pretty much all their dances), the preteen lightsaber fantasy stuff quickly grew tiresome, and a tad repetitive, but good swivel action, neat and clean, and crisp synchronisation. A competent if gimmicky performance massively overshadowed by Georgia.

Song: “Cantina Band” from Star Wars

Judges’ comments: Craig said she’s one of the most exciting performers in the competition. Darcey called her the princess of precision. Len thought she put the ‘star’ in Star Wars, and deserves to win. Bruno praised the inventiveness and attention to detail.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39 (Up from 32)


Kellie and Kevin – 40 + 40 + 39 = 119

Georgia and Giovanni – 36 + 36 + 40 = 112

Jay and Aliona – 36 + 35 + 39 = 110

jay-mcguiness-aliona-bbc-guy-levy…and after all that, Jay won anyway. Not the most exciting result, and very much one dictated by the experience he brought into the competition (bad luck, improvers), but he’s definitely given us some great numbers. Overall, I’d say it’s been a mixed series, with some fantastic characters, performers and routines, and some distinctly dubious gimmicks and judging decisions.


My hopes for next year:

  • Less theming. Much less theming
  • Sane music choices
  • More consistent choreography
  • A same-sex pairing
  • Scrapping the dance-off for the final few weeks
  • Renewed emphasis on the process – and joy – of learning to dance

Best in Series

  • Best performance: Georgia’s Charleston A wonderful celebration of a strong partnership.
  • Best costume: Katie’s everything She really won the wardrobe lottery. Kellie…did not.
  • Best move: The Gleb Special It will go down in Strictly history.
  • Best line: Darcey to Jay: “Think of why you’re placing your head on her chest.” I’m not sure he ever figured it out, but he KEPT TRYING.

What did you think of the final? Did the right couple win? And what were your favourite – and least favourite – moments of the series? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

Thank you for all your amazing comments, and look forward to doing it all again next year. In the meantime…keep dancing!

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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