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 Len had been replaced by Queen guitarist Brian May. Bruno had been replaced by Jonathan Creek star Alan Davies (I must have a subconscious thing for blokes with poodle perms).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!!!!