Saturday, 31 October 2009

Predictions, predictions, predictions

Are we in for a Hallowe'en shock tonight then? I have done a bit of number crunching and if Craig's get me to Blackpool bandwagon has worked, and if there are enough ties on the leaderboard to give him 5 points or more from the judges, he may still avoid the dance off. I think it will be touch and go whether Natalie ends up there instead of him, but I think it is pretty likely that a high scorer will be there (again), maybe with some unexpected company, to make for a really tense dance off. I will stick my neck out and say that numbers 3, 4, and 5 on the judges' leaderboard are in danger.

Top of the leaderboard - I think Jade and Ian are going to come out of the starting blocks racing after last week's dance off, and use the disappointment to fuel their best dance to date. She has been improving techincally and in terms of elegance, and they have a lovely foxtrot, so this could set the pace. The judges will want to score them out of the danger zone.

Anton has been touting for a 10 or 3 all week and could be rewarded with a simple but effective Viennese Waltz. However, the music is not a great choice, and simple VWs are never a great vote catcher.

Ali's previous ballet training is coming to the fore - I love her spins and spotting and her arm lines. She will be able to put these to good use in shaping in the paso, but will she pull of aggressive and passionate?

Ricky W - could this be the dance where he comes unstuck? He will need complete precision, which we have not seen so far in his dancing. He is a great natural dancer, but has not had the time to work on the finer points of his technique and this will show in the quickstep. I am also distracted by his topline and he seems to be leading with his shoulders.

Tuffers - really going out on a limb here. He has the best topline and arguably the best ballroom technique of the male celebs. But so far he has been too laid back to really work on improving. Katya was visibly getting frustrated with him in training, and doing her dance - the passionate tango - this week will either be sink or swim. It could be a car crash, but if he has finally been motivated to put the effort in (and with the weaker dancers largely gone now, he needs to stop coasting on his charm) he could top a 30 for this.

Zoe and the slowest saaaaaaambbaaa on record. I don't think she will pull this off, and as she is already perceived as a teacher's pet, the dance off could well be beckoning, especially if (as I half suspect) she is placed higher than deserved on the leaderboard.

Ricky - his technique is slowly improving, and last week showed he had musicality. The rumba is a hard dance to pull off, but he is an actor and he could just surprise. Erin and Colin danced my favourite ever rumba, so she could pull some great choreo out of the bag. She has been downplaying them all week, but I reckon they could just manage a decent rumba.

Chris - I don't think there can be any doubt about his popularity, but he needs to start joining all the dots up. Getting the routine right, getting the performance and improving his technique. It might be a bit of an edge of the seat moment watching him, but I doubt he will be going home tonight.

Natalie may well love the Jive, but the Jive does not love her. Her energy and enthusisam were palpable, but she was heavy footed, she was failing to point her feet, and the kicks looked more like a farm animal kicking out at an unwanted rival, rather than a light and frothy jiver. Hoping that she will not be paying the price for Craig's Blackpool obsession.

Craig - well you know lovely, I would be thinking more about whether a 20 was within reach than a 30. If he survives tonight, somebody better will be going; and if he gets to Blackpool, somebody else better will likely go. I can face losing Zoe and Laila, but anybody else would be a real loss for this series.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Nerves and performing

However much I may criticise and poke fun at certain couples, of one thing I am absolutely certain. The celebs (all of them, even Joe Calzaghe) have my utmost respect for having the guts to get out on that dance floor and perform. They are going so far beyond their comfort zone, and yet each week, there they are, ready to entertain the masses, some of them even armed with a smile on their faces.

I have been performing for years and years and years, and yet I never know when an attack of nerves is going to strike. Much of the time I have a feeling of nervous anticipation, mingled with a little shot of adrenalin. Some of the time I am plagued with a “Why an earth did I volunteer to put myself through this?” sinking feeling; a few, very few, times, I haven’t cared, and it has shown in my performance. Again, a few times, I have been literally shaking with nerves, and that too has shown.

I have resigned myself to that funny feeling in the pit of my stomach before a performance, and a desperate clinging to my pre-performance rituals. The day of a performance, I have to run my number at home, perfectly, four times. I don’t know why 4 is the magic number, but 4 times it is. Even if the 3rd attempt is as good as I can get it, I still have to go for the 4th run through.

I need to pack my gig bag in a certain pre-ordained way. And then I need to take it all out numerous times just to check that everything really is in there. I need to take along 2 copies of my CD – one burnt copy, and the original, just in case.

I then need to listen to my lucky song (changes all the time, and is unfortunately never the same song that I am performing to) 4 times before leaving the house. On the journey to the venue, I need to constantly run through the choreography over and over again, using positive visualisation to make sure I get it just right on the night.

Once there, I am in limbo. I don’t want to eat until after I have danced, and I am too much on tenterhooks to be able to relax and enjoy the rest of the show. In fact, it is almost off-putting to watch others dance, as this prevents me running the song and choreo in my head.

Big dilemma – when to change? Too early, and I will fidget; too late, and I will fret that I am running late. Then the big, big problem that always happens as soon as I am pinned into my costume. I suddenly need the loo. I didn’t, even moments before. What to do? Metaphorically cross my legs and use mind over matter? Or struggle out of everything and make a dash?

That combined with the fact that I always need to get back stage super early, means that more often than not, I am like a cat on a hot tin roof. Back stage waiting to go on for a solo is the loneliest place in the world, but I need to finally put all the what ifs and self doubts to the back of my mind, and channel the nerves into energy and emotion. The day I stop feeling those pangs of anxiety, that questioning "Am I really up to this?", is the day I stop to care, and the day that my performance dies.

And the post-performance drink can be so sweet! And the adrenalin rush can last for hours!

And this is the big thing with the celebs. Dance is not their area; more often than not, performance is not even their area. And they only have one week to learn a dance, get the confidence to perform, go out amidst all the glittering, swirling lights, the heat from the lights, the frenzied studio crowd, in front of an audience of millions at home, to face a live and immediate critique from the judges. Most of them have to sit backstage, watching, and waiting, waiting, waiting for their turn. They are on camera, so have to keep the nervous habits at bay somehow and remember to show solidarity with their rivals. Seeing how the judges react – are they kind this week, or are they going for the jugular?

They can’t kick off their shoes the minute the dance is over, and swig a well deserved bottle of wine. They wait, and wait, and wait, tension rising for the dance-off. And the lucky ones get to come back and do it all over again, week after week after week.

They must be mad, and I love them all for their insanity.

"The dressmaker would like all the boys to show more flesh on TV....

....but I am piccolino....I am too small. I don't think I should be doing that". So said Vincent, who is fast becoming my favourite male pro. What is not to love about the pocket-sized Italian Stallion, with his over the top flirting, his knowing glances to camera, and high camp gestures? Combine that with some of the most inventive choreography on SCD, great all round performances, and the ability to establish a good relationship with all his partners, and that makes a really watchable character. Forza Vincenzo!

With Lilia out early, Karen relegated to Choreography Corner, and Flavia dancing with a muppet who has had his personality surgically removed, I was in need of a new female pro to rival Erin in my affectations. And this year, along comes Ola - from least favoured to up there with Queen Erin! How completely can you change your mind about someone! This year, I appreciate her choreography, her teaching skills, and her incredible relationship with Chris. There is something about the two of them that has me voting every week - even though we may be confronted with Chris' "Trout pout, lemon-sucking, migraine face" this Saturday during the cha cha. Yeah baby!

From self-deprecating and tough love, to self congratulation and egotism. Team Cola to Charm and Smarm, and my mood changed abruptly. Anton, I used to find you hilarious, but the jokes are wearing so very thin now. From that awful justification of your non-samba (it was all done to keep things simple for Laila apparently, and to get her enjoying Latin again. Nothing to do with your lack of choreographic skills, then?) to the over-confidence about the Viennese Waltz (it could be the best ballroom ever performed on Strictly!), I just got hotter and hotter under the collar. Pride comes before a fall though, and I await with baited breath the time that Laila and Anton end up on Claudia's couch on a Monday.

The hilarious Hilary took us cavorting through the costume designs for Saturday, with Claudia adding her brilliant apercus. Of Zoe, who will be wearing "basically a swimming costume with a feather", or of Natalie "She is wearing lilac and yellow, Explain yourself!". Oh for a whole hour of Hilary and Claudia doing costumes. Now that would be heaven indeed.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

What a travesty! Ian's oil slick trousers are now a cushion and a sparkly top for Jade...

Jade and Ian have some good attitude though to being in the bottom two. They seem to be taking it on the chin and dealing with it (contrast to Zoe and James last week with their soul searching). I am sure as an athlete, Jade will be able to pick herself up and put even more into her training and performance this week. Ian certainly seems to be philosophical and realises what an effect the new points system can have on those further up the leaderboard.

Choreography corner lost a little of its sparkle within the indomitable Karen, but Lilia and Darren made adequate substitutes. Enjoyed the praise for Erin's choreo, and the spontaneous sniggering at Anton's disco samba. Seriously, I wonder how Anton is perceived backstage by the other pros? As a loveable buffoon who brings something to the table, or as an embarrassment to be tolerated as much as humanly possible?

I am hoping that Ricky and Erin will get at least as far as the semis this year (and wouldn't it be irony if Erin were to finally lift the trophy with a celeb such as Ricky, when she has been denied it with Colin and Austin?). Surely it must be tribute to her teaching and choreo skills that she is able to the best out of every celeb that she has had? And under her tutelage, Ricky's technique is slowly improving (she has done some real solid groundwork there), she chooses songs and routines that are big hits with the public, memorable as well as well suited to Ricky, and they seem to have a genuinely good friendship. I like the fact that Ricky always remembers to thank the public for voting as well.

Bit worried about their rumba this weekend, as this is usually not a crowd pleaser, and if the Get Craig to Blackpool bandwagon continues, he is going to need votes from somewhere, and anyone ending up slightly lower than usual on the judges' leaderboard could be in danger. Having said that, Ricky has been the most consistent of the mid tablers, so could pull it off. His rumba face was almost looking good until Claudia squealed "I think I could be pregnant!"

The rest of the programme was little more than filler, and I had a gentle yawn or so. Mind you, if we have got through six weeks of ITT and had only one padded programme, that is pretty good going. I am off to join Claudia and the girls in the bunk beds.....

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

So I have shed my first Strictly tear of the season.... Jo and Brendan's exit interview. Actually I am welling up again just thinking of Brendan saying that he knows he has a friend for life. I am so very pleased that Jo had such a good SCD experience, and the fact that she did must largely come down to Brendan. I know all the celebs are so brave to go completely out of their comfort zone, but Jo readily admits that this is the first thing that she has ever done on her own - and for a spurned woman, confidence destroyed, to learn to dance in front of 8 million people - that takes true guts and determination.

I must admit to having rolled my eyes when I heard she had signed to Strictly, but now I am full of admiration for a lovely, bubbly, down to earth woman. And I have done an abrupt U-turn on Brendan this series, and really like the new mellow, philosophical side of him. They make a lovely team, and I would have liked to see them outlast the likes of Anton and Laila and Flavia and Craig.

Talking of which, just how delusional is Craig? I appreciate that he is a real trier, and that he wants to be a good dancer, but has he watched any of the footage back at all? Has he even watched himself in the mirror? Poor, poor Flavia. And I even think Claudia may have been at a loss for words yesterday evening, and that is something that I have never seen before.

But with all these bandwagons going on - the get Craig to Blackpool bandwagon, the I want to do a good dance on my birthday bandwagon - I can see him lasting another couple of weeks. (And the SCD producers must surely be pushing this, because they know that if Craig stays, there will be the big shock exit of the series). So expect the couples in 3rd and 4th place on the leaderboard to be dancing off this Saturday, as Craig coasts through on his out of body dream cloud. I think the judges will make sure Jade and Ian are as safe as possible this week, as well as Ricky and Natalie.

Zoe and James have got salsa or samba this week, and have been talked up and overscored so much this weekend, that they are riding for another fall; Anton and Laila are back on the ballroom, but won't have the comedy factor of a latin, and Viennese Waltz has never been a big vote winner; Ali and Brian need to portray aggression in the paso....any or all could be at risk.

Having seen the segment on camera work, I think I need to stop moaning about the camera operators! SCD has a whopping 10 cameras, including 3 handheld, a steadicam, 2trained on the judges, and a technicrane that weighs a ton and a half, and needs 4 operators to shift it. Wow! I had no idea how complex the planning for the camerawork could be - the choreography seems almost as complex as something the pros would come up with. It is all scripted, with operators hearing instructions via headphones, and requires split second timing - with no room for error.

Once again, there seemed to be a real camaraderie backstage, and I laughed at the fact that the only celeb who admitted to getting distracted by the cameras was Jo Wood!

And so to Craig Devil Borewood and his predictions for the week ahead. I almost fell off my chair when he stated with complete conviction that Ali would be good at paso because "she is so good at those kind of dances" - darling, so far Ali has performed a waltz, rumba, quickstep, jive, salsa, and american smooth - she really hasn't needed to do drama or passion. So a little fact checking needed, perhaps?

And as for the waspish "Well, that will be interesting" about Ricky G's forthcoming rumba - well I think that your Char Char Char with the Duchess of Cornwall was rather interesting - particularly with regard to the bent knees and forced hip action (it comes from the feet, darling, not from just swinging the hips randomly). Don't give up the day job, dearie. Stick to theatre choreography and leave the latin dancing to the pros.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

I was really looking forward to watching Craig and Len dance the lambada next week

But my hopes were dashed when Zoe and James avoided the dance off!

First up this week were Long Jump Jade and Long Tall Ian. And it was obvious from the first moment of her VT who would be in the dance off. I thought that Jade was going on a journey! But the VT focused on her diva strop, and that, combined with dancing first and an act of sabotage from the wardrobe department, meant that Jade and Ian were destined for the dreaded dance off. It was such a shame, because I thought she not only danced the best samba of the night, but she also performed really well. I would have preferred to have seen her in a more traditional samba dress with some feathers to emphasis the hip movement instead of the monstrosity that wardrobe dug out for her. I have to admit that I spent half of the dance in a state of fear about whether she was actually wearing knickers, before I remembered that all SCD dresses are based on flesh-coloured leotards! Phew.

Team Cola were next up and I spent the dance in a state of high anxiety. What if he forgot the choreography again whilst in the middle of a lift? Were we going to see the first ever dropping of a pro in the AS? But he delivered a creditable dance and was back up to tango standards, if not rumba yet. His reward was a great big vote-winning "yeah baby". Hope his confidence is restored and he can go away and work on his hands, chin and bum now.

The lady and the tramp - performing a perfectly nice, but instantly forgettable American Smooth. With most of the smooth bits left out. And no performance. So of course it got rave reviews and a too high score. Oh and a little bit of a dig at the public for putting them in the bottom two last week. And for good measure, some excuses from the judges about how difficult it is when part of your costume distracts you from the job in hand. Bottom two again next week then.

My Tufty who can do no wrong and the Kat - lovely VT, during which Phil managed to lower all expectations of doing a good job in a far more humorous way than certain other celebs have managed! As usual he oozed charisma, stage presence and swinging buttocks. In fact I was almost distracted from the fact that it wasn't great choreography. My mind wandered again to thoughts of Phil partnered with Lilia, who would certainly get his humour and be able to showcase it to the max. Skipped off to the phone to vote for Phil as soon as the lines opened.

The deer in the headlights and Freddie's love child. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. He always looks so stunned when the judges tell him how badly he has done - does he really think he can dance? Mind you, I felt they were harsh, because he had improved, and Flavia for once choreographed a routine which he could cope with. She kept him in hold or within easy grabbing distance most of the time, and he didn't actually go wrong, which was a first. And his singing along irritated me, but at least he was showing some personality with it!

Junior Minder and Mrs Newly Mellow, with one of her gambles that actually paid off. Loved the routine, and thought it suited Ricky down to the ground. Loved the little nods to Mary Poppins and the change of tempo to quickstep at the end. Thought that the lifts looked a little roughly executed but he pulled them off, and I felt that it showed that his ballroom techique had improved. Clever, clever Erin. It was my favourite Smooth of the night, and a really memorable one (for all the right reasons).

I was annoyed at the harshness of the criticism of Have a go Jo and her knight errant. Yes it was more of a stumble and drag than a samba, but she too had improved, and didn't deserve the lowest score of the series. I voted for her, and may just go and see Brendan on tour, now that I know Jo will be doing a number.

Loved, loved, loved Natalie and Vincent's AS, which proved that you don't have to do tricks and lifts to have the wow factor. I thought that she had lovely movement, and great use of arms. Her best dance to date. Keep it up Natalie!

Adonis and Blonde Ambition did a perfectly nice samba, complete with lovely samba rolls, but it just didn't excite me. They seem to dance for themselves, rather than for the audience, and there was an air of self congratulation about it, rather than joy of the dance. I would have rated Jade way above them and fear that the dance off can't be far off for them.

Ken and Barbie did a lovely smooth, which was overscored (as it had to be because Zoe and James had been earlier). Ten, Bruno. Really? The most memorable moment was Brian attempting to suck up to Alesha at the end. Pass the bucket.

So we closed with Charm and Smarm, dancing to "The Greatest Dancer". And somehow I don't think the song was chosen with irony. Well there was a cha cha opening, plenty of hustle, 3rd rate Travolta pastiche, but I didn't actually see any samba. And I swear Anton was off beat in places. He actually looked shocked when all judges (including Len!) slammed the content, although I was bouncing up and down on the sofa cheering. But I shut up quickly when the scored it 28. 28!!!! I voted for everyone below them on the leaderboard, pursuing a one woman battle to get them in the dance off. Sadly, it was not to be. And at this rate, we are going to have a du Beke salsa foisted on us some time in the very near future.

The pro jive - yay! Officially the best ever pro jive since Rebel Yell. Then some world champions, who turned up dressed in their pyjamas. She span so many times I got dizzy watching, and they executed a very nice, precise cha cha, with precious little joy or acknowledgement of the audience.

The countdown to the dance of doom was great fun, as I couldn't decide whether James Jordan was actually going to throw up, or pass out. The dance off itself was a foregone conclusion, with Brendan throwing in a lift because they couldn't give a toss, and Jo trying to pre-empt the whole listening to the judges waste of time. Bruno was unnecessarily rude, and Bruce fumbled and spoiled what should have been Jo's moment. The remaining contestants were quick though to show just how popular back stage Jo has been. Jo Wood, you rock!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

"I'm like Mr Tickle"

....well Mr Tuffers, you can sure Mr Tickle me any time you like!

Well if I thought that the Latin dances had previously descended from car crash to full on pile-up on the M40 at rush hour, then this week we have train crashes at Clapham Junction.

Even Jade and Ricky seem to be struggling, although I am hoping that if anyone can pull it out of the bag, Jade can. As for Craig - hopeless; Jo - delusional; Laila - were you thinking of putting any samba in, Anton, or were you relying on a third rate Travolta impression to get the public vote in? Even Tuffers has confessed to not being a samba man!

I am concerned about Tuffers and the samba actually and whether his knee will hold up, especially considering the problems Austin had last year with knee injuries. But Katya has gone way up in my estimation with her brainwave of turning the ballroom into a cricket pitch to allow Phil to cope better with the directional changes. Tactics worthy of la Kopylova herself! And she came across as so much more relaxed and ready to accept Phil as the humorous charmer he is. Top marks Katya!

Stroke of genuis with the masterclass - teaching Claudia the opening to Erin and Julian's samba!

The A/S training is looking promising - all apart from Chris and Ola. Was it my imagination or were they wearing Team Cola T-shirts? NatCass looked much more elegant than usual; her training clothes really suited her and made her limbs look so much longer and fluid.

Next we had Jade and Ian - my goodness me, Jade has storylines coming out of her ears - journey storyline; brother and sister storyline; learning to let go and perform storyline! Everybody else is being short changed, because we all know there are only so many storylines to round on SCD!

Duffer who gets the anti judge vote (male or female)
Clown or retired sportsman - usually allowed to stay in long enough to improve a bit with technique. Out by the middle of the series
Sportsman on a journey - sure fire winner (unless they peak too soon: Colin and Austin)
Hunky soap star - sure fire finalist/semi finalist

Good old gal - giving it some
Pop princess/stage schooler dogged by accusations of Previous Dance Training. Popular with judges less so with public.
Judges' favourite - considered overmarked, so therefore loses public vote (Zoe is a particularly unpromising name to have in these circumstances)
Girl next door - has occasionally been known to sneak across from Pop Princess/Stage Schooler category and snatch a win (Jill/Alesha)

Sub categories
Ultra competitive sportswoman
Feisty sexpot (usually headed for disaster especially when teamed with Brendan)

But amazingly Jade is having a crossover journey - ultra competitive sportswoman to girl next door in the course of two short weeks! Way to go girl!

American Smooth

I am really looking forward to this weekend, with hopefully some great American Smooths on show, particularly a VW-based one!

I know that some people get their feathers a bit ruffled when a quickstep-based AS appears, as that does not exist in the US, but I think those people may be missing the point. In terms of US dancing, American Smooth is the name of the discipline, and consists of waltz, foxtrot, tango and VW. The rules on content of each dance are different, as is the style of each dance, when compared to International style ballroom (which is what is mostly danced on SCD).

However, I think the American Smooth as seen on SCD is pretty much an "invented" dance, brought in during Series 3, when the number of couples increased to 12. Two more couples meant two more weeks, and therefore another ballroom dance was needed. In subsequent series as the number of couples have increased, we have seen the introduction of the salsa (easy to pop that in among the latin dances) and the Argentine Tango (as a semi final dance).

The rules of the dance seem quite arbitrary. It can be based on any of the five standard ballroom dances (when performed on SCD); it should be danced 40% out of hold; and it allows 2 lifts. Those are quite random numbers really when you think about it. Why 40% out of hold, as opposed to 50% - and does anyone really tott up the seconds spent out of hold to be able to work out the percentages? Why 2 lifts and not 3? (Unless of course your name is Brendan Cole.....actually in Series 3, the number of lifts allowed was only one, increasing in Series 4 to two lifts, so maybe there was an excuse for Brendan and Bruno in the three lifts in Series 5 debacle!).

Really it is of course a complete crowd pleaser - an excuse for the pros to go to town on some creative choreographer, a chance to woo the audience with some Hollywood-style magic, and a bit of a leveller for those celebs who are more talented at ballroom than latin, as they get to perform a flashy, vote-grabbing routine too!

Of course the main reason for its inclusion is to give Craig Devil Borewood the chance to say "Fred and Giiinge" five times an episode during AS week! (Note to the double-barrelled one - It is Fred and Ginger - or Miss Rogers to you. Would you have called one of the star ballerinas of the last century "Pegs Hookham"? No of course not, so try some respect to the great lady who "did everything a man could do, but backwards and in high heels".

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

More Dick van Dyke than Fred Astaire

Well I think that is a pretty fair description of Ricky Groves actually! I am slightly concerned though - Erin has a big surprise for us! The last time she had a big surprise we had - wait for it - the muppet showdance and the potential to involve Georgina Bouzova and Kate Garraway in a "previous dance training" scandal...That didn't work out so well, did it now Erin? I know that technically Darren Gough (Sportsman on a Journey, TM) had already won by that moment, but haven't you learnt anything about surprising the audience?

Anyway, giving her the benefit of the doubt (don't let me down on this one Erin...) I understand the reasoning. A) do a really unique American Smooth on SCD that is going to stand out. Apparently we are going to have only the second VW based AS evah! B) Get kudos from the judges in not relying on a foxtrot based Smooth (mind you if you are relying on Len, think about what he said about Anton serving up a quickstep-based foxtrot, and how he was underwhelmed by you and Austin doing the Smooth) C) Getting Ricky to do a ballroom that shows his personality!

Actually the more I think of it, Erin is playing this like a master tactician. This Smooth is lined up to get max public votes. And it is to Chim-Chimeney Chim-Chimeney Chim Chim Choo Roo....can I start voting now please?

Loved the anatomy of the samba dresses - what memories! Lilia and the wardrobe malfuntion! Carol Smillie (I thought she had been airbrushed out of SCD history as a punishment for Carolcam - now if she were on the tour with Matt, I would buy tickets!) buying her dress; Lesley and Anton (is it my imagination, or are Lesley and Anton from the forgotten series featuring quite heavily recently, maybe in an attempt (CONSPIRACY THEORY!) to remind us of Anton's finest hour.....

Jade's dress - not convinced, but will reserve judgement.

Jo Woods - lovely, but that length is going to reveal a multitude of sins in the lack of leg and hip action.

Laila - OK so it worked this week, so we will use the distraction fringe technique again (please let them be bottom 2, please let them be bottom 2).

Gorgeous dress for NatCass, and is it just me, or has Ali's dress new vibrant dress (first non pastel dress) been planned to coincide with the recent programming of the vibrant personality?

So where do I buy Jo's "Granny power DVD"? OK so I am not a granny, but she is so endearing, I just love everything she does. Not sure about my free Darren Bennett though - can I have a free Matt C?

I am going to leave the last words with Ola though - "Stop saying sorry, just get it right". Indeedy deedy.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

It's called hubris, dear James....

...hubris. I'm talking about the little moment backstage when you said "You never have to do the jive again. Bovvered?" Within the hour, you and Zoe had experienced the most spectacular fall from grace ever seen on SCD, and were back performing said jive in the dance off.

Now, James dear, you are obviously a talented man, but lacking in analytical capability, so here is a little quiz to shed some light on your SCD experience to date.

Series 4

Which ambitious pro with a dance challenged celeb was shown on VTs bullying and criticising said celeb's weight?

a) Brendan Cole

b) Ian Waite

c) James Jordan

Series 5

Which ambitious pro with a talented partner was constantly portrayed as over-competitive and thus made an early exit from the competition?

a) Brendan Cole

b) Erin Boag

c) James Jordan

Series 6

Which pro with a moderately talented partner suffered an early exit at the hands of the phenomenon known as John Sergeant and mouthed off liberally about the disgrace?

a) Lilia Kopylova

b) Brian Fortuna

c) James Jordan

Series 7

Which pro with a talented partner was the first shock appearance in the dance off?

a) Natalie Lowe

b) Brian Fortuna

c) James Jordan

Which established pro has never reached the final 3 in any series of SCD?

a) Anton du Beke

b) Erin Boag

c) Brendan Cole

d) Camilla Dallerup

e) Ian Waite

f) Darren Bennett

g) Lilia Kopylova

h) Karen Hardy

i) Matthew Cutler

j) Vincent Simone

k) Flavia Cacacce

l) Ola Jordan

m) James Jordan

You see James, there is a link between all of these quiz Q and As, isn't there?

And another thing. To end up in the dance off, you must have come last in the public vote. To come last in the public vote with 3 couples must be gutting; last in 5 couples is devastating; last of 12 couples - that is a PR disaster!

Now some of it is the editing - Zoe is getting the same edit as various other high profile, talented female celebs (Zoe Ball, Emma Bunton, Lisa Snowden - all of whom scored highly with the judges, and when the public had their way voted them 3rd out of 3). You can't do anything about that - that is your storyline and you are going to have to lump it.

But part of the problem is you! You need an image makeover and quick. I suggest that on your next ITT appearance you casually mention that you are donating part of your fee to saving a donkey sanctuary and rescuing the inhabitants from the terror of the knacker's yard and reincartion as pet food. Seriously, you know the GBP go nuts over animals, and saving the donkeys gets them every time. Yes, your image problem really is that serious.

Moving on to Choreography Corner - gasp! I am learning stuff from Karen that I have never even thought about even in 35 years as a dancer, such as the jive being as much as a rotational dance as the VW, and the jive being a choice between a swing jive and a kick jive. Absolute bliss.

So to Craig and Flavia. They must have done very well in the voting figures on Saturday, not just because they escaped the dance off, but because they had a good edit on ITT! Seriously, they came across as fun for the first time, and the story of their jive was hilarious! But hold the celebrations, they are doing samba. But Flavia is working on his abs (at last, I have been banging on about his lack of core strength since his first dance!), so all may not be lost. I had to laugh at Craig's comment about the judges "They haven't said that I am a bad dancer" and Claudia's deadpan response "They have alluded to it".

I don't think I can bear to talk about Laila and Anton, except to recall the following exchange: Claudia "Who went wrong?"; Anton "That is an interesting question".....Sometimes the stiletto heel can do far more damage than the boot!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Animal imagery

You know, Craig Devil Borewood annoys me so much, darling...

But I thought his animal imagery was spot on. Here we can talk about Bagpuss:

Some people are better off with choreography, aren't they darling?

And here we can talk about panthers:

While some people can dance and choreograph:

Mwah, mwah

"The Viennese Waltz is like a swan and the jive is like a bee"... this the proof that Len has finally lost it? Mind you, after scoring Laila and Anton equal to Phil and Katya and above Chris and Ola, his judgement must be in serious doubt. The judging continues to go downhill, but mind you, last year they had a combined total of approximately 180 years of dance experience on the panel.

This year the combined total of dance experience is 120 years, 4 months. Yup, it sure is showing.

Brendan will have done enough to renew his contract for next year, by stirring up this week's controversy. Forums in uproar, saved from the dance off, leading interview on ITT - job well done.

I loved Kenny's backstage tour. It was great to see his rapport with this year's males celebs, and his obvious enthusiasm for all things Strictly. He can even cut it on the dance floor still! Hope watching the dance off didn't bring back too many memories though, with James unexpectedly making an appearance. Talking of James, I know he doesn't do himself any favours, but he does get a bad edit. His quick humour is rarely shown. Take this as an example:

Natalie Cassidy, cuddling up to Kenny "Men that can dance are very sexy".

James Jordan "So you don't find Kenny sexy then"...

So we had deja vu on the ITT sofa - Kristina in tears..... Sweet to hear Joe admit that the first time he actually danced was in the dance off, because that was the only time he was not wracked with nerves. There seems to be a new trend of pros criticising the judging panel when voted out - first Aliona, then Darren, now Kristina. Superficially the target is Craig, but who are they really aiming for?

The mood has changed in the Cola training camp! It is now Christopher and Mrs Jordan apparently. Yikes, just as I had started to like Ola! Seriously, I have never seen a male celeb so self deprecating and ready to admit his mistakes, so they have my vote for a few weeks yet.

I actually warmed to Ali tonight! What has happened - she is engaging, energetic,enthusiastic - you go girl. Bit worried though about Brian - twice criticised for over complicated choreograhy, he has agreed to tone it down, but then admits to including a move in this week's American Smooth that even he has never done before. Quick, Mrs Fortuna, get on a plane and take charge in the training room!

Strictly Ballroom and me

I saw Strictly Ballroom when it first came out, when I was living in Australia. It took me back in time, and I swear that parts of it are serious documentary than affectionate comedy. I have met an awful lot of Shirleys and Tina Sparkles in my time! I love it, and it is one fim that can be relied upon to perk me up when I am feeling down.

I love it even more because I have had two of my own Strictly Ballroom moments. The first mirrors the scene when Fran thinks that she has lost her big chance to dance with Scott, but he surprises her on the steps and begs her to take to the dance floor with him. Surprise, surprise, her grandmother fishes her frock out of a bag (brought along "just in case") and there follows a mad scramble, via clever editing, for her to rush to the dance floor, appearing moments later, resplendent in red.

Years ago, when I was 12, I had the chance to dance at the international championships at the Royal Albert Hall. It was to be the last chance to dance with that particular partner, as he had told me a few weeks before that he was giving up dancing. I was devastated, because being 12, and blessed with an over active imagination, I believed that I was in love with him, and that dating, engagement, marriage and babies were but a few steps away, if only we could keep dancing together long enough for him to realise the inevitable.

I had convinced myself that during our last competition, he would look into my eyes, finally realise the truth, and sweep me off my feet. Participating in this one last competition had therefore taken on a much greater importance for me. It wasn't just a dance contest, it was about my future happiness and the entire course of the rest of my life!

Unfortunately, we got stuck in terrible traffic on the drive up to London. The first heat was scheduled for 10am, and I stared at my watch, horrified, as we were stuck in the interminable suburbs. 9 o'clock went past. The hand on my watch seemed to gather pace, and so 9: 15 went past, 9.30 went past. Still gathering pace, and as 9:45 sped past, I gave up all hope, tears trickling down my face.

The car screeched to a halt outside the Albert Hall at 9:50. My mum and I flew up the stairs, into the hall, to find my beloved, waiting at the edge of the dance floor, so handsome in tails. But it was too late - my dress was in the bag, along with my shoes, my hair a mess! So near and yet so far.

And then the ballroom mothers pounced. Right there in the aisle of the Royal Albert Hall. No time for false modesty. Someone dragged my jumper off, and plonked my dress on over my head; someone else was pulling my trainers off, and substituting gold sparkly high heels; zip pulled up; lipstick smeared on; tangled hair combed; the flurry of activity was over, and I was propelled onto the floor, with ten seconds to spare.

Waltzing around the Royal Albert Hall like a dream. It's kind of hard when you realise that your life peaked at 12, and it's all been downhill ever since. I loved that day; I loved my moment; even though we didn't get a recall to the next round, and as for snatched kisses, declarations of eternal love, and proposals, there were sadly none. But dance has stayed with me, whereas the boy's face, once so vivid in my feverish imaginings, is but a distant memory of a 12 year old's first crush.

My second Strictly Ballroom moment came this summer, when performing a solo at a friend's dance party. The dance was going well, the costume was looking good, and then the music started having a "moment". And another one. And yet another. The track was sticking, the lovely fluid sounds becoming a scratching cacophony. It jumped, it stuck, it jumped again, and I was about to give up the ghost. Then the clapping started. First one person, then another, then a whole table. Soon the whole hall were clapping the beat, keeping the rhythm, willing me on to finish the dance.

Strictly fabulous!

Sunday, 18 October 2009

"I can feel it - it's hard"

Somebody call the maintenance engineer quick. The Tessbot has started to malfuntion again. The engineer needs to look up the "avoid harrassment of male contestants" function in the TV Blondes manual and do a quick reprogramme. Poor Ricky Groves.

First up tonight - Junior Minder and Mrs Newly Mellow. It's back to latin, so Ricky is back to entertaining, which as usual he did brilliantly. He was light footed, if lacking in the toe pointing department, and seems to have improved a lot in his ability to dance with the music. It was a simple routine, but Mrs Newly Mellow, having been deprived twice of the trophy when dancing with the most talented male celeb of the series, seems to be playing the tactical game rather well this year. I was surprised at the comments and the marks - have the judges not read the running order this week? Do they not know the horrors that are in store?

Long Jump Jade and Long Tall Ian. Loved their viennese waltz and thought their marks were well deserved. They had great musicality and body contact, and Jade has improved leaps and bounds in terms of her posture and topline. The girl is on a journey alright and could well be the last girl standing.

Barbie and Ken were this week's subject of Bruce's attempted sabotage, with tactless innuendo just before taking to the dance floor. Shoot the gag writer please! Once again, Brian had choreographed an over complicated routine, and Ali looked as though she was struggling to keep up. He is a great dancer, but needs to rein himself in a bit, because he totally out danced and out performed Ali. The judges were harsh, and I thought we were in for the first tears of the series, but maybe they are trying to set Ali up with a journey storyline. Just like they did to Rachel Stevens last year. And that worked so well didn't it.....poor Ali, the first dance off cannot be far away.

Have a go Jo and the knight errant. Well it was skippy and a bit lumpy, but it was by far her best dance to date, and she actually looked to be carrying her own weight, rather than dragging on Brendan. She also turned in a far better, more confident performance. Craig and Bruno were out of order, but Brendan always gives good tantrum, and doubtless knew that the first ever Strictly storm away during judging would be good for a fair few votes. Bruce seemed rather quick to castigate Craig and to forget his own role last week in the weekly humiliate Jo ritual. Or maybe ITV were going to a commercial break and all concerned were playing their part in the attract the channel hopping audience charade.

The Lady and the tramp. James seems to be last in the queue when it comes to dishing out the music this year, because once again he had to make a fast latin work to a funeral dirge. Zoe was very flat footed, and lacking in sharpness, but she remembered the routine, and delivered a performance. Hopelessly ovemarked.

Adonis and Blonde Ambition. The first ten of the series. Yay! But it was from Alesha and so doesn't really count. Put the champagne back in the fridge. Lovely viennese waltz and technically the most accomplished of all the dances this evening. I was particularly impressed by the inclusion of natural and reverse fleckerl and only remember seeing that once before on Strictly (series 4 Camilla and Ray, I think).

Deer in the headlights and Freddie's love child. Time for a loo break so I missed most of this (two hours plus is way too long!). I caught the end of the jive, and he appeared to be doing some wild approximation to looking happy, so a small improvement then.

Joe di Calzaghe and his Monroe-alike. Well she was wearing what appeared to be a swimming costume, so that said everything about her confidence in her partner's jive. Are the judges allowing lifts willy nilly this year, or have they just given up on Joe? It was slightly better than expected and in week 1 might have made the lower middle of the leaderboard.

Natcass and the Italian stallion. She did her best and it was better than expected, but her footwork was pretty heavy throughout. Having said that, she was the only female celeb whose feet were not masked by a very long dress. Liked the dance, but I didn't love it, and I hope that she can pull out enough improvement over the next week to sock it to us with a great American Smooth.

Charm and smarm. Well the much vaunted dress tried its best but could not disguise the horror of what unfolded. There were 3 people in that jive, (and I use the term loosely), Laila, Anton, and the outfit, but unfortunately they were all attempting different dances. It was possibly the worst jive I have ever seen, and definitely the worst performance by a professional on Strictly. I seriously don't know whose technique was worse, Laila or Anton's and was flabbergasted by the comments and the marks. Not content with his crimes against the jive, the du Berk continued backstage with crimes against jokes. Not a pretty sight.

It was left to Prince Tuffers to restore some sanity to the night, and my man didn't let me down. Debonair in a grey tail suit, with the best male topline of the competition and some nifty footwork. He needs to work on his heel leads, although I am wondering whether the recent knee surgery is preventing him really driving through from the heel. Slightly undermarked, but he is not going anywhere for several weeks to come.

Sweet little Chris and Ola wearing what appeared to be a bikini with two hankies attached. Chris enthusiastically gyrated throughout, and had improved since last week. The marking had him level pegged with Anton and Laila (what the f?) so I frantically spent every minute of the voting period dialling his number.

I was enjoying the pro samba until some idiot from the audience got up and started dad dancing in the middle, gurning away to his heart's content. I was wondering why security didn't dash on to eject the muppet, but then I realised it was Anton. Horror of horrors! You might think latin is all a bit silly and beneath you Anton, but have some respect for your fellow professionals. They have supported you, so the least you can do is to refrain from taking the piss during a pro demonstration.

My good humour was swiftly restored by the appearance of Vincent and Flavia and yet another exquisite demonstration of why they are the most versatile pros on SCD. Blissful.

And so to the dance off via an excruciating guest performance by Spandau Ballet (yep, that will have had them switching over from X Factor in their droves), and a peculiar dance from Brendan and Katya that looked woefully under rehearsed.

So I was only half right this week. I had thought Joe would be with us for another couple of weeks yet, but his departure from the bottom of the leaderboard had sealed his fate. I have to say that they pulled off a brilliant dance off, and if only he had danced like that earlier in the competition, he might have stood a chance.

Poor Zoe, as I had suspected, must really be struggling for votes. The overmarking didn't help, and she has been getting some negative edits on ITT. James may do well to reflect on why this is the third year he has a promising partner, yet this is the third year the partnership is failing to attract votes.....

But the big question is - who in hell's name if voting for du Berk and Laila? Because those crazies have just inflicted us with the samba from hell for next week.

Friday, 16 October 2009

So was it strictly necessary to show the spray tanning booth on ITT...

...or for that matter to mention the spray tanning lady by name? They might just as well have shouted "Victoria! Victoria is the mole wot is doing for our Anton!"

Back to serious matters. Ricky Whittle and Natalie - snore snore. Please let me wake up and find they are interesting and that I can start appreciating the best couple in the competition for more reasons than that lovely sky blue shirt.

My sweet little Chris - now there is a man - he even managed to make a 14 hour day sound fun and compelling! The contrast between Ricky talking about his hectic schedule and Chris could not have been more marked if James Jordan himself had coshed the producer on the head and taken over.

What did I learn from the Friday panel? That Bonnie Tyler wasn't that great a guest? That Craig is better at commenting on fashion than dance? That Craig cannot disguise a grimace at the merest mention of Jo and Brendan? That the dress of the series, if not all of Strictly series put together, is about to go to waste?

I learnt very little actually so here are my predictions:-

VW - Phil could do a very nice job, especially as he has the best topline of the competition. Ricky's topline will not match his (and as he is the only other male celeb doing the VW, the contrast may be apparent). Ricky also needs to learn to pace himself: the VW is a marathon not a sprint. Jade and Ian are both aware that her sports training can be a disadvantage in the slower, more controlled dances. They are both working hard to counteract this, and they could turn in a very nice VW. Natalie's footwork is looking really rather good, so I am more hopeful for them than at the beginning of the week. I won't comment on Jo and Brendan.

Jive - car crash city.....honourable exceptions going to Chris and Ola, Ricky and Erin and Ali and Brian. Zoe could just pull it off, and if she does, she will be a real contender.

As for the voting - I think everyone is itching for the first big shock of the competition, and it is hard to predict how the public will go. Most people seem to love a jive, but are immune to the charms of the VW. If Craig is in the dance off, there will be one shock entrant with him; if he escapes, there could be two shock entrants. If Craig pulls it off, but Zoe falters, I am predicting a Zoe/Laila dance off.....and Laila to go home. If Craig falters again, I think it will be Craig/Laila and Laila gets to fight another day.

Anton's Latin

Whilst eagerly awaiting what could possibly go down in SCD history as the biggest fall from grace ever - from top of the leader board right down to the very bottom in one short week - I thought I would try and work out just why Anton is so unsuccesful in latin.

It is obviously a discipline that he has very little time for ("Sarmba - what a ridiculous dance") and little aptitude for, but why is that?

Anton is the only ballroom specialist among the males pros (Ian and Vincent have both competed in 10 dance), and with that much imbalance in the disciplines, he is bound to stand out for all the wrong reasons. A slightly more even balance between the male pros and the disciplines would provide him with a few hiding places.

I guess when the first series was commissioned, nobody expected it to become the juggernaut that we see now, so little thought was given to long term casting decisions of judges and pros. Hence the imbalance on the judging panel of 1 ballroom/latin expert versus 3 theatre style choreographers, and the inclusion of pros who specialised very heavily in one discipline rather than being all rounders. Anton was very lucky in that he made his mark in Series 1, and pretty much guaranteed his place in future line-ups for a long time to come.

There were also distinct advantages in having fewer couples (10 in series 1, 10 in series 2) with no strong bias to either discipline). The returning pros for series 2 had two ballroom specialists and three latin specialists, and were joined by a ballroom pro (Hazel Newberry), a latin pro (Nicole Cutler), a ten dancer (Ian Waite) and a latin couple (Darren and Lilia) whose ballroom was also at a very high standard. It was really only in series 3, with the number of couples upped to 12, the exit of the other ballroom specialist (Hazel) and the influx of some hot new Latin talent (5 new latin pros, most notably Matt C and Karen), that Anton found himself in the exposed position he has occupied ever since.

Anton came late to dance (so props to him for making a career of it) at the age of 14(compared to between 5 and 7 like most of the other pros). He also only studied latin for three short years, which would not have given him time to even complete his medals, or to start competing in it. The other pros will have done both ballroom and latin, medals and competitions, right through juvenile, junior and youth, probably choosing to specialise in their late teens. Anton has really limited experience in his non-specialist discipline, compared to the solid grounding that the other pros have in theirs.

Anton is also rather cagey about his age and many believe that he lies (no worries about that - I hit 40 and started lying too, and have only been called on it once). The collective wisdom from those who knew him in his pre-Strictly days suggest that he is actually 46 or 47, which means that he gave up latin 30 years ago (that would have been 25 years ago when he first started SCD). Limited experience, plus very very rusty.

Another thing to bear in mind is that Anton did his latin training in the late 70s (probably 1976 to 1979). Dance, just like music, TV, films, fashion, has its styles. If we draw a direct comparison between any piece of music, film or fashion from the late '70s and its 2009 counterpart, then the 70s version is going to look dated.

I think that pros can get away with their ballroom being slightly dated (if we take Karen Hardy as an example, she probably gave up ballroom training in the very late 80s/1990) because we always associate ballroom with being classy, elegant, timeless, perhaps charming in an old-fashioned kind of way. I think we think of Latin as being sharp, sassy, sexy, fast up to the minute - none of which can unfortunately be applied as adjectives for the latin served up by M du Beke!

So why hasn't he spent less time being a media tart and more time working on his latin? Well to be fair on him, with the imbalance of Strictly pros, whatever Anton does, he will always be bottom of the pile in terms of latin. If there were a few more male ballroom pros around, he might have slightly more incentive to improve. And aged 47, he is not going to be able to compete physically with men in their mid to late 20s such as James Jordan and Brian Fortuna.

So far as well, the luck of the Strictly draw has made it very easy for him to camp up the latin and play the gallant gentleman shielding his lady from any fear of ridicule. His latin with Lesley Garrett in series 1 was the best he has produced, but that was in a series where none of the contestants would fare well against contestants in subsequent series. He and Gillian Taylforth were eliminated without dipping a toe in the latin water; he and Esther were sent packing after just one rumba; Jan Ravens and Kate Garraway proved themselves to be so inept in their initial ballroom dances that we all knew that the red romper suits and gold satin shirts would be putting in an appearance at the first hint of latin.

Anton and Patsy Palmer were pretty successful in series 3, but a series of coincidences kept the full horror of his latin from dawning on the GBP. Most of the latin pros were eliminated in the first 4 weeks - Matt C, Andrew Cuerden, Darren B and Brendan. The only direct comparison to be drawn with Anton and Patsy were Zoe and Ian. I loved Zoe's ballroom, but was never impressed with her latin (but the storylines for Zoe were carefully set up - "tall people can't jive"; "Zoe hates her paso music and therefore hates her dance"). That year as well, if we look at the top 6 couples, it was really a ballroom dominated series - Bill Turnball, James Martin and Darren Gough all were far more comfortable at ballroom, and all turned in some pretty unconvincing latin. That and the fact that both Patsy and Zoe were naturally more suited to ballroom, meant that the only latin sparkle was coming from snake hips himself, Colin Jackson (the first male pro to really cast off his inhibitions and take latin by storm?).

But this year there really is nowhere to hide. Laila has talent and everyone is expecting her to be able to shake it. With a different pro she could have been a contender for at least the semi finals. But with Anton as her pro, with his indifference, limited experience, dated choreography, and lack of pizzazz, surely the dance off is beckoning, if not this week, then in two weeks time.

Jive Talking

And so the Bee Gees will be making an appearance on SCD. That will get people switching over from the X Factor then.

So let's talk about jiving now. If I thought that the pasos would bring a multiple pile up to Strictly, I am not sure what Saturday's jiving will entail. Gridlock, maybe?

Please, please, please, Ricky and Erin and Chris and Ola - the responsibility for bringing some sense of dance back from the brink of "disarster darling" lies entirely with you. Don't let us down!

First up Zoe and James - who have yet to tackle a fast dance. In fact their foxtrot was about double the speed of their paso, and Zoe has gone wrong a couple of times when let loose from hold. She covered it well in the paso, but as the tempo of that dance made snails look like speedy little so and sos (as an aside, can you tell I am missing Arlene?), it doesn't follow that she will be able to cover any errors in a fast latin.

Zoe also seemed to be coming across as slightly negative in her VT which doesn't bode well. She can't be much of a fan as she would have figured out that talk of nerves plus self doubt multiplied by perception of over marking, add a dollop of whining equals Zoe Ball or Emma Bunton or Lisa Snowdon in the public's voting patterns. Not looking good for these two, although I hope to be surprised.

Joe and Kristina. I had such high hopes for this partnership when it was announced, but week upon week they just haven't delivered. From the training clip showed, it looks as though even Kristina is fed up with the situation. As she put it "It's an old joke already".

Oh no - have just realised I have missed out Ali and Brian's jive from the above imprecation to Chris and Ricky. Shows just how big an impression they are making on me. It's looking technically very tricky and will probably be quite accomplished. But maybe Brian could try easing up on the difficulty level of the choreography just slightly, so that Ali could project some fun, rather than just nobly trying to keep up with the routine?

Anyway, back to the car crashes. So Flavia is trying a new tactic this week. She is letting Craig choreograph a whole 24 beats himself. Flavia have you really thought this one through? Because I can see a whole raft of problems ahead. Why don't you just come out in a dress with Joe Calzaghe's number embroidered on the back of it if you want to exit the competition that badly? Or maybe she has figured that as he has blanked out her choreography in pretty much every dance they have attempted so far, she might just as well plan for him to go off and do his own thing. Anyway, I am hoping against hope that he can pull off a half decent performance, if only for the sake of my poor cushion which gets squeezed and mauled out of all recognisable shape as I feel every second of Craig's dancing pain.

Anton and Laila. We could be in for something resembling Fiona Phillips' jive. And that is just Anton. Seriously, I don't think I have ever seen such poor training footage in a long time, and Laila is beating herself up about her lack of ability, when actually Anton is as much to blame. And I think I preferred the subdued, hair shirt wearing du Beke from last week actually. I think Joe C may have company at the bottom of the leaderboard.

I did actually breathe a sigh of relief that Jo Wood and Brendan would be doing the VW instead of the jive. But then I heard her describe it as a very "twizzly, twizzly, skippy dance" and I just started thinking poor Brendan. I had to laugh though when she ended her soundbite with "As if I am not dizzy enough already". Bless. I reckon she has another couple of weeks left in the competition and that the public will tire of Joe C before they tire of her.

I usually glaze over when the geeky statistician comes on, but there were a couple of interesting points in what he had to say this time round. Proof of grade inflation as the series have progressed was there for us all to see tonight. The "Best ever dance on Strictly - ever" (Trademark) performed by St Jill of the Halfpenny, scored only a .5 average above Gethin's safe, flat-footed, well choreographed but incredibly simple effort (performed at a much later stage of the competition).

And it was interesting to see Jill and Kelly's jive costumes side by side for the first time. Su Judd had previously commented that Kelly had had a lot of input into her jive costume, and I bet she did, the little minx! Same hairstyle as Jill, same shade of shocking pink - but Kelly's costume had more cleavage and distinctly less of everything else! Tighter, shorter, indeed I have worn larger underpants! The subliminal message was finally clear - I can beat that Jill at her own game, and as for sex - take a look at this!

Interesting interview with Jade and Ian, in which Jade was portrayed as vulnerable and very humble. She actually described seeing Ian and Camilla dance as a humbling experience, but she also seemed to have been very inspired by it. She said that watching Ian and Camilla dance was the moment when it clicked for her that performance was every bit as important as dancing, and that realisation certainly paid off for her in the (undermarked) salsa. The girl is being given a journey story!

This weekend will be a very interesting weekend actually. I have a suspicion that most of the public vote is going (unusually) to the mid tablers, with the Joes ranking after that, then the high scorers, then the "falling through the cracks". With only Craig left in the latter category (and he might just swing a better performance plus sympathy vote one week reprieve from the dance off), we will see exactly who is lacking in the vote department.

My hunch is that Ali and Brian are not that popular in the voting, but pulling in a few more than Zoe, Laila and Jade. Interesting to see that yesterday's ITT spent a long time with Laila and Jade - managing some pretty low expectations for Laila's jive, and painting Jade in a far more sympathetic light than previously. Is this a little hint of who may be bottom of the viewer votes?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

So where was Chris's mojo - turns out it was right there behind the sofa just where he had left it.

Ahhhh - bless! And you can tell by the sirt and tie that he is back living with his mum! Love the way he affectionately sends up Ola with his talk of "Baabe" and "Cha - a- say". He does still need a lot of work on his hands though, so hope he can fix that by this weekend's jive, otherwise Craig R-H will have some sardonic put downs. He seems to be enjoying the training though, despite treading on Ola twice, and he seems a lot happier with "Back, forward, cha-a-say, kiick, kiick" than "one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eiight!". Looking a little flat footed and lacking in bounce, and he is taking huge steps, but I think this should suit his personality, so hoping for the higher end of the 20s for them this weekend.

Next came a very interesting fashion segment (I am generally loving the ITT segments this year, but my evil twin, who usually only puts in an appearance after a bottle of red, is secretly hoping for an interview with the saddo that scripts Bruce's jokes - "Is it because you are a failure both as a gag writer and as a human being, that you found it necessary to bring up someone's painful divorce in front of 8 million people?" - or, better still, the person responsible for booking the music acts - "How many illegal substances had you ingested when you decided the perfect way to hook the yoof audience was to exhume Andy Williams and operate his larynx by remote control, or for that matter to book the 13 year old nobody with the crazy zombie-dancing backing singer?").

Back to matters sartorial, it was interesting to hear Su Judd admit that for the VW, those dancers who were not so great at covering the floor could be given extra help with dresses that give the illusion of movement. I had figured that the trend for ultra long ballroom dances was all about hiding some clumsy footwork, but hadn't twigged that the layers in the dresses could also help create an illusion of more movement and spins. Poor blokes really don't have any where to hide their faults, do they?

My favourite VW dress of all time was Alesha's gorgeous pink lace number, and it so helped to sell the image of the fairy tale princess. I wasn't over keen on Rachel Stevens' (thought it was a bit 50s prom queen, and showed up some clunky footwork) or Lisa Snowdon's,(too low backed), and I was glad that she admitted that the huge cutaways on Louisa's dress were OTT, particularly when the audience mostly see the dancers' backs (or not in the case when Vincent choreographed an entire VW with only 30 seconds of actual rotation....)

I do love the whole traditional, romantic look of the VW dresses, especially paired with a man in tails - it just enhances the whole dream-like quality of the dance, as does the endless, almost hypnotic quality of the spinning.

Looking ahead to this week, I am looking forward to seeing Zoe's jive dress (although there was an intriguing hint that she may not be wearing this particular dress....) and Jade's VW dress, complete with gauntlets, is going to look stunning! Want, want, want!

Ricky and Erin - yay! Like the way he thanks the audience when the public vote comes through - very nice touch. I wouldn't have put him down as 41; I would have put him in his mid 30s. And he came out with my favourite quote of the week, if not the whole series "I am glad that it was foxflu, because it could have been worse, it could have been fox-with-the-trots". Ricky boy - genius!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

My hero is Roland Rat...

explains a lot Darren Bennett, it explains a lot!

Craig and Flavia just continue to look uncomfortable everywhere they go - uncomfortable on the dance floor, on the couch, even with each other. I find myself crossing my fingers with something akin to violence every time they dance, so desperate am I that they will make it through the routine without tears.

I think both of them actually would have suited a more outgoing, less earnest partner to bring out the best....Not sure I am looking forward to their jive. Having said that, with the ballroom dances, it is so difficult to get past Craig's painful posture, maybe doing an out-of-hold latin will create the illusion of improvement and a better dance. That, together with the sympathy vote, may well keep them out of the dance off this week.

Continuing the homage to Hardy - Karen gave such a clear description of the difference between the heel and toe leads, and the different effects created, that I am sure people in their thousands will have been trying out heel and toe leads in the office today. Love the way that she creates really effective imagery to describe dance to the non-dancer, and her enthusiasm and engagement with the dance and Strictly comes shining through. Strange how she didn't mention Ricky and Natalie's salsa among her favourites.

Natalie Cassidy looked lovely - with a hairstyle that made her look really sophisticated. Their Viennese Waltz however, is not looking good - too flat and lazy of foot. Hope that she can do her dad proud this Saturday though. Good luck Piccolina and Bambino!

Oh that bottom - I am coming over all funny again. No not Ricky Whittle, Phil Tuffnel! Just loving Tuffers more and more - "I want that shirt - and those trousers - I want the whole outfit". I am not sure Katya really "gets" Tuffers (nor Claudia and the whole ITT thing actually), but then she is young, and probably not used to the quirky British humour thing. How good a match would Lilia and Tuffers have made? Fantasies, fantasies....

The elephant in the room (another one) – the case of previous dance experience….

Every series brings a tide of tittle-tattle in the tabloids and forums about previous “dance experience” and speculation is rife about how much of an unfair advantage this is. Usually the “s’not fair” sniping is directed at a female contestant, but this year perhaps Ricky Whittle should be breathing a sigh of relief that the recent race row has diverted attention from too much gossip about his alleged previous experience.

The slings and arrows have rained down on past contestants, such that all female celebs must now surely dread anyone coming forward to say that they once got first prize in a hokey cokey contest at somebody’s fifth birthday party! One of the more ridiculous rumours I heard last year accused Lisa Snowdon of having worked as a professional ballet dancer! Darcy Bussell made waves as an unusually tall ballerina at 5 foot 7 – so I hardly think that a model reaching the lofty heights of 5 foot 10 would have had much of a career in the famously petite ballet world.

The fact of the matter is that all contestants bring something to the table, be they singers, sportspeople, actors or presenters (and if they don’t, maybe the celeb should think of firing their agent!)

Singers such as Aled and Lesley had a huge advantage because they not only had natural rhythm, but an in-depth understanding of music, which enabled them to dance with so much added musicality. They were also used to performing with live musicians in front of large audiences. They may not have been as physically fit as some of the competition, but I bet the breath control they learnt as professional singers stood them in pretty good stead to perform a 90 second dance on Strictly.

Everyone talks about the advantages that sportspeople have in terms of physical fitness, but I think that their mental fitness has just as much to do with their success. Not only the will to win, but the ability to come back fighting after a setback. There is also the fact that they are used to being physically coached (and by that I mean being directed on which muscles to use, how much control to use, how much energy is appropriate etc). I think one of the key advantages is that they are mentally prepared to practice and practice and practice – even when they are not in the mood, or when they are not expecting a great breakthrough, or when it just feels plain boring – but they know that the endless practice is the only way to achieve the end goal of improvement.

Actors are used to assuming a character and making the public believe in that character. An intimate rumba or a passionate tango should present no problems for anyone who has ever done a love scene in front of a studio full of colleagues. I would also imagine that if you have the mental agility to learn lines and lines of dialogue, then retaining a choreography in your mind isn’t too big a leap (would it be too churlish to name Matt di Angelo and Zoe Lucker as counter to this argument?).

Well known TV presenters, mainly of the GMTV ilk – well they bring with them large fan bases with trigger happy dialling fingers….

Strictly never has been a level playing field and was probably never intended to be. The celebs need to come from a variety of fields in order to satisfy the biggest possible viewing audiences. Otherwise why would the producers choose such a range of ages and such a variety of physical fitness levels? 17 year old Louisa Lytton against 66 year old Jimmy Tarbuck? Out of condition John Barnes up against action man Gethin Jones?

In addition to that the Beeb really needs celebs with a range of abilities to sustain a 14 week series. They need the no-hopers to provoke groans and votes in equal measure, the journey men and women (if only to justify the existence of the weekly spin-off show), the truly talented to make it seem like a real competition, and the cannon fodder, those who can be sacrificed to early dance-offs and shock exits. To get this mix, it seems wise that the cast should include a few people whose popularity could be predicted to outweigh their talent, a brace of sportspeople, and a sprinkling of ex-stage school and pop singers. A series full of no-hopers would not keep people tuning in every week; just as a series comprising only accomplished performers, with no journey story, would not keep the votes rolling in.

I also wouldn’t mind betting that the presence of a few “good from the get go” stage schoolers act as a kind of starting whistle for the ultra-competitive sportspeople, firing up their determination, giving them a real target to beat, and making for a more unpredictable and closely fought series as a whole.

I do get rather fed up with the oft-repeated mantra of “it’s all right for them, they have previous dance experience” though. It seems that all too often the criticism has been dished out without understanding a) what kind of dance experience did the contestant actually have b) how long ago was this their training c) how long the dance training lasted and d) was the contestant actually even any good? You are hard put to find any woman (celeb or non celeb) who did not do any ballet/disco/street for a few years as a child; but it doesn’t necessarily follow that they are going to be any good at learning ballroom and latin in a time pressured environment as an adult.

One of my real bugbears about the “dance experience” bandwagon, is that so many people lump all dance under one umbrella term, believing, wrongly, that dance is just “dance”. If there were a pro am telly series teaching celebs to play tennis, would we have all of this fuss because a male celeb had played a bit of school football in their youth? Would anybody really say “well, it’s all sport isn’t it, of course it makes it easier?”

The reality is that they are some transferable skills between dance disciplines – posture, use of arms and legs to finish lines, timing and musicality – but not every dancer is able to succeed in every discipline. And claiming that it is easier for a dancer to master a completely new discipline, just because of past experience, takes away from the hard work and dedication involved.

I recently took up tap, after several years on and off attending flamenco classes, thinking that this experience would stand me in good stead for picking up complicated patterns of footwork. How wrong could I be! Flamenco relies on driving down into the ground, whilst tap is about making the energy from the feet bounce back upwards, and requires agility and lightness in my feet that I just have never experienced before. I am still struggling, and there is no way that my previous dance experience is making it any easier for me. Sometimes there are just no short cuts.

And this is the nub of the problem – exposure to one form of dance technique can mean that that particular style of dance is so rooted in your muscle memory that unlearning it and learning a new style can prove just as hard as learning from scratch is for a novice. Those who have done ballet in the past have a real disadvantage with learning latin, for example, because their whole core is conditioned to be all “zipped up”, so loosening up the hips, torso and arms is a real problem.

Another big problem is actually learning how to dance in hold. There is no other dance form that requires partner work with such a degree of body contact as ballroom, and this is tough for anyone to master. But a woman with previous dance experience can have a really difficult time in learning how to follow their partner’s lead, to dance as a partnership, and to not pre-empt the lead.

And just don’t get me started on the shoes! Latin in particular requires a connection with the floor, to dance into it with foot pressure, using the whole leg to power the hip motion. Easy enough in bare feet, or dance trainers, but a whole different ball game in 3 inch heels, because it alters the whole way your feet feel the floor.

So to end – leave the “dance trained” people alone! They don’t have that great an advantage; they have to run the gauntlet of ill-informed criticism; the public won’t vote for them anyway; they will work hard, produce great routines, and then have a young, handsome male or a cricketer on a journey snatch it all away from them in the final!

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

And so it's goodbye to Oxo Mum and Colgate Boy

For a lady of a "certain age" I think Lynda did herself proud. She outstayed the likes of Esther Rantzen, Gloria Hunniford, Stephanie Beacham and Gillian Taylforth (all of whom were cast in that role in previous series), and arguably outperformed younger pretenders such as Fiona Phillips, Georgina Bouzova, Jan Ravens and Kate Garraway.

I can't help but wonder what might have happened if Darren and Lynda had had proper tango and paso music (especially for tango, her first dance). I saw a clip on YouTube of them training without any music, and it looked so much better than her actual performance. I guess nerves can, and do, play a large part, but some authentic tango movement, with a much stronger, sharper rhythm, could have helped Lynda with her characterisation, and her technique.

I wonder if producers in TV la la land will be rubbing their hands with glee saying "told you so - these outspoken viewers calling for older women on TV. We give 'em one and look what happens - booted out by the Great British Public.Back to afternoon telly you go, all you women over 50!"

I must admit I was a little surprise by the tone of Lynda and Darren's exit. Darren was very frank and forthcoming in his views, which I have never heard from him before (mind you, unlike James, Brendan and Erin, he has usually been on the "right side" of the judges' favour). I was also surprised when Claudia started the interview with "I didn't expect to see you sitting here on a Monday". Well, with the voting going as it is, and always has done, there was a very high likelihood of Lynda and Darren either being on the couch as the couple voted out on a Monday, or the couple saved on a Tuesday. Seriously, unless there had been a real shock bottom two, who else was it going to be?

I was also surprised, and a little disappointed, to hear Darren so adamant that he, and other professionals whose opinions he had canvassed, had thought that Craig and Flavia had danced worse in the dance off. (And this was reinforced later by Craig Devil Borewood). Honestly, what is that going to do to Craig Kelly's confidence? His nerves are already probably the worst in the competition, but the threeline party whip on ITT suggesting he should have been voted off is likely to just about finish him off.

I like Darren very much on SCD, (although he can sometimes be a bit Goody Two Shoes)but was left feeling that a little more grace from someone who has previously placed 1st, 3rd and 4th in the competition would be a little more fitting. More like Lilia and Matt, than Aliona if you like. Any more of that behaviour and I may be reduced to making wig jokes (well have you seen a hairline like Darren's anywhere else?)

A far more upbeat and interesting section was another peep behind the scenes, this time with the lighting team. (I am so happy that ITT have cut the endless recapping of the weekend's events and are sticking with a longer behind the scenes look). Well, I never - 176 moving lights and 600 LEDS. That is the sort of fact that keeps my inner geek in seventh heaven! That whole segment really highlighted (sorry!) how seamless the planning and execution of the lighting design is, and how immediately apparent it would be if the slightest thing went awry.

I loved seeing the lighting guys poring over a colour chart of the ladies' dresses so that they can match not just the mood and feel of the dance, but the colour scheme of the costumes. Apparently, Flavia was wearing heamatite. That just goes to prove that you can learn something new every day, but sending the most gorgeous of the female pros out bedecked in a three syllable colour still doesn't make it right. A two syllable colour will do next time, thank you.

It was also mind boggling to realise the amount of behind the scenes activity that goes on between the voting lines closing and the results being announced, even more so when you realise how little time there is. Someone one behind the scenes needs to sort out the order of annoucements of the saved couples (given the severe lack of time, maybe the order of announcements isn't quite so random after all?), and then give cues to the camera operators and the lighting team. With so much pressure and split second timing, it is amazing that it never goes wrong on a live show (touch wood).

All in all, it was fantastic to see more of the unsung behind the scenes heroes, and to get a feel for just how much skill and work goes into giving us the finished, polished product. Shame that with so many front of house shenanigans, attention gets detracted from the achievements of those backstage who never put a foot wrong!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Has Strictly jumped the shark?

We are only four weeks into the new, long awaited series, and already it sometimes feels as if we are embarked on a long, slow train journey, rather than a rollicking good ride towards Christmas.

What with the negative publicity before the show had even started, the mis-steps of the PR department, the aggressive anti X-Factor scheduling, Alesha's slow start in her new role, and now the race row over Anton's crass comments, are the sequins looking a little tarnished?

I am still an obsessive fan, but there are various issues which seem to be contributing to the slow burn of a start.

The length of the series. 16 couples is just too much of a good thing. I really like the idea of couples dancing both a ballroom and a latin before elimination, but it was a big ask to expect fans to tune in to a Friday night show then a Saturday night show over the first two weekends. The two hours fifteen minutes of the past two weeks has been a tad bum numbing at times, with so many "interesting interpretations" of dance to witness. I think that a show has to earn loyalty, even when it returns to our screens on an annual basis, rather than demanding it from the start. Next year, please cut it back to 12 couples, so that interest stays piqued throughout the series, and we know that we are on the countdown to the end of the year, and further festive treats.

Bruce - no longer a safe pair of hands at the tiller (but I guess the million dollar question is who else would be? And I think we now know who would not be!). I salute Bruce as the consummate showman, the last of a dying breed, but would dearly love to remember him at the top, with the current crop of presenters referring in awestruck terms to "doing a Brucie". I am starting to feel tense and nervous when he comes on the screen, and for once I can feel sympathy with Tess the Terrible. That frozen grin must be masking a look of complete panic!

The chemistry amongst the judges has ceased to be. Veritably it has died and fallen from its perch. And the new look "friendly" panel it not preventing the "anti-judge" vote (and the constant ties at the lower end of the leaderboard are making it even easier for the public to vote the bottom scoring couples back in). I know that shock exits and near misses are par for the course with SCD, but it seems so tedious to have to sit through another re-run of Kate-gate or Sargeant-gate.

The show has lost some of the big hitters among the pros. Whilst it is great that a completely different pro has a shot at the trophy (and surely, even with the sympathy vote, Brendan won't even be seeing the quarter finals), I think SCD is missing some of its bigger personalities. Karen and Camilla have left, and Matt, Lilia and Darren have lost out in the dance offs. These are not only among the show's best known pros, but they are also amazingly good at their jobs - they are great at teaching and choreographing for their celebs, and are entertaining both on and off the dance floor. The new pros have got some pretty big shoes to fill, and are getting off to a slow start.

All the big personalities among the celebs are in the middle ground, rather than in the top half of the board. There have always been celebs who have danced well, but haven't caught the public imagination (Zoe, Emma, Kelly, Rachel, Lisa), but they have been counter-balanced by those who have scored well with both judges and public (Jill,Ramps, Alesha, Matt di, Tom and Austin). Ali, Ricky W, Jade, Zoe, Laila - none of them look set to inspire public affection in the same way.

Mark Lawson, writing in the Guardian over the summer, had some interesting observations to make about the longevity of popular TV formats. He wrote that there is statistical evidence that suggests that the optimum life-span of an entertainment format is 8 years. He cited 90s phenomena such as Changing Rooms, Groundforce, Noel's House Party as examples (all before reality TV "graced" our screens), and looked to Big Brother as the weather vane for popularity in this genre - apparently its most sustained ratings dip came after the 8th year. Both SCD and its arch nemesis the X-Factor are now in their 6th year (with SCD in its 7th series), so maybe both shows have started the final lap in the race.

Mark Lawson also pointed out that one of the big factors in the final death throes of Big Brother this year was that the tabloid press simply lost interest. This could have been for many reasons (he cited the prevalence of big "real" stories dominating the headlines as we entered the silly season - such as MP's expenses, swine flu, and the death of Michael Jackson - that filled column inches without recourse to the antics of wannabees in a stale TV format). But the end result was that whereas in previous years the non-Big Brother watching TV viewer could keep abreast of any key development by just walking into a newsagent, this Big Brother only existed in the eyes of its most hard core fans.

Maybe this is why the bosses of both SCD and X-Factor seem desperate to keep those tabloid headlines rolling, to keep the shows in the frame of reference for even non-viewers. It might be wise to remember though that not all publicity is good publicity. I also think that what attracted the original fans to SCD was its air of almost innocence - the surprise hit that really should never have been - and that a feeling of over-production/too overt manipulation could be a turn off for some of the die hard fans.

And yet, and yet - there are still so many things that I love about the show! Claudia has not put a foot wrong in any episode of ITT this year, and should in fact be made Queen of England at the very least (if the present incumbent object too strongly, our Claude could of course take on the even higher profile role of Brucie's replacement). The pro dances have been spectacular, right from the word go. We have got through 4 weeks with never a glimpse of Westlife or Cliff Richard (guess they are saving him for the semi finals though, grr). There are 4 really interesting celebs on the show - Natalie, Ricky G, Chris and Phil can all dance a bit, are all set to go on a journey, and come across as refreshing, funny and highly watchable people. Can it be third time lucky for a cricketer?

Sunday, 11 October 2009

And Bruce opens his mouth to change feet...

.....the "seasoned entertainer" began the evening quite well with a riff on using Twitter, finishing with a reference to the Head of BBC1 calling him "the greatest twit of all". Not sure that that is so far removed from the truth, but I certainly laughed at that one. Bruce's wry and unscripted remark about learning that it is best to say nothing also seemed to be born of experience. If only he had carried that theme through the rest of the evening!

So another week, another Strictly, another marathon programme of so-so and mediocre dances. Tess seems to be back in the bad books with the wardrobe department, after a momentary lapse into good taste last week. So it was all business as usual then.

Kicking off was a foxgallop from the lovely Zoe and the recently-shorn Wolverine. Zoe looked every inch the business, with a beautiful dress and a lovely elegant look. I particularly liked the little touch of the neck decoration as it made her neck look even longer and more swan-like. It was a nice foxtrot, although Zoe was rather unsteady on her feet at times, and I can see why James opted for a faster tempo dance, as I don't think she has the control necessary to sustain a slower pace.

The first salchamba of the evening was executed by Ola, three handkerchiefs and Sweet little Chris. I barely saw a recognisable salsa move, but to be fair, I don't think Ohh la la has ever salsa'd on Strictly before. I find it hard to be unbiased with regards Sweet little Chris, but I do think he managed a reasonable effort. He seems to have a very short neck, which will always mean that his topline looks a little strange, but his hip and body action was promising. He certainly hides his shyness when it comes to dancing and just goes out and gives it his all.

Oxo Mum and Colgate Boy danced nicely around the floor, looking like a stately galleon in full sail. She looked radiant and relaxed and Darren, as ever, treated her as if she is the most wonderful partner a man could have. Bless.

Barbie and Ken. I should be bouncing up and down to see an authentic salsa danced to great, appropriate music, and danced to a high standard. But unfortunately, it was all a little vanilla for me. Ali's arms are very "ballet" and are very well placed, as oppposed to moving in true Latin style. It seemed very careful to me, and I think that sometimes the best salsas have a bit of "messiness" to them. And there was no sign of sex, or even sensuality there at all! At one stage I even complained that there had been two foxtrots in a row, having totally forgotten this salsa. What a shame.

You would have thought that after the week that SCD has had, everyone involved in the show would have been watching every word that they uttered. But for some totally bizarre reason, somebody thought that it would be appropriate for Bruce to introduce Jo Wood with a laboured "joke" about the amount of weight the celebs lose on Strictly, finishing with the words "Jo has lost a Stone". Seconds before the least confident celeb was due to dance and face yet another mauling from the judges. It was not even an off the cuff quip - somebody had actually scripted and approved that remark, and it can only be seen as cruel and malicious.

I was actually really hoping that Brendan would go on the attack after the dance, but perhaps he decided that discretion was the better part of valour. From the way that Bruce fawned over Jo after her performance, I think that even he realised the nastiness of what he had said (or maybe it was the stunned reaction of the audience). Seriously, I think the SCD producers must still be off on holiday, with the work experience kids running the show. I imagine a large part of the programme's viewers are actually women of a certain age, and publicly insulting a woman of that age group after her husband has ended a 31 year marriage to run off with the dreaded "younger model" is not clever. I very nearly voted for Jo myself, and the fact that she escaped the dance off yet again shows that there must be a lot of like-minded women out there!

Thank God for Natalie and Vincent to get the show back on track. Full of energy and joy, they tore up the dance floor and got me wiggling about in my armchair. Natalie has great action in her arms and torso, and I just wish that she could carry that through to her hips. She doesn't really straighten her knees though, and her feet are currently a little lazy.

Sportsman Joe di Calzaghe and his Monroe-alike. Well his walking is a little better and more rhythmical, but calling it dancing would be against trades descriptions. A little less time spent on the horizontal dancing and more on the vertical, mayhap?

Charm and Smarm. A nice foxtrot, pleasantly done and safely choreographed. Laila looked beautiful and performed well. I did not think it was worthy of the head of the leaderboard place, which conveniently placed them safe from any possibility of the dance off. Oh well, I guess it was nice for Anton to top the leaderboard once in his SCD career, and if he is jiving next week, he sure as hell won't be anywhere near the top! I also doubt he will be back competing next year somehow....If next week, he escapes the jive and gets the viennese waltz, it will be a massive conspiracy, cooked up in the highest echelons of the BBC, possibly involving double agents placed and trained by Simon Cowell.

Adonis and Ambition performed a very nice disco routine (strange, I hadn't realised disco had entered the SCD format this year) complete with superfluous back flip. They seemed to dance entirely for each other, and at no point involved the audience in the performance. And they called Tom Chambers smug! Anyway, I needed a lie down after the sight of him in "that" shirt, and am starting to go all funny again just thinking about it.

Flavia and oh dear. After noting that Flavia had been given the most hideous dress of the evening (yet again) and that Craig looked petrified (yet again), I think I must have made a dash for the loo during this dance, as I can remember nothing about it.

Long jump and long legs - another salchamba - this time high on samba content, but I loved it! There was energy, charisma and a real rapport with the audience. Once I had torn my attention from Ian's lovely chest, I noticed that Jade's leg action is a little weak, but she has great movement through her upper body. I could have done without the ending gimmick of a pose, and the ensuing wardrobe incident, but hey, I am picky. I was totally with Ian when he remarked that the scores didn't match the comments, and it seemed as though Jade and Ian were in real danger of being dumped into the dance off zone.

Ricky and Erin - gambled by playing it straight, and I think it came off. He still needs work on his topline, but proved that both judges and public alike can see him as more than the class clown.

My Tuffers and the most likeable new pro - well I loved it! It is so hard for a celeb to get the start of a dance right, and it is very rare to see a celeb with the confidence and ability to start the dance away from their partners. The only male that I have seen before doing that was Austin with his paso, and I think that was in week 11. So for Phil to solo right at the start of the dance for as long as he did at this stage was a major achievement. And don't even get me started on those lovely buttocks! Rhythm, natural movement, great connection with the audience - if he can do that just six days after surgery, and with only limited training, think of what he could be like with full guns blazing!

And so to the guest performance while they gathered in the votes. Not much that could be said really, apart from Amy Winehouse is not going to be a positive force for that young girls' career. We could all see where the talent was, and it was not in that dazed and confused backing singer's raddled performance.

The leaderboard was even more of a mess than last week, with ties galore, meaning that Jo and Joe actually had 6 points apiece from the judges, and that a relatively small number of public votes could have saved them from the dance off. SCD was lucky to escape a major shock in the dance off stakes, and the judges need to get the differentiation between the couples right, especially at the lower end of the board. With so many couples dancing, it is difficult, especially if they are trying to avoid marking very low and marking very high, but 4 separate ties is just chaotic.

I was kind of wishing that the judges could have put Craig out of his misery, but at least Lynda went out on a high. And I really don't know whose jive I am now dreading the most - Joe, Jo, Craig, or the du Berk's.........

Friday, 9 October 2009

So has he done enough to get off the hook?

I am of course talking about the whole Anton debacle (btw, Bruce, if you are his friend, really shut the f*** up!).

I am glad that Claudia tackled the matter head on - it needed to be done (but then the whole BBC handling this week needed a much defter touch). The interview was probably very highly stage managed (I would doubt it was live), but Anton has at least reclaimed some ground in my estimation. I actually believed him when he said he was mortified, and highly embarrassed for the fall out for Laila and the show. I think it was the most subdued I have ever seen him, and rightly so. At least his contrition seemed genuine.

And it was a smart move for him to leave out the quips (look where that has got him!) and show how knowledgeable, articulate and passionate he can be, when he sticks to what he is good at - ballroom dance.

Time to move on - but I just wish his more rabid supporters can take a leaf out of his book. Forget the pretence that this was just a stupid joke gone wrong, that it is political correctness gone mad, that it is no worse than just abbreviating British to Brit - he was wrong; it was offensive; admit that, and like, Anton, move on.

I liked the Friday panel! Who is Sarah Cawood - she is great! Neil Fox as well had some good insights, and even Craig Darling had some reasonable points to make.

Looking good for the salsa - Natalie and Vincent, and Ali and Brian (looks like it is going to be the best salsa of the might with the most authentic music!). I am a bit concerned about Jade and Ian - something is not working for me, and I think it is her use of the legs. She doesn't seem to be dancing into the floor enough to generate the Cuban motion.

Ricky and Erin - his topline looks to be a little problematic, but seeing the training clips for Craig and Flavia and Jo and Brendan, I feel he is still going to be in the upper echelons of the leaderboard.

Predictions for the weekend - very difficult. Foxtrot has traditionally provided a bit of a breakthrough dance for some of the more dance challenged celebs - so Lynda and Jo could see some improvement ....however, Foxtrot has been a dance to see improved comments and marks and the final bye bye for Fiona Phillips and Georgina Bouzova.

I have not appreciated many of the salchambas served up on SCD, but this series looks as if though they could break new territory. And even bad salchambas (vis Lisa Snowden and Jessie Wallace last year) tend to score better with the public than better executed Foxtrots (Jodie Kidd and Gillian Taylforth), so the results tomorrow are anybody's guess.

Going out on a limb, I would predict the salsas will end up in the following order on the leaderboard - Ali and Brian; Ricky and Natalie; Natalie and Vincent; Jade and Ian; Phil and Katya; Chris and Ola.

Foxtrot-wise - Laila and Anton; Zoe and James; Ricky and Erin; Craig and Flavia; Lynda and Darren; Jo and Brendan; Joe and Kristina.

How they will all slot together - that's harder to predict - but I have a feeling that Laila and Anton could slot in third, Zoe and James fourth, and quite a competition for fifth and sixth place.

Tips for the dance off - I think there could be a shock - and I am thinking Jade and Ian with Craig and Flavia. Watch this space!