In 1979 Mary Collins caused a massive stir amongst the Bible belt of middle England when her film contained nudity, the greatest wet t-shirt contest of all time, temptation and the ‘F’ word before it meant Food. I talk of the film ‘10’, Mary better known as Bo Derek, the movie grossing $75m on a budget ten times less.
Of course this was at the end of a decade that saw the introduction of the most amazing gymnasts that the planet had ever seen, all Eastern Bloc, three from Russia and one Romanian. Olga Korbut, my favourite, won four Olympic golds. Her team mate Ludmilla Tourischeva added another four, Nelllie Kim five, and then in Montreal in 1976 along came the doyenne of them all, Nadia Comanesci, pronounced ‘etch’, the ‘I’ being silent.
Nadia won five golds in her career but her most startling achievement came on July 18th of that year when her routine on the uneven bars produced the first ever ten in the history of Olympic gymnastics. The score board could only take three digits so it looked like her score was 1.00, not 10.00. She went on to score six more in those games, amazing displays of grace and beauty.
Back then tens were rare, hard to come by, a lifetime in the making. This weekend Strictly trundled to Blackpool, to The Tower Ballroom, the dance capital of the country, and there wasn’t one ten, not two, not three. There were nine of the blighters. Nine!
The Tower is an extraordinary venue, cavernous with its high ceiling, echoes ricocheting in search of an exit, the huge floor sprung, the atmosphere electric, expectant, the buzz affecting the audience, the dancers and the juddgies. Everyone was carried on a surf of expectation, the opening, Sir Brucie fresh from his walk on the beach, the first of many standing ovations. ‘Sit down, you’re not in a church,’ he instructed but he got that bit wrong, this is, to many.
Back to those tens, all nine awarded by three judggies, Craig yet to reach for his big paddle, a pleasing trait to his character, no bandwagon there, though scoring a 7 when the others tenned was a touch distressing, Abbey the unfortunate recipient, her Quick Step to ‘Walking on Sunshine’, a vain attempt to cajole the temperature into dubble figures. There’s nothing quite like an out of season holiday town in the rain.
Abbey and Ali started behind one of those cut out things where you get your photo taken, you know, head through a hole so you are on someone else’s body. There was also a giant bucket and spade to negotiate on the dance floor and a Ferris wheel in the background, cinematography meets dance. But that was where the gimmicks ended Abbey dancing at ninety miles an hour, lots of floor to cover, runs, chasses and Charleston aplenty. There was a little gapping and her left arm went once, so too her right, both shaking the frame, but apart from that the content was stunning. Seven from Craig was a joke, the same he accorded to Sophie and Fiona. Compare and contrast at your leisure. Maybe he docked her points for her singing, something that would have tortured Ali Ash more than anyone.
The BBC pulled out all the stops with props this week, they even had some that looked like other people, you know, other dancers. Don’t know how they did it. Cloning? Robots? Cameras? Smoke and mirrors? No, hang on, it was real people. There were three helping Sophie to Quick Step to ‘The Lady is a Tramp’, plus her normal partner. Not sure that happens in world championships.
Sophie, an azure dress, Brendan in full tails, a picture indeed until Juddgies Aggie and Lulu started talking about her hair, how lank it was, how it should have been up not down. Like most men I was bemused, a feeling that continued as Sophie jumped from a chair and danced around a dinner table in a restaurant. Thereafter it was the real deal save the age old situation with her frame, 34 meaning nines plus Craig’s 7. At this stage of the series the pros are excelling themselves, clever content, brilliant accents, enjoying it more than ever, the quality of their partners as high as in any series. Six or seven contenders is unheard of.
The two that aren’t are Fiona and Mark, both 29, his highest score so far, both highly entertaining though, and both enjoying the ride immensely albeit not for much longer, both enjoying the dance off, Fiona too much, almost accepting her fate. With Antony Smith of Bristol dressed as a pilot, cap and all, though he could easily have been a male stripper if you know the film, of course their Smooth was ‘To Come Fly with Me.’ This time there were three trolley dollies at his side, one baggage man tending to Fiona, the backdrop showing flight times for Strictly Air, the trolley dollies like backing singers, ever present, distracting.
Fiona is angelic, graceful, elegant and stylish and this Smooth suited her perfectly, the pace gentle, her partner altruistic and bowing to her genteel nature, so much so that the lifts were sensuous and safe, the last improvised, a swallow lift in set up, Fiona ending horizontal on her back on Antony’s shoulder. You might say that they bottled it. Either way it just about worked but it wasn’t enough to win the voat, 3 – 1 against, Antony Smith bowing out after his longest run for a decade.
On his birthday (48) Mark was dressed in the most fantastic orange/red suit, sky blue shirt and peach check tie, Iveta in daffodil yellow, this time four helpers, a giant hairdryer on the dance floor and scissors on screen. I didn’t know this was a West End show, I thought it was supposed to be a Jive, but they went at it to ‘You Can’t Stop the Beat’ from Hairspray, a show I’m sure that Mark has been in. The routine was sprightly, fun, well delivered, he threw some smart shapes and, as ever, his timing was spot on, but it wasn’t a Jive, not as we know it. The Jive is full of bounce and pace. I’m not sure Mark’s knees can bend.
Mark was critiqued on his flicks and kicks, the technique not that hard to pick up if you try, or if shown, similar to Ben last week. Assume a concrete shoe and try and kick it off, point the toes down. Dunn.
Ben‘s Smooth to ‘Fallin’’ was supposed to be a Viennese Waltz Smooth but after thirty seconds you were left guessing. The floor was flooded with dry ice, smoke, hiding feet, but it wasn’t that, Kristina pratted about with three other blokes dressed like the Black Magic Man, deciding to bar dive eventually straight into a lift, another ten seconds before they chassed in promenade. When, oh when, were they going to actually dance? Perhaps if I’d gone to the kitchen and made a cup of tea they’d have started by the time I returned, but unlikely.
Ben can dance, there is no doubt about that but he has to be given the chance and at the moment his opportunities are limited. Okay, he did an impressive press lift pushing Kristina skyward, his biceps hardly tested, but when in hold he was confident, smooth and considerate towards his partner even though the reverse turn and the Fleckerl were left abandoned in the changing room, along with the thieves who broke in and stole cash, jewellery and gadgets. My guess is that Ben wished he’d been paired with someone a little taller, nay, a lot, Erin or Natalie, his shoulders dipping forwards in a hunch to reach down to Siberia’s finest.
The 32 that Ben received kept him just out of the top tier, Pat and Ash both with 35 leading the boys, Susanna and Natalie Pro, two 39s topping the night.
I wish I’d never mentioned Country and Western music last week. I was trying to second guess the theme, waiting for a Line Dance, some Clogging, a Two Step or a Square Dance. We know it didn’t happen. But lo and behold, instead we got Ashley TD dressed for a bar room brawl, swing doors greeting a neckerchiefed cowboy, all in black save for his cowhide waistcoat. And somewhere outside the bar he’d found a cape, I know, in down town Dodge City. A cape!
In the bar were two bad guys hitting on his girl, a sumptously clad Ola. I say clad. She had a piece of cloth around her waist, some hot pants and a bra, very revealing. Nice top. Having faffed with the cape for half a minute, and dismissed the competition, the dance turned out to be a Paso Doble, the Spanish Dubble Step. Bon Jovi played in the background (‘You Give Love a Bad Name’) so you could be forgiven for wondering what was going on.
Here’s a thing. He can dance can Ash. His shaping was good, the lines strong, his timing sweet. Even the two bad guys joined in towards the end, not so bad after all. So why torture the poor fella with such a tripe Paso song and a triper theme? The song should have been ‘You Give Dance a Bad Name.’ It really was a Stetson too far.
Barry Manilow performed ‘Could It Be Magic’ with Gary and Robbie during Children in Need on Friday. I hope he knew that his greatest song, ‘Copacabana’, was being used in Blackpool the following night because had he watched he would have seen as fine a male Samba as the show has seen. Could you name one better?
I know it didn’t hit forty points. I know there were issues with his finishing, especially on the Bota Fogos that were a little limp, each step has to be pushed through to its end. And he got a Samba walk wrong, almost impossible. But this Samba was at a frenetic pace, full of swagger, glitz, bounce, courage and skill, not least when his partner got her foot caught in her boa, extricated nicely with no fuss. She, it should be said, was wearing less than Ola. Bless her.
Pat’s helpers were two dishy little things with boas and headdresses but thankfully their role was one of adornment not involvement as he Sambaed away, Lord Len calling it a Wamba! And he was right. Pat moves naturally, his hips and shoulders shimmy and shake with such a rhythm, a rhythm that delights and lights up the floor.
Hitting the floor last week, literally, was Natalie Pro, her fainting apparently due to exhaustion. I’ve been exhausted a few times and never fainted. Mmmmnn.
Her Charleston began to that typical Charleston song, you know the one, do do do do derdiderly do do, with her on a raised stage dressed in red, her big hair shorn or hidden, the image of Betty Boop, R-Tem knocking on the door for access to the speakeasy. Four stooges danced along for forty seconds until NP and R-Tem partnered up and the song became something called ‘Bang Bang’, not the BA Robertson hit of 1979. Not sure of the role of the non-dancers? Minders from Russia? Men who sort things? Na what I mean?
Somewhere the real dance continued, NP swivelling like a good ‘un, hamming it up, praying that the exhaustion wouldn’t kick in again. She seemed fit enough as she cartwheeled, as she went over his head and through his legs. 39 was good but that only equates to 6.5 points per dancer.
On then to a real Paso, to Susanna and KFG, her a novice once, no Conti, the star of the night, apart from, that is, KFG’s outfit, a red and gold resplendent effort, the suit of a matador, ornate decoration, until the camera trailed down his legs and there, revealed, the trousers stopped at his calves, no great look, below, just his black socks and shoes, at a distance like jackboots.
We’ve been praying for a proper Paso and when the music ‘Los Toreadors’ kicked in, Susanna strutting and stamping like a burning, stirring bull, you knew you were in for a long deserved treat, apart from the thirty-one seconds it took them to get into hold. At this stage KFG was practicing his tap dancing on a special floor, fires all around, like Brixton in the riots without the looting. Susanna gave him the look, arched and threatened.It is easy for the girl to dance the Paso once the shapes have been mastered. She follows the lead, stands tall, pouts like a stung bee intent on revenge. The matador jumps, stamps and dictates to the bull the time and the place of the execution. As luck would have it that came at about 95 seconds as planned just as two interlopers ran across the floor with a giant black banner. I thought it was going to be a Britain’s Got Talent egg throwing moment. Gladly not.
Great Paso, great effort, great show.
Once Mark bows out next week and goes extreme fishing with his pal Robson then the big guns will fight and fall in the most exhilarating competition this show has ever seen.
November 21st 2013