Sunday, 29 November 2009

"I thought paso doble was a stomach upset"

Please let Julian Clary take over from Bruce Forsyth next series - I just loved his acerbic wit in Series 2, apparently he went down a storm on the tour this year, and he could be just what is needed to take SCD into a bright and shiny new era!

Poor Tess - she gets it right in the wardrobe department for once, and then the hair and accessories just go wrong. Fringe and something weird hanging round her neck. Was Jimmy Saville hiding in the Tesspit last night, giving out the noughties version of a Jim'll fix it medallion?

First up Team Cola and the dance that this series has so very badly needed. Fun, energetic, bouncy, silly - the dance was made for them, and I loved it! My favourite dance of the series, and I am just off to YouTube to view it again and again and again. I thought they were slightly undermarked, but that was expected as first couple to perform this evening (have Laila and Anton ever gone first?).

Next we have Adonis and Blonde Ambition playing their joker card in the VT - a visit from the Fonz to bring them luck for their Rock n Roll (he is in panto, don't you know). I really didn't like this routine, and there were far too many mistakes, mainly from Natalie (wearing lower shoes may have helped). It felt more jive than Rock n Roll, and there were far too many tricks, as ever, and not enough dancing. Yes we know that you are fearless as a trapeze artist, Natalie, and yes we know that Ricky is a man of great prowess in the lifting department, but I want to see you just dance! A simpler routine might have made for a cleaner performance, and the audience might have been able to watch and breathe at the same time, without the fear that the lifts would go horribly wrong. Is it written into Ricky's contract that he has to show pecs and biceps for every latin dance?

Barbie and Ken really surprised me as well with their charleston, and I think it is their best performance to date. Ali finally left the ballet poise and placement in the cupboard, and did a goofy, funny, quirky performance. Props to her for pulling off a great dance after such a hideous week (and her way of dealing with the injury put Laila to shame).

NatCass "I am taking responsibility for not dropping Vincent on his head - I am sure that already happened at birth". So we had no roly polies, no cartwheels, very few tricks, but I actually liked the dance content more than I did Ricky and Natalie's. I felt that the judges were pretty tough on Natalie as well. All along they have overlooked glaring errors, such as lack of pointed feet, bent legs etc, and just praised her energy and enthusiasm. Why start harping on about it now, when if they had given that as constructive criticism in week 1, she could have worked on it.

Charm and smarm. Seriously, how much more fringing have the wardrobe department got? There is such a thing as overkill on a theme. This is the first time that I have seen Laila give a dance attitude and performance skills, and the first time that Anton and Laila have really worked as a team. The content seemed to be lacking, especially in comparison with Chris and Ola, and her leg action was pretty lazy, especially compared to Ali's. Laila decided to play her joker card with the raspberry blown at Craig though, so that would have been good for a fair few votes.

I was very disappointed with the group VW, because I was looking forward to major carnage, and there was in fact only a minor crash. The delay in scoring though seemed to me as if the judges were trying to fix the leaderboard, to keep Ali and Ricky out of the danger zone. I agreed with the marks for Natalie and Chris, but how was Ricky worth a 9 and praised for his leading when he caused the crash? Ali's left elbow is still at an odd angle and her shaking distracts me from the dance. And I am sure that Anton was hoping for top scores, as he was canny to nip in at the beginning with a fleckerl and end on one as well.

Not sure what I thought of the modern foxtrot. Seemed to have more tango sensibility to me, and I didn't like Aliona's outfit at all.

The dancing was the redeeming feature of the much touted guest singers as well (was James Morrison flat throughout?), starring Lilia, and a catsuit (as in proving that Ola is not the only one who can do this!), oh and I believe Darren was in there somewhere as well.

To the shock of the evening - Ricky Whittle in the dance off. Was it because the public perceived him as being overscored? Did his support fall away as a result of Friday's events? Or did he never have that much support anyway, and just had been protected by numbers? Kudos to them for being able to pull of a clean routine in the dance off though.

But the night really belonged to Natalie and Vincent. Yes it was time for them to go, but it was a sign of just how popular they are that the audience just stood and clapped and cheered for the longest ovation I have ever seen on Strictly. I cried.

Friday, 27 November 2009

2 knees, 1 shoulder, 1 rib, 1 toe, 1 hamstring, 1 foot, 1 ankle and an arrest later...

And we are staggering into Week 11 of SCD. Bet there are some high blood pressure problems with the producers as well.

Loving Erin so much this series. She is so laid back, funny and deliberately goofy. I reckon she thinks she is on the way out this series, so she is just enjoying herself. Oh what would have happened if she had been paired with Tuffers...what might have been.

Laila and Anton got their best edit on a VT to date....maybe countering the negativity in the press about her trip to Morocco, maybe a last ditch effort to get Anton to the final, for a symbolic baton change of presenter next year.

So it's a bit hard to predict the leaderboard this week, what with the group VW throwing a spanner in the works and doubtless a few elbows in ribs, eyes and teeth. I imagine Anton and Laila will easily top the leaderboard with this, followed closely by an over-competitive Natalie L whipping Ricky into second place ...or else. Ali on a recently injured foot will have a struggle, with what has been her best dance, which will be a shame. Brian will probably be over protective of her and not even attempt the bun fight that will be getting into position for a fleckerl. Natalie and Chris may just get pushed to the sidelines.

Team Cola could well top the leaderboard this week, with energy, enthusiasm and a dance right up their street. Ricky and Natalie don't seem to be nailing their rock n roll, and it looks rather too much like a jive to me. Ali would struggle with the charleston, with or without the injury; no footage of Laila and Anton; and the least said the better about Natalie and Vincent's cartwheel-less attempt.

At a push, I would think the three girls are the most likely culprits for the dance off, with Ali staying against Natalie, Laila staying against Natalie, but what happens if Ali is against Laila? That will be down to Mr Goodman to see if he can separate his opinion of his old golf buddy, against what is best for SCD....

SCD and ITT seem to be making pretty good use of the evicted pros this series: we have had Matthew and Aliona doing videos for the website, Lilia and Darren on ITT, Flavia supervising group VW training, James doing back stage reports (and doing very well, even if the interactions with Ola and Chris are a little staged). But what has happened to Brendan and Kristina? Are they out of favour with the Beeb, or out of the country or what?

Anyway,roll on tomorrow and let's hope the dreaded dance of the dodgems does not result in a rise in the injury tally.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

So, given the level of injuries this series, is it really wise to get the couples to play bumper cars aka a competitive Viennese Waltz?

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Murder on the dance floor doesn't quite anticipate the carnage due this Saturday night.

So Charleston. Is it very mean of me to wonder quite what the queens of the gurn, Camilla and Karen, would have made of the crazy, crazy Charleston....

So Laila and Anton. It looks as if the much telegraphed bum slap could be the only highlight in their dance.

Ali (hate to criticise because of the injury, but she is far too elegant to do crazy, crazy wild...)

Could Ola and Chris actually top the leaderboard? Because this dance seems to suit them down to the ground, and they are getting into performance mode even in rehearsal, and Ola is loving every minute of it.

I was starting to ever so slightly become immune to the charms of Team Cola, but today they have floated my boat right up to the crest of the wave. (Tacky metaphor I know but I have downed a glass of red, and this is what you get when drinking Sicilian under-a-fiver-screw-cap red). I think it was when Ola started to explain what went wrong with their VW (I didn't even notice) and said "Basically the crowd went screaming, and Chris gets into a funny mode, he thinks he can change the choreography"..... What is not to love!

And so to Claudia channelling Zoe Ball......almost, but imagine the honey monster doing the tango and you have this master class. Excellent twist on a tired format this year.

Rock n roll - for some reason am not looking forward to Ricky and Natalie (but interesting to see what someone else will choreo for Ricky), and poor Natalie and Vincent....he has my vote because I can't do a roly poly, and as for a cartwheel.... Vincenzo, ti amo.

So to the Viennese Waltz. Well I have never seen Flavia so animated or so articulate. She is still internally singing "Hurray, hurray, it's a Craig free holiday".....

And as for competition - did you see Natalie Lowe elbowing Ola in the face? So is it her that has been pushing people down the stairs and putting wax on the training room floors? I have always thought there was something very, very intense about the eyes....

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

So are we down to a one couple final then?

First off, I am absolutely gutted for Ali and Brian, and feeling so very sorry for Ali. One series and two injuries, poor lass. I have had a fall exactly like the one that she had, and I ended up hurting my lower back, so much so that I had to have 6 weeks of sports massage on the lower back to get me back in action. Ali must be in so much pain. And Brian looked absolutely gutted about Ali's injury. In his heart, he must know that their future in the competition is in jeopardy.

But getting back into critical mode - surely the BBC have actually got to do something to bring this series back under control. They should have acted the week Jade and Laila were both injured, but were probably too busy running around thinking of how to integrate Ronnie Corbett into the show and how to replace Mariah Carey, rather than keeping their eye on the main ball ie. putting the dance and the dancers first.

The rules this year clearly state that if a dancer is injured and medical advice is such that they should not dance, then they get a bye to the next round. The rules also state (for the first time) that the BBC reserve the right to reinstate the most recently eliminated couple, or the highest average scorer, in such circumstances, as long as this happens before the quarter or semi finals. They could of course cancel the public vote and dance off for a week, but that would mean risking a drop in ratings and having to shorten the show. Possibly a small price to pay in the circumstances.

But there has been fudge after fudge, and now we are at this point. One of the clear front runners unlikely to be able to dance this weekend, forcing the BBC to act somehow. Plus, with the introduction of Charleston and Rock and Roll, a potentially watch behind cushions show coming up. I am all for broadening the scope of SCD when it comes to getting outside experts in to do demo dances, but expecting the pros to pick up new dances, and to do them justice (leave alone the celebs) is a big ask. And at this stage at the competition? Seriously, with possibly just 4 couples dancing, there is going to be nowhere to hide, and this week could be an all time low for SCD. Producers, I hope the P45 reaches you after Christmas, not before.

And so to the mid week review, with Ryan and Jenny proving just how media friendly "our pros" have become over the course of SCD. And James Jordan, hang on in there - you are getting cross over media appeal (but best to learn from Camilla's example as to how to handle your post SCD opportunities). Also I thought that I saw a glimspe of Lana in the training footage. That is Lana as in Darren and Lana from Strictly Dance Fever 2 (they wuz robbed!). Yay!

So the training footage was rather depressing, and I didn't think it was particularly fitting for Ryan to criticise Vincent, a fellow professional dancer. It was clear, to me at least, that he was marking things through to help his celeb partner, (whose training needs he knows) as much as possible. Vincent is one of the most versatile pros on SCD, having competed in 10 dance, then diversified into show dance, then Argentine Tango, then milonga, then Ryan, zip it please.

The girls added some sparkle, if not as many belly laughs as the boys yesterday. Good to see Lisa, Heather and Cherie on the couch together, being refreshingly honest, and also obviously pleased to see each other. Claudia tried to steer the conversation to Natalie and then to Laila - and the girls were quick to steer that conversation to costuming and looks.

And the verdict? Clean sweep for Ricky Whittle.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Ask Len...

..Well here's my question - Why Ask Len? Especially when I was convinced that this was the best series of ITT ever.

So it was refreshing to hear Vincent admit that he had made choregraphic errors. It must be hard for a pro when they hear a piece of music and feel no inspiration for choreography whatsoever. I know from my own experience that I can only ever choreograph a really good dance to music that I love, and I just can't go there with music that does not move me in some way.

Choreography Corner - Love the fact that Karen was in the camp of the lift was a wasted opportunity posse. Also that Natalie may well have played her big card too early, but the comment that she didn't want to diss Ricky because he really was so far ahead.

There was also gentle criticism of Laila; a big refutation of Alesha (ie with the comments that the pros use the tools they have, and that pivots create a wow moment that otherwise may be lacking in a dance pitched against the like of the AS or a bouncy latin); and she sure didn't pull her punches with Vincent, but I really feel that this was not out of bitchiness and was not anything that she would not have said to his face.

And so to the three that got away - Colin (he wuz robbed), Matt (he got lucky) and Gethin (he is handsome). I love all three of them, but most of all Matt D. a) because he is so often neglected in SCD history that puts Darren and Lilia as the journey couple and makes no mention of him; b) he admits how much Lilia lead him and how difficult it was to actually lead a real amateur; c) he had it so spot on about Craig and Flavia (although interestingly, it seems to have been a slightly reverse situation with Matt never believing how good he was, and Craig always hoping for the very best, and never wanting to hear the verdict.

And a clear sweep for Natalie and Vincent..... So what do we think about this then? CONSPIRACY THEORY...or just viewer preference?

Monday, 23 November 2009

6 cases of make up, 50 fake eye lashes, 100 nail varnishes, 150 brushes and 1000 eye shadows!

Just gimme, gimme, gimme!

So sad to see Ricky and Erin go. He is so very humble and articulate and Erin was very honest and forthright when she stated that at first she thought they might have 2 or 3 weeks out of SCD, and it is all down to Ricky's hard work that they got to week 10.

SCD is much the poorer without them, and I have to say that Laila and Anton didn't even look particularly excited to be saved. Ricky's exit speech has to rate as the most chivalrous ever "I have met Ronnie Corbett, I have met Dame Shirley Bassey but best of all, I have met Erin Boag". His farewell VT was the most genuine I have seen as well. No flowery euphemisms, no promises of eternal friendship, just real, choked up emotion.

Loved Claudia's summary of liftgate - "It's like saving shoes for best". I am still with Len and was tickled when he got Craig to admit that the execution of the lift itself is actually rather easy. Even more tickled when Craig, despite seeing Claudia's attempts at the masterclass, offered to show her how easy!

Continuing in the sombre tone, it was goodbye to Jade and Ian. From her best bits, you could see just how much she had improved in both ballroom and latin (even her ballroom hold improved so much from her waltz to her VW). I was genuinely absolutely gutted to see them go. She had the talent, the stage performance, and the determination to get to the final, and if the producers had decided to play fair with the VTs, I think she had a shot at getting the public vote.

But oh dear ...those two final comments. Ian "At the end of the day, we know we love each other", and Jade "I started off the competition as a girl, and ended as a woman". The forums are going to be alive with the sound of hope until at least next January!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

"Introducing my very good friend of many years - Dame Shirley Ballet"

And it all started off so well with Bruce determined to show how much sparkle and verve the show had lost with his temporary absence. He was doing a sterling job as well until he ran out of steam about half way through, and then it was a long descent into tediousness. Why, oh why, when two series ago Arlene got into some very hot water by referencing Ola, Pole, and dancer in the same sentence was Bruce allowed to recite a scripted joke using exactly the same innuendo? Arlene's remark was obviously an off the cuff quip gone very wrong, whereas this (like the "losing a Stone" debacle earlier this series) was pre-planned and calculated. Judging by Ola's face, she could cheerfully have punched Bruce and/or his scriptwriter.

And then we slid ever downward in a spiral until we finally bottomed out with the Dame Shirley Ballet comment. Oh dearie me.

And so to Jade and Ian, tragically out of the competition, just as they had a real shot at winning it. Jade has been one of the shining lights of SCD for me this series, and the one person who has improved so much technically and in terms of performance, and who could deliver in both latin and ballroom.

The producers have had seven series of experience, and a very long week of deliberation, to work out the contingency plans for withdrawal through injury. And what have they come up with? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And it looks as though we are heading for yet another two person final (barring cock ups in the voting procedure) and a foregone conclusion as the winner. Oh well, maybe they will have a short, sharp shock when the ratings figures are the lowest ever for a Strictly final.

Or maybe the brief to the producers this series has been to start managing the inevitable decline of the show, because let's face it, most TV series have a shelf life, and seven series in, SCD will start to wane sooner or later.

Barbie and Ken kick us off with a slightly fast foxtrot, and initially I am mesmerised by her absolutely stunning dress, and then I am distracted by the awkward position of her left elbow. It is all too clear from her arm positioning that her hand is shaking uncontrollably throughout the dance, and I am left wondering whether Ali, beautiful dancer that she can be, is really cut out for a strenuous final if her nerves are still so bad this far into the competition.

NatCass has been Sonya-ing and samba-ing all this week, and the VT even shows her strutting her stuff in Albert Square and promising to try and get Vincent a role as an extra on Eastenders. That I would pay good money to see. Make-up have done a lovely job on her this week, but obviously they ran out of time with the lippy (problem I have myself time and time again) so had just slapped on a random streak of lurid pink somewhere below her nose, and hoped for the best. Unfortunately, the shade of lipstick just drew even more attention to Natalie doing her fly catcher "I am really having so much fun in the latin" facial expression. Still more unfortunately, it distracted me, but not enough to lead my attention away from her feet. There are times when I think she would look more elegant wearing army boots, and she is still so very, very flat footed.

Vincent's choreographic mojo seemed to be missing in action this week, because from the stilted start, right through to the end, this was just very pedestrian, and lacked all of his usual flashes of brilliance. And as for samba rolls - they looked more like samba wobbles to me. Even Jo Wood managed a more convincing attempt. The judges though worked hard to guarantee the sympathy vote, except for Alesha, wielding her 8 paddle. Alesha - you really have just given up on getting invited back to this gig haven't you, love?

Team Cola were taking no chances this week, and showcased an entire ballet class in their VT. (Yes I know that Jade had kids in her VT a couple of weeks ago, but they were older, less cute, and they weren't all wearing pink and white ballet gear). I want to love their dancing, as much as I love their partnership, but they have done nothing to match their rumba yet for me. His technique is improving, but this was a simple VW, and possibly the slowest VW ever seen on SCD. Alesha made a dig at Ola's choreo, which didn't seem wise. After the Pole Dancer jibe, I bet Ola was gunning for someone, and she must have realiesd that taking a swing at a doddery octogenarian would be bad for votes, but socking one to the controversial new "judge" could provide endless votes, and coverage in all the red tops to boot. And she is tough. She has been on Total Wipeout. Alesha, you was well lucky there.

Adonis and Blonde Ambition seemed to have suffered a mis-communication from the producers. They were down for an American Smooth, but they delivered a waltz with added weight lifting. Whoops, what a wasted oppportunity. They were dancing to a wistful, haunting, tear-jerking song, so Natalie's choreography incorporated a grand-standing "look at him, doing the hardest, most impressive lift evah" moment, that seemed to go on and on and the expense of any dancing. For me, the point of the American Smooth is to showcase how well the celeb can dance ballroom out of hold, and the skill is not in the difficulty of the lifts themselves, but in the transitions from dance to lift to dance again, and in fitting them into appropriate places in the dance.

Len was bang on the money for me, and the altercation between Craig and Len won my award for the best choreography of the night. So of course, Alesha had to make things worse by giving it a 10. Words fail me.

Charm and smarm did indeed make a miraculous recovery, and danced a perfectly acceptable waltz. Perfectly acceptable for a week 2 dance that is. Laila looked gorgeous, and I am sure that the fact that she looks the part sways a lot of people's judgement on her dance ability. For me, she has never fulfilled her early promise, and she just clings on to Anton and lets him do all the work. I do have to snatch back my recently awarded "Stupidest mark of the series" trophy from Alesha though, and thrust it in the direction of Len. 8. For that? Marbles, losing, must be.

And so to Ricky and Erin and Erin's breasts, who really deserved a dance all of their own. Erin is usually the best dressed pro, so what happened tonight? She also does the best choreo, so ditto? She normally gets the best pic of the music as well, so what the hell? Or have both of them just given up the ghost, and with two dance offs in a row, decided to go through the motions with the competition dance, and put all their energy into graceful exit speech, and beautiful last dance?

And so to the moment of truth, via a jaunty lindy hop from the Bennetts, and a beautifully staged rumba by some pros wearing pillow cases instead of dresses. Oh and Dame Shirley Ballet.

I actually thought that Ricky and Erin pulled out all the stops for their dance off and was hoping that the judges might choose this moment to get rid of some unwanted baggage, but it was not to be. Sadly.

And so we enter the final strait of a very very long series, with the final 5 seeming a tad uninspiring. The show greatly missed both Jade and Tuffers tonight, and the remaining shows will be the poorer without them. But wait. There is a glimmer of hope, for next week sees the introduction of two new dances. Rock n Roll and Charleston. And Smarm and Charm will be doing one of them. I can't wait!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

So insurance/legal issue, or cunning ploy to boost the ratings?

I am of course referring to the "right down to the wire" approach that the SCD producers are taking about whether Jade and Ian can dance tonight. Jade seems determined to dance, and has the support of her own physio, the person who, after her, knows her body the best. The BBC's physio is taking a far more cautious approach, and I imagine the producers are running scared of a potential insurance claim/legal action, and a whole raft of negative headlines in the Daily Mail about jeopardising the future of an Olympic athlete for the home games. But I guess the cynical side of me also thinks that they will be quite happy to leave the dramatic announcement until the show this evening, to maximise the ratings and ramp up tension to the highest. Poor Jade, and poor Ian. I don't think they should be treated like this.

The Friday Panel was a welcome hoot in a sea of tension and anxiety, with Craig taking on the role of fashion expert with lip smacking relish.

It's not looking great for Natalie Cassidy, especially if the judges once again mark her exuberant personality - I am sure that the backlash will begin. And as for Madonna for a samba - purlease!

Chris is looking a little better posture-wise but still not brilliant, and I fear that even Team Cola will not be enough to prevent me having a wee power nap through a Celine Dion tune.

Ali and Brian and looking like well Ali and Brian doing ballroom (except that the position of her left elbow is starting to bug me, and I am sure it must be causing her some pain). My little snooze may continue through the Michael Buble number.

Please, please let this be Laila and Anton's "Last Waltz" is looking promising ....for a week 1 dance, but this far into the competition? Will the title of their track be prescient or ironic? Guess it largely depends on whether Jade and Ian swoop in and mop up the sympathy votes, or whether Jade's determination comes across as a little too competent and Laila's photogenic tears make a magical re-appearance.

I am trying to like Natalie Lowe, I really am. She is a long way from home, for the first time, and instead of being London-based like the other new pros, and able to socialise with her peers, she is stuck up in Liverpool, with dance the only focus for her. But she is scary! Surely her training methods should be banned under the Geneva Convention...And as for the assertion that she had no truck with beginners, and that her partners needed to come up to her level straight away...well, lucky that you got Ricky Whittle then not Craig Kelly, wasn't it love?

Still the American Smooth looks set to be the dance of the night to the song of the night, so she has to be doing something right. Another perfect 40 for this evening? ('Cos the show needs to shoehorn another couple of perfect 40s in before we have the drama of who is going to score the first ever perfect 50, and there are only two more shows before the elegant Darcy joins us!)

Friday, 20 November 2009

The funniest thing that I have seen in ages...

Claudia and Len attempting to recreate Cherie and James' wonderful rumba, with Len almost completely losing control and shaking with laughter. What a relief for a spot of humour in an otherwise bleak week for SCD.

I am not particularly convinced by any of dances seen in the training updates. Ricky and Natalie could be great, but with his limited training, and her penchant for everything but the sink choreography, are they going to be able to pull of spectacular lifts? Ali is going to be back in her comfort zone, but it looks as though Brian is really making her work on the footwork, and heel leads and heel turns are not easy for someone with ballet training.

Oh look, Laila is playing the sympathy card again....funny how her ankle and foot were not at all swollen and bruised only four days after such a debilitating injury.

Natalie's looks to have the rhythm of the samba, which is half the battle, but she is awfully heavy footed on the voltas.

Unfortunately, I am not feeling optimistic about Ricky and Erin and Chris and Ola. Ricky's frame has improved, but there is still some way to go, and Little Legs Chris does not look as if he is coping well with VW at all. Ola has obviously had to slow the tempo of the VW down considerably, which should mean they are marked down really. And his neck and topline are never going to be good in ballroom. Now I am not going to get all bitter about the loss of the best male ballroom topline in the competition....much.

That masterclass!!! I thought that Claudia actually did a better job than Laila, and there was more chemistry between Len and our Claude than Anton and Laila. "We should win an award". "Health and safety" indeed.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

More about Laila....

So the injury was a "strain". From the horse's mouth. I have danced on worse injuries (but then I have danced an awful lot more than these celebs, and have "The show must go on" tattooed on the inside of my eyelids).

I find it hard to get my head round the fact that a doctor pronounced her fit to dance, but also told Laila that she would look as though she were in pain, and probably would not be able to finish the dance. Either she was fit to complete a 90 second dance, or she wasn't. And why would a doctor use the words "it will look as though you are in pain", rather than "you will be in pain"?. And where were the pain killers then? Because a dose of something should get you through a short, not very strenuous dance.

Anton and Laila - under the circumstances, maybe joking about forgetting the routine is not wise.....The constant theory in most internet sites is that you did just that.

How can any viewer be thinking that that could be their best dance? Seriously, no body movement, no attempt at performance, no sense of musicality.

And when I have had ankle injuries, I have certainly not been sitting with feet curled under me on a sofa, casually. My foot has been elevated and stretched out in front. It did draw attention yet again to the injury though. Maybe no-one has told Laila that SCD doesn't have voting throughout the week.

Something does not add up about this. And Anton was looking uncharacteristically subdued.

An hour of training by end of Wednesday is not looking promising for a good waltz on Saturday. But then of course the sympathy card will be played again (may have to compete with Jade!). Tuffers managed to train for more hours after knee surgery, and was still criticised for not doing enough in his salsa. And we lost him and Katya for this pair!

James Jordan back doing the mid week review!

How exciting! And how much more informative than Craig Devil Borewood reading out words written by John Byrne or Andrew Cuerden (allegedly, according to various internet sources...but I think the truth is pretty much established).

Ali and Brian - looking good, as might be expected. So good to hear someone coming out and saying Ali has a lot of ballet training, but that is having a slightly negative effect on her ballroom and latin.

Natalie and Vincent - great dance - huh? Well good to hear someone say that Natalie is quite heavy footed. I think this weekend could be the weekend that Natalie's public vote is put to the test.

Ricky and Erin - not looking promising....tango could be difficult for him to pull off. Dance off again? And I really don't think they will be saved another time....

Ricky and Natalie - well not enough shown really to judge on. But I am expecting great things, and possibly the second 40 of the series, if Natalie has choreographed to complement Ricky's style, rather than wowing for the sake of wowing.

James is really articulate and informative on this section, and not afraid to give his honest opinion on Team Cola! Quite a short segment, and could have done with much more time, but I am starting to feel the JJ love!

All about Laila

So I have mixed feelings about Laila and Anton, and I have to admit that my pro Phil and Katya bias has probably had a negative impact on how I feel about this couple this week.

There seems to be so much hype about Laila being a real contender this year, but I just cannot see it, I am afraid. Part of her storyline of course was as "first real chance that Anton has had with a good partner" (which is not a little insulting to Lesley Garrett and Patsy Palmer). However, this spin seems to have ratcheted out of control in the public eye, and got somehow mingled in with a whole load of other stuff like "this could be Anton's last year and he is being groomed to take over from Bruce, so wouldn't it be nice for him to win", as well as the whole "It's PC-gone mad" that formed the aftermath to his earlier unacceptable remarks.

Laila looks every inch the part, and has probably benefitted from the best dresses of the series. But is this a question of style over substance, with the myth taking hold that Laila is a lovely dancer, underscored by the judges; or has she never really fulfilled the promise of the glamorous image and the hopes of Anton's legion of fans?

Even in her first dance, the tango, Laila made quite a huge error, and was unable to respond to Anton's lead to get her back on track, which could have been an early sign of a partnership that didn't quite gel, or a celeb who was prone to making mistakes/forgetting the choreography. But the judges were kind, it deserved a mid placing on the leaderboard, and the myth of the contender was born. It carried on unchallenged despite a lacklustre cha cha, possibly due to a field that included rumbas by Craig Kelly and Jo Wood, a cha cha from Richard Dunwoody, and Zoe Lucker and Tuffers signalling that ballroom might be their stronger discipine.

And so Laila came to be seen as up there with Zoe and Jade, just behind Ali and Ricky. But I don't think she has ever really deserved that position. We all know that the latin has been lamentable, and whether blame should be laid at the door of the teacher/choreographer, or a less than striking student, is a moot point. Even her paso, her best latin dance, saw a lack of performance, an unsteadiness out of hold, and a lot of smoke and mirrors choreography that included three illegal lifts. But she does look great in red!

As for the ballroom, the foxtrot was good and deserving of praise; but neither the quickstep nor the VW had any wow factor. Had she been dancing in a lower level medal test, I am sure she would have had a highly commended, but for a series of Strictly? The Anton bashers insist that he is not up to it any more, even for ballroom, and is lacking in ability to choreograph sparkling routines (I guess that means that Erin does all the work in their pro partnership then?). Is it that, or could it be that Laila is not capable of dancing the type of choreography that Ali and Ricky have been given from the off, and that latterly Natalie and Jade are cheerfully embracing? So Anton is playing it rather safe, getting good but not stunning scores, and the judges feel able to damn with faint praise, for example by bringing criticism of her latin into a critique of a ballroom. Is this a subtle signal to the voters that actually, this couple don't cut the mustard, but they are trying to avoid her being at the bottom of the leaderboard too frequently and thus provoking the sympathy vote?

It could of course be complete reverse psychology and the judges want people to thing of Laila and Anton as the underdogs and so vote them into the final.....

And so to the injury (in a series dogged by injury). Ali and Phil had previously danced with bravery and stoicism on injuries. It was always going to be a shambles of a dance - lacking in hip action, arm movement, chemistry and musicality. Was the injury exaggerated for the benefit of the sympathy vote?

Well we will probably never know....

But why was Laila seen barefoot in the VT one minute, with an icepack on her ankle, and then minutes later on the way to hospital, having squeezed her Ugg boot over a swollen ankle? Why was the tubigrip that she was wearing so inadequate as support? And how did she fit into a dance shoe with a swollen ankle/foot? And why? Couldn't she have worn flats, like Ali? And why did she get through 76 seconds of a routine and then stop? The lift all looked rather well executed for a spontaneous reaction to a problem.....Conspiracies, conspiracies...They are literally flooding the forums.

My own personal take? She did hurt her ankle, but was being a bit of a drama queen, especially when contrasted with the way other people have dealt with their injuries. She hated the routine, was distracted by thoughts of her ankle, some pain, forgot the routine, and they managed to end the dance with a photogenic, sympathy generating, illegal move (which they may or may not have thought about in advance, because let's face it, most people do have contingency plans for something that could go wrong)....So go ahead and hate me now!

"When we deserve a 30, we will get a 30"

So that told Ricky, all of us, and certain other contestants out there who may or may not have been "hinting" at getting higher scores....Well said Erin (as usual).

I love Karen in Choreography Corner so much, and it was interesting this week that she chose to comment on three couples who have been perceived as overmarked and the public's champion, widely perceived as undermarked. (Also probably best not to mention Phil and Katya and Ricky and Erin, and least said the better about the funereal rumba).

She managed to put her finger on exactly what I had sort of felt about Ricky and Natalie's jive. I felt somehow that I should have loved their jive, but something passed me by, and looked a little "off". Karen phrased it so well that in terms of choreography it was a mistake to have a novice stopping, doing character work, and then starting again, because not only did it look disjointed, but it gave the celeb too much to do, ie:remembering to dance, do the acting bit, then get smoothly back into the rhythm of the dance, without making it look as if the celeb has gone off time, or is struggling to catch up. Loved her point about Ricky looking like the follower, not the leader. That was what was wrong with Ricky and Natalie's dance! In fact, if I had seen that dance in a musical, with perhaps clear reasons to stop dancing and speak a line of dialogue, or sing a phrase, I would have loved it, but as a dance in SCD....left me luke warm.

It was also really interesting to hear about Vincent's choreography for the foxtrot, in the way that he took standard moves and added a new dimension to them by adding curves to them instead of dancing them in straight lines. I realise that Len would have picked up on the complexity of the routine, but the other three judges would not have done (I believe that Craig even called the dance "simple".

Mind you, Vincent has been doing a very good PR job recently by telling the public about the difficulty of the routines that Natalie has been attempting (including announcing a couple of days before Blackpool that even the other pros were gobsmacked by the difficulty of the quickstep). Good strategy, because everyone, judges and public alike, are pretty clear that Ali and Ricky are the ones that are tackling the more complex choreos, so Vincent is sending out the message that actually, Natalie is getting up there with the leaders in terms of level of difficulty attained. And funnily enough, the judges and public seem to be taking notice of Vincent's brand positioning, and scoring/voting accordingly.

Well it is the season for the filler on ITT, so it wasn't really surprising to find a panel of so-called Superfans. Me, I jogged off to the kitchen to see to my pizza at the sight of Cinderella and her two sisters.

Monday, 16 November 2009

So no news on the injuries subject on ITT tonight...

I presume because the production team still don't have a clue what is going on. It must have been chaos behind the scenes on Saturday, with the attention focused mainly on the covering for Bruce issue, and then suddenly not one injury, but two, to throw a complete spanner in the works. I feel that a better solution could have been to show the dress rehearsal footage of Jade and Ian for the judges to mark and the public vote, then there could be no accusations of foul play with the bye for Jade.

It really is all the amazing to consider what a good job Tess and Claudia made of hosting the show at short notice, and having to deal with the worst run of luck in all seven series of SCD! Go girl power, and Bruce, if you need a couple more weeks to get really fit, I think the show will be in safe hands.

There seemed to be all sorts of undercurrents running through the show tonight, with Katya and Phil hinting at discrepancies in the dance off decision; Craig drawing very deliberate attention to other people who had danced through injuries (Ricky, Phil and Ali this series, and Kate G in series 5) with the subtext that Laila made rather a mountain out of her ankle problem; Len pointing out that really Laila should have been in the dance off (although that will guarantee a sympathy vote for next week); and Ali and Brian talking very sympathetically, and with such high praise, about Jade.

I almost wept at Phil and Katya's exit interview. The VTs for this couple until the past few days have concentrated on him mucking around and her getting frustrated, but they seem not only to have had quite a laugh in training, but to have developed a real mutual respect and admiration, as well as a lasting friendship.

But then I think the producers have a quota for touching/fun relationships this year, and they have been allocated to Team Cola and Vincent and Natalie, so there was no room for Tuffers/Kat to be shown having too much fun.

Just bring back Tuffers!!!!!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Well, it was a night full of shock and horror on Strictly - and that was just the hairstyles

I have recently discovered that hairdryers can actually be live beings with murderous intent, so goodness knows what sadistic streaks hairdressers themselves have. I think it was obvious from what the SCD hairstylists did to Erin and Natalie this week that they are capable of cruel acts, and as for giving Ali hair extensions to make her a dead ringer for Tess Daly - what have the poor girl done to deserve that?

So poor Bruce is suffering with the flu, and it must be a bad dose indeed for the consummate professional to miss a show. Anton must be kicking himself that he is still in the competition, and therefore unavailable to do a real, live audition for next series. Instead we had Ronnie Corbett making a grand entrance, milking some hysterical applause, and doing a neat role reversal in the opening dance. And then doing nothing very much at all. Why BBC? Why have him on to deliver a oouple of lame jokes? Or was it because the two little ladies weren't trusted to deliver the goods by themselves, and needed a man to step in if necessary? Purlease, it's 2009, not 1909, and Tess did a perfectly adequate job covering for Bruce, whilst Claudia brought a special brand of mayhem to the Tesspit, and lightened an otherwise sombre episode.

Poor, poor Jade. I really felt for her, and for Ian, and it was truly sad seeing the high-spirited, feisty Jade looking so devastated, vulnerable and fearful for her athletics future. In fact, I could have done without seeing that segment actually, because it seemed overly intrusive, especially at a moment when Jade was confronted with the prospect of the premature end of her career. Part of me hopes that Jade will pull out now, because much as I hope that she will win the SCD crown, for her, her priority has to be long jump and 2012.

And so we opened with my beloved and Kanadian Kat, with Phil expressing the fear of dropping her "especially because her mum is in the audience, and she might hit me with her handbag". I loved it, and thought it was their best dance to date. Phil looked every inch the part, and my little head was filled with fantasies of being whirled round the dancefloor by Tuffers. I felt it was a little underscored (possibly suffering the fate of those who dance first) and given what happened later, I would have put him above Natalie and Vincent on the leaderboard.

What was Blonde Ambition wearing? And was it written in his contract that Ricky has to bare his chest at every available opportunity? I liked the jive, but I didn't love it, and felt that technique was allowed to go out the window at the expense of speed and the kitchen sink approach to choreography that Natalie often shows. And last year Tom Chambers was dismissed as smug for far, far less than Ricky and Natalie have done this year. Overscored, but then he has finalist written all over him, and made need some help to keep him from the whims of those nasty public voters.

How on earth did Ricky and Erin end up in the bottom two with that Get out the Granny Vote of a VT? I liked this a lot, and even liked the glasses as a signifier of a more serious approach. His shoulders have improved by leaps and bounds, and the body contact was great throughout. It was a bit skippy, but he has worked so hard on improving his technique and that is showing.

Team Cola up next. I can just imagine the conversation last Monday in Strictly Towers. Clueless Producer 1 "So X Factor are doing a Queen week". Clueless Producer 2 "Excellent. Would it look like copycats to try and squeeze a Queen track into Strictly?". CP1 "Wow, do you reckon We Will Rock You would work for a rumba?"; CP2 "I guess the band could do it at a different tempo? But wait, we could do something a bit more dramatic - a paso perhaps?"; CP1 "Didn't we already have a paso to Queen earlier this series?". CP2 "Yes, you're right....Hm, what about something Queen-like but a bit different? Those Darkness chappies were quite good, weren't they?".

Because surely that is the only explanation of the music choice for this paso, and what the band proceeded to do with it. It was also the cue for some Olympic level gurning from Chris, some real aggression from Ola, and a bit of mucking about with a cape. And actually, once I had stuck my fingers in my ears to block out the song, it wasn't a bad paso. But it wasn't really a 9 paso either, really, was it, Alesha?

So Smarm and Charm just happened to have an injury the week of their worst dance, which just happened to provoke the sympathy vote to lift them out of the danger zone. Sorry, love, but if you are injured, you either sit it out, or you get a dose of painkillers down you, and you go out and do the best job that you can do under the circumstances. That sounds harsh, but Ali danced on a foot that was literally bleeding and carried off a far more complex routine with panache, and Phil danced five days after knee surgery and took the criticism on the chin.

NatCass and the Italian Stallion - well no-one can take her joy and enthusiasm away from her, and she sells every dance, but by now she does need to start showing some improvement technically. Overmarked (although it has occurred to me that the judges realise that the girls are suffering in the public vote compared to the boys, and are prepared to overmark to keep either Ali or Natalie in the competition as long as possible).

Barbie and Ken, and Barbie is such a lovely dancer, but just doesn't do wild at all. Awful music, and they did well to pull off a routine to that garbage. Overmarked but surprise, surprise, tied at the top, so out of the danger zone.

So now it was heartbreak time. Tuffers out.......but if Jade withdraws, there is a provision for them to be reinstated. And let's face it, without the injuries this week, the leaderboard would have looked rather different, so it seems a shame that we lose one of the bigger characters, who really has started to improve, at this stage.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Predictions, predictions, predictions

Top of the leaderboard

Jade and Ian

Over marked and a tie - Ali and Brian; Ricky and Natalie

Phil and Katya

Tie - Natalie and Vincent and Ricky and Erin

Team Cola (no!!!!)

Laila and Anton

Dance off - Laila and Anton/versus Natalie and Vincent/Ali and Brian

If there is a God or a Goddess...

I had such a good dream last night

I was a professional dancer on SCD. And I was dancing with Tuffers. And we had naughty shenanigans...Oh yes and we won the glitterball.

Suffice to say, I have spent the day having little fantasies in my pea-sized brain about the salsa, the rumba, the AS, the tango, the AT, the winning showdance, the shenanigans. I really have had such a nice day!

Back down to earth. Poor Bruce. It has to be bad for him to miss Strictly. But we get Claudia let loose on the main show (producers take note......Claudia can interview, have empathy, and wreak havoc, all in the same sentence. Tess can....Tess can wear some of the dresses that wardrobe gives her?. Oh heck, Tess is main presenter, and Claude is back stage. Ho Hum). Am starting to have a few thoughts about the opening dance. Maybe I will tune in five minutes late tomorrow.

So we have Adonis and Blonde it really necessary for Ricky Nipple to flash his chest at me at 6.30 on a Friday? I haven't even had a glass of wine yet. So the jive is going to be a fast dance. I wouldnt't have figured that (Zoe and James didn't do fast). And Ricky is playing the relative visiting from afar card. Jive isn't looking promising then.

So Friday Panel.....

Fly me to the Moon....Phil you can fly me there whenever you like. Looking good but still waiting for him to pull away from the crowd and get there....You would if you were partnered with me Phil, believe me!

Team Cola - surely some mistake - dancing a paso to some escapee from the X Factor Rock Week. Surely not. Even catsuits and capes might not save this.

Jade and Ian - I have been waiting all series for this tango! Duran Duran bothers me, but then again look what a Bond theme did for Ramps and Karen in their semi final, which probably remains my second favourite dance (favourite dance? do you have to ask? The Halfpenny Jive of course!).

Nat Cass - Magic Moments - saccharine overdose then. What are they doing this week? First off, Vincenzo appears with his little son at the start of ITT, giving an unfortunate reminder of his shenanigans (alleged) earlier this year (and giving me more cause to fantasise about my shenanigans...such a shame Wife Swap has been cancelled). Then last night NatCass was talking about lovely Matt di trigonometry has never been good, but I am confused with these circles and triangles and goodness knows whats! And as for that shot of NatCass in her flat with a pile of Italian language materials....was this swift response to the negative reaction to her taking the P out of Vincent for his grasp of English....Because I have that dictionary, I bought it for my degree in Italian, and those 6 volumes of grammar volumes, still pristine...I don't think so! The accent may have been good, but the Italian did not make any sense, was basic, and riddled with errors.....

Moving on - oh it's the original dad dancing the rumba. And to Mattesha's victory song - what a travesty! Please let them be bottom two.

Can Ali really do wild?

Oh my little Chris - sent out in the cold to do cape practice but ends up playing super heroes with James Jordan. How many people (apart from my mother) still use the word "tinkle" when going for their pre-performance doings?

Leave the best music of the week till last - of course classy Erin has chosen Nights in White Satin for a Viennese....

Thursday, 12 November 2009

I'm cream crackereted..... mio poverino Vincenzo! Forza, caro, parli l'inglese in modo perfetto, molto meglio che la gente ad ITT potra parlare l'italiano! But it was my favourite Vincentism since "shaking like a leaflette". Hm, Vincent is actually better at expressing himself in his second language, English, than certain other people are in their first language ("You was mesmerising", anyone?).

Looking forward to Jade's tango dress. My favourite ever tango dress (and tango of course) was Zoe Ball, but this looks as though it could be challenger for the title. "Boudoir meets ballroom" indeed! Loved Darren B's comment about the men just being accessories for the girls though....

So Laila is sticking with the fringing to hide a multitude of sins against latin dance. As the dress designer said, the dresses can either be passionate and seductive, or more elegant and romantic, and it is rather obvious that Anton and Laila are going for the latter (I would not want to see passionate and seductive from those two!)

I am looking forward with eager anticipation to Jade and Ian's tango. Ian can choreograph amazing tangos, and I think that this dance will really suit the dynamics of their partnership. Top of the leaderboard? There are quite a few people who may struggle this week with dances that may not suit them - ie Brian and Ali with cha cha cha, Ricky and Natalie with jive, and Team Cola with a paso (allegedly to the Darkness), not to mention Laila and Anton with the there could be a vacancy at the top of the board. (There could even be a vacancy in second place if Tuffers can pull of a smooth Smooth......), and I think Ricky Groves could have a week off from the bottom of the board.

Ian has come out of the closet and said it - after all this time! They want to be in the final badly. You go Jadian! (Although the accompanying VT did dwell on Jade kicking Ian into touch on the fitness who knows how the public will receive the feisty tango).

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Such a successful salsa that they wanted to see it again

Well I am glad that it was Ricky Groves attempting that sentence, not Vincent.

Erin seemed somewhat subdued tonight, definitely as though the honeymoon is really over. Mind you, they are down to the last 8 couples, with the real donkeys gone just as Phil and Chris (Ricky's nearest rivals) seem about to break away from the mid table pack, and just as Ricky seems to have levelled off. The reality is that she is probably running low on quirky choreography (I won't call it gimmicks, because Erin is far too classy to resort to gimmicks!) and the end is nigh. They may well outlast Laila and or Natalie which could just about be justified, but should they knock out Jade or Ali, she knows that the ranks of Craig Kelly/John Sergeant/Kate Garraway beckon.

Poor Erin, deprived of the trophy in SCD3 by the public's attachment to Darren "I am just a blokey bloke from Barnsley, me" Gough (we won't mention the puppet dance), and deprived of a place in the semis by the judges' inexplicable preferance for Lisa, she then had to witness the semi final debacle last year, with all couples going through, and then the Adventures in Bacofoil travesty that was Lisa and Brendan's showdance. I really think this is going to be her last series, what with the producers's penchant for importing leggy long blondes, two of whom (Natalie and Katya look set for at least the quarter finals), and her professional partner's idiocy earlier this series. Flavia and Vincent and now Natalie and Ian are real challengers to the throne of ballroom royalty, and redundancy cannot be far off.

Once again, Karen Hardy was articulate and charming, and had some good points to make about dances such as the foxtrot and quickstep being perfect for a big ballroom like Blackpool, whereas the salsa's real home is a smoky night club, so trying to make a salsa work on a stage the scale of Blackpool makes it lose its essence.

Oh no family filler - let's move on quick! Actually, it is Anton and Laila on next, so let's linger. So we learned that NatCass cannot sing, Ricky G's mum found out about his stint on Strictly from his neighbour's paper, and Laila dresses like Sonia from Eastenders in her own time. Bless.

So to Charm and Smarm - whingeing about scores, showing complacency, lack of chemistry, and Laila unable to get a word in. No change there then. Except it is the rumba this weekend though - expect balletic moves from Anton, lots of lines, no hip movement to speak of, and no passion. Bottom two. Please?

Monday, 9 November 2009

"Nothing like a snog in the back of a banger"

So said Tuffers in a riposte to Len. Well, Tuffers, if you need a volunteer - I am there for you - anytime, any place, anywhere. Just let me know!

Back to Blackpool (how perfect for a snog in the back of a banger! I digress)and James Jordan, once again showing us his talent as a backstage reporter. I would have liked a little more from the studio manager on the logistics of getting it all together (but as we have already established, I am a logistics geek), but still - 10km of cable (you see, there are the facts that I love!); hoisting chandeliers and glitter ball into THAT ceiling! WOW. I have seen so many comments on internet boards about the sound quality on Saturday - but get a grip people! BBC TV centre has state of the art technology - the guys on the OB had whatever they remembered to ship up the M6 (or whatever M it is to get to Blackpool).

I so loved the fact that Ricky G found a little place to take a sneaky peak at the audience sitting waiting and all the celebs were there having a secret gawk! How many times have I done just that - skulked backstage to listen and spy on the audience, get a feel for how they are, whether it is a full house, do I know anyone in the front row....Of course I would be better off warming up and taking some deep breaths, but that is not part of the fun!

So to Craig and Flav - I still cannot decide. Is he deadpan, is he deluded, or is he a donkey? I am just deciding the former on the basis of the backstage comments from the dancers, and feeling that maybe his humour was not best showcased by the format of SCD. But then he commented, in direct contradiction to Flavia, that there was always hope for improvement. He really hasn't ever watched any of the playbacks has he? And there was Flav, barely able to disguise her relief at no longer being the subject of judge scorn or public piss taking/pity! She still has a career, yay!

Oh my goodness, who is that all dressed up as a Blackpool stick of rock? Oh it is newly mellow Craig R-H....So he would have us believe that he sees more that he likes this series. Really. More than series 4 or 5? Show me where please, because really, I am feeling the void....And what was Len doing, defending Alesha's comments? Has he been told to keep the velvet gloves firmly on?

So to my Cat and the Kat....I really thought that this week was the week he would break away from the pack but it was not to be. So glad to hear Katya admit that it went so much better in rehearsal, and Tuffers admit to being self-conscious. But the hope is still there. He admits to having a buzz such as he has not had since leaving cricket. It may be too little too late, and Team Cola could pip him to the place in the final, but I think he could be quarter final/semi final material yet.

The American Smooth is just around the corner, and he will surely get up the leaderboard on this. And Katya has finally figured that in our wonderful country of "support the underdog at all costs", she has a better chance of going places with Tuffers in SCD, than she would have had with Antonio Banderas!. She is doing humour now, and she set him up with a perfectly nice punch line about his unreliability for making catches. Ok the timing was off Katya, which is worrying for a dancer, but you too are going on a journey, with the most unlikely of companions!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

So t'internet has gone into meltdown and there is one phrase repeated over and over again.

"We've had to put up with Arlene leaving SCD and now we have to endure Alesha as a judge". Well, quite. (More of that later).

So last night we had fireworks, Catherine Wheels, rockets, sparklers, Jack in the Boxes and a damp squib. Strictly arrived at the Tower Ballroom Blackpool and pulled out all the stops. Now that is what I call a showstopper. 8 weeks in, the contestants reduced by half, and finally we have an unmissable show.

It was worth all the expense, time, resources and sheer hassle of relocating to Blackpool, and my inner geek wants a whole ITT devoted to the master planner behind the scenes of this spectacular! Ballroom's spiritual home proved just what a real ballroom venue can provide that a TV studio can't; the audience cheerfully screamed their throats sore, and clapped their hands raw; and all the performers absolutely rose to the occasion.

I noticed the first mistake with the logistics the minute Tess walked down the stairs though. Poor dear, someone left her costume in London, so wardrobe had to assemble a montage of carefully dyed crepe bandages and curtain material to hide the embarrassment.

Adonis and Blonde Ambition kicked off the show with a turbo-charged tango. It was good to see them (at long last) dance first, and it was a good effort. It was never going to beat last week's quickstep, and a better music choice could have allowed for more light and shade, and an overall more dramatic feel to the dance. The judges all helpfully overlooked the errors though and indulged in the first bit of over-marking of the programme.

NatCass and the Italian Stallion. I can't help but wonder what would have happened if Rachel or Louisa had had a personality like Natalie. I think they would have romped home with the trophy. Natalie gets Vincent and gives as good as she gets. "This could be the best quickstep". "It could be. You could be six foot tall".

Great VT to usher in a pretty good effort at the quickstep. The choreography was amazingly difficult, and Natalie kept up well. For a vertically-challenged couple, they covered the massive floor brilliantly. But I think Vincent needs to bear in mind Natalie's physical stamina. Like last week's Jive, they started off like a bat out of hell, filled the floor with energy and enthusiasm, and then about 40 seconds into the routine, Natalie visibily wilted. Even the smile was gone, and for about 20 seconds she looked as though she were clinging on for dear life. Then she got her joie de vivre back, even to the extent of a comedy ending, directly channelling Tess, with a wooden flop into Vincent's arms, arms and leg akimbo. (Please tell me it was done with irony?).

Long Jump Jade and Long Tall Ian. I simply cannot work out what the producers are doing with her. One minute she is competitive, stroppy Jade, the expendable female for the shock exit; the next she is journey Jade, the dark horse for the final. This week she was journey Jade, for the second week running. Last week the VT was get out the granny vote; this week it was get out the kid vote for Role Model Jade.

There was a moment of shock when I realised that Jade was the second victim of wardrobe leaving a suitcase in London, but they had cobbled together a swimming costume and sarong as a last minute stand in, and made it up to her with the best sparkly eye shadow of the night.

The Jive and Ian is normally a cue for the "tall girls can't do this dance" spiel from Len, but this dance needed a different script from him. Jade mixed femininity and athleticism in just the right measure, only losing it towards the end when she took to executing her flicks as if she were booting a football into touch. I put it down to excitement. Please let Jade and Ian make the final!

Barbie and Ken treated us to a swirling, sweeping, swooning fairy tale of a Viennese Waltz. Her arms and leg lines were exquisite, she actually forgot she was PC Ali from the Bill and gave into the music and her partner and gave us a performance. My eyes filled up, and I am sure they will every time I watch this dance back. Even Craig got swept away with the emotion of the dance and the performance and dusted off his 10 paddle. Full house and well deserved.

It was always going to be hard to follow this performance, and Ricky and Erin were up against it. They gave it their best, pleased the crowd, and got slated by the judges, who were perhaps reflecting on whether it was too early in the series to give out the first perfect 40, and wanted to revert back to business as usual with the next couple. It wasn't their finest hour, and I would have liked to have seen more hip action, less mouth action. But having said that, Ricky proved that his timing has improved no end in the long opening side to side section, and that his musicality is getting there. I would have thought that the VT, getting out the Big Guns, (Austin Healy, please will you marry me?) would have guaranteed a free pass to next week, but it was not to be.

Smarm and Charm had the best costumes of the night, and Laila has possibly the best paso skirt action of any female celeb that I have seen. But the music was laboured, the routine was safe, Laila's spins were shaky and she looked uncomfortable out of hold, there was no connection with the audience, and there were two illegal lifts. Anton seemed to get off rather lightly with this by indulging in a bit of banter with Len (so we remember what happens when Brendan plays the illegal lift card? Or Matt Cutler and Carol Smillie did a throw in the AS and were slated for it? Well, here there were no prawnheads, no doughnuts, no outrage - just a benign smile. Favouritism, perchance? Or was it just that Laila had established herself as the weakest female in the competition, so no-one was particularly bothered?)

Tuffers and the Kanadian Kat were up next, and a great VT set them up nicely for next week. Katya even played the "My mum is coming to visit next week" card. But stop, this is getting ridiculous! They left Katya's costume in London as well and the poor thing had to dance in her undies and some carefully draped net curtains. Good job they go so rarely to Blackpool! Phil has some really nice lines, and really used his arms and legs well. He had the wrong character throughout though and reminded me of Sid James telegraphing to the audience that he was about to cop a feel of Barbara Windsor. Bruce accidentally contributed to the Carry On Rumba feel by asking us all whether "The cat has done his business?". I put it down to excitement. The judges proceeded to slate it, but they know that we know that they know that the Cat is going to be slinking through for a few rounds yet.

Team Cola!!! If the red tops are correct, then Team Cola are leading in the public vote and are in no threat of going out before December. And so they should be when Ola gives such fab soundbites as "My little Chris done a great job" in her perfectly charming mixture of Polish cum East Kent accent. Sadly, as far as the boyfriend was concerned, wardrobe had remembered Ola's costume, so she did not have to dance in her underwear and some candy floss. Possibly the measure of Ola's confidence in Chris was the fact that she was the most covered up I have ever seen her. His bum needs to come in, he needs to stop singing (but then I would have been singing along to that track as well), but the boy has done it. He has broken away from the mid table and staked his claim (justified now) to be snapping at the heels of leaders.

So to the Blackpool Bandwagon. Well there was some cunning choreography (particularly the section where Flavia had him on his knees for 20 seconds and danced around him); there was some cunning camera work (the aerial look hid a multitude of sins). But ultimately, it was the weakest dance of the night.

I felt he did deserve credit for actually going out and performing and interacting with the audience for once, but it was not to be. Len tried hard to soften the blow, but then Alesha decided to take herself out of the running for next year's SCD LIVE ON AIR!! IN BLACKPOOL! BIGGEST RATINGS TO DATE! (Alesha, my dear, you have been sweet, but you are supposed to tell the producers behind closed doors, not tell the audience like this).

So this is what she actually said "I can't believe Zoe went and I had to endure that". Swiftly followed by "You are not as good a dancer as you think you are". Badly done, Alesha, badly done. You were brought in to soften the panel and empathise with the contestants and what they are going through, no? Well that was more vindictive and personal and subjective than anything I have heard from any of the other judges, and if Craig had stayed it would have been on your head!

So followed an agonising wait for the dance off. Were we in for a shock exit (not Jade! Please not Jade!). On the one hand, the judges had assembled the first sensible leaderboard of the series, with no ties (hardly difficult when you are scoring 9 couples and giving out marks between 17 and 40). This meant that Ricky and Craig really were in bottom position with 1 and 2 points apiece and needed a big volte face in the public vote. But then again, the producers had given Craig the prime slot (dancing last, just as the phone lines opened) and the judges had all but gifted him a place in next week's show.

My nails were about to be bitten to the quick, but several things happened.

The chanderliers came down and the eight professional couples did a beautiful group Viennese Waltz. The Tower Ballroom floor was filled with gorgeous dresses, gorgeous dancing, all in complete harmony.

Then we had a group swing jive and were promised two special guests. Who could they be? And there she was! Back in her spiritual home, with her partner, dancing her dance.....JILL HALFPENNY!!!! Woo hoo! SCD's best ever winner (yeah, sod those stats you keep shoving down our throats about Alesha, Rachel and Lisa, see that girl go). Looking better and dancing better than ever, St Jill of the Halfpenny Jive, you looked as though that was where you truly belong, partnering Darren, dancing alongside Lilia and Aliona, and the Kings of the Jive themselves, Brendan and the Divine Mr Cutler. Eat your heart out, somebody else who I used to rather like a lot!

Then up came the second special guest. Mr Bruce Forsythe himself. And say what you will about him, if I still have that ability to perform when I am 60, leave alone 82, I will be on top of the world. So many people who have been to the live shows say that Bruce is brilliant live and that we just don't get the measure of the man from the recordings. Well in front of an audience that big, he radiated joy and happiness and stage presence, and really pulled it out of the bag. You are my favourite, Bruce.

Then we had another crooner, with an amazonian beauty in a very small dress (wardrobe again! Another dress left behind, so they had had to fit Penny Lancaster into Kristina's dress!). The dance wasn't great, but diddy Matt looked cute, as did diddy Rod Stewart.

And the moment of truth. Well at least Erin didn't lose her hair this time, and the right person, eventually, got the coach home.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Free the Cacace One!

The campaign starts here! Flav looks so very unhappy with her clearly delusional partner. So stop voting for her now, and free her to do professional dances and snog Matt di Angelo.

So we are all off to the seaside (did you know? Had you heard that SCD was coming live from Blackpool tomorrow? Did you know that Tom Chambers got married last series? Seriously The Powers That Be should try harder to tell us these things). Pack your bucket and spade, marvel at the donkeys (that is you Craig, and Craig and Bruno), get horribly drunk, flash your knickers and cry into your last glass of wine. Sounds like an average Saturday night to me, nothing special about this Blackpool malarkey!

So to the serious stuff, Ricky and Erin first. What a great interview. Ricky grateful for the public support and feeling bad for Zoe and James. Erin giving credit to the public and pointing out that the public have to respect the judges' scores, so therefore the judges should respect the public opinion. Can they pull it off this weekend though? The salsa could raise the rafters, but could it also be a Bonfire Night damp squib?

So who will be in the dance off this weekend? Is it possible for Craig to dodge the bullet once again? Quite possibly, if there are enough ties on the leaderboard, and the public feel sentimental about his blackpool sojourn. (Although Flavia, are you sure about the music choice? Easy Lover for a cha cha - you really are desperate to get voted out, aren't you, even at the expense of bringing up memories of your season 5 love triangle).

Are Ricky and Laila due a trip to the dance off? I would say Laila has got away with it for two weeks running and is living on borrowed time, and that Paso is not looking good. Will Ricky's popularity plummet in the week that he and his girlfriend split, and he dances the passionate tango? Will Ricky actually get to dance at the disadvantageous first position (which he is well due)? Time will tell.

And it is also time that one of my beloved mid tablers broke rank and started the challenge for a final place. And on the small training clip tonight - the shrewd game player may just do it. The arms are looking good, so are the hips, so is the attitude - Tuffers might just get a sniff at that glitterball! What better week to pull it out of the bag than the week you get to perform in front of 1,000 dance fans at the Tower Ballroom. Finely judged, Tuffers, finely judged.

And as for James Jordan - who knew? What a good presenter (interviewing/listening skills need brushing up, but still). Anton, my love, the rug has been pulled out from under this year - Karen, Erin (with her humour), Matt on Strictly Confidential, Darren and Lilia and now James....a lot of pros with a lot of follow on career potential. Go for it James!

Wow - bondage on BBC2 at 6.30 - that is way before the watershed!

I am of course talking about Team Cola. What with Chris talking about Ola getting the whip out earlier this week, and today's footage of Ola taping up his mouth and hands, what more could Ola fans ask for? That little episode will be sure to garner them an extra 50,000 or so votes: a) for curing the hands and mouth problem and b) for giving Ola admirers such lovely thoughts!

Time to predict the leaderboard from the training footage:

Ali and Brian look set to do a lovely VW and her beautiful arms and lines will be showcased to the max. The judges will be keen to keep her out of another dance off, so I am prediciting top of the leaderboard with a couple of 10s to boot.

Jade and Ian look all set to provide the only wow factor in the latin section, and also look as if they may just break the "tall girls can't jive" baloney. The judges will want a latin scoring high, and the jive with a capacity crowd at Blackpool should get a great reception. Will they just pip Ricky Whittle on the leaderboard?

Ricky and Natalie - tango wasn't looking great in training actually. And after that magnificent quickstep last week, any dance will look a little second best. I actually think he may struggle with this.

Team Cola - probably pretty much a threesome this week with James free to step in and help, so I am expecting a marked improvement and a score over 30. Ola has been working on the distracting issues that the judges have been niggling about for weeks; Chris now knows he is back on the up, and it is about time his fans got to see whether he can improve on his early promise.

Tuffers and Katya - I think he could pull this off. He has good hip action, natural rhythm and I think his charm on the dance floor could prevent him succumbing to horrible embarrassment.

Possibly tied with Ricky and Erin. I think this is crunch time for Ricky and Erin. He needs to demonstrate significant techincal improvement as well as the ability to entertain. Unfortunately, salsa is not a great dance for Erin, so I hope she has got some help in from an expert.

Natalie and Vincent. I fear Natalie may have peaked last week and be the first of the middle table to exit the competition. That choreo looked really difficult, and although Natalie rises to challenges and just gets on with the job in hand, I feel she may struggle this week. If she loses one step, that will be game over. However, if she does pull it off, she could be 4th on the leaderboard.

Laila and Anton - not looking good at all, and why is she trying to train in skinny jeans?

But bringing up the rear has got to be - Craig and Flavia, dancing the cha cha (a fun dance we are told) with all the charm and cheekiness of Blackpool hens and stags on the rampage.

I am still not convinced of the relationship between Jade and Ian. Ian looks slightly strained (or am I just comparing him with the outstanding partnership that was him and Jodie?). If they could show a real rapport, I think they could win this. Jade is improving by leaps and bounds, and is the only one of the front runners to go out and perform each dance and sell it to the public. But the voters like to fall for that bit of magic between the couple, and this pair sadly lack that engagement. But maybe there is a slight frisson there - who will come out on top, Jade or Ian? (I know where my money is.)

At last, sparks and humour between Katya and Phil! Phil seems to be showing his enthusiasm and upping his game, whilst Katya is dropping her reserve and being genuinely funny. They seem to have met in the middle, and the relationship has turned a corner, just in time for rumba week. "Reach for the cookie jar" didn't seem to help Phil much with his visualisation, so Katya immediately tried "Reach for the ale" and got a result. Phil's admission that he doesn't really do romantic unless instructed to will get all those other blokes who fall down on the buying flowers/remembering anniversaries etc reaching for the phone. Especially if, to use his own words, he looks like "an adolescent learning about the birds and the bees for the first time" on the night. If anyone can pull off a rumba at Blackpool, then Tuffers can.

And so the odd couple performed their version of a top scoring foxtrot. "Don't grab me like a bunch of bananas!" from Len, and the perfect riposte "You haven't seen me on a first date" from Claudia. I may have my moans about the main show this year, but for the incomparable Winkleman and ITT - nothing but raving praise.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The new erogenous zone is the shoulder....bad news for me then.

So to Wednesday's ITT.

Laila - feisty fight back to the judges! That won't go down particularly well, especially as she is facing Latin again at Blackpool. So what happened to the much-hyped "this dance could be the highest scoring ballroom ever on SCD"? then - no real explanation of where the missing wow factor went off to hide.

If it wasn't there in the Viennese Waltz it sure ain't going to be there to be there in a weak, poorly choreographed paso to Layla! If the accoustic version didn't work for an AS last year (James and Cherie), I cannot see it working for a paso for a celeb who does not appear to really have that much musicality, or to really be confident with finding the beat at the best of times.

Len's half-term report (oh god there is an end in sight to this series then!) - be thankful for small mercies, we haven't had Ask Len this year (so far). Oh look who is top of the class then this year so far - Ali! That is going to be good for the public vote then.....Glad to see Jade getting some recognition though - please let that girl be a real contender! But here he goes with his classic hyperbole - A+ and a gold star to Ricky Whittle...but will the public agree?

Hilary Alexander - at last a fashionista I not only warm to, but absolutely love. Give this woman a show of her own - surely she could be a warmer, wittier Trinny and Susannah?

Have to admit, I would kill for Laila's paso dress (shame about the dance, miaow). Why oh why wasn't she partnered with Matt Cutler? They would have made a stunning couple, and he would have choreographed some ace routines for her, both latin and ballroom. What a waste of a potential semi-finalist! The divine Mr C could have pulled of a Carmen-themed paso that would have knocked everyone for six, and claimed a whole raft of 10s.

Jade's jive dress is a brave departure. For a "tall girl" facing her nemesis at Blackpool, she is sure going all out to prove their is nowhere to hide. Good on her, because if anyone call pull of bold, then Jade can. I am slightly concerned about her this week, because I think the public will give Craig a free pass again, will be coming out to vote for Ali in belated sympathy after inflicting an unjustified dance off on a bleeding foot on her, and so someone will be suffering...

Lady Gaga goes to Blackpool - well I hope Natalie's dress lives up to its billing, and I also hope that the quickstep is not a Lady Gaga inspired choreo from Vincent...

Poor Flavia - she does look so bemused at still being in the competition, and at Craig in general - I know how she feels! At least John Sergeant and Kenny Logan relished their judge-baiting roles and played up their personalities to the max - whereas Craig is just so bewildering. Who is voting for him? Please stop feeding the delusion, stop putting him through this misery, and let him go back to something he can succeed in. He has only been married for 6 or 7 weeks, he needs to be spending more time with his bride.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Oh dear, oh dear, boyfriend missed Ola sharing the secrets of her boobie with us!

Never mind - as Ola will be getting the whip out today, I am sure there will be many more Team Cola moments for him to catch up with later in the week!

"No-one ever notices it until it goes wrong" - so said the lovely sound engineer, and this is so true of so many of the backstage elements that we have seen showcased on ITT this year - from runners, to lighting, to sound, to cameras - they are all spot on every single week. I am so glad that ITT has chosen to shine the spotlight on the backstage teams this year, and to show us exactly how much skill and hard work goes into making a seamless show.

To summarise, there are 140 sources of sound on the show and 7 sound desks. The breakdown is 32 mikes on the dancers, 60 radio mikes, 60 talk back radios to keep everyone on time and in the right place, and 48 on the band, with 10 mikes for just the drum.

Interesting that after Mark and Karen's salsa incident in Series 4 the mikes are now sewn into the seams of the costumes, to make sure that nothing can ever happen like that again. (It was bad enough for it to happen with the salsa, but can you imagine what would have happened if the mikes had got tangled up during an AS or a showdance - real potential for danger, so I am hugely relieved that that has been rethought!).

Love the fact that the sound guys get to know all the secrets happening backstage, because they can hear everything on the mikes.....funny if one of these days, a disgruntled sound engineer decides to "accidentally" switch a mike to live so that we get to hear things we really shouldn't!

I felt very, very sorry for Zoe and James and even shed a tear for them (must be going soft!). I think the worst moment was when Zoe said "Great, so I can't dance and I'm unpopular". The sad fact is that some couples are just seen as expendable in the production team's eyes, and will be given bad/boring edits to engineer the shock exit mid-series ratings boost. The thing is that the cannon fodder couples are real people with self-esteem issues/confidence problems, and that toying with them in such a way is a pretty cruel thing to do.

James has gone up in my estimation somewhat with his grace in defeat - although part of me is wondering whether he has really learnt from last year, or whether he knows not to bite the hand that feeds as his wife shows a real shot at going quite far in the competition with a partner, at the expense of other more talented dancers.

Looking back at their best bits though, they looked amazing in week 1, but really never quite surpassed their early potential. (Bit like Team Cola it that respect).

And so with tears and the shattering of James' bad boy image, it was bye bye Zoe and the reformed Mr Jordan.

The judges as ever were annoying - do they really not get the fact that criticising the public just increases the likelihood of the anti-judge vote? The show needs its shock exits (however horrible that can be for the couple involved), and the viewers want the increased drama. Pretending that they are unaware of this just makes them look idiotic. And as for Alesha "The top couples are scored higher for a reason" - 9 for Zoe's samba, Alesha - really!? What was the reasoning behind that exactly? And a few of your other dodgy scores? Because the reason that Zoe and James were in the dance off was because of the over marking on the American Smooth, when all 4 judges conveniently ignored the fact that the last lift happened a good 4 seconds after the music had finished (something I have never seen happen before on SCD), and the overmarking on the rather naff disco samba.....

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Well the wardrobe seem to have adopted a Halloween theme for this week's frocks

Tess looked like a vampire's victim, hair scraped back, neck bared in preparation, Flavia has a cape to make her resemble Batwoman, Ola was a saucy devil in an Ann Summer special, Erin turned up in a shroud draped as a dress, Phil Tufnell was Count Dracula, and Natalie Cassidy was straight out of Rocky Horror. Seriously, why can't wardrobe dress her appropriately?

NatCass and her Italian Stallion were first up with a frenetic jive. They really are one of the few couples to give good value on their VTs with Vincent declaiming "I am not just a fantasy, I am the real thing!". Bless.

Their actual dance was so much better than the training footage, and Natalie gave it her all for the first 45 seconds. It was high energy, high impact, and great entertainment, but it was a jive of two halves, (I guess that level of energy is hard to sustain) and the second half felt a little flat, and the end was a bit of a damp squib. Natalie completely failed to point her feet, and I was amazed that none of the judges picked up on her attempts to kick an imaginary football. 30 seemed a tad over generous, but I was pleased for the girl, and judging from the reaction in the Tesspit, so were most of her fellow celebs.

Barbie and Ken - beautiful dress, beautiful arm placements, beautiful spinning, beautiful shaping. But it was all a bit vanilla and lacked any sort of attack or purpose until the splits at the end. If I didn't know that Ali was an actress, I would not guess it from her performance on SCD. They both telegraphed a mistake with their faces, but even watching it back, I cannot see the mistake, and this has happened before - they go wrong, and their faces shout the story out loud and clear. They both need to stop doing this. I know a stubbed toe can be painful, but the injury seemed to be milked a bit, and I hated Craig being so understanding. He gave Tuffers no slack the week after he had had a knee operation, so why all the consideration for Ali. I was also confused by Brian's comment about missing a day of training due to the injury, when the toe incident was clearly shown happening in dress rehearsal.

The Blackpool Bandwagon rolled into the station next, complete with extra carriages. The birthday boy, Matt di Angelo helping out in training (subtext Mavia fanatics, get your votes in) and Lennox Lewis popped by to the training room, for some inexplicable reason, as his connection with Craig was never clarified. With all the voter pulling boxes ticked, the dance itself was hardly going to matter, but just in case anyone had missed the point, they danced to "Don't let the sun go down on me". I didn't pay much attention to the dance itself, as I was completely distracted by the oversized cape attached to Flavia. She seems such a self-effacing person as well, but boy, has she upset the wardrobe department this year.

Next up were Team Cola, and if anyone thought Ola's catsuit from Series 6 was outre, here was the same design, but in saucy red lace. Boyfriend remarked that witht that outfit, there was no need for pencil sharpening (!), and watched with a rapturous grin on his face, and a dreamy expression in the eyes. I thought it was all a bit disco cha cha, and lacked hip action, but there is no way that Team Cola are going home any time soon. This couple have branding and their own merchandise, helpfully modelled in the VT by the football hero Mr Hollins senior, and if I could, I too would be sporting a yeah baby T shirt, in the vain hope of looking like Ola's older sister.

Alesha decided to tempt fate and risk melt down on the internet by opining that she wished she could tape Chris's mouth shut. Alesha, my dear, there are very many people who have been thinking the same thing about you for the past seven weeks (and I spent about a tenner voting for you two years ago, and have even bought Breathe Slow, so consider myself a fan!)

Long jump Jade and Long Tall Ian were not sabotaged by VT this week, in fact they benefited from a nice, fluffy VT, aimed at getting the granny vote in. The producers haven't earmarked them for shock dance off/shock exit this week then. Jade looked gorgeous (dress of the night for me) and the foxtrot was a joy to behold. I spotted some gapping but nothing too horrendous, and Jade even seems to be emulating Ian's legendary facial expressions. Lovely dance, and well deserved marks. I wish Jade were more popular with the public, because she is improving in leaps and bounds technically, and is one of the few top dancers to actually sell the performance. I would so like Ian to have a shot at the trophy this year!

The lady and the tramp - with Zoe accessorised with a dead bird in her hair. Bizarre. Oh hell, James has choreographed a disco samba, with a horrible bump and grind move, that Zoe was clearly finding excruciating, included not once, but three times. James, your choreography needs some inspiration, and you better find your mojo if you are back next season! There was no bounce, no hip action, and no sense of carnival, so naturally the judges raved, and marked it 32.....Oh dear, I think we all know who the shock exit is going to be tonight.

Well Erin usually makes one choreographic blunder per series, and this was definitely it tonight. How can someone who normally gets it spot on have such abysmal lapses? I am just relieved that she has got her choreo nightmare out of the way before it really counts this year, although I can see the reasoning behind the James Bond themed rumba. This is one of Ricky's dances that I won't be watching back later this week.

The ensuing 8 from Len was absolutely ridiculous, and almost caused me to start throwing things at the screen. The Len/Craig fight seemed awfully pre-arranged, and predictable though.

Charm and smarm failed to live up to Anton's build up and looked rather crestfallen as a result. It was a lovely Viennese Waltz, very classic, very pure, but lacked wow factor. This is another pro who needs to up his game choreographically. Anton has been churning out traditional ballroom routines all series, which would be great in a medal test, but on SCD, the audience needs a hook to get them involved in the routine, and Anton keeps missing the mark with this. With the judges choosing to highlight Laila's weaknesses in latin, I am beginning to suspect that they want this couple gone, and gone within the next couple of weeks. With the paso at Blackpool, their wish could well come true.

Tuffers and the Kat were up next with a VT that veered from comedy (Phil proclaiming that "Rear of the year is just around the corner") to extreme frustration, with Katya trying to goad Phil into upping his game. I sense that this couple are really not clicking, and Katya just doesn't know what to do with someone as lazy and laid back as Tuffers. I do think that he has decided to take it a bit more seriously now that the cannon fodder are out of the way, because he will not want to risk being bottom of the leaderboard. It was a good tango, spoiled by his manic grinning at the end, but a definite sign that he has woken up and started competing. Few more hours in the training room, and less at the pub, and he could be a real contender for at least the semi final, partly on merit, as well as popularity.

Adonis and Blonde Ambition - finally the dance of the series so far, and I wouldn't have thought that a 40 would have been out of the question. Wow. Just wow.

Some lovely pro dances, featuring the divine Mr C, and I thought at first that they had exhumed Andy Williams again, but closer inspection revealed the Bee Gees.

So the dance off, and everyone faked shock and horror at Ali and Brian and Zoe and James being there. Even Tess opined with her faux serious look "That no-one expected to see these two cooooples in the dance off". Well, Tess, the producers like their big shocks, and with everyone, including you, jumping on the get Craig to Blackpool Bandwagon, the viewing public were only acting on instructions. If Craig wasn't going to be in the dance off, someone else was, and tonight we had further proof that the top of the table are really struggling for viewer support - Zoe, Jade and Ali have all had massive falls from 3rd or 4th place on the board to the dance off, and it was only a matter of time, before two of the teachers' pets were going to be facing each other in the dreaded dance off. The judges overmarking and inability to avoid ties isn't helping either (with marks ranging from 24 to 39 tonight, it surely can't have been that difficult to get 10 couples properly differentiated?).

So bye bye James and Zoe, gracious in defeat, but is James ever going to get past the half way mark with his partner?