For centuries the Scots fought the English. The two most remembered battles, apart from us losing at Murrayfield in 1990 and 2000, were Bannockburn in 1314 and Culloden in 1746. The Scots won the first, England the second, the Jacobite rebellion coming to a ferocious end. If you visit Carlisle Castle you can read the plaques. It is not pretty.
Over three hundred years after the Act of Union, pulling our island together, there was a referendum recently to give Scotland independence. Only residents of Scotland could vote; Scots living in England couldn’t. What was mesmerizing was that the fate of OUR country was in the hands of so few. Barmy. As it is over two million people voted for Scotland to remain part of Great Britain. Phew.
Beaten, the Scottish Nationalists have not laid down and accepted their fate with dignity. No, to exact revenge on the English, instead they have tried to overrule democracy by voting for Judy to remain on Strictly. They know that the show is the bastion of British popular culture and if they can weaken it by turning the public vote into a farce, so that someone who can’t dance wins the contest, then they will have struck a decisive blow, as they see it, for freedom. With that in mind on Saturday night I sent a SWAT team to attack the Telecom Tower and all lines from Scotland were cut for five hours, long enough for Judy to be frogmarched into the dance off and back to the world of tennis. Phew, again.
To be fair, Judy’s Viennese Waltz to ‘Let’s Go Fly a Kite’ was her best dance of the series and her highest score, a cataclysmic 24 points, but let’s not lose too much sleep with her exit in spite of her brilliant journey, from a walker to a novice. At least she got to Blackpool.
Did I say that it was Blackpool? How remiss. There was no charabanc this year just the first class seats courtesy of Virgin trains, as the team headed for the Pleasure Beach, the candy floss and the ‘Kiss Me Quick, Squeeze Me Slow’ hat stalls.
The Blackpool Tower Ballroom is the mecca of Ballroom Dancing dating back to 1894, the floor sprung, a massive thirty-seven metres by thirty-seven metres, made of mahogany, oak and walnut. The high walls, the overlooking balconies, the ceiling a mile away, make this a daunting venue, reverent, and it creates an atmosphere like no other, the floor size a challenge for the choreographers, the building encasing hope, good will and affection. If you can’t dance here you might as well pack up. Which brings us nicely back to Judy. I think she was Mary Poppins and Antony Smith of Bristol was Bert/Mr Dawes Senior, her in pink, he in white slacks and a pastel striped blazer, matching straw boater and a green and white bow. On the dance floor was a bloke selling ice creams, another selling balloons, causing a mixed signal to the left brain, was this ‘Up’, the animated movie or Julie Andrews’ finest moment? Not sure. I looked for penguins. There were penguins in Mary Poppins. None here. There was a Big Wheel off in the distance but no Big Dipper. Was this really Blackpool?
Judy and Bert began the dance actually flying a kite, a big yellow one. Then two blokes, random, from the audience, tried to dance with her whilst Bert was getting the ice creams in. Surely they must have known who she was? Surely they would have been better off targeting Pixie?
Anyhow, after twenty-five seconds, they, Judy and Bert, deigned to dance and she did nicely, reverse and natural turns, five or six pivots, underarm turns, a standing turn, all repeated. And why not? And of course, there was an illegal lift, just as the song said ‘Up’, that no one bothered to mention. With the dance dunn Bert went to buy two balloons, turning to find that Judy had disappeared. Then, he looked again, and she was being levitated skywards holding on to a whole bunch of balloons. The third superman moment of the series.
In the dance off with her, and also second bottom on the leader board, was Sunetra who was forced to dance a Samba. I say forced meaningfully. This wasn’t pleasant viewing. The song didn’t help, ‘I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’.
Brendan began serving cocktails to four girls, a Hen night, some with bunny ears as a pink pelican nodded playfully in the background. He jumped from the bar and danced with each in turn until he eventually selected Sunetra, not his best choice. He was all in black, dashing, doing anything he could to take the focus from his heavy footed partner. Sunetra’s lack of precision was the antithesis to her Ballroom dances, the discomfort visible. At one stage he actually pushed her to get her in position and on time. Somehow it scored 30. Juddge MT, a brief guest, asked if the 8s she was awarded were out of 20. How astute was that?
Blackpool, you can see, not only affects the dancers but also the judggies. Craig got the 9 out for the first time this series, eight 10s were dished out and the BBC apologised because it seems that Lord Len used the ‘F’ word when commenting on Webby’s Argentine Tango. Having watched the clip a few times it is hard to say. Could have been ‘Phew’. Could have been ‘Phut’. Suffice to say that he was excited. As we all were.
Let me set the scene. Take an iconic dance hall. Add a Tangoed version of The Police’s ‘Roxanne’, a girl hustling for business in a slinky purple number and a dashing black man in a black suit. Set the lights to red and black. Hit the moody mood button. And then press play. The result was an Argentine Tango of high quality, 38 points matching the highest score of the series to date, mirrored by Pixie in her Paso. More later.
Webby moved at ease, living with the intricacies of this most challenging dance. He offered rondés, ochos for funn, ganchos sharp as a tack, a drag, two lifts, and as the dance intends, he offered command. There was a smattering of the sexy and the sultry. Where do you find a call girl like that? Of course, in Kristina, he had a great helper. Her legs cut great shapes be that wrapping Webby’s or in both lifts, one a mid-air splits, the other on his right shoulder. She has courage too and trust. The ending left her with her head near the ground, her weight taken on his arm, her leg hanging on like a trapeze artist.
If you are looking for further trust please step in Jake and Janette, the latter a new favourite in the ‘brilliant choreography’ department. They did a Smooth to ‘Feeling Good’, a dance that incorporated two more blokes from the audience, fighting for the right to dance with the stunning Floridian. By chance they were suited and booted just like Jake but once the fight started there was only one winner. Surely they’d seen Eastenders?
Jake stood tall and delivered a macho masterpiece of a Smooth, his partner clad in blood red. It was filled with menace, power, tuffness, almost gangster style and when the duo tried to steal his moll they were left with a constant rebuff.
So the trust bit. One of the players took Janette’s right foot and leg, the other her left and they hoisted her high in a splits. Then, seemingly without warning, they launched her skywards, her head ten feet from the floor, only to be caught by her beau. That would be Jake. It was as daring and as brave a lift and catch that we will see all series. 36 points left Jake feeling good, no more so that when Janette launched herself at him near the finale, her cleavage very close to his chin. Will have to add that to the syllabus.
For Steve’s Smooth he and Ola had to negotiate loads of people on the stage wafting and trying to fold giant sheets. Not sure what that was about. They also had to negotiate a non-Smooth song, ‘Rolling in the Deep’, a song that just didn’t match the dance, another opportunity to add some real class gone, never to be recovered.
Ola sported a fetching bodice that clung to her upper body like a limpet; she looked like a Disney princess. Steve wore grey and white pin striped trousers and waistcoat, no jacket required, the back of the waistcoat, silver. See what they did there? Silver back . . . a jungle reference to keep Steve happy. What followed was a gentle Smooth, no signs of reported animosity, a dance with four lifts and all in hold. I’m sure there used to be rules: 60% in hold and two lifts but that seems to be a distant memory now. As expected the four lifts were easy for a man of Steve’s power, one straight up behind her, two to his shoulder, one where he just used one arm as she clung to his neck in comfort. 31 points is his best so far.
As the contest hots upp it is handy to start scoring heavily, a personal best always a good way forward. So as Steve did, so too did Mark, 36 for a Charleston to ‘We No Speak Americano’, a song written by a cupple of Aussies that has featured on Zumba DVDs, the films Madagascar 3 and The Inbetweeners Movie, and it was also used at the London Olympics by gymnast Gabby Douglas who won the gold in the women’s floor exercise.
Dubbed Magic Mark’s Circus he and Hottie had two helpers, both of who helped in a trick that saw Hottie cut in half, not with a saw but with the use of mirrors. When she walked out of the magic box she was in one piece and we all heaved a sigh of relief, even more so when we saw that she had forgotten to put her frock on, just a bodice and a flapper’s head piece. The highlight of Mark’s outfit was red ‘go faster’ stripes on his pants that matched his braces and bow.
As for the dance, Mark didn’t do much wrong, his timing spot on, but we were back to Hottie’s choreography, and it lacked something. Conntnnt? Significance? Not sure. But when you see brilliance, of which there was plenty on the night, things that don’t match stand out. Hottie did a somersault, a provocative lunge and he kept up, occasionally looking to her for the lead but it didn’t fizz and was clearly overmarked. Where is a 7 when you need it the most?
The three pretties threw in typically robust performances, 37, 37 and 38 still pointing to a female winner at Christmas. But which one? Everyone knows Pixie is the best but that doesn’t always translate when the GBP get involved.
Frankie’s 37 equalled her best yet (Tango a fortnight ago), this time the Quick Step stirring two ten paddles. No, not Craig. One wonders how you get a perfect score for a dance that isn’t? Was this the judggies getting paddle fever? Frankie doesn’t always close her feet when she should, her feet are still pigeon toed and you can’t give a maximum to a dance involving three other people, time danced as a five, time danced solo and with a soundtrack by The Jam.
Kevin from Grimsby began the routine shouting using a microphone, ‘Good Evening Blackpool!’ As soon as the music kicked in I switched off mentally. The song, ‘A Town Called Malice’ is alright as songs go. I am no great fan of The Jam, merely ambivalent, but why use that at such a venue? It’s like playing The Sex Pistols at St Paul’s Cathedral. KFG dressed as an extra from Rupert the Bear didn’t help, brown checks very thirties. It’s a shame really, you can’t blame Frankie who fared well, this is a fast track and there was plenty of ground to cover. But someone somewhere needs to have a word.
My stepdad was in the Grenadier guards, an infantry division of the British Army founded in 1660; they are noted for their bright red tunics and high bearskin hats. He would have been as shocked as anyone to find three on the dance floor in Blackpool especially as one was a Russian. There were two girls too, all in red, I think the Grenadiers were protecting a listed building.
Enter Caroline, with the frock of the night, a Union Jack on her trim body, the hem just enough to cover her buttocks. The brilliant band zapped into ‘Crocodile Rock’ and then the Jive began, Caroline stealing Pasta’s hat, totally at ease, her smile telling all, her feet sharp, the placement accurate and accomplished. The other four joined in too, a Jive fest, fast, pacey, as quick as The Jam but without the malice. She scored 9s from the three juddgies that offered the same for Mark’s Charleston and a 10 from Bruno. Something went wrong there because this was a different class, smart, delivered, spot on. In fact, class is the perfect choice of word.
So too for our Pixie who I have to report took the Paso to Rome, the Spanish version dead and buried, that old Paso favourite ‘The Eve of War’ from Jeff Wayne’s ‘The War of the Worlds’ rocking Blackpool. I suppose it could have been worse, they could have used the theme to The Thunderbirds.
They set the dance in the Coliseum, a venue of death. I’ve been to Rome’s infamous amphitheatre and you can smell it, the fear, the blood, where the helpless were slaughtered. It is a little known fact that the Coliseum was the 02 Arena of its day and it had a canvas roof to protect the crowd from the sun. Can’t get one at Wembley two thousand years later.
At first glance Pixie’s effort was a straight forty. At second it was better. Two gladiators in leather skirts descended from the sky on ropes as the black and gold lighting created fight night for Pixie. Not only did she have Trent to contend with, now there were two more, and could you believe it, as well as fight they could dance, one catching her as she was dropped to a crucifix position, the other helping her as she did a Kristina splits walk. No one helped when she threw in a rondé at waist level or a pirouette on one foot that led to a sumptuous leg wrap . . . apart from years at the Italia Conti. Not sure why two juddgies baulked and gave 9s. It was spectacular and a fitting tribute to a fantastic show.
So now Judy has gone, we are left with the best eight dancers and that is a good thing, how it should be. The jokers have gone from the pack, there is no Eddie the Eagle to cheer, no brave but hapless.
And to finish I must tell you about Vanessa Mae, the international violinist. Another brave but hapless. You may know that she represented Thailand in the Olympics at Sochi in the skiing. She didn’t do very well but, as they say, it’s the taking part that matters, that is until you are discovered to have cheated to get there. She has been banned for four years.
You could say she fiddled it.
November 19th 2014