Sunday, 18 December 2016

And now, the end is said Frank Sinatra (although I admit I know more words to the Sex Pistols' rude version). We're here at last. The Strictly Come Dancing 2016 Grand Final. It's all gone by in a blur. One minute fifteen couples gyrated in sequins and spandex (and Spanx in some cases), the next we're down to the last three. Tonight we'll see one of them take over the mantle of Strictly Champion from last year's winner, Jay 'That Jive' McGuinness. Tonight one couple will raise the glitterball trophy and wonder if all those weeks of training, stress and injury was worth it.

Tonight is also Len Goodman's final ever Strictly Come Dancing. Our genial Head Judge will be flashing his paddles and dispensing his wisdom for the very last time. It's bound to be an emotional evening. Long may his walnuts be pickled.

For those of you new to the Strictly family (where have you been?) the final is a weird affair. The remaining couples would be doing THREE dances. Their own favourite dance (usually their highest scorer), a dance chosen by the judges (sometimes a weaker dance they want to see some improvement on) and a spectacular show dance where ANYTHING goes - lifts, spins, props, costumes, style, dance, music - you name it, the couples get free rein. Thankfully, the couples have been told in advance what the judges' choice is - be a bit unfair to make them try and remember a number from Week One, after all. Expect the couples' choices to be more polished and pristine as well.

In a reversion to Week One as well, the judges' scores in the final are for guidance only. EVERYTHING rests on the viewer vote. THE WHOLE SHEBANG comes down to who picked up the phone for whom (and how may times they voted - there could be some BIG phone bills in January). Everything also takes place in one show - no pretending it's Sunday. The entire show takes place - including agonising vote results - over two hours and fifteen minutes of fun. Of course, there's more filler than in Amanda Holden's forehead - acres of VT footage of the couples' training videos, vox pops from members of the public gabbing on about who their favourite, the slightly embarrassing 'return of everyone else for the last ever group dance'. (Will Will show willing? Will he heck as like - as reference to him was expunged from the show like some dirty secret.)

Right. I've set the scene and gone through the rules and regulations. Got your ticket? Come on then and see what happened in the Strictly Come Dancing 2016 Grand Final (do de do do do de do, do do do de doooooo).

The show opened with a dance from the pros and more sequins than a drag queen convention. As the pro dances go this one was a bit 'cruise ship' Don't get me wrong, cruise ship entertainers work flipping hard but they're not world champion dancers like this lot. Still, it gave a chance for the finalist dancers to get a solo spot. The celebs then descended on giant rings. Thankfully, there was no Spinal Tap moment and nobody got stuck for the duration.

The first dancer to the floor was Ore Oduba. He was reprising the judges' choice of his American Smooth to Singin'  In The Rain. He first did this dance in Week Three and had scored an impressive 35 on that occasion. This time round the weeks of training showed. He was more confident and polished throughout this routine. Tweaks had been made to his previously hunched frame and little touches of flair and panache had been added that brought the dance to life. Ore was fleet of foot and being properly up on his toes gave the dance a lovely light and airy feel - he even got the umbrella to open bang on cue. He was happy with the result, and why not? The judges awarded 39 out of 40.

Louise Redknapp came next. The judges had asked to see her cha-cha her way through Flashdance one more time. Again, we saw more confidence. Louise came out with sass, style and strut - she even smiled this time. She had bags more character, more attack and more impetus and showed good timing by being bang on beat. There were still a couple of issues with slightly static hips - made the more obvious by KevinFromGrimsby showing off like a lunatic and dementedly swivelling his rear at the judges. It seemed to work, though, and the added oomph added 7 to Louise's previous score for this dance - a cracking 38 out of 40.

Last to appear was (obviously) Danny Mac. This was to be a repeat of his quickstep to I Won't Dance. He'd scored 36 in Week 4 for this dance - room for a little improvement. Danny started off in great style, straight into character and into the dance - Len had moaned before about it taking time to get going. Danny and Oti were right in sync, flawless feet looking like they'd been tied together. His frame was tight and crisp, his positioning and poise immaculate and he had bags of energy and stamina in a dance that was very fast and complicated, even for a quickstep. And then it happened. A tiny flaw that marred what could have - and should have - been a faultless number. It wasn't entirely clear what caused Danny to miss some steps at the end - it may have been a wardrobe malfunction, Oti slipping or just nerves, but it was obvious that something had gone wrong. The judges were as disappointed as Danny. Despite much praise and extolling his many talents the judges could only give him 36 out of 40.

And then it was time for the eagerly-anticipated show dances. What were the couples going to do? How were they going to wow us? Only one way to find out!

Ore went traditional - a ballroom based dance to I Got Rhythm. And boy, did he. It was a tiny bit like his previous routine - Gene Kelly-esque in style, character and flavour. Partner Joanne had certainly choreographed to his strengths. Dancing & leaping around on a giant drum kit we saw tap, foxtrot, quickstep, tango, Charleston and more. It was really a 'highlights of Ore's best bits' all in one routine. We even saw the one-handed lift from the other week. It was clean, sharp and clever with great timing. There was nothing new, but it was all good stuff. There mightn't have been anything that pushed the boundaries, but the panel loved the Hollywood / Fosse feel and gave Ore his first full house 40 out of 40.

Louise and Kevin went the other way, dancing a rumba-esque number to One Moment In Time. It was all a bit....contemporary for me (I know, I'm a Philistine). All wafty and wavy costume - Kev was even barefoot - and they'd thrown in a sparkle lighting bar for dramatic effect. Louise coped well with tricky choreography and technical content. She had lovely fluid lines, lyrical and expressive arms and good posture and poise. The overall dance was stylish and looked nice, there was even some emotional connection between Louise and Kevin in this routine. There was a lot of time off the floor in lifts - one of which was decidedly lumpy and awkward - spins and a twizzer. Bruno cried at the end, the big nelly. I was unmoved. The judges gave Louise 38 out of 40.  

Danny brought the second section to a close dancing to set Fire To The Rain by Adele. Oh. My. Giddy. Kipper. THIS was how a show dance should be done. Danny and Oti's prop was a mirror - and the pair perfectly mirrored each other from the opening seconds. An Argentine Tango / Paso mash up, this dance was heart-stopping excellence from start to finish. Danny's previous slip up hadn't put him off and he threw everything into Oti's incredible choreography. The dance was full of fire, passion and heat set to a dramatic backdrop of fire and ice. Danny was bang on every beat, every (dangerous) move perfectly timed in a routine that was intense, driven and captivating. There were extreme lifts, requiring split-second timing and trust between the pair - including one where Danny sent the mirror frame crashing to the ground over Oti and she leapt through it into his arms. Jaw-droppingly, gob-smackingly good, THIS dance brought the tears. What else could the judges give but a perfect 40 out of 40.

And so to the dancers' favourite routines from the series. The one they had enjoyed the most or had got them their highest scores. Their last dance in Strictly 2016 (unless they go on the tour, of course). Emotions were obviously going to be running high. Would they be able to keep  it together?

Ore and Joanne had chosen their jive to Runaway. A high-scoring 39 the first time round, they had to give this one everything. And they did. There were sharp, clean kicks with pointed toes, fast flicks and rapid retraction. Ore was in time and on point, together with Joanne is their side-by-side sections. It was a strong, fierce, fast dance but Ore had plenty of energy and stamina to last till the end. There may have been a tiny foot error, but nothing to write home about. The judges certainly didn't pick up on it - or, if they did, they chose to ignore it. Another 40 out of 40 for Ore.

Louise's last dance was her Argentine Tango - a good choice from her previous weeks. The earlier flaws had been ironed out, and the confidence that we have seen growing week on week certainly helped this time. This was slick, sharp, tight and controlled and Louise had stepped up a gear for this routine. She showed great ganchos and ochos, musicality and technique in the dance and had even brought some heat and intensity to her performance. It was sexy and steamy (well, as much as one can with Kev - sorry, but he's just a bit........twee for me) and, while she may have been a little too staccato on occasion, this was definitely a better outing. The judges agreed and gave Louise her first full 40 out of 40.

Danny brought the evening to a close with his sensational samba. There was no way he could improve on his previous 40 out of 40. You'd think, wouldn't you? Well, somehow, he did. This routine was even sharper, even tighter, even cleaner and even more controlled than last time. There was more edge, more energy, more everything. Danny and Oti were so in sync it was like watching one person dancing. He totally threw himself into this dance and if he doesn't see a glittering and successful stage musical career after this then there's no justice. His agent's phone should be ringing off the hook after Strictly. The audience were in raptures as Danny took it to another level. In my opinion this was The Best Dance Ever - in the history of Strictly. This FAB-U-LOUS routine had Darcey speechless. Another 40 out of 40 for Danny.

And then it was all over. The dances had been done. Now everything lay in the hands of the voting viewers. While we waited for the votes to come in, be verified and counted we were subjected treated to a whole load of filler. There were audience interviews, shiny-eyed moppets wishing everyone 'good wuck' - even previous series' winners and participants got into the act. Emily Sande popped by to belt out a number while Joe Varney - sorry, Giovanni - danced and lip-synced along.

Then there was the tribute to Len. Golly, it was a glowing one. Footage showing how he went from hairy to lairy over the years, touching comments from colleagues, previous celebrities and pro-dancers showed how popular he is and how sorely he will be missed. Sadly, there was nothing from Sir Bruce Forsyth who is apparently quite poorly, which is a shame. Len even took the time to pay his own tribute to everyone he has worked with on Strictly and he was clearly very moved by it all. There was one last dance = a classic ballroom routine for the ballroom expert, beautifully performed by King and Queen of ballroom Anton du Beke and Natalie Lowe. Dancing to May Each day Of Your Life Be A Good Day, the pair were gradually joined by the rest of the pros until it concluded with them bowing before him as the last note faded. Crikey. There wasn't a dry eye in the house - ours included!

The Class of 2016 recap group dance followed to try and lift everyone's spirits for the result. Blimey - you can see now why some of them went out when they did! Poor Tameka's knee still seems to be playing up as she was carried round on a throne instead of dancing. Marvin muddled, Judge Rinder leapt and Ed was Balls in his partner's face as he recapped his Gangnam gyrations. It all ended with them dancing to Reach by S Club 7 (a tune with which I am emotionally scarred after having to sing it in two pantos in me Am Dram days with HOTH).

And so it was time. Who was going to be crowned Champion of 2016? After trying to be tense - there's only so long you can spin it out with three dancers - Tess gave us the result we've been waiting for since September................


Do you agree with the result? I'm on the fence. While the best dancer may not have won (that was Danny by a country marathon, never mind a mile) it's clear that the people's favourite did. Ore was also the only remaining celebrity not to have had any previous dance training, which goes to show just how far he's come. And yes, he did cry. 

So. There we are. The final Strictly Come Dancing for this year - apart from the pre-recorded Chistmas Special. This is the final Strictly round up of 2016 (I've not pre-typed a blog, sorry). All will - probably - be quiet on the blog front until  next year. Unless, of course, there's another 'Sparkle Science' can read all about that in my earlier rants.

I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Thank you for reading my ramblings. It's been a blast.

Until next year - remember......KEEP DANCING!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls....WELCOME! WELCOME! Here we are at the Strictly Come Dancing 2016 semi-final. The wheat has been sorted from the chaff, the good has been sorted from the naff and we're left with four couples who could actually win this thing - and each genuinely deserve to do so.

Apart from one or two dodgy dancers, this year seems to have brought us the highest standards in Strictly history. Some of the routines this year have been jaw-droppingly spectacular (some have been jaw-dropping in quite a different way, but Ed's not here any longer).

As if the excitement of a semi-final isn't enough for us this week each of the couples will be doing TWO different dances. That's right - double the entertainment, double the fun, double the danger of low scores and eliminations. Two caches of Craig Comments, Bountiful Bonkers Bruno, Lotsa Len and a duo of Darcey dahlings.

The stage was set, the audience primed, Tess and Winkers were waiting in the wings. Who will march on to the Final Three? Lights, camera, action and ON WITH THE SHOW.

This week the show opened with Louise Redknapp dancing a tango to Glad All Over by Dave Clark Five. My lovely late nan's friend bloody hated that song. Her name was, of course, Gladys - Glad for short. So all the blokes at work used to sing 'I'm Feeling Glad All Over' whenever she walked by.  But, I digress. Again. Back to Louise. This was, overall, a tight and controlled dance but the theme was peppy and jolly, rather than passionate and hot. I didn't know I'd been tangoed. Although Louise and Kevin were practically joined at the hip, there were problems with gapping - or lack thereof. The classic V-shape in the upper body was missing. Don't get me wrong, there was loads of attitude and attack from Louise and she coped really well with the fast pace and difficult choreography. Unfortunately, she fluffed her feet a couple of times and went wobbly on occasion. A decent 37 out of 40 from the judges, with Bruno giving a perfect 10 despite the errors.

Danny Mac was second to the floor with a steamy salsa to Vivir Mi Vida by Marc Anthony. As we've come to expect from Danny, this was a slick, masterful routine that looked like a pair of pro-dancers on the floor. He used his whole body to show off Oti's clever choreography which was tricky in itself. There was excellent isolation, stunning spins and lifts and a breathtaking break section in the middle of a fluid, flowing number. Danny was assured and in control all the way through and led Oti with aplomb (well, with his hands). Craig bemoaned the lack of 'figure of eight' rotation and Darcey droned on about something - I stopped listening when Bruno fell off his chair in protest. Danny also scored 37 out of 40.

Claudia Fragapane followed with rumba to Keep Bleeding Love by Leona Lewis. Imagine I've said nice things about a rumba. Let's pretend it wasn't all wiggle, walk, pout, wave. Okay. Well, it was. It was......alright. Claudia & AJ sauntered round the floor like a couple of moody Goth teenagers - not helped by Claudia being made & dressed up somewhat like Morticia Addams. There was no real spark or chemistry between the pair, though and it was more like a brother / sister feel than angst-filled lovers. There was plenty of content, just no context. Lots of lovely leg extension pieces (apparently this has a posh ballet name but I can't spell it), but not much hip action and it seemed a bit placed and stop / start. Claudia earned 35 out of 40 for her first dance.

Ore Oduba finished the first section with an accomplished quickstep to Are You Gonna Be My Girl by Jet. He hit the floor running from the very start with this dance. Ore stayed in the cocky character right through the routine and danced with style, swagger and confidence. His footwork was really good and his step sequences with partner Joanne were bang on the money. Ore had bags of energy, was light on his feet and was fast, furious and fluid from beginning to end. It wasn't without fault - it got a little skippy at times and he lost timing and togetherness on a couple of occasions. Despite a couple of tiny errors he got a standing ovation from Len and Bruno - and promptly burst into tears, not least because his folks had flown in from Nigeria that morning to watch him. The panel gave Ore 38 out of 40.

And that was End Of Part One. Winkers had Tess corpsing with her antics, which included face-planting a crash mat and staying there while Tess tried to deliver her lines. This gave the dancers time to change hair, make-up and costume and get ready for Round Two.

Louise Redknapp started the second part with a samba to Brazil by Thiago Thome. I'll be honest, I wasn't nuts about this dance. To me, it seemed a bit flat, safe and staid for what should be a party dance. Louise seemed to hold back a bit and had lost some of the gusto she had showed us last week. There wasn't a lot of bounce or hip action and she seemed to lack some energy - maybe she'd used it all up in dance one? Apparently, there was loads of technical content - which was probably pleasing to the experts - but to those of us who don't know our Voltas from our Botafogos it was all a bit...hmmmm. Len said he saw a maypole, I just saw meh. What do I know - Louise got 36 out of 40 - a grand total of 73 out of 80.

Danny Mac returned with an amazing American Smooth to Misty Blue by Dorothy Moore. This is one of my favourite songs of all time - coupled with who is quickly becoming one of my favourite Strictly dancers of all time. Ermagerd. This was an astonishing routine. Danny and Oti have an incredible partnership and it shows in the dances. He had fantastic fluid lines, flawless frame and shaping and was accomplished both in and out of hold. The lifts were jaw-dropping - and the dance concluded with a breath-taking 'leap of faith' by Oti that showed her utter trust in Danny's capability. The dance itself told a beautiful story that was emotional and moving with the pair demonstrating a great connection. Danny scored 39 out of 40 - Darcey awarding a 9 where she had scored less able dancers perfect 10s earlier. Danny's final score was 76 out of 80.

Claudia came back with quickstep to When You're Smiling by Andy Williams. This was by far a more upbeat number (obviously - it's a quickstep) with lots of swing, jazz and pizazz. Claudia seemed more at ease in this dance and actually performed this time round. This was a hard routine with tricky split foot sequences, sashays and floor-covering sweeps. She had plenty of energy for this dance and it suited her personality to a T. Once again she had practically perfect poise and posture and she was tightly together with AJ. Light on her feet, she captured the mood of this dance better than the rumba. The judges agreed and gave her 38 out of 40. A total of 73 out of 80 on the night.

Ore brought the show to a close with an Argentine Tango to Can't Get You Out Of My Head by Kylie. Another outstanding outing from Ore on the night - something just seemed to finally click on Saturday night for him. Ore's character was strong and masterful and he was intense, powerful and on beat. For me, he seemed a little hunchy and round-shouldered at times - and Joanne appeared to do all the work with the ganchos and ochos. The lifts were risky, but Ore pulled them off, including a one-handed catch - and we should remember he's the only finalist who hasn't had any dance or gymnastic training. The lines were good, he led well and managed the intense choreography, staying in time. There were a couple of little errors and he lost a bit of balance, but he still scored an exceptional 39 out of 40 - giving him a table-topping score of 77 out 80.

And so the dances were danced, the panel purveyed points, the stars were shattered. They could do nothing more now but wait for the phone lines to close and the rest of show to be edited for Sunday.

The weekend waltzed to a close with a stunning opening routine from the pros who got us all in the mood for the results - with Janette Manrararararararararararara starting off in a cage and then the rest of the flock joining in dressed like birds (see what I did there?). I don't envy the cleaners having to pick up all the feathers that were flying off the costumes.

Self-satisfied singer and all-round Amazonian Tribesman botherer Sting sang One Fine Day. Well, copper load of that. Just to Sumner up, that must have been a budget-blowing bash by the Bee-b. They must have struck Fields Of Gold. Who are they going to get for the final - Elvis? Honey G?

You thought I'd forgotten it, didn't you? As if I would! It's time for Lookee Likee Of The Weeeeeeeeek. Watching the Tyneside Tantric Tunester strumming his six-string brought to mind another conceited performer with no restraint in the self-praise department. Mesdames et Messieurs, I give you.......

STING AND HANDSOME SQUIDWARD (from Spongebob, in case you haven't been tortured subjected to scarred by familiarised with kids' TV):

It's un-canny, bonny lads and lasses! I'd think they were twins if I wasn't wearing glasses.

Anyway......The looming lens of Len Goodman was wheeled out for the last time ever (wipes tear etc). Dances were dissected, footwork finagled, routines ripped apart. I do hope they're going to do something similar next year - it's 90% of the reason I've learned so much about the dances over the years.

And so it came to pass. The results that nobody and everybody wanted to hear. The souped-up judges' scores added to the viewer vote. The penultimate popularity contest. Which two couples were safe and who would be dancing again with all their heart and soul to steal that final Final place?

Tess was tenser than ever. The dancers must have been sponsored by Imodium as they waited. Eventually it was announced........Danny Mac and Claudia Fragapane were in the dance-off. Well, I knew it had to be someone but Danny? Maybe he was a victim of wellys. As in 'Well, he's going to get lots of votes so I'll ring in for someone else instead'. Danny. Did. Not. Deserve. To. Be. In. The. Dance. Off. Not no way, not no how (see, I'm so upset my grammar has been mangled). Still, no use whinging over something that happened last night I have no control over. I, we, would just have to trust the judges'...erm...judgement on this one.

There was a quick break for the skreikathon up in the Clauditorium. Crikey, they were all at it. I thought Danny & Claudia were going to have to don scuba gear for their routines!

The duos did their dance do-over. Since it would have been too much hassle to change costumes again (even though we're supposed to be 24 hours later) the couples reprised their second dances for survival. Which was a bit of a shame for Claudia, given the utter quality of Danny's American Smooth. Short of him missing Oti in the leap of faith or having a Matt Di Angelo moment and completely forgetting his routine (Strictly Season Five, week ten  - actor Matt forgot his foxtrot and went and sat on the steps before the end of the number. Ironically, he was dancing to Better Together), he was going to be a very difficult act to beat.

Thankfully, the judges agreed that there could only be one result. One dancer appeared to have plateaued, one dancer (incredibly) still improves week on week....

Claudia had fallen at the last hurdle. The glitterball slipped from her fingers and shattered like her dreams around her little feet. Cough. Metaphors not so much mixed there as gene-spliced together in an horrific experiment worthy of Dr Moreau. Genuinely heartbroken - or at least frightfully disappointed (she's probably going to be on the tour, after all) she left the show to tumultuous applause and appreciation from everyone else involved in the show. 

No more closer, tiny dancer. Fragapane's Strictly career is fragmented.

And there we have it. Our final three. Danny Mac, Louise Redknapp and Ore Oduba. Next week will see the remaining trio fight (well, dance) it out to first see which couples get to perform their intricate and, hopefully, amazing show-dance routines. After that, it's all down to the wire - the telephone wire (yes, I know it's mainly wi-fi and fibre-optic cable these days but that analogy wouldn't scan, would it? So I'm taking some poetic licence) and the opinion of the audience to see who will be crowned Strictly Come Dancing 2016 Champion. Who's your money on?

Until next week...............KEEP DANCING!!!!

This might not be the actual, proper glitterball trophy. I mean, it looks like something knocked up by the Blue Peter team out of an old Christmas bauble and some sticky-backed plastic......but, you know, if they've spent all the money on Sting, you never know!

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Not long left now, fellow fandango fans. With last week's Balls to the wall outcome, here we are at Quarter Finals week already. Where has the series gone? It seems like only minutes ago we were eagerly awaiting the line-up announcement. And here we are, almost at the end of our dancing journey. As if that isn't enough, it's also Musicals Week! So many to choose from - old Hollywood favourites, new sensations. Would anyone do the nudey number from Hair? Actually, Ed probably would have done. NOW are you happy he's gone?

Get your opera glasses ready (not the ones filled with Chardonnay), plump up your programme and take your front row seats for the round-up of Strictly Week Eleven - Musicals heaven!!

Since The Beeb has to fill at least an hour - and with not many dancers left - we were treated to a musical opening number by the pro-dancers and the celebrities. Well, I say treated. It was Tone Deaf Tony Beak (Anton Du Beke to Strictly regulars) murdering a song while everybody else pranced about in the background. Seriously, stick to the day job Anton - a song and dance man you ain't.  This was obviously a pre-recorded section slotted in at the start - there were so many changes of set and costume. Still, you could hardly see the edit joins and it got the audience in the mood.

Then came the judges. Bruno and Craig camply capered in, Darcey did variation On a Waft #4 (seriously, mix it up a bit Darce) and Len tottered in like a grandad on Guinness. The stage was set so.........on with the show!

All the contestants got some backing dancers to bulk out the routines this week, and it was good to see how they interacted and whether they were seamlessly joined in the routines.

Ore Oduba opened the show with a fair foxtrot to Pure Imagination from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It was a nice number, if a little quiet and sedate for an opener. I wonder if this dance was on Ore's Bucket list? Sadly, the backing dancers weren't dressed as Oompa Loompas, which would have added some fun. He coped with the acting part of the dance fairly well and he had an assured frame, sway and swagger. Light on his feet, he looked like he was dancing on Aero. Joanne Clifton had devised a lovely, sweeping, whimsical routine. There were some nice changes of pace,  but Daim to a dollar, Ore's balance issues Mars what could have been a cracker. Candy they go through to next week? Willy ever score 40? Not this week - the judges gave him 36 out of 40.

There was a nice little interlude where Brendan and his Technicolour Dreamcoat - complete with cuddly sheep (no digs at him being a Kiwi, I hope) brought us the Terms and Conditions. That was worth a day's licence fee on its own.

Judge Rinder was up next with a samba to Oh! What A Night from Jersey Boys. Frankie, my dears, this wasn't the best it could have been. The Judge's face got as much work out as his hips in this routine which, to be fair, were really very good. Lots of rotation and isolation - plus a bonus mini-twerk - ticked all the boxes in that department. Sadly, he was very flat-footed and looked like he's been on the Sherry, baby. This meant that he couldn't quite get the bounce action needed for a samba. There were some slips and errors and his free arm got a bit flingy, too. Still, you couldn't fault his energy, commitment and determination. There were shimmies and shakes, knee walks and he looked like he had lots of fun. It was a Valli-ant effort. Unfortunately, the panel thought he was stiff and stompy and only awarded him 31 out of 40.

Which, of course, brings me to this year's new slot. Lookee Likee Of The Weeeeeeeek!! Sitting watching the lovely Robert Rinder doing his Latin, clocking the ever-animated faces he pulls, I was suddenly struck with doppelganger delight:


I Don't Believe It! Rinder is a Ringer for Victor Meldrew!!! To the Victor, the spoils? We shall have to wait and see....

Louise Redknapp followed with a quirky quickstep to The Deadwood Stage from Calamity Jane. Kevin's no cowboy when it comes to choreography (although he looked alarmingly like Yosemite Sam in the training video). Deadwood? Dead good, more like. From the start Louise was on top form and seemed to have bags of confidence with this dance. She coped brilliantly with an extended solo slot and in sections with the backing dancers - including an amazing Leap of Faith, dropping backwards from the judges' desk into their arms.  This was a high-energy, high-octane 'show' routine with loads of changes of style BUT not much in the way of traditional quickstep, well, steps. Louise was tight, together with Kevin and had great timing all the way through this dance. There was a bit of a Calamity when Len bemoaned the lack of expected quickstep content and she was awarded 37 out of 40, with Bruno scoring a generous 10. Can she stage a comeback this week? Who knows?

Claudia Fragapane was a cute little cub dancing a salsa to I Just Can't Wait To Be King from The Lion King. It did look a bit like The Beeb had saved make-up money by sending her to a kids' face-painter (let's face it, she's so tiny she could get away with it) but it was a pretty impressive costume. Claw-dia really seemed to shine in this routine and showed off her excellent core strength in some spectacularly tricky lifts, throws and moves. She had great isolation through her body and really attacked the dance with great hip rotations and languid moves. Her confidence has grown week on week and now she has no problems with character and looking down the camera, smiling and putting on a show. She had plenty of energy and attack, bags of rhythm and style and was very good both in and out of hold. I'd be lion if I said it was flawless, though. Her mane problem was AJ fluffing a few lifts including the big finale where he totally missed his grip. Claudia didn't panic and held her nerve, though. It was a jungle out there alright, but the judges restored her pride to give her 37 out of 40 - and Bruno finally giving her her first perfect 10.

Danny Mac brought things to a close with a tight tango to One Night Only from Dreamgirls. Danny showed why he is the judges' Dreamboy, as he put the show in show tune with this number. This was a very Foxxy, very fast, very tight tango with more excellent choreography from Oti. Danny had a fabulous frame from start to finish and near-perfect shaping in all of his moves. He poured energy into a number that had tricky kicks and flicks thrown into already difficult footwork. It looked to us mere mortals that he was picture-perfect, but Len and Craig spotted that he'd missed a couple of his heel leads. Still, he was sharp, focused and in charge - especially in a brilliant ensemble promenade sequence with all the backing dancers involved. Nice guy Danny made sure he thanked them at the end of the routine and in the post-dance interview (the only dancer to do so). Given his background in musical theatre (he played Boq in Wicked - not a massive role, granted), you'd forgive him if he'd have belted out And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going. And I don't think he will be. Despite panel pickiness he still scored 38 out of 40.

To bulk out the programme that bit further, the pro-dancers finished with a West Side Story flavoured number, with the boys starting off in gang style poses. The Sharks and The Jettes perhaps? Now, I don't know abooout you but I'd back Brendan in a fight over Kev and AJ any day. Apparently, he was a brickie back in t'day. Hod and shoulder above the rest, probably.

So, almost as soon as it began, our musicals night was over. That went quick. I'm still disappointed no-one did Springtime For Hitler from The Producers. THAT would have got them talking on Monday morning.

The night saw some highs and some lows - even with the calibre of dancers that are left. Danny - unsurprisingly - was top of the leaderboard with 38, but Claudia, Louise and Ore weren't that far behind. Judge Rinder was at the bottom - but even he scored over 30 this week. No mean feat.

We know the score by now. Chapter and verse, in fact (sorry, trying to shoehorn 'libretto' in somewhere is a bit too much of a challenge - not quite my aria of expertise). The audience had been sent out for chocolate & squash, shuffled and dealt back in. Tess, Claudia and the panel had had a change of wardrobe - and probably a few 'refreshments' of their own - and we all reset for Sham Sunday.

This time the pro-dancers did a Chicago number for us, dancing with chairs, eye-watering leg splits and, well, All That Jazz. A nice start to the night.

With only five couples remaining, it wasn't going to take Tess long to make the Stay or Dance-off announcements, no matter how much she tried to spin it out. I feel sorry for the contestants at this stage. It must be like being me the rubbish-at-rounders kid in PE wondering if you'd actually get picked for the team this time instead of spending the lesson fielding so deep it took you most of the lesson to get there and back. Sorry. Flashback there for a minute. Ahem. As we were.

Musical Matron Elaine Paige treated us all to yet another a rendition of Don't Cry For Me Argentina from Evita. Cor, she really dines out on that one, doesn't she? Still, it could have been Midnight from Cats, so let's count ourselves lucky. Now, I do appreciate Elaine - and the fact that some viewers like the Old Favourites. But I'd have given my last Rolo to see Tess and Winkers do I Know Him So Well from Chess instead. That would have been entertaining.

Len dragged out his big zoom for a shufty at all the action from the dances, generous to the glorious, mean to the mediocre. At least these days I can spot a fleckerl from a heel turn, though I'm still a bit shaky when he starts talking about his cou-de-pieds and his fouettes.

With judgement cast and the last strains of Elaine's refrain ringing in our ears it was the moment we'd been waiting for. The public vote had been tallied and there was no going back. Tess tried to ratchet the tension.......

Ore and Judge Rinder were in the dance off. This was actually the bottom two dancers on the leaderboard this week. No changes to the judges' reckonings for a change. To be fair, I think both dancers expected it, given the showings from the other three. No rants from me again. What is a girl supposed to do with herself when the public are in accordance?

The pair re-enacted their earlier outings. Mistakes were ironed out, tricks tightened a tad, games upped just that little bit. Judge Rinder threw everything but the kitchen sink into it. The dance judges made their usual comments and tried to look as though the decision had been difficult for them. But it wasn't really now, was it? There was only one decision they could make.

Judge Rinder was booted off the show. Sadly, this was no big surprise - even to him. The couples that are left are extraordinarily good. It could be anyone's glitterball - especially since it's all in the hands of the public. The Judge had a terrific time of it all, learned new skills, confidence and a love of dancing in these last few weeks. Long may he continue!

Don't you Judge me! Rinder's Strictly career wasn't brief by any means.

Sooo. Next week is SEMI-FINALS WEEK!! Now, as we all know, I'm no expert on the Theme Of The Week. I didn't even think they'd have any more after Blackpool. So you don't have to take my word for it when I confidently state that next week will be Crap Number Ones Week. Here's my prediction:

Ore will dance a Viennese Waltz to Joe Dolce's Shaddap You Face
Louise will dance a foxtrot to There's No-one Quite Like Grandma by The St Winifred's School Choir
Danny will dance a rumba to Rene & Renato's Save Your Love
Claudia will dance a Charleston to Tellytubbies Say Eh Oh. Probably in full Po             costume. AJ will be Tinky Winky, of course.
Then they'll all dance an ensemble Macarena to finish.

And if you can't remember any of these songs then you're VERY LUCKY!!

Remember, if THAT all comes true you can say you heard it here first. It's not very likely...but, then again, Ed Balls stayed in till Week Ten. Stranger Things have happened.

The remaining dancers are so close to the glitterball they can almost taste it. Who is going to make it to the last show? Who is going to get to do a show dance? There's only one way to find out. Tune in next week for the penultimate Strictly Round up (dawwwwww, I'm going to miss you guys).

This glitterball absolutely doesn't look like Metal Mickey goes disco. No, sir.

Until next week.............KEEP DANCING!!!

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Well, how are we all after last week's seaside stormer? Have we all recovered from the shock of losing poor Greg? I'm not entirely sure that I have - but it's onwards and upwards now. Well, onwards towards Christmas, anyway. Only four weeks to go. Four! I don't know about you but I've already started panic buying the prosecco mince pies and Babycham. The sprouts are on a low light ready for The Big Day and I've set a date to start plucking me poultry. (Oi, none of that!)

But before all that festive nonsense we still have a few more weeks of Strictly. A few more weeks of whittling down the crew to the final few. Who is your money on?Are you sure it will be the same person after this weekend?

Bearing in mind this is the first time Ed Balls has been in (week) Number 10 in a while, how did it all go on the night?

Danny Mac opened the show with a stunning, sensational samba to Magalenha by Sergio Mendes (he's on my Christmas list, honest). Wow. This was, to quote Craig, A-MA-ZING! Such a different dance! Oti had choreographed another corker - an African / Creole mix of flavours with a deep tribal core running through it. From a slow, measured start the dance built in speed and rhythm to its climax. Danny showed extraordinary hip isolation and rotation and used his whole body in an expressive, fluid dance that was a joy to watch. There was terrific armography sections and the tone was steamy, sexy and fun. Again, the timing and togetherness were spot on and the energy never flagged. Danny's dance got Len hot under the collar, Bruno went bananas, Darcey was dotty and even Craig went crackers. Another 40 out of 40 for Danny, the highest ever scoring samba in the history of Strictly - a fact that had Oti in tears.

Ore Oduba followed this with another different take on a Paso Doble to Everybody Wants To Rule The World by Lorde. Lorde? I remember when it was Tears For Fears. Anyway, the dramatic arrangement of this number really suited the dance that was darker in tone than we've seen before. Starting off on what looked like an air hockey table, Ore soon got into the swing of the routine with some very nice moves. He had nice lines (for me a little too nice - I like a powerful paso, myself) and was very fluid. There was a hint of attack and aggression, but this routine looked more like he was stalking partner Joanne than seducing her. Ore lost some footing and steps in the middle and you could tell at the end he was disappointed with his mess up. The judges still enjoyed it, though, and appreciated the modern take on a traditional dance. Ore scored 36 out of 40.

I had another Lookee Likee revelation this week. Well, Soundalikee. Joanne Clifton is a dead (sound) ringer for comic creation Philomena Cunk. There's actually a bit of a physical resemblance as well, come to think of it. So now Joanne is Philomena Clifton in our house. Or maybe Joanne Cunk?

Cunklifton Confusion. This week's spot the difference!

Anyway, I digress. Again. Louise Redknapp was next to the floor with a wonderful waltz to At This Moment by Michael Buble. Louise admitted at the start of the training video that she wasn't a romantic sort, so they brought in hubby Jamie to try and get her in the mood. Well, that was a mistake. Bringing in her husband? After so many years watching them pick out belly-button fluff and having to wash their scraggy undies the last mood you usually get with your other half is romance (sorry, HOTH). Where was I? Oh, yes. dancing. Once again Louise had upped her game and coped with this dance with style, grace and aplomb. She had beautiful footwork and swept across the floor. There was great frame and shaping and Clever Clifton #2 had developed a dance with light and shade, power and presence. Louise has natural musicality and it shone through in this routine. Fabulous finger turns near the end capped a dance that had been full of content and had been eminently watchable, even for waltz-naysayer HOTH. Louise scored 39 out of 40.

Judge Rinder came next dancing a rueful rumba Lean On Me by Bill Withers. Which reminds me of that old joke. How do you turn a duck into a soul singer? Shove him in a microwave until his Bill Withers. No? Oh well, there's no pleasing some people. That joke was actually better than the Judge's outing this week. I'm sorry, but this definitely wasn't his dance. Oksana had choreographed a teacher / pupil story which kind of put an end to the romance and seduction mood that's supposed to run through a rumba. Mr Rinder had some good wiggle through the hips and fluidity in his arms, but he leaned far too far back and that ruined the graceful lines. He looked uncomfortable and unnatural throughout this dance and there were some awkward pauses. The dance was difficult and he was moved by the moves. Sadly, the panel weren't and he scored just 29 out of 40 this week.

Ed Balls brought us a tiresome tango to (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction by The Rolling Stones (I know the feeling, watching Ed dance). Why does Ed always get to dance near the end? Is is because the audience is nicely drunk warmed up and likely to vote in droves by now? In this dance Ed was portraying a male model. Which wasn't good after I'd just eaten a lovely meal. The routine was 'comedy' strewn again but it didn't really work this time. Ed spent more time posing, pouting and staring down the camera than he did doing any actual dancing. Katya did all the 'look at me' distraction showy moves while Ed pranced like a pillock with a rose in his gob. Banana hands, weak feet, no frame and no power from Ed spoiled what could have been a decent dance. There was plenty of content and some good ideas, but he couldn't seem to pull them off. I don't know about moves like Jagger, Ed looked more like Keith on chems. The judges weren't impressed either and seemed to have lost patience. 23 out of 40 for Ed.

Claudia Fragapane closed the show with an Argentine (or should that be AJtine / AJteen) Tango to Cry Me A River by Justin Timberlake. This was a fierce dance, full of focus, intent and attack. Claudia was on point with beautiful shaping, frame and character and AJ had put together yet another different take on an original. There were some extraordinarily difficult and technical lifts - all of which Claudia pulled off with grace and ease. She may have spent more time off the floor than on, but when she was on the floor she had great footwork and technique. The ganchos and ochos were slow and tight instead of the trademark quick flicks we normally see, which was picked up by the judges. Even so, Claudia did a turn through one of the ganchos which apparently an extremely difficult move even professional dancers struggle with. A dramatic, powerful, controlled dance that scored 36 out of 40.

As if that wasn't enough we had the huge treat that was the Cha-Cha-Challenge! All six couples took to the floor in a winner-takes-all dance off against each other. This was an important part of the night. The extra points earned from the judges' scores for this dance would be added to those from the main dance. It could make a huge difference the the leaderboard (like that's mattered these last few weeks).

This was the crazy part of the show. So many rules! Couples had to keep moving, there had to be plenty of cha-cha content, there was to be no partner-swapping (although there was a change of position on the dance floor halfway through) and no improv in the steps. Even more challenging -  the couples were said to have never heard the music, let alone worked out any choreography for it. The dancing duos strutted their stuff around the floor and tried to look like they knew what they were doing. Danny was very watchable, Kevin talked Louise through it all, Ore was okay,  Claudia was a little clunky, Judge Rinder just about avoided em-barrister-ment and Ed made a....well, let's just say he wasn't the best on the floor. The judges pretended to seemed to argue amongst themselves as decided who was getting what score and Craig played along pretending that they hadn't been in full agreement. But at the end of the dance:

Louise was judges' favourite scoring 6 points
Danny was second, scoring 5 points
Ore was third and got 4 points
Claudia was fourth and got 3 points
Judge Rinder was fifth and scored 2 points
Ed Balls was last and scored just one point.

This left the leaderboard looking like this - Danny Mac and Louise Redknapp at the top, Ed Balls propping it all up.

We all know what comes next. I won't pretend it happened on Sunday if you don't. The viewer votes had been added to the judges' scores. (Does that mean Ed gets something like 90,023? That'd be weird. I mean, it's weird he gets scores like that anyway, but you know what I'm getting at.) Someone in the gallery was whispering the results into Tess Daly's ear as she was reading the autocue. No wonder she always has a look of panicked bafflement. Media multitasking - for me that means listening to Ed Sheeran while playing Candy Crush. Soon Tess would be revealing all to the agog audience (WHAT have I said? Get to the back. Go on, off you go. Cor, there's always one).

While we were waiting for the results the auditory equivalent of blancmange Ellie Goulding subjected treated us to her latest musical rendering,  Still Falling For You. I'm sorry. That was mean of me. I'm sure lots of people like Ellie. She sells lots of records, downloads, upstreams or what have you. She's just not quite my bag, as it were. She's too...twinkly and......nice and.........boring. Mind you, it's not like I'm expecting Metallica doing a slot any time soon - although after Glasto the other year, you never know. I can see Brendan and Natalie doing a lovely Viennese waltz to Nothing Else Matters (I told you I invest far too much time thinking about Strictly).

Mr Goodman had a gander through his lens again, nit-picking and bum-licking his way through the celebs' routines and explaining to us sofa-samba-ers, us couch cha-cha-cha-ers, us pouffe-paso-doble-ers (I'm running out of ideas here) what was good and what was grotty. He even got his hanky out for a wave around at one point.

And then it was time. Had the cha-cha-challenge make any difference to the decision? Had it bum-cheeks! Everyone else was in the same place. And it wasn't much of a surprise who was bottom of the viewer votes.  The two celebrities in the dance off this week were.....

Judge Rinder and Ed Balls. FINALLY!!! The viewers seemed to have got the idea of the competition and voted with their heads instead of their hearts (or funnybones). As much as I love Robert Rinder, he did deserve to be in the bottom two this week. As for Ed - he should have been here a long time ago. At least we can assure ourselves that the dancer who went this week was one who should have gone instead of one that can actually dance. It feels a bit strange, not having a rant this week.

Unfortunately, of course, this meant we had to sit through Ed's dance again - even though Craig admitted to secretly really enjoying his performances and being chagrined that he had to score him as a judge and not a fan. Flipping good job, really!

Poor Judge Rinder looked like he wanted to be sick before he took to the floor, Ed looked quietly confident. But then again, he always does. Judge seemed to get into the character more the second time around and took the panel's advice on board about making more of a connection with Oksana - he didn't lean back as far this time, either. Ed went guts and glory, poop or bust. It didn't improve the technique any and he actually seemed to make a couple of mistakes in this offering.

Once again the judges had to decide who to call time on. After some - but, let's face it not much - deliberation ED was finally, and rightfully, booted off the show. Now we have at last whittled the numbers down to those who can actually bust a move and get with the title of the show. Strictly Come Dancing - not Strictly Get The Viewer Sympathy Vote Because Although I'm Actually Crap I Look Like I'm Trying, I'm a Bit Amusing And Britain Loves An Underdog. I mean, that'd be too much of a mouthful for starters, never mind the cost of ink in printing the bloody tickets. So, yay. Hooray, in fact. Ed has reverted to his MP (Minor Personality) status, has lost out on a vote and gone. I'm definitely not breaking out the celebratory gin. Oh no, sir, not me.

And there we are. Six becomes five as we hurtle on a week closer to the final. One week closer to Christmas. Quick, HOTH, give the sprouts a poke! I'm just nipping off to give my pudding a stir.

Until next week, everyone........KEEP DANCING!!!! And just to keep us on our toes - and probably someone read my moan last week that there's nothing special after Blackpool - next week is going to be MUSICAL WEEK. That should be a whole heap of fun. Imagine the puns I can shoehorn think up for that.

Oh, and as a special treat, here's a preview of the costumes HOTH and I have decided on if ever we take up dancing. Enjoy!

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside. Well, not in this weather I don't. It's bloody freezing. Talk about Baltic Blackpool? It's cold enough to turn me winkles inside out! I suspect things were a lot warmer for the celebrity dancers this week. Things for them are certainly hotting up as we hurtle towards the finals - it's all downhill after Blackpool, you know. No more themed weeks to look forward to and the group of gyraters dwindles ever lower as the year draws to a close.

Blimey. That ruined the mood, didn't it? Sorry about that - here's a picture of a lovely Blackpool donkey to cheer you all up.

That reminds me of the old joke - what does a Blackpool Donkey get for lunch? About half an hour, same as those in Southport. Right, enough of that. Back to business. The celebrity couples hit the Blackpool Ballroom dance-floor this week. Apparently, it's a whole new kettle of fish (and chips). A proper ballroom dancing floor is much bigger - so a lot more space for the dancers to cover. This means everything has to be BIGGER and has to be really expressed so that the cheap buggers in the Gods' seating can see everything without having to pay a quid for those useless binoculars you can hire. Consequently, the choreography has to be bolder. The floor is also slightly sprung, so every step is exaggerated and bounced back at the dancer - making it harder on the feet and knees. Meaning dodgy legs, knees and footwork will be even more obvious to the judges. On top of all that there's a bunch of infinitely better backing dancers lolloping around behind them to pad out the number. I don't know what they're worried about. I mean, they're only faced with this sight when they come out of the wings....

Nowt to it, right? So, what turned up in The Tower? Which couple gave us Saturday Night Fever and who made us Sick Again? Come, let us pier behind the scenes and sea what went on (look, I warned you last week there would be puns).

The show started as it meant to go on with a slick, impressive opener with the celebs and pro-dancers mixing it up on the floor in a Fosse-style number. It was a good way to kick off proceedings. Greg popped out from behind a door, Ore sashayed down a red carpet, Claudia came in on a pedestal, Louise brought her fans from last week - the feathery kind - Ed swept in on a throne, Judge Rinder was lowered in on a star and Danny came in with the pro guys (and it was hard to tell them apart). This whipped the audience into a frenzy - they sounded like they'd spent the afternoon on 2-for-1 WKDs at Yates!

And so to the show.

Claudia Fragapane reverted to choreographic stereotype playing a cheerleader, dancing a jive to Hey Mickey by Toni Basil. This was a very fast, almost frenetic routine by AJ. There were some sharp, clean flicks and kicks with really good retraction, but the fast pace caused Claudia (the only contestant small enough to ride on a donkey in the training video clips) to lose her footing and timing. She fronted it out well, though, and quickly got things back on track. This happy, peppy number was full of content and high difficulty and Claudia was in time, on point and together with AJ through most of the full-on choreography. This dance can be Fylde under T for Terrific. The little errors prevented 10s and Claudia scored 36 out of 40.

Up next was an assured Ore Oduba working a Viennese waltz to That's Life by Frank Sinatra. Joanne Clifton had an inspired twist on a traditional Viennese that was great to watch. Faster than usual, this dance had flavours of swing, American Smooth, jazz and pizazz without losing the spins and turns required in a Viennese. Ore oozed confidence, swagger and style as he swept Joanne around the floor. Totally in time, he coped with tricky footwork, clever choreography, acting a character and interacting with the backing dancers without losing a beat. He even performed a twelve-rotation super-fleckerl (see, I knew you'd be impressed). With great frame, poise and polish this was a tower-ing performance that should see Ore coast through to next week. Despite a mean 8 from Craig, Ore managed an impressive 38 out of 40 - cue waterworks.

Louise Redknapp followed this with a Paso Doble to Explosive by Bond. This was a pleasure to watch. While Kevin seemed to push and pull Louise about a bit at the start she soon got into her stride and found the fierce. Louise put on her best paso face as she started with some stylish skirt-swishing and followed up with attack, attitude and intent that was there until the end. She was strong and assured, staying in character and showed some great shaping in her arms. Again, this was Clifton choreography at its best playing to Louise's strengths. This shore was a good number, scoring 38 out of 40.

Which, incidentally, brings us to Lookee Likee Of The Weeeeeeek. I've been pondering who KevinFromGrimsby reminds me of. Last night, the penny dropped. It's Reece Shearsmith from The League Of Gentlemen!

It's uncanny. I can hardly tell them apart. Same glasses, same hair, same smirk. Maybe Kevin and Louise can dress as Edward and Tubbs next week? 

'This is a local cha cha for local people. Do they have glitterballs in Swansea, Kevward?'
(Google is your friend if you don't know what I'm wittering on about).

Where was I? Oh, yes. Strictly. Danny Mac took to the floor next with a simply outstanding Charleston to Puttin' On The Ritz. Showing us she's no donkey Oti tilted the windmill steps in Danny's favour (sorry, even I cringed at that one). This was a super-speedy Charleston. Quick, polished and sharp from start to finish Danny was totally in synch with Oti and the backing dancers. It was a tight, controlled number with tons of difficult steps and tricky choreography - including some table-top moves, fearless lifts and a totally in time one-handed cartwheel. Danny was fleet, fast and didn't flag once. His footwork was flawless, on beat, on time and on the money. He's got to be tide into next week's show. Even Craig was impressed giving a 'FAB-U-LOUS' and getting his big 10 out for the first time this series. BINGO - a full house 40 out of 40 for Mr Mac.

And from the sublime to the ridiculous. It must have been so difficult to follow Danny but someone had to. That someone was Ed Balls 'dancing' a jive to Great Balls Of Fire by Jerry Lee Lewis. It really should have been Rock Around The Clock for Blackpool, surely? He certainly danced like his Balls were on fire. Yet again, partner Katya was forced to resort to comedy tricks with Ed being lowered into proceedings on a wire pretending to play the piano. The backing dancers were the main attraction as they sought to take the eye off Ed's antics. There was very low content in this jive - and even the sprung floor couldn't help with the utter lack of bounce. Ed was flat-footed, lumpy and schlumpy all the way through this offering. While he tried with the character and gave it a go he lacked any retraction on the kicks, there were very few flicks and he was fairly low on overall energy, attack and commitment. He was mainly in time but there were long pauses while he got into place and no real flow to the dance. The judges weren't overly impressed either and Ed scored just 23 out of 40 - a backwards slide from previous weeks.

Greg Rutherford was out next dancing a quickstep to Hand Jive. While Greg is used to leaping in his day job he had to tame the take offs (otherwise he'd have ended up in the 15th row of the audience). This conscious effort to wind things back showed and it cost the dance style. Greg had a good, upright posture but unfortunately, so did his thumb - something not lost on picky Craig. His feet were quick and nimble and he covered the floor really well, though he got a bit skippy in parts particularly towards the end.  It seemed like the floor was adding to Greg's natural bounce and it looked a little messy at times. Ironically, he messed up the fairly routine jette leaps but nailed the complex sit down armography. Not his best dance, but by no means his worst. He didn't trample on Natalie's feet anyway. Shell we see him next week? A score of 32 out of 40 might make it difficult.

Judge Rinder closed the show with a saucy little salsa to Spice Up Your Life by The Spice Girls. Last week he brought us Fred and Ginger - this week was something else. There was a Scary moment at the start when the backing dancers almost dropped the Judge out of a lift but he quickly recovered and came out fighting. There was bags of hip movement and rotation, sassy shimmies and some showy lifts all the way through. Proving he's not too Posh to party he showed his Sporty side with a neat little flick-flack but there may have been a little too much energy and attack, causing the timing to suffer a bit. There was some nice footwork and you couldn't fault his enthusiasm, especially for shaking his groove thang - whatever that is - and for once his face antics fitted. The Judge also showed he's no Baby, taking criticism on the chin and standing up for Len when the audience booed the negative feedback. I'm not going to beach about it - the score of 33 out of 40 was on the money. Will he be back next week? Answers on a postcard please. A Big One (DOUBLE PUNNAGE!!! I've outdone myself. Dollars to doughnuts next week's blog is going to read like the Shipping Forecast after this!).

Incidentally - if anyone has a CLEAN word or phrase they'd like me to shoehorn into next week please post something in the comments (or on the thread if you're reading this on the forum) and I'll get HOTH to pick the one he likes the best.

And so the show was over (at least for TV viewers, anyway). The seven couples had done their turns, the judges had made their comments and awarded their scores. Danny was top of the leaderboard and Ed was propping it up - again.

Some of us slept and enjoyed the last day of the weekend before the results show. SBOTH and his rugby team hammered the opposition 18-1, with all the boys playing out of their skins and everyone scoring tries, including SBOTH (GO UNICORNS) and it didn't rain much, which is always a bonus. Plus,you know, sausage butties. Winner.

The people in Blackpool on the night knew what was going to happen, of course. Just how do the live audience keep it such a secret? Do they lock them in a cupboard until Sunday night? Put something in the orange juice and KitKat they get in the interval? (Other chocolate and wafer confections are available. They're just not as nice.) Maybe Big Trev has a word before they can pick up their coats. Who knows? 

Anyway. Results night. The show started with a high energy rock n roll number - again with the celebs mixing it up with the pro dance partners and the backing crew. It was a fun number, loosely based on the old Fifties music TV shows and introduced the stars again and got everyone in the mood for the rest of the evening.

This being Blackpool they rolled out some Big Names - well, bigger than some they've had on so far anyway. Simple Minds rocked up with their classic number Don't You Forget About Me. I wish I could forget it. Jim Kerr largely didn't bother with the tune and looked like somebody's dad doing bad karaoke, dressed in a shiny foil jacket and super-tight strides. Then, as if that wasn't a big enough treat for us, Rick Astley belted out his latest gospel-inspired ballad Dance. Although, ironically, he didn't do his trademark dance, more's the pity (he's a serious singer these days). Rick and Jim? That must have blown the BBC budget. Maybe there was an 80s revival show on at the South Pier and they got them cheap or summat.

Len had brought up his lens, set it to wide angle, and showed us again the good and the glorious, the flawed and the furious. Bruno waved his appendages about as usual, with Darcey and Craig keeping the cool.

And so to the results. The poor celebrities waited, sweating and nervous, as Tess (remarkably fresh after a stint on Children In Need on Friday night) read out the viewer votes. Would the decision reflect the judges' scores for once or would the audience go their own way again?

There it was. Claudia and Greg were in the dance off. Claudia. And. Greg. What? I know I have been saying this for a few weeks now, but come on people! This really is beyond a joke now. OK, so Greg was no Danny Mac but he was a decent dancer, he was improving and he had a much wider repertoire than comedy gurn, stamp and flap arm about like a wounded pigeon. I understand Ed is or can be entertaining and Strictly is an entertainment show. But it's also a dance competition and ED CAN'T DANCE! It's gone from 'OK, let's see what he can do' to 'Lookit the funny man dance, momma'. Like the Victorian freak-shows and visits to Bedlam but with less refinement. Enough. A very decent dancer is in danger of being voted out next week if this carries on. 'Aw, he's dead funny - he proper makes me laugh' just isn't going to cut it anymore.

Right. Enough ranting for now. Greg really upped his game this time round, tightened the feet and nailed his jump, bringing an altogether better performance. But short of Claudia either completely forgetting the routine or kicking Bruno in the nuts in time to the music (I'd probably pay to see that, to be honest) the judges didn't have to think too hard about who was going home. And they were probably eager to get their fish and chip suppers in any case.

It was a unanimous decision. Greg was eliminated. The Curse of Blackpool struck again (I don't know why I'm saying that. Someone is always voted off, even in Blackpool). This really was a shame and he deserved better. The poor lad was in tears in the post-decision interview and Natalie was equally emotional.

Olympic long jumper for the high jump. Greg crashes out.

The remaining dirty half-dozen will return to That There London for next week's show and a chance to knacker themselves all over again in the name of entertainment. Me? I'm off to snuggle under about 15 duvets with a Horlicks and watch Humans (the TV show on 'another' channel. I'm not remotely suggesting that Ed isn't human - although sometimes I do wonder).

Until next week..................KEEP DANCING!!

Sunday, 13 November 2016

You know Strictly is taking over your life when you start to dream about it. This week my nocturnal inner ramblings brought a new twist.  I dreamed that the Beeb had decided to shake things up for 2017. Instead of individual marks dancers were given a random 'lump sum' score. Len had been replaced by Queen guitarist Brian May. Bruno had been replaced by Jonathan Creek star Alan Davies (I must have a subconscious thing for blokes with poodle perms). Points were awarded for being rubbish and funny rather than technique. Ed had scored a full house 40 for his dance - although, thankfully, that didn't appear in my dream - I tuned in just in time for the scores. I woke up in a cold sweat - that's the last time I eat prawns before bed, I'm telling you! I just hope no BBC execs are reading this and think 'You know, that's not a bad idea.....'

So, back to reality. It's Week Eight - nearly Blackpool time. I'll pre-warn you on the punnage count for the blog on that one. It will be high and awful. It always is. But that's all in the future. What happened this weekend - who wowed us and who won't be beside the seaside?

Daisy Lowe opened proceedings with a salsa to Groove is In The Heart by Deee-Lite. With Aljaz looking like an extra from Scooby Doo this was a sixties style nod to the dance. It started off pretty well - Daisy and Aljaz were together and she was in time with the beat but it was a bit stop / start and lost fluidity and flow. More chunky and clunky than a smooth saucy dance. Daisy's height hindered her somewhat (even though she has amazing legs) and she wobbled out of turns and the tricky lifts that Aljaz has choreographed. Bruno spotted the fluffs from across the floor and brought them up in his comments. Still, it was cheery, bouncy and fun and earned her 31 out of 40.

Greg Rutherford came next with a powerful paso doble to Tamacun by Rodrigo y Gabriela. Yeah, I've got all their albums. Even with a waistband higher than Simon Cowell sports Greg gave this a good go. From a cape carry on at the start the dance was full of energy. Greg had plenty of attitude, attack and intent throughout the number and Natalie had packed in plenty of content with knee-change jumps, lunges and walks. The unfamiliar music may have helped as there was nothing to distract from the routine. There were some lovely heel flicks and flamenco steps and Greg kept his rear well tucked under. He lost a little shaping in places and his free arm was still a bit flingy, but overall his wasn't a bad dance. It certainly divided the judges but Greg was awarded 31 out of 40 for his efforts.

Judge Rinder followed with a fabulous little foxtrot to You Make Me Feel So Young by Harry Connick Junior (well, by the Dave Arch singers but you get my drift). The judge had been looking forward to this so much. It's his grandparents' favourite dance and they were in the audience to cheer him on. He started off with a great skip & heel click before getting into hold. He seemed to be singing along to the song as he and partner Oksana swept along the floor, but his face was in check - apart from the massive grin on his face that showed what a great time he was having. Us too. The judge had loads of style and grace, rise and fall and had nailed the 'quick, quick, slow' that makes the foxtrot such a difficult dance to learn. There was bags of content, glide and flow and he was lovely and light on his feet. There could have been a bit more swing but the judges were impressed. Nines from Len and Darcey contributed to a whopping 33 out of 40.

Ore Oduba brought us another rumba to Ordinary People by John Legend. I think I've worked out why I don't really like the rumba. It's a dance all about romance, tenderness and deep feelings. as HOTH will testify, I have all the tenderness of an All-Black rugby forward and the romance of Geoff Boycott after a heavy loss by England in The Ashes. I probably swear more, too. But back to Ore. There was some nice touches - the usual wiggle, walk, pout, wave bits were all in there. Ore kept in character and was touching in the touchy-feely bits without being too cheesy. He had good shaping and frame with nice musicality, particularly through his arm extension and finishes. It was a good effort, but I still enjoyed the singing more than the dancing. The guy had a great voice. Ore's ability to stay in time with an arrangement that had no percussion or real beat earned him 35 out of 40.

And then came Ed Balls. Ermagerrrd (as Da Yoof today are prone to say, so I'm told). Ed was dancing (and I say that in the loosest possible terms) a salsa to Gangnam Style by Psy. Yes, you read that right. Gangnam Style. Salsa. As if the singers don't have enough to contend with, the poor bloke had to sing entirely in Korean. Never mind Ed getting points, the singer gets a big TEN from me! As I said last week, partner Katya has resorted to comedy to get Ed through the series. And I will admit that this was a bloody entertaining turn (if Ed isn't on the Strictly tour this year I'll eat HOTH's underpants - after he's eaten chilli cheese). Ed threw everything but the kitchen sink at this dance. There was a bizarre move where Katya saw more of Ed's balls than could have been good for her - if you didn't watch, YouTube it (just don't eat while watching). The energy certainly wasn't lacking and there were some good lifts and bounce. Ed's hips didn't rotate much and there wasn't a lot of promenade, but blimey it was fun. Darcey's control pants must have taken a hell of a bashing she was laughing so much and Len was speechless. The salsa-that-wasn't scored Ed a bottom-of-the-board 25 out of 40 - but an 8 from Len!

Claudia Fragapane swept onto the floor with a Viennese waltz to Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson. Tiny tumbler Claudia is probably the best prepared for all the turns and spins needed for a Viennese - she spends her days doing somersaults, after all. However, it has been hard for her to 'unlearn' the stiff posture required in gymnastics and the habit of 'spotting' the floor. Nevertheless, this was a graceful, smooth, flowing routine with plenty of content. AJ had stuck in more fleckerls (of every flavour) than Len could shake his pickled walnuts at and there were some nice heel leads. Claudia had a beautiful frame and lovely, lyrical arms out of hold with plenty of confidence throughout. There was a twizzer and a barely legal 'float spin' at the end with Claudia just about scraping the floor with the skin of her verruca (disclaimer - I don't know if she actually has got a verruca. She might have lovely feet for all I know). This nice little number earned 36 out of 40..

Danny Mac brought us the second Argentine Tango of the series to I Heard It Through The Grapevine by Marvin Gaye. He actually did some actorising in this one! This was another fabulous, confident and assured outing from Danny. It was clean, sharp, precise and controlled from beginning to end. We were treated to glorious ganchos and outrageous ochos and some beautiful kicks and leg twining and crossing. Danny showed some great poise and panache and, while there could have been more of a V shape, his framing and posture were pretty solid. While this was a dance the audience clearly loved, it split the judges - with Darcey in particular feeling it was a bit too aggressive and full-on and Craig pointing out the (admittedly) minor flaws. Whatever the comments, Danny scored a table-topping 38 out of 40.

And so the show was closed by Louise Redknapp dancing an American Smooth to Big Spender by Shirley Bassey. This was a nice nod to the Fosse era with Louise starting out with ostrich feathers. She gave this dance a good fan-dang-go, I'll give her that. She's clearly growing in confidence as she gave this dance loads of style, swagger and pizzazz. It was big, bold and full of fun. Louise sold the number and The KFG (KevinFromGrimsby) had put in lots of cracking content. There were some sticky moments in and out of lifts where Louise didn't look as comfortable but she was bang on beat when her feet were on the floor. The judges were impressed - especially Bruno, whose 10 added to Louise's overall score of 37 out of 40.

Our hopeful eight had done all they could do. It was all out of their hands (or feet) now. Everyone who dances on Strictly wants to go to Blackpool - it's the home of ballroom, the Mecca of music (and I don't mean just because of all the bingo). We were about to find out which seven couples were seaside bound.

There was a lovely, touching Remembrance Sunday tribute at the start of the show dedicated to a couple who met during WW2 - 72 years ago. The pro dancers told the story of how the couple met, fell in love and married and the couple themselves appeared to a standing ovation from the audience.

Quite how Len got across London for the results show while simultaneously standing in for Paul O'Grady on Radio 2 is anyone's guess. Perhaps one one  of the shows was pre-recorded (innocent look)?

Continental conductor and Strauss superfan Andre Rieu showed up to provide the musical interlude - a version of Hallelujah by the wonderful Leonard Cohen who sadly passed away this week. The pro-dancers - Brendan and Natalie - of course performed a Viennese waltz. As if we could have expected anything else. Now, I don't know about you, but our Andre always reminds me of Vigo - the villain from Ghostbusters II. Honestly, you never see them in the same room!


See what I mean? If it wasn't for the violin you'd have to wonder what Andre was up to in 1989. Actually....what was he doing?

Len and his omnipresent lens spotlighted (spotlit?) his favourite bits and cleared up confusion where - and why - the judges had been picky about moves, feet and arms. There were a couple of candid shots and recordings of the judges and dancers that we wouldn't normally see, which is always fun. Darcey's reaction to Ed's dance looked suspiciously F-bomb in nature!

Then the couples stood in their spotlights, hoping they wouldn't turn red and signal a potential halt to their progress. There were squeals, tears, floods of relief (flods of tears from Ore) and evident joy as, one by one, the safe and secure six were sent through and upstairs to the 'Clauditorium' and a light-hearted grilling by Winkers.

Finally, we were left with the unloved. Greg and Daisy were in the dance-off. Poor Daisy - this was her third time in the bottom two. She just doesn't seem to be connecting with the audience. It's not even like she's a bad dancer or a horrible person. She's just a bit - dare I say it - bland compared to some of the other competitors. Like Laura, her day job is probably also a bit outside the universe of Strictly's majority demographic and not exactly a household name.

Ed, on the other hand. Well, Ed must have the same campaign manager and publicist as Donald Trump. Actually, the two do have quite a bit in common. Nobody I know or have spoken to admits to having voted for him and yet he remains on the show. That and the fact that they're both orange, overconfident, fairly talentless and clueless. The consolation, of course, is that Ed is relatively harmless and has all his own hair (as far as we know anyway).

The dance-off followed the same format it always does. Both couples revisited their routines, both couples tried that bit harder to take on board the judges' comments and improve for survival. Nothing was spectacularly different. Nobody was dropped or mooned the panel (shame, that would have made things a bit more interesting).

This week must have been a difficult decision for the judges. Neither celebrity was entirely terrible, nor were they outstandingly spectacular. Both had achieved the same score the first time round. Daisy seemed to dance the same as she's done previously, Greg had tightened up his routine and ironed out the errors. The judges were split. Craig and Darcey plumped for Greg. Bruno simpered over his decision to save Daisy. The casting vote went to Chief Judge Len. In the end, as he said, he voted with his head and not his heart. He went for the dancer that had improved and was still improving. Greg got a reprieve and Daisy was sent packing.

               Say Hel-Lowe and wave goodbye! Daisy cha-chas back to the catwalk.

And that was that. Our ever-dwindling bunch of boogeyers boarded the bus for Blackpool. What will happen there? Will Darcey Kiss Me Quick? Will Bruno ride The Big One? Will Craig do a turn at Funny Girls? All that - and more - will be revealed in next week's blog.

Until then..............KEEP DANCING!!!!