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Strictly speaking

Posted on November 5, 2012


Week 5

colin-farewellPhew! After last week’s horror fest – in execution more than premise – Strictly got back on track with a theme-free weekend, bar the occasional grating fireworks gag (mainly bleated out by Tess during links. Has Bruce rubbed off on her, or can they not even trust him with the puns these days?). Plus the training footage returned! Let us do the dance of joy!

But for those worried a less-disaaaastrous show means fewer grumbles from me, fear not, gentle reader…

The Ministry of Funny Scores

I can only assume the judges were marking each celeb out of a different number – Shaky Victoria, for example, out of 20; Lurching Nicky out of 157. Otherwise, why ON EARTH would Craig give both Victoria (one batucada away from full-on train wreck) and Fern (paso limited to extensive eyeliner) the same mark as Louis (arguably soulless, but slickly executed)? And why would Darcey mark beige Nicky the same as hunky boy crush Louis, unless she’s scoring defensively in a desperate bid to quash rumours of said crush? OK, I answered my own question there.

Still, it seems the judges are marking some celebs against past performance, some on expectations and others on…I don’t know, quirkiness of props? Yes, it’s hard to divorce one routine from the overall “J word”, but really, if we’re grading on a curve, Chicago star Denise Van Ringer (thank you, @chrisrubery) should be somewhere around a minus 4 and the late great Johnny and Jerry grabbing perfect scores for remembering to turn up.

The crime wave continues

Hey, producers, want to keep the series fresh and exciting? Want to keep ballroom contemporary and relevant? Forget the “comedy” VTs, creaking showmances and flashes of flesh and try using SOME NEW MUSIC.

This week, six out of 11 routines – more than half, maths fans! – used songs we’ve already had on the show. Not only is this insulting to passionate Strictly-philes, but it limits the potential of a “magic moment”, when the dance, couple and song all come together to create something new and wonderful. If the viewer spends half the performance thinking, “Well, he’s OK, but he’s no Darren Gough,” you’re stuffed.


No intro! No theme stuff! Huzzah!


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

This week’s show is brought to you by the letter B for boob tape. (Not bra. Sadly not bra.) Tess paired her homage-to-Ola fire-engine-red dress with a chunk of mirror strapped round her waist. I like to think this suggested that we, searching viewers, can literally see something of ourselves in her, as we should in all of human kind. Either that or it was an early warning system for possible wardrobe malfunctions.

Kimberley and Pasta (Oh, Bruce…) – On the naughty step

kimberley-pashasimply_so_soPasha wasn’t fazed by his partner’s knee injury: “I’ll just prance around her!” Good to see him taking tips from Ola and Kristina there. Kimberley made a dramatic flying entrance, thankfully more Moulin Rouge! than Widdie, and her injury didn’t limit her quality gyrating and shimmying, but it was a tad salsa lite. We know she can do entertaining pop, but it would be great if Pasha could steer her more towards authentic ballroom. Or develop stronger chemistry. Or – let’s go mad! – how about both?

Song: “Naughty Girl”, Beyoncé (COPYCAT KLAXON: Colin “Snake Hips” Jackson and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Len welcomed the return of Nimble Kimble. One “little incident”, but he enjoyed the, erm, private dance. Bruno: “Tease me to death! So naughty, so saucy, so fiercely sexy!” He loved her hip action and noted her smooth mounts and dismounts – “Have you done that before?!” Craig: “Lascivious, licentious, lubricious, darling.” Darcey praised her lines in the lifts.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 8, 9 – 33

Overall: A fun opening.

Lisa and Robin – Three’s a crowd

lisa-robinsimply_so_soEarly audience favourites face a mid-series dilemma: keep playing to the crowd, or go for technique and gamble on fewer votes, higher marks? Lisa and Robin admirably tried the latter, but the Ribena-styled pair were underwhelming. Their routine was chockfull of tango content and Lisa has improved her posture (though she’s still too square at times), but it was undercut by a lack of dynamics, some vague footwork, the godawful music choice and some kind of distractingly incomprehensible love triangle involving the two of them and a chair. Cliff Notes, please?

Song: “Let’s Stick Together”, Bryan Ferry

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the drama and body contact, but needed sharper footwork. Craig wanted more resistance and glide, but liked the routine. Darcey criticised the turns and wanted it cleaner and sharper, but great performance. Len thought it did have sharpness and attack and just needs refinement. (But he then scored her lower than everyone else.)

Judges’ scores: 7, 7, 6, 7 – 27

Overall: Decent effort.

Richard and Erin – Sliding into debt

richard-erinstruggles_sparkleOh. Rats. The “comedy” VTs weren’t just a Halloween aberration. No longer do the dance of joy! As there wasn’t any training footage to guide us, we could only assume there was a long strategy meeting in which Erin decided to alternate weekly between threatening the judges with fire and smothering them with camp. This foxtrot was brought to you from the Copacabana, where pinstriped Richard kindly popped in to do the tax returns. Erin, also making liberal use of boob tape, sadly couldn’t distract from his shuffling steps and mid-routine meltdown, nor from Tess’s ill-advised post-dance questioning (“Why don’t you reassure our Daily Mail viewers that you’re a big hit with the LADIES now, oh unthreateningly camp one?”) (I paraphrase.)

Song: “Big Spender”, Shirley Bassey (COPYCAT KLAXON: Darren Gough and Lilia)

Judges’ comments: Craig: “Complete dance disaaaaster.” Darcey said he was too wooden and didn’t use his thighs to get him out of trouble. Bruno thought he had “a face like a frozen haddock” and he was “like a puppet when you cut the strings”.

Judges’ scores: 3, 5, 5, 4 – 17

Overall: Unfortunate.

Denise and Ian – Masters of spin

denise-jamesstrictly_sensationalDenise worried she was more of a Latin girl, so Professor Jordan took her to a social night where she could become a LAY-DEE. This isn’t the most original Strictly plotline, but my poor COPYCAT KLAXON is getting worn out. Denise was bewitchingly styled as frothing mint chewing gum with tinselled décolletage (that’s how real ladies do it!) and coped brilliantly with a challenging, constantly spinning Viennese routine – her turns out of hold were particularly impressive. Will her ability to make difficult moves look effortless eventually count against her?

Song: “At Last”, Etta James

Judges’ comments: Len: “Poise, posture, performance and more turns than a Catherine wheel – spectacular.” Bruno called it “a romantic dream set to music” with exquisite rotation and transitions and an impressive fleckerl. Craig: “A-maze-ing!”

Judges’ scores: 9, 8, 9, 9 – 35

Overall: Gorgeous.

Victoria and Brendan – Shaken and stirred

victoria-brendanstruggles_sparkleA fraught training session cemented our fears that samba, the graveyard of so many (and “cursed” Brendan’s exit dance with Sarah Manners, Claire King, Jo Wood and Kelly Brook) would knock our Olympian back down the leaderboard, and thus it came to pass. Even if we could overlook the floppy limbs, shaky steps and distinct lack of sex appeal, Victoria killed any possible audience enjoyment by broadcasting her distress so loudly that passing whales in the north Atlantic gathered to discuss a rescue operation.

Song: “It’s Not Unusual”, Tom Jones (COPYCAT KLAXON: Aled Jones and Lilia)

Judges’ comments: Len waxed lyrical about her bravery in performing in front of people (?!), but admitted it was unstable. Bruno called it shaky and “Las Vegas with a hangover”, demanding more strength and rhythm. Craig said it was awkward, her free arm was forgotten and the batucadas were horrendous. Darcey noted she lost steam at the end.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 6, 5 – 23

Overall: Predictably, a big step backwards.

Louis and Flavia – Beach boy

louis-flaviasimply_so_soI’m not sure about Flavia’s training tactics. If Louis fears letting go will make him look ridiculous, does the introduction of blow-up parrots and hula skirts really help matters? Britain’s favourite grim-faced gymnast traded in the gloriously fake beach bar (recession scenery at its finest) for a samba routine packed full of strong basics – Victoria, that’s how you dance batucadas, FYI. Definite improvement in energy, but he still hasn’t figured out that partner dancing is about connection. He might as well have been sambaing with the parrot. With a chaperone looking on.

Song: “La Bomba”, Ricky Martin

Judges’ comments: Bruno: “You have to be the king of hypnotic pelvic gyrations and rotations!” He noted it turned into salsa sometimes. Craig thought he made it masculine and loved the knee turn, but he lost the double bounce action. Darcey was disappointed in his calculated performance – she wants him to be freer. (Subtext: more naked.) Len was delighted with the recognisable basics, though he messed up the start of the running promenades.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 – 29

Overall: Strong, but lacking.

Colin and Kristina – Ain’t that a kick in the head

colin-kristinasimply_so_soI fear this super-smooth couple have been coasting. Yes, Mr Friend-of-Bond looks suave in tails. Yes, Kristina’s a beguiling Ballroom Barbie in her Come Dancing ball of pink frills. And yes, Colin’s natural musicality means they’ll never be disaaaaastrous. But neither have they made radical improvements. His posture is marginally better. But there’s still gapping. He drives a teeny bit more. But not nearly enough. Their baffling height difference is still the most memorable aspect. And the high kicks. They were nice. Not amazing. Not wow. Just…nice.

Song: “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive”, Johnny Mercer

Judges’ comments: Darcey noted he’s lifting his chin more, but compared his kicks with John Cleese’s Ministry of Silly Walks. Len said it looked like he was dancing on a shag-pile carpet – not enough glide or movement. Bruno liked the extension and sophisticated performance, but agreed with Len on the movement.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27

Overall: Solid.

Nicky and Karen – Missing: one rumba

nicky-karenstruggles_sparkleThe one thing I enjoyed about this performance was Nicky’s desperate attempts to bite back his mirth at the sheer insanity of the enterprise. Either that or he was chewing something particularly stubborn. Karen, meanwhile, was working on a “points per hair flick” basis while attempting a record for the rumba with the fewest linking steps EVER DANCED. Tactically, this was probably wise, but it meant the routine was, at best, two people in not-quite-matching aqua outfits with sparkly dandruff sliding in and out of awkward hugs.

Song: “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”, Aerosmith (COPYCAT KLAXON: Sarah Manners and Brendan)

Judges’ comments: Darcey wanted more dance content. Bruno agreed, but praised Nicky’s intensity and purpose. Craig called it “a series of presentations” – not enough basic steps or hip action.

Judges’ scores: 4, 7, 7, 7 – 25

Overall: Well. That happened.

Fern and Artem – Torso of the week

fern-artemsimply_so_soI confess my first impression was one of wonder. Wonder at the beauty of chiselled man flesh that is our dour Russian stripped to the waist, and wonder at the gradual dissolution of his professional integrity. Still, if the girls can distract from poor celeb footwork with catsuits and cleavage, why can’t the guys? ISN’T THAT WHAT THE SUFFRAGETTES FOUGHT FOR? Anyhow, Fern was also there. She was terribly inspired by her flamenco flirtation lesson and that translated into a riveting opening 10 seconds. Riveting. Unfortunately, it was followed by some confused walking and many, many floor spins.

Song: “Espana Cani”, Pascual Marquina Narro (COPYCAT KLAXON: Jill Halfpenny and Darren, Austin Healey and Erin. Yup, you definitely want to set up those comparisons…)

Judges’ comments: Len thought Fern fizzled, but never exploded. Bruno saw a bit of fire, but then she went back to polishing the floor. Craig was too distracted by Artem to comment. (Artem offered to cover up, but the chorus of boos – and promise of votes – dissuaded him.) Darcey liked the skirt work.

Judges’ scores: 6, 6, 6, 6 – 24

Overall: Could be a winning strategy.

Michael and Natalie – The candyman can

michael-nataliestrictly_sensationalIn a bid to keep Michael’s fighting spirit alive, Natalie took him to Lords. Because…cricketers are renowned for their fire? Bonus points for the literal styling (SWEETEST feeling = candy floss stand, Nat dressed as a sherbet lemon) and ballroom boy Michael gave a smooth, controlled performance, maintaining a decent frame and hitting some great lines. It was slightly too contained and his feet were a bit untidy at times, but definitely proof he’s not a one-hit wonder.

Song: “(I Get The) Sweetest Feeling”, Jackie Wilson (COPYCAT KLAXON: Darren Gough and Lilia)

Judges’ comments: Bruno: “You’re still in the zone, sailing away with confidence and control. I hope you can continue it in the Latin.” You and me both, Bruno. Craig said he nailed the steps, but needs to add style, swing and sway. Darcey called it elegant, graceful and gliding, even salivating over Michael in tails (Louis who?), but wants him to fix his stiff neck. Len: “Best foxtrot of the night.”

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31

Overall: Delightful.

Dani and Vincent – 50s shades of jive

dani-vincentstrictly_sensationalStruggling in training? What you need is a bizarre two-Vincents Happy Days dressing-up sesh! Also ghastly: Dani’s too-long, gauzy, leopard-print dress and Vincent’s Grease wig. I loved the slick routine, packed with side-by-side kicks and flicks and strong footwork, but there was an odd disconnect between the zany ’50s concept and what was essentially a straightforward, almost lowkey jive…set to a contemporary song. Still, if Vincent can chance upon something coherent and properly harness Dani The Actress, the tiny twosome could still challenge the leaders.

Song: “Dance With Me Tonight”, Olly Murs

Judges’ comments: Craig, pushing bluntness to an uncomfortable place in this post-Savile era, noted she didn’t keep her feet together when she went under Vincent’s legs and he “copped a massive eyeful”. Darcey loved the consistent bounce. Len: “It was clean as a whistle, crisp as a Pringle, absolutely fabulous.” Bruno called it “a cutey pie of a jive”, though her turns could be cleaner.

Judges’ scores: 8, 8, 9, 8 – 33

Overall: Adorable, if muted.


Denise and James – 35

Kimberley and Pasha – 33

Dani and Vincent – 33

Michael and Natalie – 31

Louis and Flavia – 29

Lisa and Robin – 27

Colin and Kristina – 27

Nicky and Karen – 25

Fern and Artem – 24

Victoria and Brendan – 23

Richard and Erin – 17

Denise is back on top. Big climb for Dani and fall for Victoria, while Michael stays with the leaders for now and Richard heads back to the bottom.


Does Artem have any shame left? If so, let’s obliterate it! And drag equally topless Pasha and the slightly more clothed boys into his ballroom Chippendales den of sin! (Was this gratuitous? Yes. Am I complaining? No. No, I am not. Remember the suffragettes!) Bafflingly, the sex fest was styled by Miami Vice and set to “A Little Less Conversation”. Make of that what you will.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Lace doilies under a tight white dress? I’m calling this granny brunch chic. Claudia – STOP PRESS – was in black. Ooh and her shoes had teeth on them! Really!

Safe couples: Denise and James, Fern and the Hunk, Kimberley and Pasha, Dani and Vincent, and Louis and Flavia. In the dance-off: Colin and Kristina.

The Wanted flaunted ’elf and safety by clambering over a precarious framework of poles. Judging by their disturbing falsetto, this did not go smoothly in rehearsal.

Claudia, the judges and Len’s lens highlights:

  • Richard’s meltdown with bumbling audio and pained spluttering from Erin, plus Len roaring: “Pull yourself together!” while Bruno howled
  • Darcey fixing Craig’s Vincent quiff
  • Len giving his 9 for Dani a lap of honour
  • Craig salivating over slo mo topless Artem. (At this point, I’m estimating topless Artem makes up a good 37% of the weekend’s entertainment)
  • Bruno protesting when Kimberley focussed on Len. In her defence, she knows her target audience

More safe couples: Michael and Natalie, Victoria and Brendan, Nicky and Karen, and Lisa and Robin. In the dance-off: Richard and Erin.

Andrea Boccelli donned a very shiny suit to belt out “Nessun Dorma” (sadly not “Time To Say Goodbye”…), accompanied by surprisingly shirt-wearing Pasha and barefoot Karen’s dry-ice-wading contemporary tricks extravaganza.

Richard, in the enviable position of making a dramatic improvement purely by remembering his steps, took full advantage of his redemptive dance moment. Still camp, still contained, but all correct. Colin, on the other hand, was noticeably nervy and introduced a string of errors.

Craig, based on the dance-off alone, saved Richard and Erin.

Darcey, after a bit of a ramble, saved Richard and Erin.

Bruno relished the drama of the moment and saved “born again” Richard and Erin. Hallelujah!

A sad farewell to the eternally groovy Colin. Still, he has a bright future ahead of him in some kind of James Bond can-can show. Colin Salmon: Licence to Kick!

No Bruce next week and a double dose of Claudia, woohoo! Do the dance of joy! See you then for more ballroom battling. In the meantime…keep dancing!

The November issue of Dance Today features interviews with Denise Van Outen and Aliona Vilani, while Marianka Swain writes on major ballroom centres around the world.

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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