It’s the highlight of every season of Strictly Come Dancing, and this year’s Blackpool extravaganza was no exception.
Once again, there were high scores for Ellie Leach and her partner Vito Coppola (whose affectionate behaviour only fanned the flames of romance rumours) and Layton Williams and Nikita Kuzmin – but Craig Revel Horwood still refused to reach for that all-important 10 paddle.
Here are all the talking points from Strictly Come Dancing week nine...
A high-energy opener (and a show-stopping jumpsuit)
Blackpool week kicked off in characteristically dazzling style with a huge opening number, which started out as a paired routine between Johannes Radebe and Luba Mushtuk, who were then joined by their fellow pros, all seven remaining contestants and even judges Shirley Ballas and Craig Revel Horwood. And as the routine built to its crescendo, there was time for a stunning outfit change from Radebe, who returned to the floor wearing a sparkling fringe jumpsuit in emerald green. Christmas party style inspiration anyone?
Angela Rippon goes down memory lane
The last time Angela Rippon was in the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, she was the presenter of Strictly precursor Come Dancing. Now, in a real full circle moment, she’s the one doing the dancing. Her American Smooth routine to “Two for Tea” was heavy on nostalgia and old school glamour, and Anton du Beke was so taken by the atmosphere created by Rippon and her partner Kai Widdrington that he “almost didn’t care how it went”, technique wise. A slightly backhanded compliment, surely, but a compliment all the same. Rippon, of course, has been in the dance-off for the past two consecutive weeks: will her performance be enough to avoid a similar fate this time around?
Layton Williams is in pole position
I’ll be honest: I wasn’t exactly expecting to see pole dancing on Strictly. But that’s exactly what we got from Layton Williams and Nikita Kuzmin’s commercial-inspired Couple’s Choice routine to Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man”. It kicked off with gasp-inducing vertical splits from Williams, balanced precariously on his dance partner, and it only got more dramatic from there. Extra points for the emo eyeliner. Revel Horwood wasn’t convinced that the couple were perfectly in sync (and was almost drowned out by boos when he voiced that opinion), but he still hailed Williams as “one of the most incredible dancers I’ve seen on the show” to date. According to Ballas, it was “creative genius”, and I’m inclined to agree.
Ellie Leach and Vito Coppola leave Anton du Beke speechless
First of all, let’s give a shout out to the Strictly backing singers who had the not insignificant task of memorising and delivering the lyrics to Girls Aloud’s “Love Machine” at speed (harder than it looks, as anyone who’s ever attempted to do karaoke to the track can surely attest). And as for Ellie Leach and Vito Coppola’s Charleston? It was packed with energy and impossible to watch without cracking a smile, plus the pair weren’t remotely overshadowed by the attention grabbing stage set (including a massive silver hammer) and backing dancers. Revel Horwood hailed it as “one of the hardest Charlestons I’ve ever seen” while du Beke temporarily lost the ability to speak, churning out random words like “swivel!” and “details!” (although he did chide Coppola for failing to point his toes correctly during his cartwheel). Oh, and the pair certainly did nothing to dampen the romance rumours that have been following them for the past few weeks, with Coppola constantly bestowing kisses on his partner as the judges delivered their verdicts.
Angela Scanlon and Carlos Gu go “Back to Black”
The Argentine tango is all about high drama, and Angela Scanlon and Carlos Gu certainly delivered on that front. The pair danced to a moody, slowed-down cover of Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and it proved a perfect backdrop for their routine (“Kinda dark, kinda James Bond,” as Motsi Mabuse put it). Du Beke hailed it as his favourite performance of the night, and Ballas was briefly lost for words, but - you guessed it - Revel Horwood thought that the legwork was a little stiff. Still, Gu was thrilled with the comments, tearing up while chatting to Claudia Winkleman afterwards.
That perfect 40 score remains just out of reach
Maybe it’s something about that fresh seaside air, but when Strictly decamps to Blackpool, it’s not unusual to see at least one couple earn a perfect 40 score: indeed, last year Coppola and his partner Fleur East managed to pull it off with a Couple’s Choice routine to a Destiny’s Child megamix. And yet this year, despite a clutch of seriously breath-taking performances, no one quite made it. Williams and Leach were in touching distance, both earning 39 points and receiving 10s from all the judges bar Revel Horwood. The panel’s longest-standing member was on particularly critical form tonight (although in fairness, he always balanced his critiques with some quite un-Craig compliments). “Maybe he’s lost the  paddle,” Winkleman quipped towards the end of the show. Will he find it in time for next week?
Strictly Come Dancing continues on Sunday 19 November on BBC One at 7.20pm.
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