Strictly Come Blogging

Louise. Lou. Loulabelle. Loulabelle44. Louby.
Proudly blogging about Strictly Come Dancing ALL YEAR ROUND since 2006. Always spoiler-free.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Latest Rumours

More rumours swirl around possible participants for 2018.

The Sun reports that former England goalkeeper David James is on the wishlist. A source told the paper: “The Strictly casting team are really keen to sign up a former footballer this year. It’s been a while since we had a celebrity from the world of football and, as 2018 is a World Cup year, a footballer makes perfect sense. David would be a fantastic signing for us, and he is interested. The question is whether or not he will be able to balance training with his other commitments, as he is currently coaching a team in India.”

Thanks to Soccer AM of yesteryear, I cannot hear David's name without my inner monologue chanting 'Dodgy keeper, dodgy keeper'.

The Sun also reports that producers are interested in Union J singer Josh Cuthbert. A source said: “Josh has caught the eyes of producers and they’re seeing if he could take part. He could easily be a fan favourite. He’s young, in good shape and can dance. He’d be a strong signing.”

Friday, March 16, 2018

Kevin & Karen Clifton Confirm Split

After months of speculation, Kevin & Karen Clifton have confirmed that they have split up, but claim their dancing is better than ever.

Speaking to Chris Evans on his breakfast show yesterday, Kevin said: "Privately, we're not together anymore, but professionally we are stronger than ever. Dance is how we came together, and has been the glue which has held us together for years now. We've danced on Broadway together and West End, got five Strictly finals between us and we're still the best of friends. We've got a lot of love and respect for each other."

You can hear the interview here.

This is very sad news, but it sounds as though they are happy to work together. I hope they are both as happy as they sound.

I remember when Vincent and Flavia split up. The pain was obvious, but they put in some of the best performances of their lives in my opinion. And now they have four successful tours under their belts and are still amazing dancing together. I wish Kevin and Karen the same success.

Congratulations, Brendan!

Congratulations to former Strictly pro Brendan Cole and his wife Zoe, who have welcomed their second child, a boy, into the world. According to The Sun, Danté was born on Tuesday.

It was quite clear from an Instagram post from Zoe that she was nonplussed with the tabloid revealing the news before they could.

Brendan is currently on tour with his own show, All Night Long, which is on the road until the end of the month.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Latest Rumours

There have been quite a few rumours about possible Strictly participants in the past few days.

The Daily Star reports that producers are keen to sign former Coronation Street actress Michelle Keegan. Michelle is married to Mark Wright, who made the final in 2014 with Karen Clifton. A source told the paper: "She has a huge and loyal fanbase, but more importantly to bosses they know her supporters are young. That’s a demographic that they are desperate to attract to the show and something they are willing to break the bank for... Everyone behind the scenes thinks she would set the dance floor alight. It’s now a matter of convincing her to sign up.”

The Daily Mirror reports that The Chase star Mark Labbett is on the wish list. Mark and his fellow 'Chasers' won Let's Sing & Dance For Comic Relief last year. A source said: “Mark has become one of the best-known personalities on TV so he has come on to Strictly’s radar. They think he could be a real hit with viewers, as he has been on The Chase. He would certainly make people stand up and take notice with his stature.” 

The Sun reports that Big Brother's Bit On The Side host and former This Morning reporter Rylan Clark-Neal is also being considered. A source said “Rylan is charismatic and popular, and the bosses are sure he would be a huge hit on the show. He is definitely one of their targets for 2018.”

With about six months until we find out who will take part, expect to see lots more names linked with the show.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Anton Will Return To Strictly

Anton du Beke will reportedly return to Strictly Come Dancing this year, following speculation that he may be axed alongside Brendan Cole.

The Sun reports that Brendan is the only pro not to have his contract renewed.

A source told the paper: "Brendan is the only major name not returning. Anton will be back again this year. He is now the only dancer who has been around since the very first series, but he’s a big character and the show wouldn’t feel the same without him. He’s also been much more relaxed about missing out on the spot on the judging panel than Brendan was.”

The Sun also alleges that it was the judges who requested Brendan's removal from the pro line-up.

A source told the paper that it was Brendan's on-air spat with head judge Shirley Ballas over his tango with Charlotte Hawkins that was the catalyst: "He sulked rather than apologised after the show. Everyone told him 'Don't bite the hand that feeds you'. But his stubbornness got the better of him. The judges and show bosses had to put up with a lot over the years, but doing it to Shirley was a step too far. It was after that moment that the judges said: 'Off with his head'. They told bosses - it's him or the show. They had simply had enough. And Brendan was the last to know."

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Brendan Let Go From Strictly

Brendan Cole has not been invited back to Strictly Come Dancing this autumn.

The dancer broke the news yesterday on Lorraine, explaining that it was an editorial decision, although he's not completely sure of the exact reason why.

In in emotional interview, he said: "I've been very lucky. I've had 15 incredible years, not many people can say that." 

He wasn't ready to give up just yet, though. "I've always said that as long as I've got a passion for it, I want to be there. And my passion is still very much there. I'll miss being a part of the team. I'll miss being a Strictly dancer."

Following his somewhat contemplative exit interview back in October, there was much speculation that Brendan was ready to hang up his Cuban heels, but it's clear from his words and demeanour on Lorraine that he is gutted by the news.

I have always enjoyed seeing Brendan on Strictly. With the right partners - Natasha, Lisa, Kelly, Sophie - he has put in some magical routines. And it's been a delight to watch him grow up and mature into the caring family man he has become.

This also begs another question. What about Anton?

I always felt like Anton and Brendan were kindred spirits. The old guard, who take little pops at each other, but work hard to keep up with the ever-younger pros around them. I always pondered that Anton might give up if ever Brendan did, because would the job be as much fun without a partner in crime?

It will be interesting to see what other changes will be made for the upcoming series. They have a new celebrity booker, so will the kind of celebrities approached be changing?

Watch this space.

To mourn Brendan's departure, here are a couple of my favourite Brendan routines. I actually wanted to include his paso with Sarah Manners, but sadly there are no YouTube clips.

Here is his Viennese waltz with Kelly Brook:

And his Charleston with Sophie Ellis-Bextor:

And, of course, no Brendan look-back would be complete without the 'Bacofoil' routine (aka Lisa & Brendan's showdance). He got a lot of stick for it, but I still respect what he was trying to do with this routine, even if it wasn't quite executed in the way he might have had in his head:

Thank you, Brendan, for your passion, your backchat, your choreography and the entertainment you have given us for the past fifteen series.

I am very sorry to know that my 'This girl' klaxon is falling silent forever.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

NTA Win!

Strictly Come Dancing won the Best Talent Show award at last night's National Television Awards. It was the show's first win since 2014.

Shirley Ballas also performed a short routine as part of the show, which took place at The O2 in London.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

NTA Final Round Of Voting - Strictly Needs You!

It's time for the final round of voting for the National Television Awards.

Strictly Come Dancing has made the shortlist for the Talent category, alongside The Voice UK, Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor.

Vote here! Winners will be announced live on ITV on Tuesday 23rd, so you don't have long left to support our favourite show.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

More Congratulations!

More congratulations are due this week.

First, congratulations to former Strictly champion Ore Oduba, whose wife gave birth to a baby boy on 9th January. Ore posted the news with a picture on Instagram.

And congratulations to former pro Natalie Lowe, who married her partner James Knibbs in Australia on 8th January. Catch the story of the day with photos in this week's Hello! magazine.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Congratulations Roll Call

There are a number of Strictly faces had things to celebrate over the Christmas break.

Congratulations to Darcey Bussell, who because a Dame in the Queen's New Year Honours List. She tweeted her gratitude.

Congratulations to finalist Alexandra Burke, who got engaged to boyfriend Joshua Ginnelly on 18th December. She posted a pic to Instagram earlier this week, ending much press speculation.

18-12- 17 🇫🇷 I said YES! Smiling as I type this because it was the best day ever in Paris and so unexpected. My soul mate and my love asked me something that I could only have dreamt of. Being in love is one of the most magical feelings life has to offer. So grateful for this amazing man in my life who has supported my family and I through so much. We decided to keep this between us for a while to enjoy this special moment and that’s why we haven’t said anything... Something so amazing honestly felt so overwhelming because there was only one person I wanted to call when it happened. I know she is smiling and very happy for us both - because little did I know she knew about it. 😇 For those who guessed and have left such beautiful messages - thank you. Josh is someone who makes me so happy and I’ve never felt this kind of love before. Here’s to an amazing future that’s filled with love, joy and so much happiness. I love you Joshua Ginnelly. I can’t wait to see what our future brings and what God provides for us xxx
A post shared by Alexandra Burke (@alexandramusic) on

Congratulations to pro Amy Dowden, who also got engaged. Dance partner and boyfriend Ben Jones popped the question on New Year's Eve, and Amy posted a video of the magic moment on Twitter.
Congratulations to Strictly's director of choreography Jason Gilkison, who married partner James Carney on 30th December.

A post shared by Jason Gilkison (@jasongilkison) on

And finally, congratulations to former Strictly champion Abbey Clancy and her husband Peter Crouch, who welcomed their third child, Johnny Crouch into the world on 3rd January.

An exciting start to 2018 for all of them.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sunday Service: Week 13 - The Final

Coming into the final, I didn't have any idea who I wanted to win. I was excited to see the showdances, as I thought that would probably be the way to split them. Yet after the showdances, I was still undecided.

Round 1: Judges' Choice
Alexandra & Gorka were given the American Smooth to perform again. They were flawless. The routine was precise, and beautifully danced. Alexandra left nothing backstage.

Debbie & Giovanni were given the salsa. Debbie performed the routine better than the first time, and looked to be having a great time. The lifts were just as well executed as before, but I just enjoyed the routine more than the last time.

Gemma & Aljaž had to re-visit the paso doble. This was a great choice. Given how well the tango went for Gemma, and that the paso was performed early in the series, it was obvious that she was going to perform this well. And she did. It had attack and intent. A pleasure to watch again.

I'm so glad that the judges chose the Viennese waltz for Joe & Katya, as it was one of my favourite routines of the series. Joe's posture, while not perfect, was better than before. It was pure Viennese without too much fluff.

Round 2: Showdances

Alexandra & Gorka went for old Hollywood glamour in frantic style. The routine was packed with lifts and fast steps, playing to Alexandra's strengths and preferences. It was a great routine, with interesting lifts and fantastic energy again. I just wish it had crescendoed a bit more, with a stunning lift or something to bring the routine to a climax.

Debbie looked very nervous at the start of her and Giovanni's balletic routine. In places she looked unsteady. The routine was lovely, but parts of it felt a bit tentative. There was a lovely split, though, of course.

I really enjoyed Gemma & Aljaž's cabaret-style routine. Gemma looked fierce and in control. I loved the opening, where she was alone. Very Roxie Hart. It definitely showcased her talents in ballroom, but with other elements thrown in too. Some great lifts as well.

Joe & Katya's Cinderella-inspired routine was good, but didn't really move me. I thought the bit where he danced with the show was a bit naff. However, when he got Katya into hold, it was quite charming. I loved the dress changing from rags to ballgown. It was a sweet routine, with a couple of nice lifts, and lots of stroytelling, which is their strength.

Round 3: Favourite Routine

With the showdances over, the favourite dance is little more than a formality. These are routines that most couples nailed the first time around, so have little more to offer. It's just their chance to have a nice last dance.

It came as a surprise to literally no-one that Alexandra & Gorka went for their jive. I wasn't too keen on Alexandra's performance the first time around, but this time it was the perfect end to their series. I think she performed it better than before, with better technique. I loved watching it.

Debbie & Giovanni chose their Argentine tango, which was a big change of pace after Alexandra's jive, but it was the right choice. They nailed it again, great chemistry.

The nice thing about seeing Gemma & Aljaž's American smooth again was that the extra dancers were excluded. I liked this routine so much more when it was just the two of them. It had an intimacy which was lacking in Blackpool.

Joe & Katya could have chosen from several routines, but went for the crowd-pleasing Charleston. It was clean, fun and entertaining. 

Toward the end of the week, I was pretty convinced Joe or Debbie would win. The bookies were saying Joe, but almost everyone I spoke to wanted Debbie to win. Few chose Joe, so I started to think that maybe Debbie could do it. By Saturday morning, she was the favourite.

Over the same period, while I was sure I didn't mind who would win, I think I subconsciously started to gravitate towards Gemma. Seeing her at the press conference, and on It Takes Two twice in the week, I fell in love with her partnership with Aljaž. It was so obvious that they were having a great time. I just wish I'd have loved their showdance more than I did.

On the night, I think there could be little question that Alexandra was the strongest performer. All three routines were flawless, and I loved that she gave her all to everything. She nailed all three routines. And while I wanted even more from her showdance, she was definitely the most impressive.

When Joe was announced as the winner, I didn't really feel anything. Maybe it's because I didn't mind who won. Or maybe it's because by Saturday night, I'd kind of decided that I was backing Gemma. I don't really know. But I don't begrudge Joe & Katya the crown. Joe's improvement has been obvious, and Katya is a brilliant choreographer who has come up with some very inventive routines.

I can't imagine how lost the participants feel today. It seemed odd not watching Strictly at 7.15pm tonight. Only eight days until the Christmas special, and then on to the tour in February. And no doubt the rumours about 2018 will start imminently. Although they have to recruit a new celebrity booker first, so don't expect any stories just yet...

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Strictly Final Press Conference

It's Thursday. The fab four finalists are on stage at the BBC Radio Theatre about to be interviewed by the ghost of Strictly past, Ore Oduba (he joked that as host of the official podcast and upcoming tour, he's "the boy that never let go").

Gemma and Joe look pretty relaxed on stage when they first come out. Alexandra fiddles with one of the sequins on her jumper. Debbie picks at her fingernails. But the conversation soon flows and everyone relaxes.

The warmth between the couples is palpable. Any suggestion that any of the finalists don't get on seems ridiculous. Gemma shares a sweet moment from early on: "On Week 1, Debbie & Giovanni got us all a little tiny glitterball cup with a straw in it saying 'we're all winners regardless', and we all are."

Ore asks the pros about when they saw the potential in their celebrities. Gorka explains that putting in the hours in training is more important than any existing ability: "You can be the most talented person, but if you don't work, and you don't really want to do it, it's very hard. All of them [the celebrities] have the patience and the love to be on the show. That's what makes our job easier."

For Giovanni, her knew he was on to a winner when he saw how bendy Debbie was: "I said to her, 'Can you split?' She said 'I think I can'. 'Let me see'. She did a kick, and I was like 'Wow, this is going to be amazing. Thank you so much! I am going to have the best time of my life with you. Happy days. I saw the other ones - beautiful, pretty - but I've got Flexi McGee!"

Ore asks the celebrities if they see themselves as roll models. Debbie says: "I get stopped all the time, every day, and it's a fantastic feeling that because someone has watched me on Strictly that I've made their life happier, and I've made to want them do more for themselves - go to the gym, or start dancing. It's been an incredible experience the fact that I've inspired so many people, and I wasn't expecting that.

Gemma doesn't like the tag 'role model', but her story is similar: "I love training and going to the gym, and I'm not your petite dancer's physique - I'm broad, I'm tall - and everyone said to me 'There's no way you'll be able to do it, you're too muscular' or 'You're too much of a tomboy'. I love the fact that women who do boxing or weight training and who don't like wearing dresses and don't like the spray tans have said to me 'I want to try and do some dancing because you do it'."

Alexandra hopes her time on the show can inspire others to find happiness in difficult times: "The feedback I have got online is more about whatever you're going through in life you find a good outcome. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. I had the opportunity to take a step back and say to myself 'Maybe I'm not ready to do the show mentally', but actually I've surprised myself. I'm not going to say everything has been rosy, I've had ups and downs, but I have done something that has brought me such joy. So if I can inspire someone else to do what they love in the toughest of times in their life, then that's what I'm here for."

I personally identify with this. My dancing friends and I often talk about what a great escape a dance class is. No matter what is going on in life, for a couple of hours you can break away into a special world of music and movement. It sounds lame, but it's true.

Joe: "I certainly don't feel like a role model at all. In fact, I don't really feel like a celebrity, to be honest. Whenever they say 'We need the celebs'. 'Oh, that's me isn't it?' I'm just an actor. I think that if I were to inspire people perhaps it would be that if you want to do something just put the work in, and get your head down and get on with it, and don't take the easy way out. I hope that that's the thing that people look at me and maybe see - that if you apply yourself, and if you have a fantastic Russian partner you can do pretty much anything."

Unsurprisingly, the celebrities and pros remain very tight lipped about the content of their showdances.

Joe tells us that "There's some dancing in it". Katya is willing to expand a little, explaining that they have focused on storytelling, as that was something they got positive comments about.

Aljaž jokes "Gemma choreographed a beautiful routine." He goes on to say that it shows their journey, and Gemma's improvement.

Giovanni admits there will be lots of lifts "just because we didn't do a lot on this series. And some more splits. Why not?". He says it will be elegant.

Gorka's routine will be be like a old movie, fun and fast with a lot of tricks. "He literally has me leaping across the dancefloor the whole time", explains Alexandra.

When asked about pre-show rituals, Gemma tells a funny story. Here's a clip, as they is no way I could convey the story myself. 

They won't talk about what it would mean to raise the glitterball. They all just claim what an achievement is has been to make it to the final. But Gemma jokingly interjects at the end "But vote Gemma & Aljaž, yeah?".

We'll find out who will lift the glitterball tonight with Tess & Claudia from 6.30pm on BBC One.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Book Review: Strictly Come Dancing Annual 2018

The first thing you see when you open this year's annual is the dedication: "In loving memory of Sir Bruce Forsyth, 1928-2017." A lovely touch.

I always look forward to reading the Strictly Come Dancing Annual, but every year I think that there can't be anything left to talk about that we don't already know. Of course, the celebrity and dancer profiles are different every time, and we always hear from the presenters and judges, but the other pages have to be filled too.

An interesting feature this year looks at the highest and lowest Strictly scores ever. I was surprised that Anton didn't feature more often in the lowest. He is in there - three times - all with Ann Widdecombe. There are actually quite a few low scores from the earlier series, which is probably a combination of Arlene Phillips, who generally scored couples lower than her successors, and the generally improved standard in more recent series. The lowest ever? Quentin Wilson's cha cha (8 points). I met Quentin at Strictly once, probably around Series 3 or 4. He was very proud to be the lowest scorer. I bet he's especially proud that his record has stood the test of time.

Another interesting feature is about the Strictly cruises. They are a part of the Strictly calendar that many of us will never get to experience, so it was nice to hear a little more about them and the challenges they can pose to the dancers and production team. I've found it challenging walking around on a cross-channel ferry at times, let alone dancing at sea!

We also get to meet Dave Arch, who talks about the challenge of arranging orchestral music for a band of 16 musicians, designers Catherine Land and Patrick Docherty, who might have to source giant drums for a showdance or eight palm trees at short notice, and Louise & Kier Lusby, who created the original, iconic glitterball trophy.

The Strictly annual is a welcome shape under the Christmas tree. Any fan of the show will love it. I've been given more annuals for secret Santa over the years than you can shake a 10 paddle at.

Disclosure: Thank you to the nice folks at Penguin Random House for supplying a copy of the annual for me to review.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

DVD Review: Tess and Craig's Christmas Night In

It's Christmas gift season, which means a new DVD offering for Strictly fans.

In Strictly Come Dancing: Tess and Craig's Christmas Night In, the pair choose some of their favourite routines and share some memories.

If, like me, you like to vote for the best performances, this DVD is for you. The focus here is very much on perfection. It is a celebration of some of the best 40-scoring routines, which gives it a slightly different angle to Len's picks on last year's disk.

There is a nice mix of couples, and for the most part the selections are different to Len's. Unsurprisingly, there is more time spent in recent series. All of last year's finalists - Ore, Danny and Louise - feature more than once.

But fear not, fun fans. There is also a section of 'surprises', and of course Ed & Katya's iconic salsa to Gangnam Style is here!

There is also a look at some of Craig's most catty put-downs, and some of Tess and Claudia's funniest moments.

The 2-hour runtime is generous, and at 90 seconds a pop with no judges critiques, the DVD is jam packed with dancing. While Tess and Craig host, this programme is definitely all about the dancing. The pair are really only there to give a bit of context.

Sir Bruce is remembered, and the tribute which was broadcast during the launch show is included as a DVD extra.

This DVD is a must for Strictly fans. It includes many couples you might not have thought about for a while - Natalie & Artem, Ali & Brian, Chelsee & Pasha, Jason & Kristina, Katie & Anton, Pixie & Trent, Anita & Gleb, Georgia & Giovanni, Lisa & Brendan and many others. 

I was snowed in at home yesterday, and thoroughly enjoyed escaping the weather for a couple of hours. If you have nothing planned for Boxing Day, you could do worse than pop this in your player. It will ease the pain of the series being over for another year.

Still not convinced? Watch the trailer:

Disclosure: Thank you to the nice folks at BBC Worldwide for supplying a copy of the DVD for me to review.

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Saturday Service: Week 12

It's the semi-final, which means two brand new dances for the remaining couples. The pressure of two dances seems to have tripped up some of the celebrities.

Joe & Katya's American smooth wasn't as Hollywood as I had hoped it would be. The ending lift was good, but some of the others were a bit hard going. His arm lines were a bit dodgy in a few places. It was a lovely performance, but I just wanted a bit more.

Their Argentine tango followed a similar path. I really wanted it to be better. It was a bit laboured in places. There were a few stumbles, and it lacked finesse. There were some good lifts, and he had the mood nailed. I really liked the end lift. It was good, but not good enough.

Alexandra & Gorka's Viennese waltz took too long to get into hold for my liking. Otherwise, it was elegant and controlled. Unfortunately, it just didn't stop my heart and excite me.

The salsa, on the other hand, was a completely different story! Amazing Alexandra stole the show. Their salsa was hot, hot, hot. Fantastic lifts. Showstopping performance. Great armography. It was everything a semi-final performance should be. Totally worthy of four 10s.

Mollie seemed to be channeling her inner showpony during her samba. She seemed to trot around looking at AJ, rather than dancing. She looked gangly and awkward. There were a couple of errors in the routine, which left her on the wrong foot. It was just all a bit wobbly and unconvincing.

Their waltz was much better. It was a very magical, romantic waltz. She looked confident and serene. And AJ used Anton's old trick of 'if in doubt, pivot'. There were rather a lot of them. 

Gemma & Aljaž's rumba was enjoyable to watch. It was calm and understated. Her legs were nicely controlled, and had a great mood. But as the judges noted, it just lacked a bit of feeling. She needs to use all of the music.

Their tango was much better. Despite a very dodgy song choice in My Sharona they performed very well. It was staccato, it had attack and mood. Gemma's frame was lovely and she held it well. A lovely routine.

Debbie & Giovanni's jive was definitely one of Debbie's most awkward dances all series. She was still a bit straight-legged for me and she did really awkward things with her arms in places. But Debbie throws herself into every routine so much that it was still fun to watch, even with its awkwardness.

Their foxtrot was lovely, lovely, lovely. It was pure foxtrot. Well, it was until they went out of hold at the end. It had the kind of Hollywood vibe that makes a good foxtrot. So gorgeous. Everything about the routine made me smile, including the confetti cannons.

So who will make the final? There's no question that Alexandra should be there. Her salsa was the dance of the series so far. I think it's clear that Mollie isn't in the same league as her fellow competitors, and if she is in the bottom two, I'm convinced that the judges would save the other couple, no matter who they're up against. I really don't want to think about a bottom two that Mollie is not a part of.