Strictly 2017 Series 15 – Week 4

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Imagine, if you can, the first few steps of courtship.

Week One on Strictly, the first date, the blind date, is the reveal, the thin slice, those few seconds where each party juddges the other before the game begins. We all do it; we check out the physical attributes of our potential partner seeing if we like their eyes, their clothes and their demeanour. And then it’s off for a coffee or something stronger.

Date two, Week Two, sees the end of the awkward stage where bodies have touched, where the assessment has moved on to ability, or in a none dancing sense, there may have been a first kiss, sharing late night texts or chat as a pre-cursor to the third date, Week Three, and the inevitable scramble to the bedroom. Of course it may have happened earlier, or may later.

And then there’s Week Four, the Movies have come and gone, the fancy dress is back in storage re-generating itself in readiness for Halloween and the cupples know exactly what they have let themselves in for. Some have learned that they are with Clark Gable or Diana Dors (youngsters pls Google), others have found out that their partner bites their toenails and others have discovered that one has pints of blood in the fridge and is a cross-dresser on alternate Fridays. You get the picture. The fluff has gone, it’s down to business and now it’s all about the dancing.

Well, that was the plan. Until the magic formula for the show is introduced. Week Four always throws something to shake our comfort zones. Twelve months ago it was the Diva Will Young going AWOL and not returning to combat. Hottie went all the way to Cornwall to train with him only to have a wasted trip. Before that an ex-Strictly pro, sulking, lambasted one of the juddgies with personal insults on Twitter causing turmoil. Prior to that the highlight of a quiet week was the news that another juddge needed a hip op. Quiet year that one.

Last Saturday (not Sunday) it was the early re-introduction of the surprise dance off. Not the process itself, just the contenders. We never know who the public voats for and until then all we can presume is that it is the producers’ choice. Spice it up. Lose a Bambi; shock someone from the top half of the leader board. And so it transpired. Charlotte took on Darverd and the Steam Team, as one-sided a contest as there has been for a while, but why so? Why not just lose the chaff like any other Darwinian culture? It is argued that this keeps everyone on their toes, pros and celebs alike. It doesn’t, it just means that everyone knows it’s only a game show and that each dance could be your last no matter how good.

Poor Charlotte hasn’t had the best of times. An average of 17.5, 12 points for her Cha, rise and fall-gate last week, petulance from her partner, more flicks in her Jive than in the fight between the Jets and the Sharks, this week’s highlight was her partner’s pink suit stolen from The Stylistics and his perilous bum slide down the banister to join her on the dance floor. How many people were shouting out loud for him to fall backwards into the orchestra pit? The Steam Team’s Viennese Waltz, more smoulder than Vesuvius, showed great rapport and ability when they actually chose to dance, when the posturing and frolicking had finished, when the floor spin was sold off to a dance more worthy. Perhaps a kids’ party?

Having seen Charlotte’s Jive it was good to get a contrast from the West End pro Alexandra, dressed in a white tasselled lampshade and a Cher wig. She performed like a Tasmanian devil on speed, the actress-dancer’s consummate delivery overshadowing a few pigeon toes and a little technique. Not that that mattered, everyone was blown away on the crest of emotion, three ten paddles, the first of the series, making us all hark back for Lord Len’s summer series ‘Partners in Rhyme’. ‘It’s never too early for a ten from Shirley . . .’

If you study the graphs of the scores – as Juddge Lewis and I did over the weekend – the table has already split into two, the Premier League separating like cream from the skimmed milk of the Checkertrade Northern Division. Few people manage to cross that particular Rubicon, the river not the casino, like a dancing caste, the lesser talented will all leave sooner rather than later.

Even for those cupples who briefly dip their toes in the top flight relegation is inevitable. The gifted and the experts focus on where their careers can go next year.

At the bottom of the food chain and more than a little fortunate to still be alive, Strictly speaking, is the amiable Scouser, Simon, who survived the ultimate test, a Samba to Barry Manilow’s Copacabana, a song that features the lyrics ‘the hottest spot north of Havana’. On this showing I would guess Reykjavik. That’s Iceland . . . not Farm Foods . . .

Watching his feet, nothing more, one wonders who is coach is? Perhaps they met on Saturday morning for the first time? It really isn’t that much to ask.

Not much further higher is the equally likeable Brian who danced a Paso to ‘I Believe in a Thing Called Love’ a tune that could otherwise be described as going home music. Julian Clary meets the School of Rock is the only way to assign this effort to history, Brian a punk rocker morphing into Depeche Mode, more mascara on his face than at a hen party. Amy looked fetching in a mix of black leather and PVC, very Siouxsie Sioux.

Gemma, more Taylor Dayne (please revert to The Eighties’ Pop Encyclopaedia for reference), reversed the Paso trend dancing tall, statuesque, Amazonian, with purpose, focus and the bodice of the series so far. It distracted half of the demographic away from her partner’s nakedness as he left his shirt in the dressing room by accident. Gemma is becoming a force, Bury’s greatest export apart the pure porcine perfection that is world class black pudding. Three nines means that she has improved every week so far.

Others have found life more of a rollercoaster, the Latin dances posing their own unique threat with Mollie de-mollie-shing Salsa and Joe and Debbie trying to add euthanasia to the Cha Cha step portfolio. None were pretty viewing.

Arthur Jermaine drove Mollie into a frenzy of lifts to a song called ‘Subeme La Radio’, Spanish for ‘turn up the radio’. As they fumbled and stumbled with a clumsy exposé it was tempting to turn it on (the radio) not up but the enticement was resisted. The lyrics continue with ‘bring me liquor, bring me alcohol to take away the pain’. You couldn’t plan that could you? After a few beers on Saturday night AJ agreed to enrol in his first Salsa class.

If Joe from Holby had danced with the lovely Debbie McGee you could have produced a hybrid performance that might have been half decent. As is his partner’s brilliance couldn’t hide his frailties and it is clear that for his birthday, last Monday, no one had bought him a ‘How to Cha’ DVD. Debbie produced a développé that delighted Darcey, as it would, but her straight legs and unbent knees gave the impression that she was practising speed skating. Whilst ballet is a great base for a dancer, especially three years at the Royal Ballet, getting earthy and funky are more important pre-requisites in the Cha. It’s a minxy dance, cheeky, flirty. Neither was.

It was the Ballroom that provided the swagger of the evening, Ruthie enjoying a fleeting brush with success in her Tango, smooth Jonnie being smooth and two Quick Steps that delighted, one showing that Buster’s grandson Aston was human and the other that boosted Susan’s everything.

In the five or six weeks that real beginners stay in the show they normally have the chance to find their niche just once. One solitary dance normally fits and if you’re lucky not to get stitched up by the producers – ‘you can do a Paso then Salsa then Samba . . . then goodbye’ – the laws of probability give you a chance. Add in Anthony Smith of Bristol as your host. And get a Tango. Who knows what Anthony promised to get that gig, the Ballroom Don was in his element and so too his partner. It might have been a week late but Anthony played Bond to Ruthie’s Moneypenny, the Lois Maxwell version, and even though the dance may have only scored 24, mean reward for Ruthie’s gallant efforts, it showed how tuff she is, how determined and how much the performance meant, doing herself proud.

Behind the scenes at Strictly there is a control room, a bit like a flight deck where the producers decide which camera to use, which shot is the best, and where tips are passed on to the presenters and the juddgies. After Jonnie’s Smooth to the iconic Cry Me a River where his partner showed off her dart like legs like she did last year with Danny Mac (remember him?) the show was obviously in front of schedule. Darcey was given the job to fill the space.

And off she went. She talked about the daring lifts, his posture, the need to change his body weight forward. After a minute I went to the bathroom, put the kettle on, went for a run, had a shower, popped to the Co-op for me tea, came back, practised me outside swivels, re-decorated the landing, read two Harry Potter tomes and Darcey was still at it. There was no mention of the three sets of pivots, step repetition and a clearly limited effort. In the audience was the surgeon who ‘stole Jonnie’s leg’ two decades ago. They might have needed him for an HIA (head injury assessment) had one of the lifts gone wrong. The floor was perilously close.

When a dancer is given syncopations as the main event in a dance you know there is a problem with other things. Buster’s grandson, Aston, is brilliantly light on his feet, his timing is impeccable, his agility undoubted, he is a pop video icon where he has reproduced Michael Jackson routines to perfection. But his Quick Step was hidden by veneer, his concentration focused on remembering the routine, unnecessarily difficult, and in doing so he lost the connection with the dance. There was no funn, no joy, and it would have been handy had he closed his feet once in a while. And why, when they danced to ‘Mr Blue Sky’ were they both wearing green?

Susan is the antithesis. Or Auntie Thesis as old my boss used to say. Shorn of his experience and his pedigree she danced a Quick Step to ‘Bring Me Sunshine’, the Morecambe and Wise theme tune. Why then was Kevin from Grimsby dressed as Clarke Kent from Superman a week too late? Then I was told that his glasses were supposed to make him look like Eric. Oh. And if that was the case we know which one had the short, fat, hairy legs.

At the end of their effort Susan was hyperventilating through effort, exhilaration, nostalgia and happy memories. This was the song for her dance at her wedding. In spite of a touch of agriculturality in her steps a beam of warmth, tenderness and affection reached through the TV screen, grabbed you by the lapels, gave you a smacker on the mouth and then returned to this romp. She luvved it and we knew it.

Isn’t that how dance should be?

Dave Schofield
October 20th 2017