Here we are then, I don't know about you, but this year's Strictly has totally flown by! It doesn't feel that long ago we were squealing at the unexpected cast announcements (Joe who?) and now it's freezing cold and we're getting down to this long December night of emotion. Oh yes, and never-ending montages...Let's go round for one last time in what has been one of the most random years on Strictly.
As you may remember, the final is too frantic and emotional for us to summarise all the dances, so here's a quick rundown of the judges' (wrong) choices of numbers. Ashley nailed the Dirty Dancing lift so wonderfully she can go home happy whatever happens. Stacey definitely improved on her hold in the foxtrot, but there still wasn't enough of it in the routine. Faye brought drama to a VW, which is an achievement in itself. Joe however, showed the most improvement and brought a much cleaner and stronger paso than a few weeks ago.
Hang on to your hats, it's SHOWDANCES time!
Ashley and Pasha What I liked about this was that they seemed to be dancing for their own pure enjoyment, embracing the freedom that should come with a showdance. We know she can do contempo, but this wasn't constipated emoootional contempo, it was fun and flighty. All that and a dress that looked like something from Jem and the Holograms - I would say going out in style, but then they went and chose the Charleston!
In a world where contempo-wafts masquerade as rumbas, in theory, this wasn't all that special. BUT can't argue that it wasn't excellent. Actually quite enjoyed it. Ashley has had a tough time and she must have known she wouldn't be holding the glitterball, but she still gave her all. Props.
Stacey and Kevin I did not have high hopes for this, as Kevin was inevitably going to throw the kitchen sink and bathroom laundry basket at this, but I actually wanted more from it! Stacey delivered it all perfectly, but the routine was sorely lacking, as Craig said, it was basically just running around. This puts them on rocky ground going into the last dance....
So basically showdances are Kevin's kryptonite. I don't get it. He's a stand out, creative choreographer throughout the competitions; year on year he delivers innovative (sometimes weird) and fresh routines. BUT this? Nah-ah. Running around and pretending to be silly. Nothing wrong with Stacey's execution but it was by far the weakest dance of the evening.
Faye and Giovanni We were promised a Broadway bonanza and we certainly got one! This started out as nice jazzy quickstep but actually managed to build rather than being 100mph the whole time. The spotlight sections were pretty amazing, along with Faye's superhuman run up the stairs at the very end. Pushed all the right showdance buttons, and Faye has certainly raised her game in the past few weeks.
Joyous. It's actually taken me this time to warm to Faye. But by the end of this, I wouldn't have minded in the slightest if she'd won. The only thing I'd say is that all her dances in the final had a similar flavour - theatrical, jazzy, dramatic. I'd have loved a feathers-on-the-bum samba to balance it out.
Joe and Dianne I had so much expectation on this I was actually nervous when it started, and then we were off - flying off the seat of our pants all the way through! That was an example of gimmicks working, including a tiny trampoline and jumping through an amp, which actually made me shriek like a fangirl. Not perfectly executed, and Joe's leggin-clad legs were a hoot, but definitely memorable.
Everything you want to see in a showdance. Gimmicks, fun, an excellent piece of music; this was energetic and a joy to watch. Not the best dancer but his improvement has been immeasurable. I hope very much that he's encouraged a whole new generation to get involved.
Finally, we had the surrealness of Ashley and Pasha's magic mushroom Charleston. Stacey and Kevin actually chose the right dance to end on, and pretty much nailed it, real angry sex vibes going on there. Faye and Gio brought back one of the few Couple's Choice routines worth repeating (fingers crossed it won't be back, but well done Faye). I have no idea why Joe and Dianne chose the Charleston, but they had a jolly good time and he did it like he was having a stroll in the park.
And then of course, we have the annual car-carsh mess, although this was actually delightfully competent! They managed to worked in so many little bits from the series, it was really good to see and did everyone proud. Ranj's shimmy! Kate's leg! Graeme's I'm-dancing-on-the-telly face! Susannah just being there! Great job all round everyone.
Finally we came to the....final moment...lights, music, tension, and it was.....STACEY! What a cracker of a time she's had, and what a year it's been. Thanks to everyone who has come along for the ride! YAAAAAAAAAS!
So here we are, the semi-final is upon us and we will soon be leaving 2018 behind us. It's been emotional and exhausting, but Shirley has at least come dressed as a Christmas tree to keep our spirits up!
Stacey and Kevin On ITT it was suggested they were going to be dressed as old people, it appears that went by the wayside 1) because it was a stupid idea, and 2) they needed to look fabulous for this fabulous dance. Not too gurn-y, but nice and Charleston loosey-goosey. Great period song too, so it all came together without feeling forced. Highlight for me was hearing Stacey shout 'wooo!' and being able to hear her over everything going on the studio, girl after my own heart there.
Joe and Dianne A gorgeous song that can carry any VW away on a tide of loveliness, but this was also lovely and romantic in itself - Joe and Dianne are an underrated team this year. Thought the judges were a bit too picky myself, they should be giving credit for his top line and posture. I like Joe doing traditional ballroom and hope he gets to do some of it in the final.
Ashley and Pasha I rather enjoyed this, with the ethereal warblings of Florence + the Machine and Ashley and Pasha really looking like they were getting down to a sexy fight. Pretty fabulous armwork too, flamenco meets Kate Bush. Oh yeah, and Pasha was there in a tight top with go-faster stripes.
Lauren and AJ Lauren gave some peak tango face in this performance, she was overshadowing AJ in that area, plus her dress was much nicer than his flocked wallpaper shirt. It was snappy as it needed to be, but felt like it ran out of steam halfway. However, it was still better than anything Lauren did in her early weeks of ballroom, and AJ thankfully didn't do too much out of hold.
Faye and Giovanni Faye is dressed as a Twister lolly and is doing a samba to one of the hallowed Ramps songs, so I was not off to a good start with this. The song is so perfect it breathes life into any samba, but I wasn't really feeling this anyway. It just felt a bit perfunctory and didn't have a lot of oomph in it, which makes me think they were saving themselves for dance number 2.
All change, let's go round again....
Stacey and Kevin This was schmaltz, on cheese, on twee, but I was here for it. Could have done with a few bars more of actual VW, but I think we've given up on that these days. If it wasn't for the lovely relationship between the two and the bombastic song it would have been totally meh, but as ever, they pulled it together into something nice.
Joe and Dianne This wasn't ever going to be Joe's strongest dance, but I like what they did to bring some theatre to it. There was drama and tension, just not quite enough sharpness from Joe, or actually enough real AT steps for him when you get down it it. However, he bounced off Dianne really well and she looked looked stunning.
Ashley and Pasha This was an odd routine, the tone just didn't feel right, it was too kitschy for a classic Hollywood song. Just give them top hats and ballgowns and let them get on with it! I was totally here for the final sequence of lifts though, it just kept going and they didn't care whether anyone wanted to shout ringer or not. Pasha could have dished out some mini tubs of ice cream though, just saying...
Lauren and AJ I was prepared to watch this through my fingers, and on a bloody boat in beige outfits too. It was a cursed voyage, and Lauren lost her place more than once. Probably the whole two-dances-in-the-semi-finals thing took it out of her and it was all just a step too far to give her such a difficult dance too. Saying that, she kept going, whereas I would probably have just laughed and sat down.
Faye and Giovanni We all knew this was going to be good, but this looked, sounded and...smelled? like a full-on Argentine Tango. Faye's legwork was as sharp as it gets, to the extent that Giovanni seemed to be leaving her there to do all the work! It wasn't my favourite AT of all time, but it was easily the best this series, my favourite dance from Faye, and the best dance of the night.
So here I am writing about yet another theme week (I hate theme weeks - did you know that?) Last night's was, like all others, completely nuts. There were, nevertheless, some genuinely lovely dances, if you watched through your fingers to pretend the human props weren't there. Here are three things I liked, and (only, honest) three things I really didn't...
Three things I liked 1) Anton shaking his thang. I mean, who wouldn't love that? Complete with shorts and a dapper hat. It was the highlight of the whole of 2018.
2) Lauren and AJ's dance. It was a jolly holiday of an American Smooth, with swing and sway and schmaltz. Lauren really has grown as a dancer, but I don't know if she's strong enough to make it to the final. Props for the darling dress, too.
3) Faye's Charleston - I kind of wanted to dislike this. I've realised I have become less and less agin to Faye as the weeks have gone on. But alas, this was quite compulsive to watch. It was so blooming sharp. The puppety isolations were also quite marvellous.
Three things I did not like
1) Rumba with no beat - This just made me angry. Rumba is a LATIN dance. Latin requires drums. Or at least a steady rhythm. This arrangement had none. The dance made no sense. Calling it a contempowaft would be too kind. I don't even know what to call it. Pffft.
2) Ashley's Quickstep - I agree with Shirley. It was too quick. Couldn't catch a breath watching it. Yes, yes, that's Pasha's fault.
3) WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT? - OK. This was the worst thing I have ever seen. Salsa? SALSA? That was about as salsa as a cardboard box. Music was the wrong rhythm. The theme was just darned strange. I only wish I could unsee the whole thing.
One thing I absolutely love Let's end on a high, shall we? How much of a delight is Stacey and Kevin's partnership? I think they could be one of my all time faves. That performance was the sort of thing I normally hate - so over blown with the theme, but something about it was completely captivating. Could she be our winner?
Here we are, the nights are drawing in, there's fewer couples trotting down those stairs, and we're all wary of the Blackpool Hangover. That's November for you, pass the Strictly Snacks! We also have the delight of this year's group dance to content with in the form of the Lindyhop, will we ever get our dream of a pile-up and people getting kicked in face? Read on...
Graeme and Oti So glad to see these two back in ballroom, no so glad about the sailor suits, especially when you're using the Denise Lewis quickstep of yore song too. There were some stumbled but it kept its lightness, and I thought the transitions in and out of Charleston were pretty seamless - and when you've already done the Charleston you might as well milk it in your quickstep! I am afeared for Graeme this week...
Ashley and Pasha After last week's chiptastic jive, you'd think they'd struggle to keep up, but no, wind them up and watch them go! Rave fans, feathers on the bum, a samba roll that was pure filth, Pasha is living his best life right now. I agree it probably did have a bit too much attack in it, but that's also a sign of someone having the time of their life. Haterz gunna hate.
Faye and Giovanni Faye appears to be wearing a maroon sack, but thankfully Gio is in tails and it didn't distract away from this classy ballroom number. It was a nice tranquil moment, and the break of hold didn't feel too unnecessary for once. A waltz rarely sets the world on fire, but this was smooth and looked effortless when I doubt it was at all.
Joe and Dianne The build up to this on ITT was weird, because neither of them seemed particularly in control of the routine. Things I liked about this routine: Dianne's bunches, hearing the start of Jump Around with a live horn section, the fact that they had a little sit down. That's about it, this was a terrible routine which suggests to me this was not this couple's choice.
Charles and Karen Proper tango outfits on these two, a dramatic song, and plenty of attack - we're doing quite well with the dances-that-look-like-dances this week. This had flashes of greatness, and Charles gave good smoulder to the point of flaring his nostrils. But it was a bit rough around the edges, including the posture. Charles has been on the up recently, and while this wasn't terrible, it wasn't the most exciting of things.
Lauren and AJ I did not expect Lauren to suit the salsa, and this did all feel a bit awkward. She was back to looking like she was thinking about steps, rather than embracing the daaah-ance, as CRH would say. She still also isn't great at lifts, despite having done quite a few dances with lifts this series.
Stacey and Kevin I had no idea what to expect before this, and I'm still not quite sure what I just watched - but I was captivated. Great music and costumes, is this the week of the fan? Kevin did this very cleverly, he had more to do than her, but to hold that mood and do all that skirt swishing without collapsing in giggles I applaud her. Seriously, this could have easily come crashing down at any second, and that's why I loved it.
Lindyho-a-thon Well that was like being trapped inside the wardrobe department's washing machine, there were legs and elbows all over the place. Alas, no one got kicked or fell over, boo, but it was all very jolly and fun. I would say I think Faye and Gio did very well in the middle of it all and stayed in sync, and whilst Graeme looked very stylish in his vintage outfit he did basically drop Oti at one point. Not much else to say about the dancing, but the car-crash of the scoring was definitely a series highlight!
Oh we do like to be beside the seaside! Blackpool gave as spectacular an opening as ever, but with added kitsch and camp this year with feathers, glitter explosions, and...oh yes...the actual Gloria Estefan! Tess has even managed to find a nice dress for the evening and Ginger Neil got to dance at the front - its the place where miracles happen.
Stacey and Kevin Not a proper salsa song, but a classic 90s banger to get the party started. Saying that, there was no salsa in this at all apart from a vague attempt at doing some armography. Thing was, it was infectious and Stacey is completely and utterly fearless. It would have been better if the judges had picked up on the lack of salsa, as it's their actual job, and the public will vote for them anyway. Not quite a classic Blackpool moment, but anything but boring.
This. Was. Not. Salsa.
No further comment.
Lauren and AJ The AT is a difficult one for Blackpool in that massive space, remember when Kristina just used lighting to make her own tiny stage? Canny woman, that one, miss her. This showed off that Lauren is definitely more technically accomplished than she was a few weeks ago, although she's still pretty ungraceful getting in and out of lifts. She also can't sell a dance like Stacey yet. Perfectly fine, but not enough for Blackpool for me.
I really like Lauren, but this seemed like a series of movements and poses, as opposed to an actual dance. It was a move here, a step there, with nothing at all in the transitions. The result was a somewhat stilted performance, which is such a shame.
Graeme and Oti I have annoyed all my family and friends by constantly singing 'clang clang clang went the trolley!' to myself all week, so I was very much looking forward to this. I have to say, I wanted to like this more than I did, it just didn't feel like there was much to it. Yes, delivered with Graeme's customary joy and verve, and Oti gave good frock once again, but it wasn't more than the sum of its parts. I also wanted more tram action, of all things!
Good song. Forgettable dance. Honestly, I agree with Frankie, it didn't seem like there was much in it. It was a poor musical theatre performance without the singing. Pointless. Please let's not have Couple's Choice back next year. It's coming back isn't it?
Faye and Giovanni Faye, in peak paso outfit, and Giovanni with some sort of sheer number from Dorothy Perkins. This one is the first where I was overwhelmed by all the Blackpool extras - especially the extra dancers when I wanted to see the two of them dancing together. Faye executed it pretty well, but I think a simpler routine would have allowed her to focus on the technique and mood more.
OK, this is more like it. I can't express how much I hate the extra dancers though.
Kate and Aljaz These two doing an American Smooth in Blackpool was definitely the perfect choice, and Everlasting Love is such a daft overblown number it worked. Also, Aljaz didn't get the memo about ramping up the danced to the nth degree and gave her something that looked like the actual dance. It didn't blow my socks off, but it was charming. Also, Kate suddenly came alive in the final section of the dance, maybe she was just happy about the lifts being over?
I also like Kate, but it does seem like she's falling behind some of the rest of the pack now.
Charles and Karen I actually feel like the rollercoaster journey trope is actually appropriate for once, and this was Charles on the up once again. It looked like an actual samba and had palm trees and maracas, all we needed was feathers on Karen's bum, but you can't have everything. He stayed in time, had bounce, and made me smile - Blackpool mission accomplished, Charles!
This samba had more salsa in it than Stacey's salsa.
Joe and Dianne The quickstep is your dream ballroom number of Blackpool, you can just fly through it, and how he did! The song, the outfits, the choreography, it all came together for a proper 'moment'. Great work Dianne in taking this random person, working hard with them, and delivering one of the best ballroom numbers of the series.
HERE WE GO! Joe is the kind of contestant I love: potential from the beginning and actually grows! This dance could have won him the competition. It was so beautifully Blackpool. Dance of the night.
Ashley and Pasha We all knew Ashley would be able to do a good jive, but she came in and gave it with both barrels and a plate of chips to boot! This was full-on from start to finish, and being Ashley she could take the extra dancers in her stride, if anything Pasha was a wee bit sidelined. Highlights included the infamous toll booth move and the gasp-inducing whipping away of the tablecloths. This was clearly going to be the first 40 of the series, and well-deserved.
OK, this was excellent. Don't usually like a gimmick but I was like ooooh when they did a Bucks Fizz with the table cloths. I saw some little wobbles with those kicks and flicks on the table, but all in all, it was pretty much Halfpennyworthy.
It's week 8, but otherwise known as Blackpool preview week, will they get to Blackpool week, teach an American what Blackpool is week, and Claudia in Blackpool gags week - you know the drill, and you love it! I also love Claudia's spangly jumpsuit that somehow looks glam and comfortable, there's nothing that woman can't do.
Kate and Aljaz These two continue to be a scream, taking on the randomness of a wedding-themed quickstep with all the camp it deserved. This was a return to form for Kate, easily her best dance in weeks and delivered with the zingy energy you want from a quickstep. Hardly any gapping to be seen (I was looking, judges!) and fleet of foot, with attention to detail and posture. Onwards and upwards Kate!
It's getting to that point in the competition when the Kates of the world start to be at risk. Unless they up their game. And she did. This quickstep was nifty and swift. I think she's perhaps only got a few more weeks left in her, but I hope I'm wrong.
Danny and Amy This was a very...precise samba. There were plenty of steps and executed in time, but it didn't capture the feel of the samba and I agree with Craig it was a bit stiff. Will he make it to the top of the leaderboard again like he did with the jive, when everything just came together, I don't know. We need another breakout moment from this pair.
OK. So I really liked this. Is that weird? I like his dance style - the musicality and sheer joy was lovely. And I liked the sharpness. Yes I know there could have been more fluidity but it was not half as bad as the comments (and score) he received. I was genuinely surprised at them.
Ashley and Pasha Oh goody, contempo once again - although at least they've already done a non-contempo-waft rumba so it's not like they're retreading territory. This was always going to be good, but I wasn't prepared for the complete fluidity of movement and seamless transitions. Pasha didn't even do much, he just left it all to Ashley! But as ever, I'm wondering what this two would now do for a showdance in the final, that could've easily brought the house down.
So getting a 10 for a contempowaft is the new Donny 10. Official.
(OK, OK, I know it was great but I'm struggling to care.)
Graeme and Oti If there's one thing we've learned this series, there's no hairstyle Oti can't pull off, even when she's encased in a neon bin liner. I'm not sure what I just watched: it felt like a comedy routine, but Graeme isn't a comedy contestant - there was just too much theming. As random as the song was, I think the heavy beat helped him stay on time. Good lifts too, when this hasn't been a vintage year for celebs being able to do lifts. This was clearly overmarked, but whatever, get him to Blackpool!
Cuban? This was about as Cuban as a sack of turnips. I really like Graeme but no, this was not good. I much preferred Danny's samba.
Faye and Giovanni I never thought the Italian ice cream seller trope would last this long on Strictly, but the cultural stereotype lives on! I think we all knew this was going to be about Faye trying to keep up, but I felt they were a bit disconnected throughout, it didn't feel like they were dancing as a pair. As Shirley said, it was fine, but it didn't really have any pizzazz. Bruno really strayed into Donny 10 territory here.
Pleasant. But when did pleasant last win the show?
Stacey and Kevin The latest in the dances-that-actually-look-like-the-dance shocker, this was as lovely as a waltz should be. Maybe Pasha raised the bar last week, with the most foxtrotty of foxtrots? The focus on the technical aspect and the work they'd put in was much appreciated. Also, lovely frock and now-typical massive bouffant hair. Undermarked after Graeme got 8s for the aerobics on acid routine.
Stacey brings a real authenticity to everything she does, which makes it a joy to watch every week. I don't think she could have been partnered with anyone better. They just go.
Joe and Dianne Who knew that drummers dressed for a spangly apocalyptic hellscape? I had forgotten this was chuffing MmmBop until the music started, and I actually think it was too slow for a samba. As predicted in the VT, bless him, he tried his best but it wasn't really his thing and it all went a bit loosey-goosey. I doubt his legions of fans are going to desert him, so he'll be packing his bucket and spade for Blackpool (do millennials even know what that is?).
Mmm bop for Samba? Mmm, no. Frankie, my dear, by definition I'm pretty sure we are millennials ourselves, albeit the really old ones. I'm taking agin that comment. Joe's fans'll be the next lot. Again, I liked Danny's samba more.
Lauren and AJ Remember all the way back in week 1 when Lauren did a waltz and we all thought 'ooh that was good'? It's taken us all this time to get back to here! I could have done without AJ's random sweep-the-floor moment, but she took the actual waltz content in her stride. Confidence has been key for Lauren so far this series, and it looks like she's getting there.
Awwwww this was a Matt-Dawson-After-His-Acting-Class breakthrough! Loved it.
Charles and Karen I was not expecting Charles to be good at the Charleston, he's a tall and heavyset guy in a dance that's supposed to be nimble and nippy, but this was actually pretty good! He could swivel, but also swivel in a sort of casual way that really suited the number - this was certainly a rare gurn-free Charleston. Great lifts too, as you would expect. This wasn't a Charleston for the ages, but it was executed with skill and character.
I liked this funky, cool interpretation of a charleston. And it was executed well. I don't expect to see him in the dance off this time, but if he is, whoever else is there is likely to be in trouble again.
It's that time of year where we breathe a sigh of relief that Halloween is over, and we can start stanning for Blackpool all over again. However, it does also mean we're halfway through this series! Tonight also felt like it was dominated by the ballroom side of things, which is a nice feeling to have.
Lauren and AJ From what we saw on ITT it seemed like this song was driving them crazy and they were just going to be gibbering heaps on the floor, and the outfits were also very much stuck in the early 2000s. I didn't enjoy this and I'm not sure what the judges were going on about - yes, it was FINE as a dance, but I thought our standards were higher in week 8. I am afeared for these two this week.
Graeme and Oti I'm all for kitsch and milking the Gran Card if it gives us a lovely bit of classic ballroom and Oti in a fabulous frock. This was impressive after last week's seriously off Halloween number, and showed a lot of hard work and commitment to posture and doing it old-school. We all love a waltzing cricketer like the days of yore. As Shirley said, it made us feel all fuzzy!
Kate and Aljaz The one we were all waiting for this week, coming on slightly early and in some very mismatched outfits. The thing they have working for them is that it's a great partnership, and that showed in this routine and gave it some much-needed intensity. However, it just wasn't sharp enough for me, the old jigsaw legs need to be done on a razor edge. By no means was this a bad dance, it just had the weight of expectation and a busted rib on it.
Dr Ranj and Janette We all know our favorite doctor loves a party dance, but this was better executed than I was expecting. It had actual bounce and momentum, and the routine had more pure samba than we would expect. It wasn't the most wonderfully executed routine, but it was fun, and they turned Janette into a human Catherine wheel without any health and safety disasters. I think this has kept him in another week.
Stacey and Kevin Street Commercial, the genre we've all been crying out for. At least this wasn't hip hop, or was it? I actually can't tell - but I kinds of liked the surreal dream-like quality of it. Probably my favorite Couple's Choice number so far, and I would like to watch it again - but just to assure you, this is not me converted.
Danny and Amy I had in the back of my head that Danny would walk off with the quickstep and skip to the top of the leaderboard, but this was a right dog's dinner of a number. The parts of out of hold, as ever, were really lovely and light, but that's not what the quickstep is about and the mistakes made it look like he was just jogging alongside Amy. Disasters happen and he is very much The Show Must Go On, maybe if he ends up in the bottom 2 he can pull it off?
Ashley and Pasha What a frothy little treat this was! Lovely outfits, classic music, all the content - it was what happens when all the pieces of a foxtrot comes together. I almost wanted it to be an American Smooth with a big lift at the end, but it had enough razzmatazz that they carried through. That very difficult balance of hard work and making it look effortless. I don't know why I was surprised, but I properly booed Craig for only giving it a nine.
Faye and Giovanni This was a sharp and edgy tango, with the kind of drama you want - but something just didn't really click for me. It might have been the cube distracting me, because I was waiting for someone to stub their toe on it, or Faye's Ann Summers outfit. I cannot deny the footwork and posture was pretty awesome though, and it did indeed look like a tango.
Charles and Karen This was one of those numbers that is greatly improved by an appropriate song, which swept them away quite nicely. It didn't blow our minds, because that's pretty much impossible for a VW, but we all had a nice time and Charles showed some improvement.
Joe and Dianne Well there is no way Joe could have done a paso doble seven weeks ago when this started. Fair play to Dianne for putting together a routine to stretch but not completely overwhelm him. They also focused on the basics with posture and lines, which looked like it paid off. Plus extra points for the Tom Chambers paso smell-the-fart face with occasional flashes of the old rabbit-in-the-headlights Joe.
I hate Halloween week. In the days of yore, Frankie used to allow me a free pass not to blog this week because I couldn't bear it. Since bizarre themes are pretty much commonplace most weeks now, I just have to get on with it...boo hiss boo. Since I spent most of last night's showing tweeting I HATE HALLOWEEN WEEK (I was slightly under the influence of Pimms), I have changed our blogging format slightly for one week, and one week only. Here are 5 YAYs and 5 NAYs from last night's show:
YAYs Choreography Against the Odds The one thing I hate most about theme weeks is that the 'concept' often takes precedence over real dance content. Contestants are praised for their theatricality in say, a salsa, even if it looked about as latin as a pork pie. However, sometimes great dance content is woven in and the dance can work, not because of the theme, but in spite of it. Kudos to Aljaz, Kevin and AJ this week who created dances that looked like dances.
Jazz Hands I have surprised myself by liking Faye's routine. This is most likely because I'm not precious, nor do I know anything, about this style of dance. And it's theatrical anyway. So Halloween wasn't taking much away from it as far as I could see. Loved the footwork, but there's something very Donny O about all these 10s for Couple's Choice. I'm gunna say it. I don't think it counts.
Musicality, please Joe is starting to improve. And improvement upon what can only be described as a natural knack for musical timing, is starting to create something quite wonderful to watch. As above, this dance wasn't so far away from a Foxtrot it made me want to scoop my eyes out with spoons (was that a jive Janette?) It actually was quite good. Although I do think the BBC was trying to go all Twilight on us. A decade too late. Again. like the High School Musical debacle - Joe's target audience probably wasn't even born at the height of toothy popularity.
It's in the Eyes A bit scary how much the spooky contacts suited Shirley. She looked fabulous in that macabre get up. She's still just a joy all round isn't she? Len who?
Newsflash MOIIIIRRRRRRA STEWART. (Sign her for 2019.)
NAYs Bad Timing Seann proves his timing is so bad he can't even keep it whilst Katja is swaying about in front of him doing her best impression of a human metronome. There is no hope. No hope at all. Abysmal. I am a great believer that you can teach technique, and you can improve coordination, but if that musical ear is really not there, there is no hope. He should just put us all out of our misery.
Fluffy Feet Yes, so expecting a contestant to do sharp kicks and flicks whilst wearing enormous fluffy slippers is hardly fair is it. I mean, I hated the whole routine, despite having Monster Mash stuck in my head since the moment it started. Bad choreography. Bad concentration of concept over content. Just bad.
Bellyache Something about Pasha's costume belly made me feel very, very uncomfortable. Cute charleston, yeah, but no. Just no.
'Cause This is Filler Occasionally it works cutesily tying in established dance moves into ballroom and latin routines, but most of the time it's just lazy. Thriller? We've seen it before. The Time Warp? We wish we hadn't. It's bad enough when it's done seamlessly but when it just jars, or is tacked on, it's just filler.
The Whole Bloody Thing Oh I'm so glad it's over. We had some lovely dance routines last week - can we get back to more of that now?
Strap yourselves in guys, it's been a spangle-tastic wild ride on Strictly this week. Oh yes, and there was Couples Choice. We also had a guest judge this week, and in Alfonso we have yet another DWTS import foisted upon us rather than a past UK winner or something. Thankfully, it appeared they gave him a Donny Osmond talk about 10s...or just hid it from him.
Dr Ranj and Janette So happy to see him doing some ballroom again, even if Janette doesn't think the American Smooth doesn't require anything in hold. This was as twee as I was expecting, could've given you a toothache. Ranj carried it with his usual aplomb, but even though his time in hold has improved it's not great shakes. He doesn't seem to be progressing much at the moment, I want to do something that isn't so nicey-nicey! OK, now I want to see some progression. He started well, he's a showman, but it's all getting a little stale. But the fact he is in a choir is adorable. And I love a seasidey set.
Lauren and AJ Here we go with the first Couple's Choice pool for randomness, considering half the rumbas are contemporary these days I'm not sure what to make of it. In fact, I have no idea what I just watched, apart from a couple of minutes of lifts and not nearly as much wafting as I was expecting. And then it just sort of....ended. I suppose Lauren did OK with what she was given, although she did struggle with conveying rhythm in such a different style of dance. The only positive that came out of this is that later we saw a rumba that was actually a rumba, instead of this. I wanted her to point her toes, but I do believe the flexiness was deliberate. But it did look uncomfortably so to me.
Graeme and Oti Another person finally being allowed to get down to some ballroom, and there was no mistaking this was a tango - the song, the outfits, the choreography, it was all here and then some. They'd done great work on his hold and posture, but it was also a cracking routine with lots of content. Oti had clearly worked him hard in her dancing dungeon of drama this week. Possibly his best since the samba, even with the mahogany tan! Legend of the evening number one. This was so much fun. High camp, flamboyant and unashamedly bonkers. But it also had great technique and musicality. I'll take it.
Ashley and Pasha No one wants to watch the toe-curling awfulness of a rubbish rumba - give me a ringer one any day of the week. This had a bit more bite in it than Faye's from last week, benefited by a song with a bit more pizzazz in it. That spin sequence - oof! It was one of those dances where everything comes together, and praise be for that. RUMBA THAT LOOKS LIKE RUMBA. If this was the trade off for that contempo-me-jig earlier then I can get on board with it. The tempo wasn't crazy-slow; there were great basics. It was classic.
Seann and Katya I have never wanted to smash a guitar more in my life than in this dance, especially since once they got in a proper hold Seann had clearly improved on it. No gapping at all really, which is quite something for an earlyish quickstep. But his feet were pretty much a disaster, and the whole thing just got more and more ungainly as it went on. Katya rocks a vintage headband though. Ugh, he has no rhythm and I have no words.
Stacey and Kevin Just give Stacey all the points for that showstopper of a samba dress. I cannot get over how old-school shamazing this routine was, with all the content and that filthy slo-mo samba roll thrown in for good measure. Feathers on yer bum - it was like being in series 4 all over again! This probably wasn't technically perfect, but it was more than good enough, and Stacey sold it exactly the right amount. SAMBA THAT LOOKS LIKE SAMBA. Well, knock me down with a spangly feather. So. It seems I'd rather see a dance chock full of content but executed like an amateur, than a dance that isn't the dance it's meant to be but glossed over and slick. Stacey was a tad ungainly but she is learning. This was great - proper old school Strictly. Yay.
Joe and Dianne This was a grinding change of pace after samba-o-rama, but such a lovely atmosphere it was forgotten pretty quickly. We all got a little bit swept away by a simple waltz, which is what Strictly should be really. Shirley only half-pretending to tear up over a heel lead was pretty special, as the nation still can't quiet believe a millennial YouTuber can knuckle down and deliver some proper ballroom. Bring on the nan vote! Cuuuuuuuute. Yet another solid classic dance. The choreography is making me so happy this week. Joe is starting to show some improvement in addition to his natural musicality. Still one to watch...
Vick and Graziano Speaking of old-school, Vick was definitely channelling Alesha Dixon in that cha cha. Shirley was right though, we were waiting for it to get off the stairs, and like Craig, I wanted to like it but there just wasn't much there. None of which is really Vick's fault, she was indeed selling it all she could, but it was all a bit candyfloss. Ah poor Vick. I can't help but wonder how different her journey would be if she were partnered with Pasha, or Aljaz, or Kevin. Graziano is really letting her down, both in teaching the correct skills and showing her off with choreography. Such a shame.
Kate and Aljaz Last week's hilariously naff samba has thankfully been replaced with some classy AF ballroom. This was a lovely VW, with the poise and elegance we want from this dance - and also from Kate. They seemed very comfortable in hold and she took the swirling pivots and fleckrl in her stride. Yes, it didn't set the world alight, because it's a VW and not a badass tango or samba, but this week has been all about appreciating the low and the high notes. This kind of passed me by. But I like Kate. I'd like to see more pizzazz next week.
Danny and Amy Excuse the pun, but Danny flew through this with the wind at his heels. It was one of those routines where if anything had gone wrong it would have all come crashing down, but amazingly it didn't. Danny kept up with Amy all the way, and he kicked and flicked his way through with character and energy. Plus, Amy looked amazing, which is obviously not something that should be scored, but whatever. I smiled all the way through this. It was so... jolly. Some folks on Twitter were criticising the timing but I have watching it a few times now, and despite losing a tiny bit of momentum towards the end (who WOULDN'T at that speed?) he looks bob on to me. Legend of the evening number two.
Faye and Giovanni Looking remarkably elegant for someone dressed as a bottle of Ribena, Faye took this in her stride. The foxtrot bits were nice, but then Giovanni decided to go for a wander and pretend they were in a Hallmark advert or something. That felt jarring in an evening where traditional routines have shone through.yes Faye can do good ballroom, but this didn't push her and the routine needs to make sense. Ribena? I had her down as The Big Purple One. I had no idea what the boppy bits were. Ruined what would have been a nice routine for me.
Karen and Charles Not to sound too snarky, but I don't actually know if this was any good, because I've been watching a programme about latin and ballroom dancing for the last fifteen years. It looked pretty sharp and Charles was delivering with a lot more confidence, and the execution of the routine seemed pretty flawless. The scoring probably means he's safe from the bottom 2 for another week. I have no blinking idea. Can't see either of them joining the Diversity crew any time soon.
It's been an...eventful week in Strictly-land, but there's 13 couples get through in a show that's under two hours, so hang on to your hats!
Joe Graham Sugg and Dianne Loving Dianne's 90s-chic pop art outfit, but not sure why Joe is dressed as a hipster barman in very high trousers. This was pretty good as a proper cha cha, with definite improvement as they're giving him more difficult dances. Also Dianne is great at choreographing for him, with little tricks like always giving him something to do with his hands and arms - most blocks usually just wave them about like table tennis bats. A good start to the show!
Vick and Graziano So happy to see Vick back in ballroom again, well, once she's stopped wandering around a fairground or whatever that was. This was a very annoying routine, because there was flashes of great quickstepping in here, but once they got into it Grazi the Pink Panther would whisk her away out of hold and into mugging the camera and all sorts of nonsense. I did enjoy the jete though, always love one of them, and as the judges said, her frame had massively improved.
Danny and Amy This was definitely my favourite of Danny's dances so far, he relaxed into it much more and looked like he was having the best of times - much helped by the band's wonderful performance. That and Amy dressed as a Quality Street and delivering a VW that had breaks in it, but still actually flowed. He's not set the world alight yet, but give him time.
Faye and Giovanni Faye is winning the dresses this week, possibly the series. There was a lot of expectation on this, being the first rumba of the series, and the main thing I enjoyed was that it looked like a rumba and it didn't wander off into contempo-waft. There were some nice moments and good hip action, but a rumba has to be really wow to...wow people. It also seemed to come to a standstill at the end.
Katie and Gorka I was worried for Katie when she got the jive, and whilst this wasn't awful, it was lacking in energy and technique. In the kick and flick sections she did just look like she was skipping, and she went out of time in a couple of bits. Saying that, she delivered it with so much more confidence and partnership with Gorka than we've seen before, so she's there's a chance she's heading in the right direction.
Charles and Karen I mean, could anything be more iconic than the Peter Schmeichel shimmy dance?! This was a weird dance, it's not a good sign that I couldn't tell whether they'd gone wrong or not, especially in the 'the floor is lava' lift at the end. There was salsa content, which was nice, and actual use of hips, so I shouldn't complain too much - I just don't think I'll remember it tomorrow.
Lauren and AJ The contrast in Lauren's dress is making my eyes hurt, whereas AJ continues to to pilfer yer nan's curtains for shirts. This was a lovely little routine though, helped by the more subtle song and a nice bit of choreography from AJ with basic steps and lots in hold. A bit like Katie, Lauren seems to be easing into this a bit now - can she please give us a fierce paso or something next?
Dr Ranj and Janette Once I got over that they'd made Dr Ranj do a dance where he wasn't beaming all over the place I actually rather enjoyed this. Nice to see the flamenco influences too, and Dr Ranj keeping up with all the steps packed in there at various tempos. Oh, and there was a hat. Will this man ever do a chill dance? Do we even want him to?
Kate and Aljaz I'd been waiting for this all week, because it sounded delightfully kistch and Kate had been stanning for it like nothing on earth. Then they just seemed to be looking at a slideshow of some animals and I lost it, this was definitely my first so-bad-its-good moment of the series - it did make me giggle. Feathers on the bum too, always worth an extra point in the samba. Let's just move on...
Graeme and Oti Graeme has been such a surprise for me all series, but I think this is the first time he's gone right into dad-dancing. Saying that, he's much better than most dad-dancers, even when wearing bright pink shoes. It was well-executed but didn't excite me like the Charleston or samba, and he really needs to get a chance to nail the ballroom side of things. Much like Oti, I'm only harsh because I care...
Ashley and Pasha When I first heard this was happening, to this song, I was Ready For It (see what I did there Swifties?). They attacked this full-throttle, like any tango should be in my option, and ooh for a chance for Pasha to be dark for the first time in about a decade. It wasn't technically perfect, but it's always good for a ringer to show a few cracks and have some challenges, and in PVC no less.
Seann and Katya Just keep going, keep smiling, la la la! This started out well but then seemed to fall to pieces for me, culminating in the wonky lift of doom near the end. There was swivel however, and improved timing, and solos and couple work. The judges were rather kind to it though, that's all I'm saying.
Stacey and Kevin Stacey looks divine, super-high bouffant and all. Now, I appreciate the foxtrot is not the most showstoppery of dances and they had a bit of a random song, but I did shout 'do some foxtrot!' at my TV twice during this. Much more confidence from Stacey in ballroom though, and as Shirley said, her technique had improved. Not sure it was worth a 9, but the girl is on the up.