Strictly 2015 – the year they broke the script

I’ve been watching Strictly Come Dancing since 2007 when, whilst channel hopping, I happened upon Alesha Dixon dancing with Matthew Cutler. I knew the format of the show but not knowing much about celebrity, and still less about ballroom dancing, I struggled to work out which was the pro and which the celebrity. From then on, I was hooked. Each September, as the nights draw in and I know the gloom of winter is approaching, I look forward to my weekly dose of sparkly, besequined escapism. I know it’s tosh. I know ballroom dancing is sexist. I know it should be fluff but boy do I take it seriously and so it seems do thousands of others.

Over the years, I’ve grown used to the sense that there is a story playing out that’s gently scripted. The producers pick the celebrities so we get certain characters in each show and then steer things to produce highs, lows, dramas and online spats. We get the comedy act, who we obligingly vote for until Blackpool week because we want to see Ann Widdecombe dragged around the floor like a giant yellow dishcloth, but not at the expense of someone who really can dance. There are those clearly destined to go out in the first few weeks as lacking any dancing ability, comedy value, or even vaguely memorable characteristics. There are the clear mid-tablers, who sometimes provide a sort of shock-exit when they lose out to the comedy act. Then there are the genuine shock exits (Pixie Lott, Helen George) who end up in impossible dance-offs, or the people like Scott Marsden who start brilliantly and run out steam. And there are those who snatch victory from better dancers just by doing Charlestons (yes Chris Hollins, I still haven’t forgiven you).

Through all this, Craig Revel Horwood plays the harsh but fair pantomime villain who possibly has a heart in there somewhere. Darcey provides helpful critique; Len spots fleckerls and Bruno just sort of madly gesticulates on the end of the judges’ table (they put him there so he can only hit one judge, and since it’s Len and he’s been getting increasingly curmudgeonly nobody really minds. Except Len).

The problem this year has been a growing sense that something’s gone wrong with the script. Usually you can enjoy the story whilst being vaguely aware of but not minding the steering. This year the steering has felt much more like manipulation and the story has become much darker and less enjoyable. The characters haven’t been doing what the producers want and their attempts to haul them back into line have revealed something almost rotten underneath the greasepaint.

It started gently enough, Carol – easy cannon fodder, minor character, should be voted out 2nd or 3rd – turned out to be incredibly likeable and when paired with Pasha saw off five other dancers. Jeremy, comedy turn, let’s put him on a plastic horse and dress him up like Woody from Toy Story. And make him dance a tango. To Go West. No, I’m not joking. And neither really was Jeremy, who it turned out could probably dance reasonably well, if the producers had had the grace to treat him with some dignity.

Then there was Peter, destined to be the star turn. The one who could really dance, though not trained in ballroom, a shoe-in for the final. Except that he plateaued, his technique stopped improving and whatever the judges did, the audience weren’t really convinced. So they put him in the DO, against then 4-time DO survivor Jamelia (also not in the script, you’re only meant to survive three at most). And then she really departed from the script by out-dancing him, getting voted out by the judges anyway, and causing a media outcry amongst people who didn’t like her enough to vote for her but didn’t want her booted out in a DO when she’d danced well.

But the one who really broke the script was boyband member Jay McGuinness – hairy, walks a bit like a caveman, too shy to talk properly on camera, spent the first two weeks shaking. Definitely supposed to go out early. Except he really could move. Aliona got his hair cut and changed the way he walked. In week 2 he did a lovely waltz that the judges praised to the heavens, so his nerves eased up. And in week 3 he did THAT JIVE. A jive that many people see the need to capitalise as a shorthand way to distinguish it from all other jives before (except maybe Jill’s). And from then onwards the judges were stuffed and didn’t know what to do with someone who became odds-on favourite in week 3 and then stayed there.

There on in, things got sour, so I have some suggestions as to what to do next year, in the hope that we keep SCD as the amazing show it is, but make it more escapist, and less Grimm tale.

1 Keep Tess and Claudia. I know one is bland and the other quirky. It works. Leave it.

2 Sack two of the judges. I don’t care which two. If you can’t decide, pick them out of a hat, they’ve all pissed me off at some point. Inform the remaining two that telling someone they have no personality is just bullying. It’s a light entertainment programme for fun and watching people get torn to pieces is neither fun nor entertaining.

3 You know the rule book that you threw out for the show dances? Where did you find it? Because you haven’t bothered with it much this year. Work out the rules and stick to them. FOR EVERYONE. If Gleb can’t lift Anita in the rumba, then Kevin (or a backing dancer) can’t hoick Kellie onto a table during a VW. I might not know a reverse fleckerl when I see it, but I can spot that.

4 Don’t give primetime TV slots to siblings for them to comment on finalists. If you do, make sure they don’t say the opposition was over-marked in the semis. Other people get sacked for less. And look up “conflict of interest” whilst you’re at it.

5 Replace Anton as a pro dancer. He will never find another woman to dive backwards off a stage into his arms. Give him choreography corner. I like Anton but he resembles fortified wine – enjoyable in small doses but if you keep glugging it you start to feel sick.

6 Give Brendan a partner that’s good who he likes. He’s looked pissed off for years. If that doesn’t work, give him choreography corner with Anton in 2017

7 Go back to basics. Watch Jay and Aliona’s showdance. He’s all in white. After the entrance there are no props. They just dance. And they won like that, despite continual negative comments; the subtle and not so subtle digs on the show and on ITT and the remarks about his face that would have been laughable had they not been at root cruel. The public have spoken. They want people who perform well in the Ten Dances, not a manic Lindy Hop that however skilled, was not strictly speaking ballroom.

8 And on that note, make sure that in the final, couples have to dance one Latin and one ballroom to start with, not the specialty dances. If they want to do those, they can do them in the show dance, where there are no rules.

As it was, during the finals this year I switched over to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, because it lived up to its name whereas Strictly had become too predictable and I knew the scores before the couples danced. I want to get back to escapism and if Strictly is riddled with unfairness, nepotism and spite, I might as well walk out of the front door into the dark, wet reality of a British winter where I can find all those in spades.

And in the end, remember this. As Terry Pratchett used to argue, stories have a way of writing (and righting) themselves no matter how much you try to interfere with them. By continually sniping at Jay, the judges somehow made him both the bookies’ favourite and yet an underdog too. If there’s one thing the British love more than a favourite, it’s an underdog, so as soon as Craig said “you had no personality”, Jay was certain to win. I don’t know what the producers and judges were up to but I do know that Jay and Aliona got their happy ending in spite of it.

Mum’s the word

On It Takes Two, that font of wisdom Richard Madeley predicted that Jay just might win because of the “mum vote”. Since then I’ve heard it said that Jay won because of the granny vote, and because of the teenage girl vote. To which I have to say: so what? Why is the female vote, across all ages, perceived as less valid and less worthy? I voted for Jay because I liked watching him dance, not because I want to mother him (he has a perfectly good mother of his own) or because I fancy him or because my hormones told me to. Women can actually make rational decisions about who to vote for. So pack in the denigration of an entire sex by insinuating that our decision to vote is based on something less worthy than men’s decisions are. It’s 2015. We can vote. Deal with it.

 

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Strictly Come Dancing: fake it until you fail?

For those not in the know, Strictly Come Dancing is a light entertainment show in which celebrities are paired with professional dancers and taught a new dance each week. Every Saturday, one of the couples is voted off until one couple is crowned the winner. It seems like something light, sparkly, spangly and fluffy but it’s syndicated worldwide; can be used to revamp and relaunch sometimes flagging careers and is the favourite of the gutter press as some of the world’s most beautiful people occasionally start swapping partners both on and off the dance floor. In that context, the words “voted off” should raise alarm bells for it can indeed become highly controversial.

The process of voting is quite convoluted and as such perhaps not as robust as it might be. First each of the four judges award each dance a mark out of 10, to give a possible total of 40. Couples are then ranked on a scoreboard and the couple at the top are given the highest mark and so on down to the bottom couple who should in theory receive  one mark (though the BBC are not good at maths and this doesn’t always happen). Then, to give audience participation, the public vote. The couples are ranked again and again the top scoring couple get the highest mark and so on down. Judges’ marks and the public scores are then combined to give an overall scoreboard.

You could at that point just wave goodbye to the person with the lowest number of points overall. However, the problem producers encountered with this format is that the fickle public don’t always vote for good dancers and sometimes, as in the case of John Sargeant, deliberately vote for people with the dancing ability of a broom pole so left to their own devices, they might give the glitter ball to the likes of Anne Widdecombe. To prevent good dancers from getting kicked out too early the dance off was introduced in which the bottom two couples both dance again and the judges then save the couple who dance the best.

The system has always thrown some curve balls and at times the judges do have to make difficult decisions. Last year Simon Webbe was up against Pixie Lott and should in theory have been toast. Simon was a great dancer but Pixie had fairly consistently beaten him, until that week in which Simon scored 35 for an American Smooth which contained an obvious mistake whilst Pixie scored the same for a Cha Cha Cha which the judges criticised for poor technique and illegal lifts. Thus all Simon had to do was correct his obvious mistake whilst Pixie, to up her score, would have had to refine her technique and choreograph out some lifts, all in the same evening. It was not to be and Len sent Pixie home, arguing “I have to judge this on this one dance that I have seen – not what has been in the past, [or] what my expectations are in the future.  I tell you – this is hard as a judge but harder as person”.

Bear that quote in mind because it helps explain what happened last Saturday at Blackpool. Jamelia, with a score of 31 for a pretty passable quickstep ended up in the DO against Peter Andre with 29 for something that might have been a jive in another universe were jigging around and doing one of your old pop routines counts as a jive. The BBC’s problem is that it has created a small army of armchair experts who know what gapping is and who know about kicks and flicks. It already seemed that Andre was over-marked since Craig argued his dance was “at the bottom of the pack of jives” this season. Len gave Peter an 8 whereas in week 3 he scored Jay 9 for a jive the like of which none of us has really seen from one of the celebrities before – and I mean that in a good way. Unless Len is using a Richter scale or some other non-linear scoring system it’s hard to see how there was only one point between Jay’s and Peter’s dances.

Once it was announced that Jamelia and Peter were in the DO it was apparent that the judges were between a rock and a hard place. Jamelia had already survived a record four DOs and so was demonstrably not popular with the public but had danced better than Peter. Peter has some talent but that was not his dance and even with what looked like an inflated score he was worse than Jamelia. So for him to win the DO, in accordance with the rules stated by Len last series, Jamelia was going to have to drop points whereas Peter was going to have to gain them. To the majority of us watching at home it looked instead as if Jamelia upped her game and Peter remained the same. And yet Bruno, Darcey and Craig voted to keep Peter on the show.

The BBC might have thought that was that. Send the unpopular dancer who was never going to win home, keep their superstar signing who most of the time can dance. However, they found themselves in the midst of a storm without any apparent knowledge as to why. The BBC seemed to have forgotten that even Capuchin monkeys have a sense of fairness. This was never really about Jamelia, it was about the fairness and transparency of a process. People become invested in Strictly. It’s what gets us through winter in a northern climate. It’s sparkly and fun and perfect escapist television. And what we expect with escapist fun is a sense of fair play. After all, it isn’t really escapism if skulduggery is seen to be done without any redress.

In this the BBC had a perfect storm. It’s been apparent for years that the producers could manipulate the outcome if they so chose. Each year they pick a comedy act, forgetting that comedy should arise naturally. But you go along with it, and vote to keep weaker dancers in at least until Wembley/ Blackpool week, because who wouldn’t want to see Russell Grant fired out of a cannon. There have been rumours before about fixes because some dance, music and costume choices seem odd at best. If you don’t like a celebrity, it must be hard not to ask them to dance the rumba whilst wearing a sequined bin bag, to You Spin Me Right Round. If I had the power to do that, I’m not sure I’d resist either.

To add to the storm and the rumours, SCD bosses have never really been open with their audience. They won’t give out public voting figures even after a series ends and despite FOI requests. And because of this, since they introduced online voting, I’ve only voted via this free method. Added to which although it’s pretty obvious that the Sunday results show is filmed straight after the live Saturday show, the BBC go through an odd charade in which they don’t lie outright, but do refer to “last night” and “on Saturday” repeatedly during the Sunday show and refer to “Sunday” repeatedly afterwards even though most of us know the result is available on spoiler sites around 10:30pm on Saturday.

So in a situation in which you have a vague but tolerable sense of some manipulation and lack of transparency, to find out just how ugly SCD’s face might be underneath all the makeup and sequins is something of a shock. Jamelia was obviously the better dancer on the night so why then keep Peter? Was it just because he’s been better in the series? In which case how do we know what the rules are? And why force celebs to go through a DO when in the end whatever they do doesn’t matter?

To compound the situation, the BBC published a blog by the studio director who explained to us “how a large scale entertainment show like Strictly Come Dancing – The Results is made” thereby making me feel like a 1950s housewife being told not to worry my pretty head about things I don’t really understand. Len was then wheeled out on It Takes Two to argue that he’d seen improvement in Peter’s dance and that that is why Peter was saved. Even though on the night Len said he would have saved Jamelia and in fact it was the other three judges who apparently spotted this miraculous improvement.

Whilst this is not really about Jamelia, it is about Peter. Like him or loath him he is an international star with a huge PR machine behind him. Once it’s clear that the BBC don’t respect its audience, treat you like children and are not transparent, you do start to wonder what hold someone like Peter has over them and quite what terms might be in his contract. I’ve long thought that the most sincere and real part of Peter is his fake tan. I’d rather not think so ill of Strictly, too.

Strictly Come Dancing: Five become four

So we’ve said our tearful farewells to Lisa and now we have the right four left: Dani; Denise; Kimberley and Louis. I’ve put them in alphabetical order by first name in case anyone thinks I’m biased and trying to rig the outcome by putting someone first. Just to make sure I’ve covered all bases, if we go by surname it’s: Dani; Louis; Denise; Kimberley.

I was, in the end, sort of sorry to see Lisa go despite my rather acerbic comments about her ability. We had Tess standing there wearing a rather fetching dress—lampshade combo and she first announced Kimberley as safe. Huge relief for her as they so often make her wait. Then Lisa was announced as being in the dance off, an odd move as more suspense would have been created if they’d announced not-Lisa.  I may have been imagining it but I couldn’t help but think that Vincent then looked a tiny bit relieved. Dani still looked blinking terrified, or rather fixed-stare terrified but it seemed as if Vincent’s reaction was the rather natural ‘oh good, if we have to we can beat Lisa in a dance off’.

Louis was next announced safe, with Flavia and he looking very, very relieved. Denise, poor woman, looked rather resigned. Dani needed Vincent to hold her up, he looked as if he knew he couldn’t say ‘whatever happens we’ll be fine’ what with him having a live mike sewn onto his suit. Denise was announced in the dance off and Vincent gave up holding Dani up and sank to the floor regardless. I have a soft spot for Vincent and his claims that he is too little for this world.

Lisa was understandably teary but in fairness once on the dance floor she did go for it and enjoy herself. In the last few seconds Robin seemed to be thinking ‘oh balls to it, if you’re going home, go home in style.’ Denise, fair play to her, was glorious. Her timing really is wonderful but she knows for sure now that she is last in the public vote and has been for two weeks in a row. It cannot be easy to go into a final knowing that. If I were her I’d be making a Chris Evans Voodoo doll.

All four judges said that based on technique there were choosing Denise. Darcey claimed this was a tough decision which was either stupid of her, or a rather sweet way of boosting Lisa. And Lisa, in pieces, then gave a really lovely speech. And I realised what had gone wrong for her. She knew she was technically weaker but didn’t quite realise by how much. Boosted by the judges, she really thought her performance made up for her lack of technique. Watching her deflated, realising that the public no longer favoured her, was very uncomfortable.

Lisa felt she was doing this for the ordinary woman. Robin said that she had inspired people and proven that you don’t have to be a certain size to dance. Oddly, on some blogs, this has been translated as ‘you don’t have to be a stick insect to dance’. But that isn’t what Robin said and I can’t imagine him being so rude about someone’s body shape, be they fat or thin. So I feel sorry for Lisa. The judges, by raising her up, gave her too far to fall.

Having spent the series recording results, I decided to do some number crunching. If you hate geekiness, look away now. If you like numbers, here is a table I prepared earlier.

Dancer Lowest score Highest score Mean ave Top of leaderboard* Dance off
Dani 21 (wk 1) 38 (wks 10 +11)

32.25

0
Denise 25 (wk 1) 39 (wks 7 + 11)

34.00

6 2
Kimberley 26 (wk 2) 40 (wks 10 +11)

33.42

2 1
Louis 27 (wks 1 + 8) 38 (wk 11)

32.00

2
Lisa 25 (wk 2) 32 (wk 6, 7 + 11)

29.33

1 1

 
So you can see that they all had their lowest scores early on. Louis had another dip in week 8 when his Paso was heavily criticised for lacking in performance. In week 11 the four women all equalled their highest scores whereas Louis topped his previous highest score.

I put all their scores on a graph to compare their improvement but it wasn’t entirely clear. So I split their performance into thirds (first four dances, middle four, last four) and compared % improvements. I played around with the numbers a lot before eventually deciding to opt for something simple: the percentage improvement between their first and last dances. Then what you get is this:

Dani                       81%

Denise                  52%

Kimberley           42.9%

Louis                      40.7%

Lisa                         6.7%

If you go by that alone, Lisa had barely improved, Denise, Kimberley and Louis have all improved remarkably and Dani’s outstripped all of them.

So, here are my predictions for tonight. It’s based on audience vote alone so I think Denise will go out first. After that, it will probably be Dani. She’s undoubtedly popular but I’m not sure she’s quite as popular as Kimberley and Louis. I’m going to duck out now and say it’s too close to call between those two. Kimberley is the better all round performer but if Louis’s show dance is a show stopper, he might pip her to the post.

* I’ve counted weeks 1 and 2 separately and put both dances together for week 12.

Strictly Come Dancing: Semi Finals

So, left in we have: Lisa; Louis; Dani: Denise and Kimberley. Of those, Lisa is the only one not yet to have scored a 10. Kimberley and Denise have both been in the dance off. Denise has topped the leaderboard seven times; Louis twice; Kimberley and Lisa once and Dani never (or should that be, not yet?) This means that everyone who has topped the leaderboard this series is down to the final five.

I’m afraid I have all this on a spreadsheet so I’ll tell you one more thing. Lisa is the only one left who the judges have ever put in the bottom two.

OK, two more. I’ve added up the total scores for the five remaining dancers and they rank in this order:  Denise; Kimberley; Louis; Dani; Lisa. So, the show starts with the usual pratting around from Bruce and some odd VT of the remaining celebs pretending to race each other. Tess has hit the mark in a little black dress. It’s time to start dancing people, they’re doing two dances each.

Dani: dancing the American Smooth. It’s elegant, clean, smooth but with fast footwork. There’s a gorgeous lift though to me she looks slightly sticky going into it and overall she looks quite tense. It is lovely but it just lacks that extra something.  Len praises her technique, the heel turns and the lifts but feels the frame could be stronger at times. Bruno agrees and liked the Ginger Rogers touches. Craig liked the start but said the hand position in the first lift needed attention. Darcey says there was a lovely quality and elegance throughout but that she misses a little sparkle and it was a bit safe.

Score: 34

Louis: jiving. He has lovely character and movement and his performance skills have improved amazingly. However, it is flat footed and a little slow. The tricks were effortless and spectacular, particularly the back flip into the splits but at this stage in the game it’s not as good as I would have hoped. Bruno says his performance has really improved but says the kicks and flicks were not sharp enough. Craig agrees and says he his feet are sickled and he’s flat footed. Darcey says it was a fun routine with great style but that Louis is perhaps too supple to give the kicks the snap they need. Len says it was too casual, the dance lacked quality and his foxtrot better be better than that.

Score: 31

Denise: dancing the tango. She has beautiful shaping and sharp, clean footwork, she didn’t quite hold my attention but that’s probably just my bias. Craig is effusive but says there was a little gapping so Bruno shouts at him. Darcey says her attack was extraordinary but says to watch her kicks. Len has a go at them for making trivial objections which given what he’s just said about Louis shows an alarming level of hypocrisy for someone who’s supposed to be head judge. Bruno says it was fantastic and sensational.

Score: 39

Kimberley: dancing the American smooth. It’s gorgeous and she looks absolutely amazing. Her partnership with Pasha is such that to the untrained eye it’s starting to look as if they’re both professionals. The song, Fever, is a great match to the dance. Darcey loved it saying she looked like a film star. Len wanted more in hold and says she looked like Jessica Rabbit. Darcey says forget Jessica she looked like Cyd Charisse which let’s face it is a far more flattering and less sexist comparison. Bruno, bless him, gets rather carried away. Craig says she could go straight on stage with that routine.

Score: 38

Lisa: dancing the salsa. Allegedly. It looked like all the other Latin dances she’s done. True, she’s obviously in party spirit but she’s also hesitant, not clean enough and loses timing. There aren’t really any recognisable salsa steps and at one point she does something that might have been a floor spin but Robin has to heave her to her feet. It’s not pretty and we didn’t really need a homage to Ann Widdecombe. Robin is very obviously out-dancing her but he can’t really hold himself back any more. You can tell when you watch the professionals with their professional partners just how much they hold back even with the best celebs. But when you watch them with their celeb partners they pull their punches and make sure they look like a team. Except not in this case.

Len says she was so much fun, Bruno found the crash landing hilarious and thinks there’s no point in making a technical assessment. Yes, Bruno, yes there is. I think you’ll find a technical assessment is your job. Although if you like, here’s one I prepared earlier: it was a train wreck, an embarrassment and an insult to Nicky who got voted out so that we could see this. Craig was giggling too much to say anything and Darcey says her partying is fabulous and she loves her. Really? I mean really? Then they give her the same score they gave Louis, which is utterly insulting.

Score: 31

For the halfway break we have clips of the celebs saying how much they want to get to the final. It seems that if you can’t wheel out a small child, you must borrow one from the nearest available relative. Failing that, grab one off the street if you think you can get away with it. Louis doesn’t bother with this pathetic, attention seeking trick which I suspect has gained him as many votes as it’s lost him, hopefully more.

Dani: for her second dance she has the Argentine Tango, so no pressure there then. She has great control and rhythm and her balance in the difficult moves is amazing and much improved from the first weeks. The kicks are sharp and very fast but once more I’m wondering if it’s really ‘wow’ without being able to tell you why. Len said he loved the start, which they did without music but with so much hollering from the crowd that I couldn’t tell what was going on. He praises her for mastering the technique. Bruno calls her the lady of the night which I assume he meant as a compliment. Craig says Vincent has taught her well but noticed one bumpy lift (really? What about Lisa’s floor sweeping moment, or were you asleep for that?) Darcey enjoyed the intensity and control but wanted perhaps a slightly crisper leg action.

Score: 38 (Total 72, 3rd)

Louis: foxtrot. I stopped writing and just sat there and gawped so you’re on your own. Sorry. It’s here on catch up. On It Takes Two Ian Waite said that Flavia had given Louis a lot of content and indeed she did. You see something new in it each time you watch it and I should know, I’ve watched it  once or twice. Per hour. I may be biased. Craig criticises his thumb (ahem, where was Lisa’s thumb?) but loved it. Darcey says it was superb and he almost made it look too easy. Len said some of the rise and fall looked like bobbing up and down. Well at least he can actually do rise and fall. Lisa gets stuck on the fall. Bruno says he is a smooth operator who is back on top.

Score: 38 (69, 5th)

Denise: rumbaing, not my favourite dance. It’s clean, controlled and well acted with the beautiful shaping that I’ve come to expect from Denise. She is however wearing a wafting, floaty dress which I suspect may hide a multitude of sins. Darcey says some moves were a bit broken up but she gave a beautiful feeling. Len says it won’t be a proper final if she’s not there. Whatever, Len. Bruno says he was deeply moved and I hesitate to ask in what way. Craig says it was gorgeous but thought the dress might have been used to cover her hip action.

Score: 38 (77, 2nd)

Kimberley: dancing the Charleston. It’s fabulously goofy, beautifully acted and makes great use of the music and lyrics. There was a triple combined cartwheel from the two of them along with amazing lifts. Len says it was fun, frivolous and all you want from a Charleston. Bruno says she was flying high. Craig thought it was fabulous and Darcey calls her a quirky, naughty flapper.

Score: 40 (78, 1st)

Lisa: dancing a foxtrot-based American Smooth without lifts. So that’s a foxtrot then. She has her name in lights behind her, as if we didn’t already know that the producers have gone bonkers and think she belongs on Broadway. Her footwork is off, she gets left behind and the whole thing is distinctly meh for the semi-finals. Watching her you realise that’s not just gapping, it’s M&S gapping. You could drive a bus between Robin and Lisa when they’re in hold, if you were so inclined. Bruno praises the jazz and pizazz, and says she’s in a league of her own. Craig loved the stylised stuff but throws in a comment or two about the gapping and her free arm just in case we’re starting to think he’s biased (newsflash Craig, you’re too late). Darcey says she could be a musical theatre star and her lines are perfect in the mirroring sections. She says the only fault is that Lisa raises her shoulders in hold. Oh I give up. Len then says she is the ‘people’s champion’. No she isn’t Len. You know when they say it isn’t over until the fat lady sings? Well in my opinion, Lisa should start singing.

Score: 32 (63, 5th)

Lisa is indeed in a league of her own. It’s just a shame it’s the Vauxhall Conference not the premiership with the other four who are left. I know she’s proven that larger ladies can dance and that is a great thing. She had moments when she was wonderful, particularly early on in the series. However she simply has not improved in line with the others and to keep her in solely for her size rather than for her ability is patronising.

I suspect the producers are involved in something of a stitch up. Lisa will be appearing in Craig’s Strictly Confidential show, hence his lack of critique of her abilities. The producers know what the voting patterns are even if we don’t. We can guess that Lisa has a substantial fan base since she’s been near the bottom of the judges’ scoring without ever being in the dance off. We also know that Denise could fall over and win against anyone in a dance off. As a result, any fans of Louis, Dani and Kimberley know they need to phone in and vote, otherwise they risk seeing their favourite in the dance off with Denise.

The producers may be many things but they’re not particularly thick. By praising Lisa to the hilt they raise her voting profile and that of at least three of the other four contestants. So we keep voting so that they can pay off George Entwistle. Nice. Let’s see what the dance off brings. I know this much though – if Lisa is in the final this year, I’m never watching Strictly again.

Strictly Come Dancing: The Quarter Finals

This week we have Dance Fusion. Looking at some of the proposed combinations I’m wondering who on earth chose them and whether there’s some sort of conspiracy going on. But whenever Strictly bloggers go mad and claim that BBC producers are out to get some dancers, I come to the conclusion that they probably couldn’t organise a piss up in a brewery and drop thoughts of conspiracy for those of cock up. First up, we have someone who apparently should be excluded from the competition because she once made an exercise video (I looked it up on Amazon, it averages a two star review, I wouldn’t rush out to buy it if I were you).
Denise: dancing a quick step and jive to Reet Petite. It’s an amazingly fast routine with clean changes and good rhythm, incorporating some of the moves from her earlier jive. Len praises it as a proper fusion but remarks on a slip up. Denise confesses that her heel got caught in her skirt. Craig thought the jive part was incredible but that the QS could have been smoother. He is booed by the audience when he gives her an 8. Why is this? What do they do to the audience? It’s like they regress to the state of six year olds hopped up on slush puppies and E numbers.
Score: 35 (4th)
Lisa: fusing the Cha Cha with the tango. It’s not really tango music and her footwork is ropey to say the least. Robin rips off her skirt so that they can start to do the Cha Cha, just to ensure we know there’s a change in case Lisa’s technique failed to alert us to the fact. Bruno says the Cha Cha really suits her and the tango was good but not as good. Craig criticises her frame but praises the character of the dances. Darcey says she preferred the tango because the Cha Cha was not clean enough. Len picks up on an error and says she’s getting a bit predictable. I wonder if the judges are damning her with faint praise so we can wave goodbye to her this week. Don’t get me wrong – she’s done very well and she can move. However everyone else left in the competition has improved more significantly than she has.
Score: 30 (5th)
Nicky: gets the American Smooth and the Samba. If the producers chose those two dances, they hate him. If Karen chose them, she must have missed the bit where everybody goes home when they dance the samba. However, he makes a decent go of it. His shoulders are still stooped and he bends his knees when he shouldn’t but his footwork is fast and clean. The lift is gorgeous and Karen has tried to fuse the two by moving repeatedly between them. Craig says the samba needed more bounce and his posture in the AS was dreadful. He then comments that he thinks we’ll be seeing the dance again. Hmm. Darcey says it was well staged and well presented but his shoulders let him down. Len said those two styles gave him a great challenge and he liked the samba and the lift. Bruno praises his heroic effort.
Score: 27 (6th)
Dani: fusing the quick step with the Charleston. It is a genuine fusion and the two styles go very well together. Dani is wearing the most amazing dress. Well at least it’s part of a dress. It is gorgeous. The dances suit her and it is a lovely performance. She gets a standing ovation and Bruce does that amazingly annoying thing where he tells the couples to look and coos ‘it’s all for you’. I know he has good intentions but it comes across as odd and patronising. Darcey says the dance was extraordinary and the transitions were great. Len wanted a heel lead but he loved it. Bruno says that stylistically it was perfect.
Score: 38 (2nd)
Louis: dancing the rumba and tango. That might be a Tanga or a Rumbo, one of which is a pair of knickers, the other sounds like a back complaint. This does not bode well, especially given how difficult the rumba is for male celebrities. Fortunately, Louis does both superbly. They don’t actually fuse the two styles which given the difference between them is not surprising. They start with the rumba and then as the music reaches a crescendo they do an amazing lift and land into the tango. Bruno says it was masterful, Craig said he had effortless dexterity and then says his thumb was up. This is a good sign as it means it was the only thing he could see wrong with the dance. Darcey says it was one of his best.
Score: 37 (3rd)
Kimberley: with Cha Cha Cha and Tango. To me it looks odd but good. Perhaps the oddness is inevitable given the combination. Fortunately for Kimberley the judges completely disagree with me. Bruno says it was imaginative, inventive, seamless and the dance of the season. Craig said ‘that is dancing’, Len gave her a standing ovations and Darcey says it suited her perfectly.
Score: 40 (1st)
There was a certain amount of sniping on the internet and criticism of the judges’ scoring. Personally I don’t think Louis was undermarked. He is the only male celeb to get a 10 for the rumba (from Bruno). That and three 9s is a great score. However, I’m not sure what Craig was on when he gave Nicky a 5. Even if that had been an 8 he would still only have been level pegging with Lisa and would have been joint last. Lisa then was overmarked.
This was the first time in the series that no couples tied and the order on the leaderboard seemed to me to be right on the night, if Lisa and Nicky had been swapped around. It was more the judges’ comments to Nicky, particularly Craig’s, that seem off.
Onto the dance off show. Kimberley and Dani are announced as safe first and Nicky is in the dance off. Bruno objects and blames Craig for the scoring. Thing is, Nicky is one of the weakest two left, Craig’s score notwithstanding. Lisa is announced safe next, giving me a real wtf moment. She squeals the house down, forgetting that this means that a better dancer than her now has to be in the dance off. It’s Denise, who is visibly upset. Louis, realising he is safe, looks glad but is sporting enough not to shriek about it.
Denise goes for it in the dance off. Nicky relaxes, knowing as we all know that the judges are not going to send Denise home no matter who she dances against or how much she messes up. All four judges vote for her and Nicky bows out with good grace. Though I loved his comments on It Takes Two on Monday. I don’t blame you Nicky, I wouldn’t watch Craig in panto either, even though it’s fast becoming his natural home.