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Strictly speaking

Posted on December 1, 2014


Week 10

square-world-openerIt was so much worse than we could ever have feared. Strictly’s foray into international waters made Eurovision look positively restrained, tasteful and nuanced. Around The World In 80 Cultural Appropriation Nightmares Week made a mockery of ballroom, logic, fairness and every single country that had the misfortune to be featured. Bury this atrocity and salt the earth, lest the rest of the world come upon it and annihilate the lot of us.

The main problem – well, one problem – oh, where to start… Logic. Yes. If you’re going to do an Around The World theme, why oh why would you not pair the dances with their countries of origin, allowing us to find out more about the roots of the rumba or waltz or Argentine tango? Why torture a) the celebs b) the pros and c) us by doing a Heston and forcing together two elements that should never, never meet in this life? It added a wildly unnecessary challenge, smothered the dances and rendered the entire show baffling.

And horrifying. Let’s not forget horrifying. This patronising, old-fashioned exercise in casual xenophobia was cringe-worthy viewing from start to finish. Hey, let’s take another culture and boil it down to one clichéd stereotype! Of course Greece is solely defined by plate smashing! Well, they may have dabbled in a few other things, bless those adorable ickle foreigners, but nothing that need concern us, great superior Empire-building Brits. What have the Romans – err, Greeks – ever done for us?

Also irritating: this year’s continuing “All contestants are equal, but some contestants are more equal than others”. Some had major interference from human and non-human props, others did not. Some had a theme that doomed them from the start (see: Zorba), others had far more appropriate ones (American jive, Austrian waltz). And while we’re on this hopeless quest for rhyme and reason, why two fawning trips to the good old US of A? Who planned this programme – Tony Blair?

Ugh. This shambolic time capsule officially replaces Luuuuurve Week as Most Misguided Theme Week Ever. Congratulations, guys. Your trophy is on its way. Right after I jam it into my skull to crush the memory of this horror show.

Other hits and misses:

  • Bollywood opening pro number, though distractingly bare-chested, proved ballroom dancers really can’t fake an entirely new style on two hours’ rehearsal. WHO KNEW? If you watched the beleaguered backing dancers who were actually trained in Bollywood, it was passable, otherwise seriously ropey. Also: “Jai Ho”. MISS
  • The judges’ “comedy” foreign hats. Kill me now. MISS
  • Enough with the random prop dancers. They distract from our couples and/or violently sabotage them. Almost justifiable on the giant Blackpool floor – INSANE in a tiny studio. For the love of god, make it stop. MISS
  • Lifts are illegal in the standard 10 dances. If you don’t mark them down, I will. (At home. On the back of an envelope. Be afraid. BE VERY AFRAID.) MISS
  • Tess, leave the poor audience alone. They don’t want to play with you. MISS

Best in Show

  • Best performance: Caroline’s Charleston Major breakthrough for the always-the-bridesmaid couple, managing to fend off dodgy theming and produce a slick, high-energy number.
  • Best costume: Pasha’s evil fez Their wardrobe curse lives on. Not just a sub-Aladdin in regional panto get-up, but a DEADLY WEAPON.
  • Best move: Pasha destroying the evil fez with his mighty man foot Help, there’s a lethal beret in my path! Send up the Pash-Signal!
  • Best line: Air stewardess Claudia’s “Did you want your cheese in a packet?” She’s wasted on this show. Is The Mighty Boosh hiring? Runners-up: her card puns and Sound of Music puns. Honourable mention: Tess’s card pun, killed stone dead by her delivery. RIP little pun. We hardly knew ye.


Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Relatively inoffensive black gown, marred only by strange gapping and the addition of a dozen discarded seatbelts.

Pixie and Trent – Flower power

pixie-7655087-low res-strictly sensationalIn their oh-so-sensitive VT, the Lannister twins took time to really immerse themselves in Dutch culture. Haha just kidding! Thirty seconds of scoffing food and half-hearted clog dancing. Not that anything could prepare us for the sight of Trent and his accompanying Hitler Youth human props in snug lederhosen (MY EYES), grinning inanely while jigging beside a pimped-out windmill. Pixie, dressed as an actual tulip by way of Aryan Nation Barbie, managed a lovely Viennese (beautiful shaping, travelled well, nice fleckerl, seamless transitions) amidst the madness, though she was upstaged by the sheer insanity of the backing ghosts DOING “SINGLE LADIES” IN LEDERHOSEN. Oh, and they threw in some traditional Dutch moves AKA ballet Pixie learned at stage school. Stay with me, people. This is just the beginning.

Song: “Tulips from Amsterdam”, Max Bygraves

Judges’ comments: Len praised her rotation, power and wow performance. Bruno (who spoke in French for a bit, just to completely break us) loved the “flowering flourish” of the movement. Craig enjoyed their storytelling and frame. Darcy liked the balletic touches.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 10, 10 – 38


Mark and Karen – Bluff caught

mark-7655048-low res-struggles sparkleYet more on Mark’s terribly difficult day job. Just out of interest, does anyone else on the show have careers? Children? Anything? Never mind, let’s keep plugging the Oxfam appeal for poor poor Mark, who has to walk two feet every day from his hotel room to the pool where he films a cheesy link. Another noticeably unrehearsed number, but this one was particularly content and technique-lite – only about 10 per cent salsa, and basics a hot mess: out of time, jerky, flat-footed, forced hip action. Plenty of shimmies, knee slides, pelvic thrusts and other stripper-tastic distractions, while Karen and her showgirls furiously wiggled their feathers. Which was…not exactly classy. So pretty much what you’d expect from a “Vegas salsa”. Brief fulfilled! Excuse me while I howl in despair…

Song: “Viva Las Vegas”, Elvis Presley

Judges’ comments: Bruno enjoyed the pelvic thrusts (shocker), but noted timing issues. Craig agreed and wanted more fluid transitions. Darcey praised the lifts. Len said it lacked polish, but likes that he’s not a careful dancer.

Judges’ scores: 7, 8, 9, 8 – 32 (Seriously, Len? SERIOUSLY?)


Sunetra and Brendan – Shipwrecked

sunetra-7655175-low res-struggles sparkleIn training, Sunetra stabbed Brendan in the eye. That’s pretty much all you need to know about the current state of their partnership. At first I thought Brendan had escaped from a John le Carré adaptation, but then I saw his identikit khaki-ed human props and realised: of course – it’s the new GAP ad! And they’ve gone in a very strange direction. New tactic is to lull people into buying through soporific hypnosis. Unlike Mark’s “salsa”, it was a packed rumba routine, but Sunetra (what’s new) had nice flowing arms and zero foot pressure, so off balance, lacked hip action and lurched into the illegal lift. Most regrettably, no chemistry whatsoever. Brendan couldn’t have looked more dismayed to be dancing with her if she’d just run over his dog. Dubious theming: sketchy island romance and a couple of wilting shrubs.

Song: “The Girl from Ipanema”, Michael Bolton (COPYCAT KLAXON: Natasha Kaplinsky and Brendan)

Judges’ comments: Craig said it was awkward and too many meaningless wafty arms. Darcey enjoyed the story, but wanted more footwork. Len said the timing was excellent and liked the mix of steps, though needed hip action and sparkle. Bruno agreed on the interpretation, but foot placement wrong.

Judges’ scores: 5, 7, 8, 7 – 27


Caroline and Pasha – How bazaar

caroline-7655201-low res-strictly sensationalThis week’s Pasha Terrible Acting: hijinks at the Turkish bath. His delivery of “It’s coooold!” (with jazz hands) was Oscar-worthy. Their Charleston really shouldn’t have worked, what with its “Flapper inexplicably tumbles into her vaguely offensive Eastern Promise romance novel (with extra fezzes)” storyline, and yet somehow it did. Or I’d lost all reason by this point. Anyhow. Hugely confident performance from Caroline, with strong characterisation, fun energy, brave Janette-esque lifts, and impressive sync work. More importantly, when disaster struck, Pasha booted that sentient fez off the floor mid-giant flapping bird move, as only a pro can do. My sole “WHY GOD WHY?” moment was the human props suddenly launching into the ridiculous “Oops Up Side Your Head” sitting on floor rowing dance. Because nothing says Turkish time-travelling Charleston like closing time in a 1980s British pub.

Song: “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”, They Might Be Giants

Judges’ comments: Darcey praised her swivel action and called it “clean, crisp and quirky”. Len said it was her best dance. Bruno loved the exotic flavours and great timing. Craig made a Pot Noodle reference that we’d all do better to forget, plus “I can see you doing that in the final”.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 10 – 39

Simon and Kristina – Pure as the driven snow

simon-7655427-low res-simply so soSimon prepared for his Austrian waltz by making chocolates in Brussels. Each to his own. I’m not sure who Kristina seduced/threatened to get her human props relegated to background extras (alongside the lamp-posts of a thousand passions), but it made a huge difference, giving them the whole floor for a controlled, elegant number. As this was the only week NOT to feature the judges mentioning swing and sway every other sentence, let’s take a moment to note that it had some, needed much more. It was also lacking emotional pull and romance – slightly too stately and solemn. Until it randomly snowed at the end. Because… there’s snow in the Alps? Because frosty is this pair’s default setting? We may never know. Blessedly (or suspiciously for conspiracy theorists) distraction-free, but not a wow performance.

Song: “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music

Judges’ comments: Len called him “the comeback king”. Bruno demoted him to “princely”, and liked the “pure and uncluttered” routine. It’s almost as if less theming = a better dance. Colour me stunned. Craig wants more expression in his hands, but big improvement. Darcey praised his posture and control.

Judges’ scores: 9, 10, 10, 9 – 38


Frankie and Kevin – Waving not drowning

frankie-7654243-low res-simply so soSo, in theory “jive” and “America” should be a great match with no need for crazy shenanigans, but wait – this is Around The World Week. WE MUST NOT LET SENSE PREVAIL. A lengthy surfing lesson dominated their VT, and the routine opened with a surfboard descending from the heavens – proof if proof were needed that the show has, indeed, jumped the shark. Once we actually reached solid ground, Frankie had great retraction, sharp kicks and decent bounce action, though sometimes sloppy and a little heavy on the basics in a punishingly fast number. No human props in sight (perhaps Kristina had them all “taken care of”), but other distractions: Kevin’s very red shorts and eyesore shirt, and the fact that Frankie was wearing a Karen fright wig. Which… was creepy.

Song: “Surfin’ USA”, The Beach Boys

Judges’ comments: Bruno loved the boisterous enthusiasm, but the speed meant she threw away her free hand. Craig praised the sync and high knees. Darcey noted the packed routine and liked the energy. Len stuck in a token “no wipe out” gag.

Judges’ scores: 9, 9, 9, 9 – 36


Jake and Janette – Smashed

jake-7655362-low res-struggles sparkleAnd then we came to the end. Well, look. The odds were stacked against him. No one ever dreamed of tangoing to “Zorba”. And the addition of a) plate smashing and b) particularly intrusive human props who physically impeded Jake instantly downgraded the number. On the upside, good intensity as always from one of this series’ strongest partnerships, nice accents and committed attempt at both tango and Greek folk dance. On the downside… everything else. Jake made an early error and his technique simply disintegrated, from the loose legs and wandering frame to strange squatting stance with protruding rear. By the time we got to the lurching wedding line dance, it was clear this was a lost cause. Like Bruno, I wouldn’t mind seeing it again, only a million miles away from the soul-sucking black hole that is Around The Frigging World Week. Tragic missed opportunity.

Song: “Zorba the Greek”, Mikis Theodorakis

Judges’ comments: Craig: “Complete dance disaaaahster.” Darcey liked the fusion, tension and desire, but he lost his balance and messy. Len said it was a shame about the mistakes, but it was a tough combination. Bruno called it “Eurovision tango” – high entertainment value, but a couple of incidents.

Judges’ scores: 5, 8, 8, 8 – 29



Caroline and Pasha – 39

Pixie and Trent – 38

Simon and Kristina – 38

Frankie and Kevin – 36

Mark and Karen – 32

Jake and Janette – 29

Sunetra and Brendan – 27

Caroline’s back on top, Simon rises, Frankie slips, and Jake drops all the way down.


It’s not easy being green, as demonstrated by a syrupy “Danny Boy” pro opening (Tristan “subtly” shoved into the foreground), followed by the frankly alarming automatons that comprise Riverdance. Not a wafty arm among them. Or, indeed, an arm.

Tess’s dress: impressed or depressed?

Highligher pink, with strange asymmetric slashed bodice – somewhere between Cubist fashion and interrupted animal attack.

André Rieu and his wildly overdressed orchestra returned. “You SHALL go to the ball (and sit at the back playing a cello)!” Adding to the popera extravaganza: Alfie Boe warbling erratically while Nat and Brendan did some screamingly euphoric Viennese/smooth.

Len’s lens highlights:

  • Len pointing out Simon’s lesser-spotted heel leads
  • Darcey praising Pixie’s (not at all previously trained) ballet moves
  • Claudia claiming “some people on social media” are in favour of the backing dancers. SHOW YOURSELVES!
  • Bruno pleasuring himself with a tulip. There are things you can’t unseesunetra-goodbye

In the dance-off: Mark and Karen, and Sunetra and Brendan. Everyone saved Mark, much to the visible delight of Sunetra and Brendan, the latter the very definition of phoning it in during his exit speech. “Yeah, all good, woo the band, is my taxi here yet?”

What did you make of Around The World Week? Did you like the theming? And who do you think is heading for the final? Leave your thoughts below or get in touch on Twitter: @mkmswain

See you next week, when we return to the site of our latest trauma and wonder if we’ll ever be the same again. In the meantime… keep dancing!

In the December issue of Dance Today (out on Friday), Marianka Swain explores Strictly as a global phenomenon, while cover stars 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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