Strictly Come Blogging

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

Thursday, March 25, 2021

All Pros To Return

The BBC announced all of the 2021 Strictly pros last night, and there are no changes to the line-up from last year.

In a statement, Executive Producer Sarah James said: “We are so thrilled to be welcoming back our incredible line-up of professional dancers for 2021. Their passion and dedication for Strictly shone through more than ever last year as they all sacrificed so much to deliver an unforgettable series during unprecedented and challenging times. With so much talent returning to the ballroom, the 2021 series promises more show-stopping choreography, memorable performances and world-class dancing.”

There is no question that, given the sacrifices they all made last year, that it was right that they all be invited to return. And it's great news that all of them have decided to do so.

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Strictly Pros Offered 2021 Contracts

All of the Strictly pros have been offered the opportunity to return, as a thank-you for their commitment in 2020.

Many of the cast were forced to spend time away from their own families in order to form 'support bubbles' with their celebrities. The Sun reports that the producers have aknowledged their commitment by commiting to give them a job in 2021. Often, the pros aren't approached about coming back until the spring.

A source told the paper: “Bosses rewarded them for their commitment and hard work in ensuring the show was able to go ahead. They are well aware that without the willingness of the pro dancers to put their lives on hold, Strictly would not have gone ahead. So they have rewarded every one of the dancers with a contract each for the next series. The details of the deals will be hammered out in the next few weeks, but the pro dancers have been able to enjoy Christmas safe in the knowledge that they have kept their jobs for another year.”

This is absolutely the right thing to do, and I am glad to hear that the pros have been given this security, especially as they continue to lose work because of the pandemic, and their upcoming tours still hang in the balance.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Sunday Service: Week 9 - The Final

We made it! Despite the global pandemic, the 2m rule, isolation and all the rest of the challenges, Strictly managed to complete the series. I'm super sorry that it is over, as it was bringing me so much joy, but I will treasure the memories as much as any other series, if not more.

Round 1: Judges' Pick

Harvey & Janette were given their jive to perform again. They first performed it back in Week 1, so I think it was a god selection. Harvey was pretty good at it first time around, but there's no harm in giving it another run. It was enjoyable to watch again. And it probably was a bit slicker than the first time.

Jamie & Karen were given their Charleston. It was certainly a bit manic the first time around, but I really wish the judges had given them something more challenging. Something that might need a glance at a technique book, perhaps. Nonetheless, it was a dance that made me smile last time, and it did again last night. The final lift was probably a bit more confident than before.

Bill & Oti were asked to perform the quickstep again, from Week 2. Like Harvey & Janette, this was a dance that went really well the first time around, and showed everyone that Bill was a contender. It was light and fast across the floor. Bill's posture has improved throughout the series. It was a pleasure to see the routine again.

Finally, Maisie & Gorka had to revisit their samba. This time around it had a bit more light and shade, and less full out attack, which made it easier on the eye. The batucadas and voltas were not quite there, but I wouldn't be able to either step myself. It was a nice routine.

Round 2: Showdances

With so many Couple's Choice routines this year, which now don't even need to nominate a dance style, would the showdances deliver something that we hadn't seen before?

Harvey & Janette's routine was pretty much what you'd expect. There was lots of salsa, with some excellent armography. There were some typical Janette-style lifts, and her signature 'neck on the foot' move. The pot stir was gorgeous, and definitely a highlight of the routine. It was well performed, and confident. But I'm not sure it really showed me anything I hadn't seen, or anything that I wouldn't have expected Harvey to be able to do.

I did quite enjoy Jamie & Karen's routine. I enjoyed the red light at the beginning, but I'm not a fan of the use of a harness in a routine, because we are left watching the partner for too long while they are unhooked. I liked the routine otherwise. I liked how 'big' it was - it seemed to cover lots of space and was expansive. That made it quite interesting to watch. Jamie is not the best dancer, but as the judges have said many times, he gives the dances everything. I enjoyed watching, even if it wasn't a shopstopper.

Bill & Oti's showdance totally appealed to me. It was exactly what I want to see. Passion and drama. I loved the mix of paso and Argentine tango. It was strong and powerful. It was so them. I'm not usually emotional, but I was in bits when Bill got his guitar and Oti went ariel. It delivered, and I think it helped seal their place in the competition.

Maisie & Gorka's routine was pure Hollywood. I loved it. It was clean and well performed. I could live without some of the face-pulling on Maisie's part, but her body just flowed beautifully. I ended up being a little disappointed about the drop from the platform, which had been built up in the VT. There was barely a gap between her waist and Gorka's arms in the end. It didn't look that dramatic, although I'm sure it felt dramatic from Maisie. That aside, it was still a lovely, fesitve routine.

Round 3: Couples' Favourite

It was lovely to see Harvey & Janette's American smooth again. A perfect end to their series. It was glamourous, precise and big. I think the lift section at the end was slicker than the first time. Loved it.

Jamie & Karen managed to no do any ballroom or latin in the final by opting to do their Couple's Choice routine again. I enjoyed this routine the first time, and I enjoyed it again. Jamie is not perfect, but there is something very endearing about him. I really hope that we get to see him on the Strictly tour in the future, because I want the pleasure of seeing some of these routines in person.

Bill & Oti had to do their Couple's Choice again. The nation would have been in mourning otherwise. It was as slick and precise as the first time. Sometimes the reprise of a dance in the final is never as good as the first time, but this truly was. If the showdance didn't win them the competition, this dance definitely did.

Maisie & Gorka closed the competition with their quickstep. It was such a lovely routine, and it was so well danced. At did have the feel of an American smooth. Maisie is such a gorgeous dancer, and this was a nice compliment to the showdance. 

Nicola & Katya

It was so lovely to see Nicola & Katya perform again, and this was exactly the routine we had been waiting to see in the competition. Mostly Argentine tango, Nicola lead Katya very well. It was passionate and hot. It also had some challenging lifts than only Katya can choreograph. We were robbed of seeing this pair get further in the competition, but I am glad we were treated to this routine.

The Result

For once, the person in the final I wanted to win actually did! I was made up with the result.

Bill wasn't the comedy act that people thought he would be. He was a real student of dance. He took everything seriously, learning about the origins of each dance in addition to the choreography. Every dance they did was confident and well-danced. For someone whose career is comedy, we saw a performer come out on the floor. His dedication won the day. For me, the combination of the showdance and the Couple's Choice reprise sealed it for me.

This has been one of my favourite series of Strictly in years. It was so close - you genuinely didn't know who was going to win. There were some very memorable dances that will make it in to compilations for years to come. It's helped that I have actually been home to watch it every Saturday night. With no distractions I've been able to submerge myself into Strictly world every week in a way that I usually don't have time for. And it delivered the glitz and glam that we have all needed in 2020. 

Thank you, Strictly!

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Thank You, Strictly!

Ahead of tonight's Strictly Come Dancing final, I wanted to congratulate everyone involved in the series for getting the show on the air, and keeping it as normal as possible given the current circumstances.

To all of the crew who have kept the show going, I thank you. It's been difficult for all of them. There have been fewer people involved this year, which has to put pressure on the rest of the team. Couple that with the fact that they cannot get within two meters of each other, I'm sure it has been a very challenging series. Gallery, props, cameras, sound, visuals, runners, floor managers, this must have been so much more difficult but it came together and everyone should be very proud that it still looked like the same Strictly on screen as far as it could.

To the the social media team, you have kept us entertained during the week. I love the bloopers, but the audio from the mics on the floor is a highlight of my week. I enjoy getting a sneaky peek at the more intimate moments of the performances. Honourable mention to the BBC Three Twitter feed and their HRVY thread (or as he calls it, their HRVY THRD). It just didn't get old!

To all the pros who also formed their summertime bubble to record the pro numbers, and all of the team who bubbled with them, I thank you. The pro numbers have been bigger than ever, and seeing everyone perform together has been a joy each week. It's reminded us of a time past, that will return soon.

Make-up, hair and costume have smashed it out of the park this year. Thank you all for making the on-screen talent look so good. I can't imagine how difficult it has been to get everyone ready with smaller teams. Fitting costumes and assisting quick changes when you can't get very close to the performers might have been so difficult. Well done!

To the on-screen talent that keep the show going, I salute you. The Strictly band and singers, who have sounded as fabulous as ever, with reduced rehearsal time and proximity, performing behind their screens. Any band who can pivot from Un Giorno Per Noi to Enter Sandman deserve props. Craig, Motsi and Shirley (and Anton), who all looked stunning and did their jobs with little energy in the room to feed off. I was a bit skeptical about a team of three, and I hope we can go back to four next year, but they formed a lovely little team. Zoe, Rylan and the ITT team have been brilliant as always. I hope Zoe & Ian can get back into hold next year! And of course, Tess & Claudia. They have been wonderful. We've missed the chaos of the Clauditorium, but the Chaterpillar has been a great alternative. I hope that Tess & Claud will also get back into hold next year! Keeeeeep dancing!

Finally, to all the couples, I thank you for all the sacrifices you made to be a part of the show. Many separated from their families to live alone for the duration of the series and form their bubbles. We all know how hard it has been this year not to see our families and friends, but to have to seperate from members of your own household - partners, parents, children - it must have been really touch. I want them to know that as viewers, we really appreciate what they have done to keep the core element of the show - the partnerships - in tact.

From myself, and all of the 2020 viewers of Strictly Come Dancing,

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Sunday Service: Week 8

It's such a close competition this year. Everyone is desperate to hang on for one more week, and not be the couple who just miss out.

Arguably the weakest couple left, Jamie & Karen kicked things off. Their first dance was the disco salsa. They might as well just make disco salsa a style and be done with it. We seem to get them regularly. Jamie lacked hip action, and he was slightly ahead of the music in a number of places. The first lift looked a bit awkward, but subsequent lifts were better. He always looks like an enthusiastic amateur. It was fun. It was competent. But it wasn't quite the standard for a finalist. 

Jamie & Karen's second routine was the heavily themed hoedown quickstep. Thank God I'm A Country is a very bold choice because it has a weird time signature with extra counts at the end of phrases. I guess this is less troublesome if you are listening the the music rather than counting it, as I suspect Jamie does. I didn't care for the bench section in the middle, especially as Karen tended to look down at her feet (she did this last week when dancing on the classroom tables, too). The parts in hold were OK. His frame is quite nice and he is light on his feet. There wasn't really any gapping. I did actually enjoy the routine. I just miss the days of routines with less out-of-hold sections.

The waltz was always going to be a good choice for Ranvir & Giovanni. Classic ballroom. Nothing could go wrong. Giovanni is one of the few pros who goes pure with ballroom and I love it. This was elegant and controlled. It was difficult to see Ranvir's feet under the dress, but her topline looked nice. I have a problem with her head position at times - it's a bit far back and looks like it's sinking into her neck. But otherwise, it was everything you would want from a waltz.

I have no idea what Ranvir's jive was like, because did you see Giovanni's costume? OK, I went and watched it back after. Ranvir's dress was similar in length to Maisie's jive dress, and both were giving me flashbacks to Jill. I was waiting for her to catch her heel. Thankfully she didn't. In order to do that should would have had to have picked her feet up more. This was probably one of Ranvir's weakest dances. It lacked energy. The flicks were heavy. She needed to point her feet. It was fun, but pretty ugly. Why Giovanni didn't opt for a rumba it beyond me. What might have been. But we'll always have his sailor suit, and an overwhelming desire to buy perfume.

Bill & Oti started their night with the Charleston. It wasn't the best Charleton I've seen on the show, but it was decent enough. Fun and breezy. Some of his lag action was a bit heavy, swivvels and kicks could have been sharper. But I liked it.

The tango sounded like a winner on paper - Enter Sandman is a all time classic. Perhaps it would have made a better paso, though. The routine lacked a bit of drive and intent. Bill's posture was not as good as it has been, his shoulder were forward and his hips were back. Perhaps doing two routines meant they didn't have the time to finesse these details that would have elevated the performance. The small sections out of hold looked better. I wanted to love it, but I just didn't.

Maisie & Gorka's couple's choice was the dance she needed to do. For the girl who often attacks each dance with too much energy, this was uncharacteristically laid back. It was perfectly in sync, it was fun and it was super cool. I'm really not a big fan of couple's choice, but it has given us some great routines this year. I was a bit put out when it was pointed out by Keep Dancing Podcast that Getting Jiggy Wit It was a hit before Maisie was born. Ugh.

The Viennese waltz was a big change of pace, but I liked it almost as much. OK, so it did feel like a young adult movie where one of the main characters going to die and then the other finds a note written from the beyond telling them to be free and find happiness with someone else, but it was still lovely. It was beautifully danced. Maisie's footwork looked good. Her topline is natural and relaxed, and she dances from her soul. A great job.

The final couple, Harvey & Janette, took a risk and gave us the only rumba of the series. I like rumba, as it's great for separating the wheat from the chaff. We have not had many good rumbas on Strictly. It's difficult and exposing, and has become the dance the pros like to dodge. In leiu of a Christmas special this year, we got Harvey & Janette dancing in a AR snow globe. This routine watched like a competent medal test. Lots of basic steps executed correctly. Harvey presented Janette nicely. Of course it had no chemistry, but it was sweet. It was definitely the best rumba of the series.

Their Charleston was helped along by the song, which did a lot of the heavy lifting for me. Another Day Of Sun is such a feel-good song (and easily the best part of Laa Laa Land) that the audience is in a good mood before you've danced a step. I liked the concept of moving around the different areas - the café, the gas station, the park - but it had a frantic nature which I didn't really enjoy. I liked the content of Bill & Oti's routine more than this one. It was fine, but I didn't love it.

The leaderboard was probably fair, but it's not the order I wanted to see the couples in. I voted for Ranvir, Bill and Maisie, mainly because those are the three I definitely want to see in the final.

I can't help thinking that Ranvir would have been higher if they had done a rumba. Their waltz scored higher than either of Jamie's routines, but they ended up at the bottom because of the jive. It's frustrating. If Jamie ends up in the final at Ranvir's expense I will be livid.

I have enjoyed Jamie throughout the series, but he is the one I would be most happy to lose from the competition.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Sunday Service: Week 7

The short series has brought Musicals Week, and the semi-final, around very quickly this year. Two more eliminations from this group, and then we'll be left with our finalists.

JJ & Amy's Charleston to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang kicked things off. I was worried about JJ's swivel action, but it was actually very nice. But there was a lot of jumping in this routine, which I assume is to give the feeling of movement when there isn't much going in with the upper body. Clever perhaps, but it wasn't for me. Amy did all of the heavy lifting in this routine, moving around JJ while he stood and maybe offered a hand for her to balance. The swivel section face to face near the end looked incorrect. A Charleston is usually a free pass into the next round, but that might not be the case here.

I love Ranvir & Giovanni, and this Viennese waltz was certainly well-danced, but I didn't feel moved in the way I had with some of their earlier performances. There was a lovely fleckerl, annoyingly obscured by a dodgy camera angle and Ranvir's dress. Her footwork looked good, and she was safe in Giovanni's lead. It had a nice mood. There was nothing surprising here, other than Ranvir not performing any part of the routine as a solo.

The first of the night's two jives came from Maisie & Gorka. It wasn't as neat as some of Maisie's other routines, It felt a tad uncontrolled compared to other dances she's done, although I can't pinpoint why I feel that way. I appreciate that Gorka had choreographed the routine to the music, but this gave the routine a staccato quality which I found quite jarring. However, Maisie is an incredible dancer and still enjoy watching her each week.

I feel as though maybe Bill & Oti were the only couple this week whose dance style was shoe-horned into a music choice which didn't really fit. Phantom would work better as a ballroom tango to my mind. It's too dramatic for the intimacy of an Argentine tango. That said, a steamy storyline wouldn't have worked for this couple, so maybe its for the best. I enjoyed watching the dance. I feel as though Bill's lead wasn't strong enough and Oti was having to do a lot of the work herself. Bill's acting was brilliant, though. I loved the way he looked at Oti. A solid performance.

I really liked Harvey & Janette's American smooth. It was big, it was glitzy, it was showbiz. It had a lot of nice lifts, although I'm a bit unsure about the lift sequence at the end of the routine which felt a but laboured. There was probably a little too much out of hold for my taste, but I don't think I would have enjoyed it as much if it had been in hold. I do wish Harvey had pasted on a proper dancing school smile, because there were points in the routine where he looked deep in concentration rather than in performance mode. But overall I thought it was the best number of the night, and I wish it had closed the show.

Closing the show instead was Jamie & Karen with jive number two, to Everybody's Talking About Jamie. I get why it was last. Theatre has suffered a lot in 2020, and ETAJ is one of the few shows reopening this side of Christmas. It's also a very uplifting story which celebrates being yourself. Everybody has been talking about Jamie Laing, who has been quite the surprise of this series. Sadly, he just wasn't worthy of all the potential piled on his shoulders. Jamie's free arm was a dead weight throughout the number. His footwork was heavy and untidy. I spent the whole routine wondering when he was going to reach into a desk and pull out his red heels, but alas no. They didn't even put any drag make-up on him. Although putting a heavy dose of Ruby Woo on his lips probably would've just drawn attention to some of the odd faces he was pulling.

My favourite of the night was Harvey. I also voted for Bill and Ranvir, because I want them to stay.

It's getting really tough, but the weakest for me are JJ and Jamie. JJ is a competent dancer, but not once have I felt excited to see what he's going to do. Not once have I wanted to immediately rewind and watch again. I feel the opposite about Jamie. I have really enjoyed watching some of his numbers. Karen has done an amazing job turning an excitable puppy into something who can pass as a performer. But I feel that he has reached the end of the road. Essentially, these are the two participants that I don't really want to see in the final. JJ is probably the better dancer, but I think I'd rather see another week of Jamie.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Sunday Service: Week 6

It's a Strictly cliché, but I genuinely think this is one of the closest and most entertaining series in a long time. It's almost at the point where I don't want anyone to leave the competition.

The show got off to a slightly bumpy start with Clara & Aljaž's jive. You could see the potential in this dance. The jive totally suited Clara, and the Tina Turner track was spurring her on. Unfortunately, there were too many mistakes. There were flashes of brilliance, but then moments of dance disaster. Perhaps the occasion got the better of her. While I don't want to see Clara in the dance-off, I almost want her to have a moment of redemption with this dance, to show us how it was supposed to be.

Jamie continues to surprise me. After a number of fun, campy numbers, it was time for Jamie to come back to something more serious. I loved Karen's concept. The intense chess match, leading to an intense tango. Jamie totally embodied the character. He played it totally straight, and it was engaging to watch. He didn't break character until long after the music had ended. His timing is still questionable in places, but it was obvious that he had worked hard on his placement and footwork. I really liked it.

The more I see Couple's Choice routines, the more they bother me. They are too close to showdances in a lot of cases. What's the point of the showdance if we've already thrown out the rulebook mid-series. But it has brought us some good routines, and Harvey & Janette's contemporary flavoured version was another one. They were so in sync with each other. His body movements are wonderful to watch. It was a lovely routine, with a great story, and it was well-danced. There were some nice lifts too, even if he did plonk her down a bit hard on the last one. I feel a bit weirded out by Craig's 10 - he's really mellowed this series. I also found it odd that so few people in the audience seemed to know what G.O.A.T. meant, although it is quite an American phrase.

Ranvir starting the dance out on her own has become a motif of her dances with Giovanni, but it's still working. Their American smooth was romantic and sweet. It looked comfortable, and I think that perhaps Ranvir feels safer in hold. She had the advantage of having already done the foxtrot, so this wasn't too much of a stretch. I loved the story of this routine. Ranvir & Giovanni are such a joy to watch.

Our second jive of the night was from Bill & Oti, and while it was solid, I don't think it was one of Bill's best efforts. There were a few errors, and it lacked the flair we usually see from Bill. He kept the energy level throughout, but it looked a bit stompy in places. Loved the Cuban heeled shoes though! More power to Bill for wearing those.

JJ & Amy are the couple which do nothing for me. We had yet another sweet routine from them, which was all fine, but I was more moved by the VT with his wife and children than I was by the Viennese waltz. It was perfectly pleasant - they covered the floor well, it had a fleckerl, the timing was good, there were no errors. JJ works hard, his technique is good. I feel apologetic for not liking their routines more, but I just don't.

It was so good to see Maisie & Gorka have a great week after two weeks in the bottom two. I really hope they get a reprieve this week. Like all of their routines, the quickstep was full on. Lots of very fast, very complex steps. The only thing I didn't like was how much time was out of hold and on the bench. This wandered into American smooth territory. But it was still lovely. High energy, light, speedy and it travelled all over the floor. Her footwork and frame looked great. And I loved the cartwheel at the end.

My favourites this week were Maisie, Ranvir and Jamie.

Based on the dancing this week, my bottom two would probably, sadly, have to be Clara and Bill. Both made mistakes when no-one else did. However, the person I'd like to send home is JJ. I just feel like we have seen everything he has to offer. I'm not expecting any surprises from him and I feel that he has run his course in the competition. However, the judges seem keen on him and I think he would have a good chance of surviving the dance-off, depending who he ended up against.

Whatever happens, I think it is going to be a tough elimination tonight, and for the next two weeks too.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Sunday Service: Week 5

Last night's show was a hot mess. 

Fake Blackpool is not a week I need on Strictly. But that aside, the routines were a collection of poor themes and poor performance with a few high spots in between.

It started well. Bill & Oti's American smooth was classy. There were a couple of little hesitations in the cane section, but overall the dace was well performed. Bill has worked hard on his frame and his footwork. It wasn't a showstopper, but it was sound.

I didn't like the song choice for Maisie & Gorka's salsa. I like the sentiment of Better When I'm Dancing, but there's too much string plucking and not the trumpets that work much better for this style if dance. To another song, this salsa would have had much more impact. The routine had a lot of lifts which were well executed, it's just a shame that one of them wasn't landed very well. I liked it, but I really wanted Maisie to come back with a bang, and I genuinely think the song was what let this down. She got nines from all the judges, so she did well in spite of not rippling the water too much.

I didn't really enjoy JJ & Amy's quickstep. I felt like JJ was anticipating the music all the way though, making him slightly ahead at times. Some of the transitions lacked fluidity - there was a section where they went from ballroom hold to him having both hands on her waist, and it just wasn't that smooth, he was anticipating coming out of hold. It was perfectly fine, but it didn't have any wow factor. Definitely overmarked.

Next was the mess of a samba from Clara & Aljaž. Death by theming strikes again. Why on earth were they chefs? They were dancing to That's The Way I Like It. No mention of making cakes there. I am baffled. Once they got into hold, I thought it wouldn't matter. They started with some nice botofogos, the samba walks were quite nice. I thought they might get away with it. Sadly Clara then started to make a few mistakes. The promonade runs didn't quite come off. She picked the the wrong foot a few times and it all started to look like they'd taken it out of the oven too early. And then we got a disco section because that's what Aljaž does of you give him a disco track. Then there were the batucadas. Oh my. I love Clara, but this was not her week at all.

I didn't really enjoy Jamie & Karen's street/commercial routine. It lacked the camp charm of their last couple of routines. It was too similar to Karen's routine with Chris Ramsey last year for me. I definitely felt like I was watching the 30-something uncle trying to be down with the teenagers. I did like it better on second viewing, but that was mostly because a noticed all the nice chorographical touches. It didn't make me enjoy Jamie's performance any more. Massively overmarked.

Harvey & Janette's tango took a bit of a beating from the judges and on social media, but I really liked it. It had so much intent and purpose. Harvey looked in control and appeared to be leading Janette. I liked the musicality. He does need to watch his toes, which can turn in on occasion. But it was great to see him do something a bit more adult. I loved it.

I really wanted Caroline to have a breakout week. It was quite a weak night and she really had a chance to shine. Sadly, we got some sort of lost Carry On... movie which I am dubbing Carry On Down The Fireman's Pole. Caroline has great comedic acting credentials, so that side of the performance was great, but the dancing was the same, placed, light, dainty stuff we've seen every week. Oh look, it's that développé again. Although it wasn't as slick as their past performances. Caroline's shoulders looked too high throughout, although I couldn't make out if the dress had shoulder pads. And there was a small error in the middle. I can't decide if it is Johannes' choreography, or just Caroline's inability to connect with the more earthy side of dance, but something just isn't quite firing.

I loved Ranvir & Giovanni's Argentine tango. It's exactly what we needed to end a somewhat mediocre show. The intensity was electric. I just love their chemistry. They are running with the ongoing tabloid narrative that their relationship isn't strictly professional, and owning it. I love that. Technically, it could have been better. Her weight was too much on her own feet at times instead of leaning in to Giovanni. Her toes could have been pointed more to make her legs look longer - floppy feet are really noticeable when you're in dark shoes. But I still loved it.

My favourites this week were Ranvir, Harvey and Bill. 

As for a bottom two, there are too many to choose from! I love Clara and don't want her to leave, but she had a bad week. JJ's performance was solid, but dull. I don't really know what Caroline did. And how on earth did Jamie end up at the top of the leaderboard? I don't understand the scoring any more!

I think Clara was probably the weakest this week, but she's certainly not the weakest in the competition. Hopefully she would improve if she had a second go at the routine. But I fear that that routine would struggle to beat anyone else. I'd hate for her to get Aston-ed. I think the bottom half of the leaderboard is probably reflective of last night's performances. I wouldn't miss JJ too much if they let him go, but if he had Clara or Caroline in the dance off, he could probably send either of them packing just because his routine was more sympathetic than theirs. It could easily be a tough dance-off tonight. 

Monday, November 16, 2020

DVD Review: Shirley & Craig's Perfect 10

This year's Christmas stocking filler DVD is entitled Shirley & Craig's Perfect 10. As the name suggests, it's a stroll down memory lane concerned with some of the best routines to hit the dancefloor.

The DVD is hosted by Shirley and Craig from the gorgeous Rivoli Ballroom in south east London.

I love Shirley, but it is clear that she is not as comfortable presenting as Craig. She just doesn't have as much experience. She is a personality, but not a seasoned presenter. She isn't as relaxed reading the script. She's much better when she isn't having to read something out.

Since Shirley only joined the panel in 2017, the bulk of the dances selected come from the last three series. Due to Craig's limited distribution of  10s over the years, a number of the dances actually scored 39 rather than the perfect 40. In fact, one section features Shirley trying to convince Craig that he should change his mark on some past 39-scorers.

It's lovely to see some of the routines again. Danny & Oti's samba never gets old. Stacey & Kevin's paso gets an airing. It's a joy to relive Fay & Giovanni's Charleston. Of course, there's the first ever 40 - Jill & Darren's jive. And in tribute to Caroline Flack, we get to see her Charleston with Pasha once again.

There are a few dances which were far from 40 chucked in for good measure.

For people who felt that this year's Strictly specials didn't feature enough dancing, this DVD release will scratch that itch.

The DVD will be released on 23rd Novemeber.

Disclosure: Thank you to the nice folks at BBC Studios for supplying a digital copy of the DVD's feature programme for me to review.

Book Review: Behind The Sequins By Shirley Ballas

Strictly's head judge Shirley Ballas has followed in the footsteps of fellow judges Craig and Bruno by publishing her autobiography Behind The Sequins.

I always enjoy autobiographies. I love the opportunity to hear about someone's life told by the person who actually experienced it.

Shirley Ballas come to notoriety later in life, but she was well known in dance circles for a long time before she popped up in our living rooms on a Saturday night.

Shirley tells the story of her life, starting with her less-than-glamourous upbringing in Wallasey. Dance has been a feature of her life since she was a young girl, and like many other dancers she moved out of home very early in order to pursue her dreams.

One thing I took from Shirley's book is the perhaps cautionary note that the grass is not always greener. A couple of times she took risks in her career, and her life, which didn't turn out exactly as she expected. Perhaps she is now a little more calculated in her decisions than she was in those heady days of competition and passionate youth.

It was interesting reading about Shirley's journey to our living rooms, especially the less-than-comfortable first audition to join the panel. It's hard to imagine that the glamourous and confident woman we see on screens now didn't quite get it right first time.

The thing that leaps off the page is how much her son Mark means to her. Her pride in his accomplishments is plain to see. She talks about Mark's life almost as much as her own. If ever Mark Ballas wants a biographer, he has one at the end of the phone. It was also interesting hearing about Shirley's relationship with Derek Hough and Julianne Hough. The siblings were part of Shirley's household for quite some time, living in the UK to pursue their dancing ambitions. Shirley and then-husband Corky treated them like their own children, and she is clearly still very fond of them.

Shirley's book was an enjoyable read, and you can definitely hear her voice as you read it. I learnt a lot about her life before Strictly

Behind The Sequins is available now from the usual outlets. An audio version is also available from Audible.

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

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Sunday Service: Week 4

On a Saturday night during Strictly, if I am at home, I usually spend the duration on Twitter reading everyone's reactions to the routines and posting a few thoughts. I follow quite a cynical bunch of people, but I enjoy the humour.

This week, I decided to just sit back with a drink and totally immerse myself in the programme. I caved a number of times and looked at my timeline, but overall it was quite a liberating experience. It took be back to a time before Twitter, when the audience sat around cabaret tables and the VTs were actually of the couples' week in training. Hang on... 

Harvey & Janette's salsa was everything you want from this dance. Compact, great timing, nice fluid hip action, and there were steps on every count. Not much time to catch breath. There were some good lifts, although it was clear that Harvey still isn't that comfortable with them. And to put in that pot stir felt a little shady, but it looked good, so who cares? I liked their performance.

I was quite shocked to hear Ravir talk about her body confidence issues in the VT. Girl does not show any confidence issues on that dancefloor, and nor should she. She's gorgeous. The cha cha started well with those super hot hip circles. But it sadly wasn't as good once the dance really got going. The hip action on the walks wasn't quite there, and it wasn't fluid enough. There were some lovely moments, though, like the New Yorkers where she hit the line well, and that stare down the lens at the end of the dance fierce. Giovanni is doing a great job of pushing her out of her comfort zone, and it is paying off.

Max & Dianne's American smooth was inoffensive for the most part. A somewhat bland filler in the middle of the show. Something about his frame is off. Maybe it's his pigeon toes, which looked even worse on step-points. Maybe it's his always-slightly-bent knees. I spent the routine waiting for a knee slide, convinced he was wearing knee pads under his trousers. It never came, and I realised that his knees were just sticking out. Maybe his shoulder aren't far back enough. I don't know. But this routine left me a bit cold.

If last week hadn't been movie week, I guess JJ & Amy would have done their military-themed jive for remembrance weekend. JJ's story is pretty amazing, and representing his command in uniform clearly meant a lot to him. The jive was a very exposing dance for JJ. Amy did a brilliant job at keeping the most challenging parts to a minimum and once again JJ performed to the best of his ability. Even without his injuries, the jive would always be a tricky one for JJ with his long limbs.

I really liked Maisie & Gorka's cha cha. I loved the doll section at the top. Their movements were so spot on. The cha cha section was really good too. The judges seemed to be quite hard on her, and I wasn't sure if it was genuine, or just reigning back praise so she doesn't just get nines every week.

Bill & Oti's couple's choice, loosely billed as street/commercial but apparently we aren't putting firm labels on these things this year, was a blinder. As Bill noted himself, there was something going on on every count. This was not an easy routine. But Bill and Oti were in unison throughout. It was slick and smart. The embodied the characters. What a triumph. And it was a dance we'll be talking about for years to come.

I am dying for Caroline to have a breakout week. She is a lovely dancer with lovely lines and so much ability. Sadly, the waltz wasn't it. The waltz is always a hard sell, and it doesn't have anything flashy about it. The only way to make the audience love a waltz is to get them to feel something, to make them cry. Caroline and Johannes' waltz didn't make me feel anything. It wasn't even as technical as you'd expect from this pair. It lacked rise and fall. They didn't maintain body contact in hold. She could probably do with a higher heel as well.

My expectations for Jamie Laing performing a samba were pretty low. It sounded like a recipe for disaster. I was so wrong. It was a delight. His samba walks at the beginning were in perfect unison with Karen. The stripes down their trousers would have highlighted the tiniest hint of being out of sync, but they were spot on. Technically, it left a lot to be desired, but for entertainment and synchronicity, it was fantastic. I loved it. If there was a Strictly tour next year, that would be a routine I would want to see again. Fun and visually pleasing.

After such entertaining routines from Bill and Jamie, Clara had to really pull out all the stops in her Charleston, and she delivered. It was slick and fun. The joy on her face was infectious. She was so engaging that I barely looked at Aljaž. I especially loved the up-tempo section in the middle.

My favourites this week were Bill, Jamie and Clara.

I think the bottom two for me were probably the same as the leaderboard, Max and JJ. I'd rather see Max leave, but I wouldn't be hugely distressed to see either go. Caroline will need to find that breakout week if she is to continue to evade the dance-off.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Anton Joins Judging Panel

Anton du Beke will join the judging panel for the first time tonight.

Motsi had to unexpectedly return to Germany this week following a break-in at her dance studio in Frankfurt. She has since returned to the UK, but under government guidelines she must quarantine for 14 days.

Motsi had initially hoped to 'work from home' via a live link-up, but it emerged later in the week that Anton had been drafted in to judge instead.

Why this decision has been made is unclear. Either the production didn't have to ability to facilitate Motsi, or they decided that they would rather have an in-person judge to maintain the feel of the show. We already have a remote Bruno on the Sunday show, so perhaps a remote Motsi was a step to far.

I am inclined to agree with the decision to replace Motsi and keep things feeling a little more normal. But is Anton the right choice?

From a practical point of view, he's the obvious choice. He is already part of the production so is already following BBC protocols. He was going to be at the studio anyway, sitting at a table like Billy-no-mates.

I don't have an issue with Anton being a judge per se. He's auditioned for the role in the past, but was beaten out by both Shirley and Motsi, and I'm kind of glad he was because I like both women. If they had drafted him in at the start of the series to replace Bruno, I'd have been OK with it.

What jars for me is the fact that two weeks ago, Anton was a participant, and now he's a judge. He is going to be judging the very contestants he was competing against.

Imagine if this was Drag Race UK, and Alan Carr had not been available for a week. Would they have drafted in Gothy Kendoll? Of course not!

 It just all feels a bit weird.

As a judge, I think he'll do a fine job. He is a mix of Craig and Shirley - he knows the dances but also understands showmanship. I think he'll be fair in his marking, and he'll probably give the type of critiques he would have liked to have had himself.

Shirley said her her autobiography (review coming soon) that it took a little while to settle into the role of judge. And we forget how awkward Darcey was at the beginning, yah?

Good luck, Anton!

Nicola & Katya's Departure

It's been a weird week in Strictly world. And I'm not talking about Max & Dianne's Simpsons routine again!

We, sadly, had to say goodbye to Nicola & Katya. Katya tested positive for Covid-19 earlier in the week, which is an instant disqualification. Unfortunately because of their close contact, both have to isolate for 14 days, which means it wasn't possible for Nicola to be pared with anyone else.

I'm really sorry that we didn't get to see more of this pair for a couple of reasons. First, having the first same-sex pairing on Strictly was groundbreaking, and they hadn't really had the chance to challenge viewers' perceptions. I was looking forward to seeing them do an American smooth - something a little slower, and possibly more in hold than we've seen for a couple of weeks. Second, I just feel that there was more to see from Nicola. I think she had potential, but she just wasn't in the competition long enough to showcase it.

I know they will be back for the final, but I also hope Nicola gets another chance somewhere. Maybe in a Christmas special or something. Depending what happens with the Paralympics, a Sport Relief special with Will vs Nicola could be a good chance for both to have another go?

Reading the comments on the posts about Nicola & Katya's departure was interesting. A lot of people do not seem to understand that while the couples have formed household bubbles, they are not isolated or in quarantine. A bubble is just an extension of one household with another single-person household. Any of us can do this within the government guidelines. But we can still go to the shops or get take-out food and drink as permitted under lockdown rules.

I would recommend that anyone who doesn't understand how Strictly is complying with the guidelines reads the post on the BBC Strictly website.

Sunday, November 08, 2020

Sunday Service: Week 3

For most couples last night, it was very much a case of death by theme. Some of the Movie Week song choices were questionable, or downright ridiculous.

To start, we had Nicola & Katya's jive to Greased Lightnin'. The routine was pretty good. Nicola was in sync for the most part on the side-by-side sections. I liked the series of turns in the middle, even if it was a bit more salsa than jive. They did seem to shy away from anything in a closed hold, which was a shame. As Craig said, Nicola really needs to watch her free arm, which tends to dangle doing nothing. But it wasn't bad for a non-dancer.

Maisie & Gorka's American smooth was an enjoyable watch. Great musicality, and they work well together as a couple. Maise is so comfortable in hold. Beautiful lines.

No-one can dispute what a great performer Caroline is. She loves theatre, and is clearly missing it at the moment. So a theatre/jazz Couple's Choice routine should have been a knockout. She was brilliant. But the routine she was given was instantly forgettable. There was very little choreography, and it just wasn't very interesting. She is capable of so much, but hasn't been given the opportunity to really let loose. I really hope Johannes has something special up his sleeve soon.

This is the point where the wheels started to fall off for Movie Week. The concept of doing a paso to the main Star Wars theme didn't have me convinced, and Jason & Luba's execution did nothing to improve the situation. Jason's technique wasn't great. The kicks were not pretty, with an upturned toe on the first, and a bent leg on the second. His arm placement on the appels was also not right. I feel like the pair were royally stitched up with the music and theme.

JJ & Amy, thankfully, were far from stitched up. They did a very calm and straight foxtrot, and the theme was barely noticeable. The mix of steps was lovely, a lovely feather step and a lovely fluidity. His top line could be better, he could pull his shoulders back more. And he is a tad pigeon toed in places, but overall it was a good routine.

I enjoyed Harvey & Janette's cha cha as a number, but as Craig and Shirley both noted, there was very little cha cha content. There was actually very little cha cha timing either. But that is not Harvey's fault. I do wish the judges would direct criticism of the choreography to the pro and not the celebrity. Harvey danced what he was given very well, even if he wasn't actually given very much cha cha. It was enjoyable.

Ranvir & Giovanni are fast becoming my favourites. I loved their Dreamgirls foxtrot. Ranvir's body placement was perfect. She and Giovanni were glued together. There was so much content, a proper pure foxtrot, and it was a delight. Totally deserving of such a high score. I cannot wait to see more of this pair.

Jamie & Karen's Hercules Charleston was so campy that I ended up enjoying it. The movie themes don't really get in the way of a Charleston. Jamie's swivvel wasn't really up to much, it was awkward in places, but it was fun.

I wasn't sure about Lady Marmalade for a tango. It doesn't have enough drama for me, but Clara was clearly excited about the prospect. And Aljaž did a pretty good job of the choreography. It was sharp, except for deliberate body and shoulder rolls nodding to the movie concept and enjoyable to watch.

Then we had Max & Dianne and their Simpsons street/commercial. As a routine, I kind of liked it. It was very creative, with nods to the opening titles that we are all so familiar with, and I think they performed it well. I did end up watching Dianne more than Max, so I'm not sure that's a good thing. The routine felt very out of place on Strictly, though. It wasn't really street/commercial. It wasn't really any particular style. It's such an odd piece of music to try and dance to.

Bill & Oti's paso could have been killed by the theme and the music, but Queen Oti was able to make it work in the way only she can. Lots of paso content, lovely shaping from Bill, a guitar interlude. I really enjoyed it.

Overall, it was a very up and down week, as themed weeks so often are. Some of them were destroyed by the theme, some were able to work with it. And the leaderboard was equally mad. Were Max and Jamie really better than Clara?

My favourites this week were Ranvir and Bill. I voted for Nicola as well, as I really want to see what else she can do.

There is no doubt in my mind that Jason will land in the bottom two. His paso was a hot mess. But I don't know who will join them. I think the public vote could have had a huge effect on the placings. But if Jason is there, and I expect he will be, I can't imagine the judges would save him over anyone else.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

Sunday Service: Week 2

After the announcement of a full lockdown in England, everyone was delighted to have Strictly start. It's the escapism everyone needs. And with the return of the results show tonight, we will have Strictly seven days a week throughout the lockdown period. It's not so bad...

Max & Dianne kicked things off with a jive. He was a bit flat footed in places and could have pointed his toes a bit more. The performance was pretty good. He was in time throughout. It didn't move me, but I think he has done enough to be back next week. I was a bit distracted by Dianne's dress, as I have one which is quite similar.

You have to love Aliaž. No Halloween special? No problem. We'll do a Halloween Viennese waltz anyway! Clara embodied the character of the dance. She attacked it. There were parts where she looked as though she was struggling to keep up, and her shoulders came up a bit too high in parts, but I liked it anyway.

Bill & Oti opted for Musicals Week rather than Halloween for their quickstep. It was light and quick. What we could see of his footwork looked good, and they covered a lot of the floor. His timing was great, of course. I enjoyed it. We have to talk about the elephant in the room, though. Remember when we all hated props in the numbers? Augmented reality is the new props. I'm not a fan when the couples have to 'interact' with it.

I loved the song choice for JJ & Amy's paso. Believer has been used a lot in pro numbers, but I think this is the first time it's been given to a celebrity. I liked the honesty of the VT, explaining JJ's challenges with the dance. I liked it better on second viewing, which obviously is not a luxury the judges are afforded. I think that maybe it felt stronger than it looked. Looking at JJ's face, he's totally there, strong and commanding. But it didn't always translate to his movements. He could have strode out further on the walks.

Jamie & Karen's American smooth was a bit easier to watch than last week's cha cha. He pulls Judge Rinder faces here and there. I think Karen did most of the work in the routine, spending a lot of time doing turns while he just stood around.

I love Midnight Sky, but I wasn't sure it would work as a tango. I was wrong. Maisie & Gorka stayed in hold throughout most of the routine. Maisie's topline is spot on, her timing and footwork are fantastic. She's so good, I just worry that she's got nowhere to go.

Back to the AR effects for Jacqui & Anton's samba. For the most part, I liked the effects here, as they were used as set-dressing rather than objects on the floor. Sadly, the effects was the only thing I liked. Actually, no, I liked the giant fans as well. Whatever happened to keeping one foot on the floor throughout the dance - she went up on a swing for goodness sake! The choreography was dreadful. There was no hip action. I think there were supposed to be samba rolls in there somewhere, but there was no body movement. At least Jacqui looked like she was having fun.

Harvey & Janette's Viennese waltz was lovely. It was packed with steps, but Harvey was in control throughout and looked good on the dancefloor. I really wish they had gone for a fleckerl instead of a standing spin in the middle, Harvey could have easily handled it. Harvey spots when he turns. I don't know if this is something Janette has taught him, or if it comes naturally, but it's very impressive.

I really liked Ranvir & Giovanni's quickstep. It was cute and light. Their steps in hold looked really nice, with no gapping. Craig was right that the first Charleston kick section went a bit awry, but that was the only flaw in the dance. I could have lived without the bench section in the middle, but even that was cute.

Silks. I'm guessing Jason Gilikison had a hand in Nicola & Katya's street commercial number, as he is a bit keen on the silks. For a street commercial routine, this had a lot of contemporary flavour as well. It feels a bit too early in the competition for couple's choice. This was edging into showdance territory. I liked the routine, though. It suited Nicola, and told her story. It was definitely slap bang in the middle of her comfort zone.

Let's take a moment to reflect on Johannes' paso costume. It was outstanding. Sadly, I thought Caroline's dress made her look a bit frumpy. It was too weighty. The dance, however, was good. Not showstopping, but good. She had lovely flamenco movement. 

Jason & Luba's salsa had lots of energy. Jason looks comfortable and in control. It's a shame the pot stir didn't come off. You really have to nail that if you're going to do it in front of Shirley. I really want to see him do serious ballroom, so I hope he stays a bit longer.

My favourites this week were Clara, Ranvir and Maisie.

The bottom two should really be Jamie and Jacqui, with Jacqui going home, although there is a possibility that Jason could be in trouble as well.