Dedicated to dance
since 1910.

Buy Latest Issue

Strictly Speaking – week 9

Posted on November 25, 2015


Welcome to Blackpool, where, according to Strictly, the beaches are positively balmy in November, time has stood still since Len’s 1950s heyday, and the local scoring exchange rate is approximately 1:1.5 – 9s and 10s for all the vaguely good boys and girls, and a six feels like a slap in the face with a wet fish. Plus, if you’re at all ambivalent about overproduction cluttering up the space and distracting from actual ballroom…well, buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Not just props, but Human Props dominated proceedings, making the giant floor look like an overcrowded parking space. Did we learn nothing from Jake Wood’s backing dancer-sabotaged Argentine tango? How about the fact that – on a televised competition show – it was a major challenge to even spot our couples among the crowd, let alone figure out how they were performing compared to previous weeks? Nah. Clearly the producers are committed to crafting a dance-themed, live-action Where’s Wally? at all costs.

The result was a bewildering viewer experience, particularly in the scoring department, and frustrating when glimpses of great dancing were stymied by this feast of excess. Nor was it a banner week for quality representation of either Blackpool or ballroom. But…well. It wasn’t dull. So there’s that. If you’re going to mercilessly erode the premise of the show until there’s nothing left but a burnt-out husk, at least throw in some bonkers fun along the way.

Other hits and misses:

  • Downton is gone, and the BBC is dancing on its grave. That’s the theme of the opening group number, in which the pros are hardworking, underappreciated staff and the celebs are a pampered bunch who do much less for a much higher fee. Oh, wait… MISS
  • Len got to do the “Agadoo” dance. I have never seen him look happier. HIT
  • We paid for that prop and we’re damn well going to use it! Cue Craig humping the airborne guitar that would have gone to Jeremy, reassuring us that we did the right thing in not saving him. MISS
  • Training footage was once again swallowed whole by the unfunny “comedy” VTs. The return of Erin (Erin!) was some consolation, but not enough. MISS
  • Andre: no more speeches. NO MORE SPEECHES. MISS
  • My copycat klaxon, it wearies. Yes, we want sane song choices, and this was an improvement on last week, but guys – they are still making music. Should we all chip in for a Strictly Spotify subscription? MISS


Best in Show

  • Best performance: Anita’s paso For good and bad, the pinnacle of this style-over-substance, wildly theatrical night.
  • Best costume: Lack thereof Hello, Anita’s harem of scantily-clad backing hunks.
  • Best move: Jay and Aliona’s neverending lift One more rotation and he would have taken flight.
  • Best line: Len comparing Jamelia with a tram Let’s just say his compliments need work.





Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Both in unflattering mourning, presumably because their stylist entered that seething mass of Human Props and was never seen again. Also: will we ever solve the mystery of Tessbot’s comb-over? What was she hiding under there? Her control panel?

Jay and Aliona – Close, but no cigar

jay-aliona-bbc-guy-levysimply so soAh yes. Jay’s performance arc. Well, given that Craig glimpsed facial expressions this week, I guess it’s stuttered to a close, though not sure Aliona’s instructions to “plaster a clown smile over the bone-deep discomfort, like I’ve been doing since 2013” (I paraphrase) will prove a lasting solution. More important for the ever-eager tabloids, the story of their salsa basically boiled down to rampant flirting, and if Aliona can fancy a Jay grooving in that horrifying sequinned Hawaiian shirt, it must be love. Slick armography, fantastic rhythm and nice relaxed basics, but overlarge steps and overly fast number, so hip action variable. Daring lifts, with the occasional wobble, but the main problem was the numerous distractions from a potentially sensational salsa. Kudos to Jay for managing to pull focus once or twice in his own routine.

Song: “Cuba”, Gibson Brothers (COPYCAT KLAXON: Chris Hollins and Ola)

Judges’ comments: Len said he made Blackpool rock. GROAN. Bruno thought he blended with the professionals, which… Yes. That’s kind of the problem. Craig praised the armography, fluidity and dangerous lifts. Darcey loved the isolations.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36




Jamelia and Tristan – Welcome to the dollhouse

jamelia-tristan-macmanussimply so soA dull waxworks field trip, briefly enlivened by the implications of Tristan’s suggestion that Jamelia pose as one AKA stand still and never speak. His original plan of “accidentally” losing her at sea didn’t pan out. Now, this was by far the most egregious theming on a night of eye-watering chaos, mainly because dolls are fundamentally creepy, and adults posed as dolls looks like the arty crime scene in a Scandi detective show. Once you got past that (and Tristan’s ghastly Ribena-coloured tails), there was actually a decent, occasionally charming quickstep. Gapping, certainly, and frame and footwork hit and miss, but it showed massive improvement from Jamelia – fast, buoyant, confident, moved well and no glaring errors. In a less ringer-tastic/rigorously scripted series, it might even have given her a stay of execution.

Song: “I’m A Believer”, The Monkees (COPYCAT KLAXON: Chelsee Healey and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Bruno praised the content, but she lost her frame. Craig agreed, noting her ballroom has come a long way. Darcey thought she kept the performance going from beginning to end. Len said she deserved… to be in Blackpool. Ouch.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 – 31




Anita and Gleb – Red or dead

anita-rani-gleb-savchenko-bbc-guy-levystrictly sensationalAnita deftly knocked Georgia off her Northern Lass throne with some Blackpool-themed Family prop points, while Gleb lost feeling in all extremities. Surely that might have persuaded him to keep his clothes on, but no – he and three other topless male dancers formed the beefcake core of this screamingly operatic and homoerotic number. Red sheets! Bulging pecs! Capes! Leaps! Drops! Truly, it had everything. Well, except enough continuous paso – compare with Kevin and Susanna’’s effort. Dynamic use of accents, nice flamenco and drama with a capital D, but it would be great to see a Gleb routine with less floorwork, tricks and…well, Gleb. Even if that bolero jacket did give us all the Strictly Ballroom feels. Still, fantastic work from committed Anita, more than keeping pace with her stage school-trained castmates, and certainly the OTT highlight of a nutty night.

Song: “Malaguena”, Connie Francis (COPYCAT KLAXON: Aled Jones and Lilia, Natalie Cassidy and Vincent, Chelsee Healey and Pasha)

Judges’ comments: Craig loved the drama and Spanish line. Darcey thought it was both forceful and detailed. Len praised the mood and passion. Bruno panted over the prime beef, and said she embodied the heart and soul of Spain.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 9, 9 – 37




Katie and Anton – Blast from the past

katie-derham-anton-du-beke-bbc-guy-levysimply so soOh, how we’ve missed Erin – both voice of wisdom and occasional provider of camp insanity. Anyhow, her American smooth advice was basically “Be your elegant self”, though this routine was less about Katie, more about Anton making his Fred and Ginger retro dreamscape a reality. That resulted in a pleasantly old-fashioned number, styled appropriately with Anton in top hat and tails and Katie looking fabulous while sporting the corpses of 300 swans. Good foxtrot, but mistakes in the open sections, particularly coming in and out of lifts. (The extra dancers, it should be noted, were a definite source of confusion.) Bit of a newsreaders doing Children in Need vibe, and not exactly revelatory, but enjoyable nostalgia.

Song: “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head”, Dean Martin (COPYCAT KLAXON: Fiona Phillips and Brendan, Robbie Savage and Ola)

Judges’ comments: Darcey loved her film star glamour, but needs to smooth out transitions. Len called it her best dance. Bruno thought it was stylistically impeccable. Craig said she looked lost after the lifts, but elegant.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 9, 9 – 35




Peter and Janette – Deep trouble

peter-andre-janette-manrara-bbc-guy-levystruggles sparkleCongratulations! You win the prize for this series’ Most Aggravating “Comedy” VT! Let’s gloss over the time travel and (shudder) two Peters, shall we? This was a shambolic jive – loose, messy, heavy, and, like several of the night’s routines, severely lacking in content. Particularly noticeable here as (a) the jive was so poorly executed it was practically unrecognisable, and (b) the frenetic framing was singularly charmless. Lowlights included the fake camera nearly colliding with the real one, Peter relentlessly eyeballing the lens, and whatever the hell Janette’s costume was – bondage Big Bird meets Silly String corsetry? No real progress from Week One, as Peter refuses to engage with unfamiliar style and technique. Since the joy of the show is seeing people learn and grow, he’s proving a major disappointment.

Song: “River Deep, Mountain High”, Tina Turner (COPYCAT KLAXON: Alex Jones and James)

Judges’ comments: Len wanted crisper movement. Bruno liked the performance, but (as he’d warned before) Peter needs to make the style of the dance distinguishable. Craig found it flat-footed and lacking retraction. Darcey agreed his weight was too far back.

Judges’ scores: 6, 7, 8, 8 – 29




Georgia and Giovanni – Over the moon

georgia-may-foote-giovanni-pernice-bbc-guy-levystrictly sensationalNo, Giovanni. NO SINGING. See what havoc Joanne Clifton hath wrought? This American smooth offered peak Disney princess: Georgia, in a pink duvet cover gown festooned with flower petals, descending from the heavens on a sparkly moon, and then swept off her feet by Giovanni’s prince (and his many distracting friends). Excellent Viennese, with good fluidity and a strong frame, and another confident performance, the only hiccup coming in a stuttering group lift. Curse you, Human Props! Total aspiration for the under-tens, and an unstoppable tidal wave of impressively florid overemoting for the rest of us. Would love to see it without the similarly attired backing dancers – there were times when it was genuinely hard to figure out who was who.

Song: “I Have Nothing”, Whitney Houston (COPYCAT KLAXON: Christopher Parker and Hanna, Phil Daniels and Flavia)

Judges’ comments: Bruno called it “pure ballroom bliss”. Craig noted the mistiming in the lift, but she’s come into her own. Darcey praised her grace. Len was blown away.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38




Helen and Aljaž – Me, myself and I

helen-george-aljaz-skorjanec-bbc-guy-levysimply so soHow kind of the producers to give the multiple voices in Helen’s head their own avatars. I’m sure that wasn’t worrying for Aljaž AT ALL. This Charleston started out slickly – crisp side by side sync, strong swivel action, full-on stage school wide smiles and jazz hands – but gradually unravelled: a laboured lift, a slip on the steps, and several rare timing issues. If you’re going to forgo the quirky slapstick form of Charleston favoured by Strictly and instead go for glossy production number, you can’t afford any errors. And perhaps a mistake to miss an opportunity to show/manufacture Helen’s fun side, rather than do yet another perfect doll number. Still, bonus points for the Army of Helens – like Dumbo’s pink elephant hallucination, only even more alarming.

Song: “Anything Goes” from Anything Goes (COPYCAT KLAXON: Emma Bunton and Darren, Scott Maslen and Natalie)

Judges’ comments: Craig found it too controlled. Darcey loved the defined lines and tap sequences. Len wanted more in hold, but polished. Bruno praised her Broadway style, but a mistake on the steps.

Judges’ scores: 8, 9, 8, 9 – 34




Kellie and Kevin – Desk jockeys

kellie-bright-kevin-clifton-bbc-guy-levysimply so soRaise your hand if you already know more about the Clifton family than you ever needed to? Yup. In that case, let’s skip this VT and half of It Takes Two. Also: perhaps don’t show pro competitors doing trad ballroom before unveiling… this. This being a number that, following Helen’s lead, was determined to make Musicals Week happen: see typewriters, (ugh) deskography, and ghastly ham acting. The actual quickstep was good – light, buoyant and travelled well around the big floor – though some gapping and still a lot of tension in the frame. A bit too much trotting and the stop/start choreography robbed it of fluidity, so more a well-executed series of moves than a cohesive showstopper.

Song: “9 to 5”, Dolly Parton (COPYCAT KLAXON: Richard Arnold and Erin)

Judges’ comments: Darcey said it was a wonderful dance to finish a wonderful dance. Len: “File it under B for brilliant.” Bruno called it another outstanding performance. Craig thought it was tight and clean.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 – 37





Georgia and Giovanni – 38

Anita and Gleb – 37

Kellie and Kevin – 37

Jay and Aliona – 36

Katie and Anton – 35

Helen and Aljaž – 34

Jamelia and Tristan – 31

Peter and Janette – 29

Georgia stays on top, but it’s all change elsewhere, with Anita, Kellie, Jay and Katie rising at the expense of Helen and Peter.





results-bbc-guy-levyjpgCirque du Soleil tribute act spectacle, complete with dry ice and Ola flying away (META), yet styled by the Topshop Casual Collection.








Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Bulky black peplum bizarrely teamed with sequinned bra straps. Claud went full Helena Bonham-Carter, as has always been her destiny.

Anastacia! Now this is a time warp I can get behind. On the downside, dreadful sound balance and some random gymnastic contemporary – what a waste of that huge ballroom floor. But still. I’M OUTTA LOVE!

Plus: some of Take That! In weirdly naff coats! OK, this is less exciting. Unless Gary Barlow in his nan’s leopard print really does it for you.

Len’s lens highlights:

  • Len gave Jamelia some rare praise
  • Darcey was fixated on Anita’s hands. She may have been the only one
  • Craig gave us a potted history of the Charleston
  • Darcey salivated over Georgia’s balletic extensions, while Helen wept in a corner

In the dance-off: Peter and Janette, and – once again – Jamelia and Tristan. Peter bleated on about rollercoasters. It was bad. Very bad. The worst words in the English language have become “Can I just say…” NO, ANDRE. Despite his terrible (lack of) jive versus Jamelia’s relatively solid quickstep, all the judges but Len saved Peter.

CONSPIRACY ALERT. Not the best timing for a highly dubious, most likely ratings-related call, coming as it does after Ola cheerfully informed The Sun that the whole thing is a fix. If we’re going to persist with the dance-off (which I’d happily bin, at least at this stage of the competition), then decisions should be made on that performance alone. Jamelia turned in a decent dance. Peter did not. Simple as that.

What did you think of Blackpool? Did you like the addition of backing dancers? And who do you think deserved to go? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain 

See you back at the studio next week, where the quickstep-a-thon awaits. 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.

Connect with Dancing Times: