It’s been a tumultuous week for the BBC ballroom behemoth, with not one but two withdrawals – one only temporary but the other sadly permanent. But the shiny show must go on, so it was back to ballroom business.
Who could maintain the sky-high standard of hoofing? Who would suffer a dip? And who’d find themselves in dance-off danger?
Here are the top 10 talking points from this year’s fourth live show…
When it comes to ballroom, Dragon Davies isn’t out
From Shrek to Scent Of A Woman. Yes, Dragon’s Den star Sara Davies had scrubbed off last week’s green face paint for a passionate routine to “Por Una Cabeza” by Carlos Gardel (best known for soundtracking Al Pacino’s famous tango scene). And hoo-hah, as Al might say. Say hello to my little dancing friend.
Sara’s leaderboard-topping foxtrot a fortnight ago established her as a ballroom girl. Now she hot-footed it to the top of the standings again. Her traditional tango was packed with content, full of snap, stalking steps and sharp staccato. The judges could find fault only with her head position, and a clean sweep of nines made Sara the night’s top performer.
Her pro partner Aljaž Škorjanec notched his highest score for a tango in nine years and couldn’t conceal his glee, shouting “get in!” and high-fiving her. They’ve clearly formed a cracking partnership – a good teacher and diligent student in perfect harmony. If Davies could do ballroom alone and say “I’m out” to the Latin, she’d be a serious glitterball contender.
Adam Peaty was comeback king with Argentine tango
Last week, he faced the daunting task of performing the first rumba of the series. An awkward Avatar affair left him bottom of the table, blue-painted and red-faced. Now swimmer Adam Peaty had to blaze a ballroom trail again by tackling this year’s first Argentine tango.
The Olympian has competitive spirit in spades, so he came out fighting. He and pro partner Katya Jones began with a stunning lift sequence, her feet barely touching the floor for the first 30 seconds. Then it was into a dark, dramatic and creatively choreographed routine during which Adam led strongly and was powerfully passionate.
The Argentine tango is a firm fan favourite and this was a smouldering way to start. Peaty went from bottom to joint second. A silver medal isn’t what he’s used to but will suffice for now.
Tilly Ramsay was overmarked, Judi Love undermarked
Were the judges trying to bag better tables at Gordon’s “rest-runts”? That’s surely the logical explanation for daughter Tilly Ramsay’s paso doble getting two nines and tying in second with Adam Peaty.
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The teen cook turned stern and serious for her flamenco-styled number with pro partner Nikita Kuzmin. It featured lots of shape-throwing and skirt-swishing but lacked fluidity and Spanish line. A decent effort but it merited sevens at most. Yes, chef?
Last week’s dance-off survivor Judi Love had the opposite problem. After a fortnight of character-driven uptempo dances, she slowed things down for an elegant waltz with Italian pro Graziano DiPrima. She dedicated the dance to her late parents and delivered an exquisite, poignant routine. It moved head judge Shirley Ballas to tears. Judi’s sister and niece were equally emotional in the studio audience,
Sure, it wasn’t technically perfect but in terms of expression through movement, it deserved more than 24 points. A four from Craig Revel Horwood was harsh in the extreme. Let’s hope the sentiment pulls in enough public votes to lift Judi clear of the bottom two.
Pair of pull-outs meant a slimmed-down show
We should have seen 13 pro-celebrity couples taking to the Elstree Studios floor tonight. It was clearly an unlucky number. Instead there were just 11, after a dance dis-ah-ster of a week in which not one but two Strictly celebrities were forced to withdraw.
Rugby player-turned pundit Ugo Monye’s absence was hopefully brief, due to a recurrence of an old back injury. More worryingly, comedian Robert Webb departed the contest due to health concerns after his open heart surgery two years ago. We wish them both well.
It all meant the BBC One schedules were hastily rejigged, lopping 10 minutes off this episode’s running time and pushing back its scheduled start. A weekend without an elimination surely isn’t an option, since it would drain the contest of jeopardy. We’re likely looking at a three-couple climax come December, rather than the planned four-way final.
This was supposed to be the year when Strictly got back to near-normal post-pandemic. Producers will now be praying there are no more positive Covid tests or crocked couples. Fake-tanned fingers crossed.
Rose Ayling-Ellis didn’t blow a raspberry
EastEnders actress Rose Ayling-Ellis wowed last week with a Titanic foxtrot, her debut slow dance. Now Strictly’s first ever deaf contestant picked up the pace for a cheeky cha cha cha. Alongside pro partner Giovanni Pernice, her hip-rotating routine to Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” was rhythmic, cute and confident. Screen dad Danny Dyer, in the studio audience, looked pwopah chuffed, babe.
She was arguably undermarked but is beginning to look a likely finalist, perhaps even a potential champion. Rose’s participation in the contest also continues to break down barriers. Not only was sign language and beat-counting to the fore, but her hearing-impaired friends visited her in the rehearsal room and she laughed about breaking her hearing aid during training.
It’s just a shame about the production’s clumsy trimmings. Even Rose described her headgear as “very literal” (even if it did look more fuchsia than raspberry) and the routine was set in the “second-hand” store described in the lyrics. Even so, I think I love her
Back to reality for Team Johannes
Aaargh, me hearties. The pirate ship ran aground. Buff baker John Whaite and pro partner Johannes Radebe scored three 10s last week for their piratical paso doble. Their total of 39 points was Strictly’s highest ever week three score. “Team John-hannes” came back to earth with a bump, their American smooth scoring 10 points fewer.
After several powerful, passionate dances, John needed to showcase a different side to himself: graceful, soft and elegant. The couple’s synchronicity and chemistry continues to impress but it was stilted, lacked glide and had gapping galore. At least the lifts were exquisite. It was Jojo’s first time being lifted and the strong-yet-sensitive John didn’t let him down.
Rhys Stephenson went from Spidey to spicy
CBBC presenter Rhys Stephenson was the other celebrity to score a maximum in Movie Week for his SpiderMan streetdance. Stripped of his superpowers, he still finished third on the leaderboard.
Alongside Nancy Xu, his salsa had loose hips, a party mood and was packed with personality. All that was missing was a tighter base and tidy footwork. Stephenson looked like the pro at times and will surely dance his way into December at least. Less frenetic effort and fewer “phone hand” gestures down the camera, though, please.
AJ Odudu got irritatingly superficial feedback
Craig Revel Horwood said last week that if TV presenter AJ Odudu had started hoofing at an earlier age, she could’ve become a pro. Now she got the chance to showcase her personality in her first Latin party dance.
Her samba with pro partner Kai Widdrington brought Brazil to Borehamwood, via Blackburn. It was vibrant, full of bounce action and body rhythm. So why the five from Craig Revel Horwood? At least he gave AJ a serious critique, The other three judges just said how beautiful she looked, admired her legs and commented on the length of her skirt. Reductive.
Sanity largely returned to scoring
The judging panel’s marking went off the sparkly scale last week, with 11 near-perfect nines and four perfect 10s awarded during Movie Week. More than half the couples notched their highest scores of the series and it was the highest scoring week three in Strictly history. Yes, the hoofing is high-standard this year but was it really worthy of record scores?
Seasoned Strictly viewers expected the judges to self-correct by clamping down on technical details in this non-themed show. So it came to pass. Craig Revel Horwood opened the show by ostentatiously throwing away his “10” paddle. With no fancy dress or filmic storytelling to distract from their technical deficiencies, the couples found themselves docked points for footwork flaws, minor mistakes and sticky-out bottoms.
It led to scores far more fitting for a third of the way through the competition. Calmer, more objective judges were a welcome sight. We don’t need them waving around their high-scoring paddles to provide excitement. We just need entertaining and engaging routines, followed by expert critiques and fair marking.
Greg Wise and Dan Walker in dance-off danger
Stop! Dan Walker time. Last week, his Sleeping Beauty foxtrot was littered with mistakes. The BBC Breakfast presenter bounced back with a cha cha cha set to a mash-up of “U Can't Touch This” by MC Hammer and the funk classic it sampled, Superfreak by Rick James.
An entertaining routine told the sweet story of two shy kids at a school disco. However, there was nothing shy about Walker’s cha-cha-charming number with na-na-Nadiya Bychkova. There were disco dad moves, crab crawls and a spot of running man. What it lacked it Cuban spice, it made up for in performance level.
Walker befriended MC Hammer on Twitter this week, getting the seal of approval from the harem-panted hip-hopper. They’ll both hope the fun factor can carry him through to next week.
From a licence to kill to Los Del Rio. Last Saturday, silver fox actor Greg Wise got to play James Bond for one night only. Now his mission was a Macarena samba. Sadly, his face did more dancing than his body in an awkward, error-strewn routine. Wise’s apologies afterwards somehow made it worse.
He was bookies’ favourite for elimination this weekend and getting saddled with the dreaded samba hardly helped his cause. Neither did a novelty routine, with its clumsy comedy nods to the 90s Spanish dance craze’s original moves. His scores have been stuck in the mid-20s and Wise’s hoofing holiday could be over.
The judges’ scores will now be combined with viewer votes and at 7.10pm on Sunday, the bottom two face the dreaded dance-off. Whoever loses will board the sequin-spangled bus home. Sob.
The rest, hopefully including the recovered Ugo Monye, hit the floor again at 7.05pm next Saturday. Please join me back here afterwards to rate and slate the routines. In the meantime, it almost goes without saying: keeeeeeep dancing.
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