Saturday, 10 December 2016

This week on It Takes Two, we have learnt...

- There's a Starbucks close to the studios, judging by how many of the cast were arriving wacving red cups.
- Giovanni claims to be a better singer than Anton.  Having heard Anton sing, it's not a high bar.
- Greg vs Neil is the sexual tension you never knew you needed.
- Oksana is officially broken.
Judge Rinder has had such a total Strictly journey that he now totally embraces all of the clichés he was cynical about before he signed up.
- If the new series of Judge Rinder looks a little low-energy, it's because he was saving it all for dance training after work in the evenings.
- Before dancing, Judge Rinder thinks to himself "Robert, do try and not look like a moron".
- Judge Rinder taught Oksana to play the piano.
- Darcey expected this particular top four.
- Darcey pronounces Oti  'Oatay'.
- Darcey regrets not giving Danny a 10 for his quickstep.
- Now that Ed Balls has been on the show, Darcey thinks Boris Johnson should be on next. She's just making the case for her own P45 at this point, isn't she?
- Janette used to work in a bank, just like Angelea from America's Next Top Model. It is possible that the similarities end there, however.
- Janette managed 58 kicks and flicks in the pro challenge but had four disqualified, leaving her with a total of 54 and putting her in joint first place with Oksana.
- Zoe has no idea of what the term 'choreography's fiercest critic' means if she applies it to Karen Hardy. #justiceforchloe
- Some of the dancers had three separate costumes to wear for the musical megamix that opened last Saturday's show, so they had to do some very quick changes.
- Rumba is Jason Gilkison's favourite dance.
- Joanne and Ore are overthinking what went wrong for them on Saturday.
- Ore's mum is coming to watch the show on Saturday, and his 80-year-old dad has specially arranged a flight from Nigeria to come and see him too.
- Ore and Joanne have THE BEST musical choices for two-dance week.
- Joanne loves the quickstep and thinks you should feel the wind rushing past your face when you do it.
- Gorka has a compartment in his rucksack with a built-in fridge.
- Gorka had zero steps disqualified in the pro challenge, and with 53 kicks and flicks overall is in third place behind Oksana and Janette. Gorka is very sad that he missed out on being joint-first by one kickenflick. Those wishing to comfort him please form an orderly queue behind me (and Gethin).
- The Strictly singers don't really like having to sing songs that aren't in English, although they know enough Spanish to get by.
- Tommy the singer's most embarrassing moment on the show was coming in a bar too early during 'Build Me Up Buttercup'. (Further research indicates this was Thom and Iveta's foxtrot, if you want to check it out.)
- Oti hasn't watched hers and Danny's tango back yet because she's still scared he might go wrong.
- Similarly, Danny was worried throughout that he might have had another "foxtrot moment".
- Oti originally had more stuff planned for the extra pros to do in Danny's tango but it ended up getting changed on the day.
- Layers of 'crin' (crinoline) bring Vicky Gill joy.
- Vicky Gill has a magical product called "dirty down spray", or possibly "dirty-down spray"?
- The pro challenge leaderboard seems to be reinforcing the 'jive is hard for tall people' message.
- Oksana is "always sleeping", according to Neil.
- Katya thinks kicksnflicks are 'Neil's forte'.  FORESHADOWING.
- The pro challenge was not a friend to the Joneses: Katya did 67 kicks and flicks, but 50 were disqualified leaving her with a total of 17, while Neil (in a fetching gold headband) did 104 of...something and had all 104 disqualified, leaving him with a total of ZERO.
- Claudia's wig from Saturday was painful to remove.
- The infantalising of Claudia and AJ is still in full swing, in case you were worried.  (This week: 'Little Toy Cubs awww'.
- Claudia really likes 'Bleeding Love'.
- Zoe isn't quite sure what year it is.
- Gaby Roslin is the shyest person ever and does not want to dance.
- Gaby Roslin thinks it's between Danny and Louise for the win.
- It is now 4 years, 11 months and 23 days since Jason Donovan got eliminated from Strictly.
- Jason Donovan is still painfully earnest.
- Jason Donovan remembers crashing into a pillar in the same room that Danny has been training in this week.
- Gaby Roslin would like Ore to smile rather than cry after his dances because he has a lovely smile.
- Neil is no Gethin, sorry.
- Both of the hosts of Skal vi danse, the Norwegian version of Strictly, are former contestants - and their version of Claudia is a man. Shock!
- Kevin is always at it on Monday morning and doesn't take no for an answer. (Dancing!)
- Bruno is Louise and Kevin's favourite judge. (This week.)
- Louise and Kevin's quickstep was very popular with dogs.
- Kevin has just got a new rescue dog called Betty.
- Louise's dances this week are "tango and...what's the other one?" (It's a samba.) This bodes well.
- Louise is Kevin's highest scoring partner - for this stage in the competition, at least.
- Karen did 59 jive kicks and flicks and had five disqualified, leaving her in joint second place with Oksana and Janette. Kevin and Giovanni, the final two contestants, both managed 62 kicks and flicks, but Kevin had 10 disqualifications leaving him in joint-sixth place with 52, while Giovanni had seven disqualified, leaving him with a total of 56 and the new world record.
- Jason hated doing the rumba because it is HARD FOR THE MEN.
- Ellie Simmonds and Gaby Roslin think Ore might be leaving this week, Jason Donovan declined to comment. Ellie wants Danny to win, and Gaby and Jason both want Louise.
- Natalie thinks Darcey has been the pickiest judge this year, OH NATALIE.
- If they could bring back any celebrity to the competition, Katya would bring Melvin back and Natalie would have Judy Murray.
- Jason Donovan does not look comfortable singing the PWL classics these days.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Judgement Day

Week 11 results: Sunday 4 December 2016

We open with a pro-dance to ‘All That Jazz’ from Chicago, which, I’m sure we all recall, just involves sitting on a chair. It’s Katya’s turn to take the lead, although everyone, male and female, gets their inner sex beast on and it’s all very moody and sexy and entertaining. [Not to mention another chance for them to get that dark bob wig out. - Steve] And does, to be fair, involve a bit of chair sitting. Just… lots of other stuff as well.

Tess and Claudia enter, again, sans stairs. Daly Dresswatch: black vest with a black and white A-line knee-length skirt. What Winkleman’s wearing: a sparkly red dress. Ho Ho Ho! The judges jazz hands on. Well, the men do. Darcey just looks awkward as ever and points a bit.

Our obligatory recap of last night: Katya looking terrifying in green face paint and purple lips; Louise thinking one slip up could be curtains for someone; Hot Greg SINGING (he’s about on par with Anton and Brendan); Ore and Joanne’s lovely but forgettable foxtrot; Judge Rinder in eye-gouging red; Louise not dancing any actual quickstep; Danny dancing on tiptoes the whole time; Claudia shaking her thang. Claudia comes across the best from those clips but it remains to be seen if there are any subliminal messages in that.

Time for our first safety results – Claudia and AJ are called first – which I’m thinking puts Ore and Judge Rinder in danger? This suspicion is only compounded when Louise and Kevin are called second.  Ore and Joanne are in the dance-off, to no-one’s real surprise. To what extent it’s Joanne’s fault, and to what it’s the producers’, I’m not sure, but I think they’ve had their run hampered a bit by either poor music choices in some weeks or kerrazy koncepts in others (and occasionally both). Bruno says it was a good dance but the detail counts. And not being memory-holed by a bunch of high-concept, high-impact routines after you’ve been first on with a lovely-but-unexciting foxtrot. [It was odd that they left Danny and Judge Rinder as the two contestants waiting to hear their fates, because with the best will in the world, I don't think anyone was imagining THAT much of an upset. - Steve]

In the Clauditorium and it’s a vision of brown on the sofa. AJ, with super-unblended contour and highlight, is glad to get their first 10 and Claudia (F) says she’s going to be stroking AJ a lot in their rumba next week. Claudia (W) reminds us that sure, Louise only wanted to get to Halloween, of course she did (may I refer you to our comments on Louise from launch show at this point) and Louise says she hasn’t done the school run in ages. [I did enjoy the mental image this gave me of Jamie doing the school run in a bit of a fluster. - Steve] Claudia asks Kevin for advice to all the couples for two-dance week and he says to start both dances on Monday rather than waiting until Tuesday or Wednesday to do the second one.

Time for a special guest performance – this week from former Christmas contestant Elaine Paige, wearing a dress with the most ridiculous puffy sleeves, singing ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ despite being several decades too old to play Eva Peron. She’s very, well, Elaine Paigey. Aljaž and Natalie do moody contemporumba in front of it, but sadly not for the whole performance, because I love me some OTT Natalie reaching. Then Elaine screeches the big notes and makes me wish Anton was still singing.

Len’s Lens features Oti and Danny’s exciting use of extra dancers and Louise NOT DOING ANY QUICKSTEP (I mean, I really like Louise and Kevin, but come on. JUSTICE FOR GREG'S RUMBA!!!). We then focus on Ore’s chaîné turns which Craig said were too flat-footed rather than on his toes… but the footage shows him mostly on his toes. It’s basically the reverse of all those times they use a clip of the dance going wrong or out of time to demonstrate something ‘quality’. Still, Craig demonstrates the move and it’s at least one bit of actual informative content for a change.  We then see Claudia F apparently being ‘a little Mel B’ (thanks Louis Walsh being channelled through Bruno) and nothing of Judge Rinder.

Time for the final judgement – and Judge Rinder and Oksana join Ore and Joanne in the dance-off, which will surely be the biggest foregone conclusion since… last week. Judge Rinder says whatever people think of his flat feet, he’ll have a party. Craig advises him to get on the balls of his feet and let his bottom work for Brazil and to go mad on the facial expressions. What a ‘journey’s end’ piece of advice, presumably rendering the dance-off a formality.

In the Clauditorium, Danny says he didn’t think he’d get a 10 for his tango because everyone’s tangos have been cursed this series and four out of seven couples have gone on the week they did a tango. And still the show maintains that the rumba is an alleged dance of death. [Literally nobody has gone home on a rumba since Sunetra Sarker, two years ago. - Steve] Also, I love that Danny’s a stats man, so unexpected. Oti says Danny’s arms will have to work hard next week when they have lifts as she’s ‘not light’. You’re too small for your outfits to fit Vicky Gill’s mannequins, Oti, give over. [Remember that time Gavin Henson told the entire country how much Katya Virshilas weighed? That was amazing. - Steve]

With the doomed couples, Ore says he’ll do the dance with composure and they’ll enjoy it. Jo says they need to keep calm in the rise and fall, but they’re in it together. Judge Rinder, Oksana and Claudia all in red with black and white trim really make Tess look like the lead singer of their unlikely quartet. Judge Rinder loves dance and is gearing up his leaving speech, which I assume will be about the magic of dance and his wonderful teacher. Possibly also grandparents.

Still, we first have to go through the formalities. Ore does seem to be more on his toes this time and it’s still a lovely routine that would have been better if it was a Viennese Waltz. Or done in a week that wasn’t so stuff-full of gimmicks that it disappeared in the mix (who’d have thought Joanne Clifton would be in the least gimmicky dance of the week?!). Judge Rinder’s dance is similar to before – not his most fun nor most technically proficient dance but a decent enough party dance to enable him to feel like he’ll be going out on a good note. I mean, if he goes, of course.

Craig saves Ore and Joanne for better technique; Darcey says both gave wonderful performances but on artistry and technique saves Ore and Joanne; Bruno thanks both couples for the entertainment but saves Ore and Joanne for better quality overall. Len agrees, meaning that nearly all the dance-offs have been 4-0 victories this series. Time for Judge Rinder’s predictable speech but joy permeates through the life force of every single person involved especially his extraordinary ‘teacher’. Oksana is a blubbing wreck, which I wasn’t expecting, not least as Judge Rinder himself is holding the tears in. Oksana thanks everyone for giving her a great first year, and she really is completely in bits. An enigma to the last. They dance out to ‘Defying Gravity’, although there’s not much dancing because the group bear hug starts a bit earlier this week.

Post-show post-mortem: Louise will miss Judge Rinder; Ore is emotionally exhausted; Claudia is excited; Danny thinks he’s come really far from week one where he was great, to now, where he’s also great. SUCH A JOURNEY!

Next week! Join Steve for two-dance week as we discover whether Ore or Claudia will join Danny and Louise in the final. Or a shock Danny/Louise dance-off, I guess.

West End Twirls

Week 11: Musicals Week aka Quarter-final aka Top 5 perform
Saturday 3 December 2016

Last week! The wheels finally came off the Ed Balls wagon following a dance off in which Judge Rinder was saved by virtue of not being Ed. Tonight! The shortest show of this series! Hooray!
Being the shortest show (only an hour!) doesn’t mean it’s devoid of filler, though. We open with a pointless VT about how hard everyone is working and how much they want to get through this week-which is officially also the quarter-finals.

Cue credits with super special musicals title card featuring Claudia (W) as Elphaba from Wicked; Tess as a lion from the Lion King (I’m not sure why, given that Claudia is actually dancing to a song from the Lion King this week, but such are the ways of Strictly); and the judges as ‘Les Judges’-in a poster style that doesn’t look very Les Miserables, possibly because of some copyright issues? The posters for the contestants are little harder to make out, but I think Judge Rinder and Oksana are Mary Poppins; Danny and Oti are maybe Rent; Louise and Kevin Mamma Mia?; Claudia and AJ Dirty Dancing?? Ore and Joanne - no idea, something with a yellow background. I think they would have done better using the actual musicals the stars were dancing to, but maybe I’m expecting too much logic from the show. Always nice to have a change of title card though.

Now, although I am perfectly on-board with a big old musical opening number, I am less signed up for a big old musical opening number that begins with an Anton Du Beke singing solo. Bless him, he doesn’t have necessarily the worst voice I’ve ever heard, but nor is he a singer by any stretch of the imagination. [He made me miss those times Bruce used to sing. Well, almost. - Steve] The opening ‘song’ is a mash-up of something made up for the show (and very tuneless) and lines from different musicals and the dancing, such as it is, is a mash up of uncoordinated steps with everyone in costumes from a variety of shows, including Cats, Grease, Mary Poppins, Les Mis, Wicked (Katya being this week’s recipient of the green make-up) and many things I don’t really recognise. Bruno and Craig are dressed as a couple of pearly kings for a line from ‘The Lambeth walk’, which is an unexpected turn of events. Darcey is also about, half-heartedly moving around at one point, then spending the rest of the routine sitting on a chair [no doubt as a heartfelt tribute to Denise Van Outen's time in the West End - Steve]. Len also appears towards the end dressed like the Phantom of the Opera. We have some super speedy costume changes-including Bruno and Craig reappearing dressed as stars of Singing in the Rain, then a bunch of children come on, because why not, when the rest of it is a kitchen sink? I love me a big, glitzy opener, but that was a bloody shambles. Still, it can only get better from here, can’t it? I blame Will Young - given we have another big number coming later in the show, this mess was probably filler to make up for not having six dances.

Claudia and Tess enter - just walking on this time, no grand staircase entrance for them: Daly Dresswatch: at this point, she’s just trolling us with ever more ridiculous asymmetrical necklines. This one has the effect of making it look like the straps of her dresser both to one side of her neck, as if she put the outfit on in a hurry without fitting it properly. Who knows, maybe she did. What Winkleman’s wearing: a black lacy sundress.

As is often the case when we’ve had a big opening number, the judges’ entrances seem superfluous and Darcey is as uncomfortable at affecting dancing on as ever.

Our contestants enter: Louise and Kevin; Judge Rinder and Oksana; Claudia and AJ - winners of this week’s worst costume, hair and make-up, not only are they made to look like rejects from Cats (yes, I know the Lion King is probably not much different to Cats in its make-up stylings, but I haven’t actually seen the Lion King musical), they are wearing the world’s ugliest shade of tan-orange and AJ’s shirt is buttoned with only one button-and not the button that matches the hole, so it looks incredibly skew whiff [also AJ looks like a living Snapchat filter - Steve]; Ore and Joanne; Oti and Danny. 

Tonight’s opening couple is Ore and Joanne. They are dancing to ‘Pure Imagination’ from the film Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory-whoops, sorry, I mean the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Movie week and musicals week are essentially interchangeable at this point, aren’t they? To help with their dance, they go to visit the set of the musical and meet Jonathan Slinger, who is playing Willy Wonka. I don’t know how comfortable I am about product placement for musicals that comes in any shape or form other than an Andrew Lloyd Webber talent show, but I suppose these VT promos have more logic to them than all the shilling for musicals that aren’t even featured tonight that was going on It Takes Two this week.

It seems a little unfair that Ore and Joanne have had to put up with what is, pretty much, the same theme for two of the dances this series, although they at least both look better than they did on Halloween. Joanne is wearing a purple ballgown with a slightly weird hairstyle, shaped like Delenn from Babylon 5’s head-piece, but backwards.  Ore is dressed in a multicoloured Willy Wonka suit, but without a fright wig or scary make-up. The set is quite nice the factory gates, with some oversized flowers, lollipops and candy canes. Remember how their Viennese waltz was set to music that would have suited a foxtrot better? Well, here is the reverse problem. I hate it when the show fucks about with signatures and it can’t be great for the dancers, musicians or singers, either. The blind dart-throwing song choice monkeys really need refreshing before the next series. They are supported by prop dancers dressed as flowers and sweets, who, thankfully, stay in the background throughout most of the dance, although they start to obscure the stars towards the end. The dance itself is fine, given the awkward fit of the music, it seems quite pleasant and there don’t seem to be many problems, but it’s also somewhat unambitious and a little dull.  Still, that’s the average Strictly foxtrot for you. The closing shot, of them going through the factory gates, as golden tickets flutter down like they’re in the crystal dome (or X Factor final) is rather lovely.

Len asks ‘Who can kick off the show in style? The candy man can’ (groan). He calls it smooth, beautiful and elegant. He says there were a couple of wobbly moments, though, and, hilariously, does his grimacing and holding his hands up thing when he expects to get boos and none come. Bruno says he was expecting ‘wacky Willy Wonka’ but instead got ‘Willy Wonder’ [filth - Steve] and that it was a classic, traditional foxtrot. Craig points out there were a few errors in the footwork, but it was elegant and full of class. Darcey says he was ‘gliding with style’ and she feels very comfortable watching him, especially in ballroom and she liked his suave, cheeky and mystical character.

In the Clauditorium, Ore says that Gene Wilder in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ was his favourite performance in his favourite film. I call shenanigans, Ore. Gene Wilder wasn’t even in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (unless he had a cameo that I missed somewhere).  We also get our obligatory fist shake at serial killer 2016 for taking Gene Wilder from us. It does feel like every week this series has involved a tribute to one of our many celebrity fallen this year, doesn’t it? Scores: nine, nine, nine, nine for a total of 36.

The show has clearly run out of random turns to bring on to do the terms and conditions at this stage, so instead, we have Brendan in a Technicolor dream coat singing them at us to the tune of ‘Any Dream Will Do’. I’d say his voice is maybe marginally better than Anton’s? It’s also slightly odd that the terms and conditions end by telling us that the Strictly website is where you can find the terms and conditions.

Judge Rinder and Oksana are next.  Their VT reminds us that the RindyRumba wasn’t up to much and, to make matters worse, in ‘Musicals Week’, a theme that you’d expect would suit him down to the ground, he’s been given a song that isn’t even from a musical, ‘Oh What a Night’.  (Jukebox musicals decidedly DO NOT COUNT, even if the unimpressed-looking cast of Jersey Boys turn up in a training VT I’m sorry).

Anyway, he’s bedecked in a bright Father Christmas/Coca-Cola red suit three weeks too soon (with Oksana as Mrs Claus, albeit more in the Janet McTeer-M&S mode of Mrs Clauses) and this is a hard colour for anyone to pull off, let alone anyone with the orange shade of fake-tan he’s wearing.  The storyline is that he’s one of the Jersey Boys/Four Seasons but leaves the group to go and dance with sound mixer Oksana. At this point, his red jacket is lost for most of the samba, thankfully, buy the ill-fitting trousers remain. For fans of Rinderface, this is a real treat, as not only is he gurning like a good’un, he’s also mouthing something unintelligible throughout - he doesn’t seem to be either counting or singing along with the song, so maybe it’s some of that weird training room babble everyone seems to have going this series. The dancing is full of hip-shaking, clumpy-legged, limp-wristed (I’m not using that as an insult, just a description), dad-dancing, joyous shimmering, come-hither gestures that make it almost a full-on komedy kontestant routine. I guess the show or Rinder/Oksana have decided to give up on the mid-series narrative of him being a proper dancer now Ed Balls has gone. There’s one point where the other Jersey Boys (Neil and two other dancers), also in searingly-bright red, come and join Oksana and Judge Rinder and the lighting glares red as well that actually hurts my eyes to look at. What a sight (badumtish).

Bruno sings ‘walks like a man, dance like a gnat/nut/knot (??)’. Bruno says there was a moment where it looked like he’d stepped on a live-wire and it was flat-footed but fun.  Craig echoes the flat-footed criticism but says it had fantastic energy and his bottom was bouncing for Brazil.  Judge Rinder says it must have hurt him to say something kind and Craig sasses back ‘wait till you see my mark’. [Didn't we have this exact exchange a couple of weeks ago? Come on, guys, try harder. - Steve] Darcey praises him for his individual style and being the life and soul of the party.  Len says it was summer (not in those outfits it wasn’t, unless we’re talking Australian summer) and a lot of fun, and he’d like to see it again – though he qualifies ‘not in the dance-off’.  Come off it, as if they’re not going to be bottom of the judges’ leaderboard tonight. These critiques feel like end of the road stuff and all Judge Rinder says in the Clauditorium is his usual fallen in love with dance, wonderful teacher schtick. I like him, but this is all well and truly done, isn’t it?  Scores: 7, 8, 8, 8 for a total of 31.

Coming up! Louise giving the world’s least enthusiastic ‘yee-ha’. She’s never going to reach Kevin’s level of, well, Kevin-ness, is she?

Claudia’s comedy link-time – exactly the same gag as with Ed Balls on a piano in BLACKPOOL, except with a lion.  It’s musicals week, show, you could surely have pulled some sort of gag out of the bag.

Louise and Kevin now. Their dance is cowgirl themed, so he takes her to some sort of Wild-West film set? Badly recreated theme park? Anyway, Kevin wears a comedy ginger moustache, pulls a bad accent and gets Louise to try and play cowboys while she rolls her eyes the whole time. In other words, a standard Kevin and Louise VT, albeit cheaper than sending them to Paris.

They are dancing to ‘The Deadwood Stage’ from Calamity Jane, in full on wild-west gear. It’s allegedly a quickstep, but it has about as much quickstep content as Will’s Bollywood had salsa content or Ed’s Amarillo had American Smooth content. In a way, that’s not bad, because the non-quickstep bits are a really fun and energetic hoe-down, with nice use of the backing dancers – it does feel like you’re watching a number from a musical. However, that’s also clearly where the rehearsal energy has gone, because the actual quickstep sections aren’t very good – the footwork’s a bit awkward and Louise looks uncomfortable. I am guessing we can blame this on Kevin getting carried away, although maybe it’s just that Louise was struggling with technique? A weak quickstep especially stands out this series as there’ve been some great quicksteps, often from underdog dancers whose other routines have been lacking. As character/theme-led quicksteps go, I much preferred Lesley and Anton’s – the overall quality of dancing might not have been as strong, but it felt like it blended the musical/cinema routine with actual quickstep content more effectively.

Craig loved the routine and thought the ideas in there were fantastic, blending lots of other genres and that the timing and characterisation were brilliant. WHAT DID YOU SAY TO GREG AFTER HIS RUMBA, CRAIG? [NEVA 4GET - Steve] Darcey says she became Calamity and was clean and light in the routine, though she seemed to enjoy the line dancing more than the quickstep – although she’s very assured when she performs. Len says she could go on the West End stage. Yes it did rather look like an audition for that. He says there was more musical content than actual… (and then shuts up for getting booed). Ugh, I agree with Len. Bruno loved the story, the musical style and the variety of genres. I mean, I did as well, but it was supposed to be a quickstep.

Scores: 9 (BULLSHIT CRAIG), 9, 9, 10 (Oh, Bruno) for a total of 37.

AJ and Claudia now and if this VT is more shilling for 10s I will refuse to recap the thing. They go to London zoo like good children, and talk to one of the staff about lions.  He says they’re confident and you need to let the men lead. Claudia adds ‘seeing a lion’ to the things she’s done for the first time on Strictly.

They’re dancing to ‘I Just Can’t Wait to Be King’, aka Mark and Iveta’s samba music, which makes me sad, because I loved that routine, it was so sweet and now I really miss Iveta L. Instead of doing a samba, they have a salsa, and it opens with them peeking out from some grass, which is cute. Claudia’s hair has been bouffed up with crazy extensions and frizz and, coupled with the animal make-up, she’s pretty unrecognisable. However, this actually works for her as she seems to have lost some of her inhibitions. Hot on the heels of Danny last week, it’s another full-on, letting-go Latin.  There are lots of spectacular lifts, a lot of energy and wiggling and it’s pretty joyous – which I haven’t often felt in Claudia’s dances. It’s a bit more samba than salsa in places, perhaps, with a clumsy ending as they struggle to get on top of a big rock prop for their final lift, but a really enjoyable dance nonetheless.

Darcey praises the tricks, the lifts and the isolations and says her characterisation has improved but there was still more ‘grrr’ she could have put in. Len says she captured the flavour of both the Lion King and salsa – he loved the hip action and the lifts and tricks, although noticed the mistake. Bruno says she’s like a kitten that roared and says he’s going to ignore the mistake because it was probably AJ’s fault. [Bruno REACHING to justify that 10 he is obliged to give this after they spent the whole week building up to it <3 - Steve] Craig says she is still spotting the floor in the turns and some of the dismounts were a little ugly, but her body isolations were compact and clean and the lifts were extraordinary.

In the Clauditorium: aww, isn’t Claudia (F) sweet? Yawn. Scores: 9, 9, 9, 10 for a total of 37 and everyone shouting ‘Hakuna Matata’. Me too, now I no longer have to hear whining about why Claudia hasn’t had any 10s yet, even if it probably didn’t deserve one. [Same. It didn't feel like a 10 to me, but if it means that godforsaken storyline is over, never to be spoken of again, then I'm not going to dispute it. - Steve]

The final couple of the night are Danny and Oti, who don’t seem to have had the pimp slot for a while, despite usually having the standout routine of the week. They’re dancing to a song from Dreamgirls, which I think is the only ‘musical’ tonight to have originated on stage (except the thing that isn’t a real musical).  They go to meet Amber Riley (and two unnamed Dreamgirls cast members) because she won Dancing With the Stars. Her advice is ‘good luck and have fun’. She better be bringing more to the table on that Gary Barlow thing she’s doing.

They’re dancing the… tango (oh dear… although I think musicals week also played host to Frankie and Kevin’s unlikely tango triumph to ‘Defying Gravity’) to ‘One Night Only’ and Oti is Diana Ross/Beyonce/Deena, all blue-frocked and sparkly with a huge red-brown curly wig; whilst Danny’s in the sparkliest blue jacket you ever did see. The routine is dramatic (save Danny inexplicably grinning in places) and crazy fast, and it starts quite well, including an excellent bit with the backing dancers where the two women dance in a line behind Oti, all hands on shoulders, and the men likewise with Danny. Then they break apart and Danny and the male dancers do some disco moves and when they get back in hold, the thing falls to pieces a bit and the legwork goes astray. Oops.  Great song, though. [On a night of misfires, I thought this was the strongest performance. Certainly better than a tango to 'One Night Only' had any right to be. - Steve]

Len says he loved the promenade section in the line with the backing dancers but Danny’s footwork went wrong a bit. Bruno says it was a star turn and he took it as a leading man, with every bit of the performance under control. Bruno really hasn’t installed his critical faculty chip tonight, has he? Craig says he needs to sort his heel leads out or he’ll never get a 10 but he loved it and Danny’s an incredible dancer. Darcey says she loved the intensity in his eyes and she was so absorbed on his top line she didn’t even see his feet. YOUR JUDGES, EVERYONE.

In the Clauditorium, Danny praises Oti’s choreography and ‘the backing… extra pros’ (bless).  Scores: 9, 10, 9, 10 for a breaking-the-leaderboard-ties total of 38 and Danny says he wasn’t expecting any 10s for that routine.  Yeah, me neither, having seen it.

Leaderboard time!
Danny and Oti 38
Louise and Kevin 37
Claudia and AJ 37
Ore and Joanne 36
Judge Rinder and Oksana 31

I suspect Judge Rinder and Oksana won’t be able to avoid the chop tomorrow, but anyone else, except maybe Danny, could probably join them down there on those marks. Although this was a pretty enjoyable show, everyone seems overmarked tonight and technically it was a mess. Fun definitely seemed to eclipse technique in most of these routines, though presumably they feel they have to keep scores high at a quarter-final. 

Normally that’s where we’d leave things, but we’re only 52 minutes in, so we have time to fill – with another group dance! 

Fortunately, the judges and celebs aren't involved this time.  It's a fun, energetic, dramatic West Side Story routine with Gorka, Pasha and Giovanni playing Sharks and Brendan, Aljaž and Neil (bless him, but LOL) playing Jets. [Pasha trying to look stern and menacing is so adorable. - Steve] It's all jumpy with lots of bouncing off the metrodeck and uber-homoeroticism.  Them there's a romantic moment where Aljaž plays Tony and Janette Maria, before Karen, Natalie, Chloe and Katya join proceedings for a group romp through 'America' and it ends. Maybe needed more storyelling, but otherwise, that was fun and a lot better than the opening shambles.

Tomorrow night!  Someone leaves, but will it be Judge Rinder, or a SHOCK!  BOOT!? Also: Elaine Paige. Doing Evita for some reason.

Friday, 2 December 2016

This week on It Takes Two, we have learnt...

- Ed's middle name is Michael.
- Ed threatened to do 'that lift' again in their goodbye dance, but Katya wasn't having any of it.
- Katya didn't really know who Ed Balls was before she was partnered with him.
- Ed isn't sure what his next move is going to be, but thinks that doing a tango as a Zoolander-esque male model has probably ruled out a return to politics.
- Judging by Ed's look of wild panic when Zoe asked him for a snap of Gangnam Style before he went, he's not much of an improviser.
- Joanne had a chicken dinner right before attempting the pro challenge. Winner winner, etc.
- Joanne has always been the favourite Clifton child.
- Joanne managed 59 kicks and flicks but had seven disqualified, so with a total of 52 she's now tied for the lead with Aljaž.
- Matthew Cutler runs a dance school in Croydon now.
- Zoe thinks Matthew Cutler hasn't aged.  Gawd bless him, but the lines round his eyes say otherwise.
- Erin thinks her son could be a future star of Strictly. As one of the celebrities. Attagirl.
- Erin thinks the show is more about entertainment than PURITY OF DAHNCE these days.
- Matthew's favourite partner on the show was Christine Bleakley - as much fun as he had with Alesha, he felt under a lot of pressure to deliver with her, whereas with Christine he knew he probably wasn't going to win so he could relax and enjoy the experience a bit more.
- Looking at pictures of all Erin's partners on one screen really emphasises how little luck she had with the draw most series.
- Colin Jackson is still "snake-hipped and gorgeous to the touch", according to Erin.
- Karen Hardy is still referring to this as "the early stage of dance". The final is in under a month, Karen.
- Karen Hardy doesn't think Claudia deserves a 10 yet.  Us neither.
- But then she does think Judge Rinder has improved week-on-week, which...
- The show has decided that, not content with desecrating the memory of TIME WARP last series, it's now going to stamp all over Mark and Iveta's lovely Lion King samba. Booo!
- Zoe isn't used to being tied up, but might be developing a taste for it.
- Movies week and musicals week are pretty much interchangeable, it seems.
- The random tango song generator has landed on 'One Night Only' this week.
- Ore and Joanne are going to be forced to relive sweet-shop horror in this week's show.
- Oksana is a bird enthusiast and has a parrot called Mojito.
- Oksana is currently winning the pro challenge with a score of 54 kicks and flicks with zero disqualifications. This is good because Judge Rinder told her he'd lose all respect for her if she didn't win.
- Melvin and Janette really like it when the contestants kiss the judges.
- Janette makes a more convincing radio DJ than Melvin going on the evidence from this show.
- Judge Rinder has gone one step further and is now referring to all of the professional dancers as "teachers".
- Judge Rinder thinks he can't go round being Judge Rinder and then get upset when other people make terse comments.
- Greg still loves Judge Rinder. <3
- Judge Rinder has a habit of doing "live long and prosper" hands so Oksana has taken to taping his fingers up.
- Ian and Danny have both taken to wearing shades of purple.
- Ian saw The Lion King recently. Whether he saw it in the West End or just stuck a DVD on is as yet unconfirmed.
- Ian used to get told that he looked like Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka.
- Zoe's not keen on Ian's dance acronyms.
- Chloe once wanted to be a maths teacher, but it turned out she wasn't very good at maths.
- Chloe did 52 kicks and flicks but had 9 disqualified, so she's currently bottom of the leaderboard with 43.
- The ballroom tango is actually a spin-off from the Argentine Tango rather than the other way around.
- Only two people have scored full marks for a tango on Strictly - Kimberley Walsh in series 10 and Kellie Bright in series 13.
- Jamie Redknapp has vowed never to dance in public again after last week's VT.
- Kevin used football terminology with Jamie because he was struggling to count 123.  Bless.
- Kevin swears that Louise's shoulders were *meant* to come up in her waltz and he designed it that way deliberately, so now he feels bad that his choreographic misjudgement possibly cost Louise a perfect score.
- Louise doesn't really mind being second place to Danny because he's great.
- Louise didn't really believe anything Kevin told her about the cha cha challenge.
- Louise found it hilarious that they won the cha cha challenge.
- Louise isn't much of a thigh-slapper.  Poor Jamie etc.
- It makes Louise feel sick whenever people tell her that Kevin's never technically been eliminated from any series he's competed in.
- Vicky Gill's favourite costume from last week was Oti's.
- Two-dance week officially happens next week, meaning Steve has to recap that and Rad is very grateful for that mid-season swap we had on the recapping rota.
- Vicky Gill has invented the term 'sunray godet' although I'm not sure what one is.
- Zoe was hoping Joanne would be playing Violet Beauregarde, all blueberried up, on Saturday.
- Pasha never does it for speed, he always does it for quality.
- Pasha did 61 kicks and flicks, but had 10 of them disqualified, so his total score of 51 leaves him fourth overall in the pro challenge.
- Oti is still a pro on the German version of Strictly as well as doing the British one, because that one airs in the spring so she has time to do both.
- The male host of German Strictly is fairly attractive.
- German Strictly (or Let's Dance, as they call it) seems very Dancing With The Stars in that it features duels and improvised dances and all of that shit.
- One of the highlights of German Strictly is the Discofox Marathon. Oh, Germany.
- Let's Dance also uses a lot of strobe lighting.
- Oti's sister Motsi is a judge on Let's Dance and I think Oti is angling for Motsi to take over from Len.
- One of the komedy kontestants in Germany sat down and had a hot dog mid-routine while his pro danced with her professional partner, and he still got through.
- Oti cries every time she watches Danny's samba back.
- Oti was glad that Danny was able to give her '100% of his passion, and his hips'.  Oo-err.
- Even though the show has stopped that thing where it racks up all the training time of the couples, Danny is definitely keeping count.  Possibly to raise a Human Rights violation, going on them pulling 13 hour days.
- Danny only opened his shirt in the samba because it was artistically justified and non-gratuitous. Sure, Jan.
- Oti's not sure about this business of soundtracking a tango with disco music.
- Sometimes Danny burps if he's had a big lunch.
- Oti actually knows what Danny's character in Hollyoaks was called.
- Zoe likes Gethin with a bit of five o'clock shadow.
- It was Joanne's idea for Ore to wear eyeliner in his paso.
- Ore still doesn't call his mum as often as he should and likes to use ITT as FaceTime instead.
- Grimsby can still manage to raise a (solitary) whoop from the studio audience. #hometownpride
- The Clifton Elders ring Jo every Sunday and tell her all the things she needs to watch out for in her next dance.
- Ore and Zoe both get teary at 'Pure Imagination' and at Gene Wilder having died.
- Both Joanne and Kevin are being cautious about if/when they'll get a 10 from Craig.
- The group dance for this week will be based on West Side Story, with Aljaž and Janette as Tony and Maria, and Karen as Anita.
- Danny can't decide which Dreamgirl he should be.
- Louise is nervously waiting for the inevitable week when she'll have a dance that goes wrong.  Don't worry Louise, they still gave Claudia 36 when she had that happen.
- Danny fake tans 'as far as they will let me'.
- Breakdancing originated among inner city kids in the Bronx, so Chloe was the obvious choice to go and learn how to do it.
- Chloe's breakdancing name is Chlo-Lo.
- Breakdancing looks very odd in super slow motion.
- The set and props people loved the waltzer cars from Halloween, and so did the celebs and pros.  And us!
- Claudia's Argentine tango was Caroline Flack's favourite dance of the series.
- Claudia's started with the old 'wonderful teacher' rhetoric.  Stop it, all of you!
- The Lion King musical is one week older than Claudia is.
- Drew from series one of So You Think You Can Dance is directing and choreographing the UK premiere of the Strictly Ballroom musical.
- The costumes for the Strictly Ballroom music involve some of the biggest sequins ever.
- Gethin calls Gorka "Gorks".
- The Christmas special is Christmas movie-themed.
- Karen Clifton is not afraid to talk with her mouth full on television.
- Pasha is the class swot in rehearsals who tells everyone else off for misbehaving.
- Brendan is the naughtiest pro in rehearsals.
- Friday panellist Sheree Murphy went to school with Louise.
- Jenny Eclair and Sheree Murphy think Judge Rinder is going home this weekend, Alexander Armstrong thinks "everybody is brilliant" and it might just come down to whoever makes an unexpected cockup on the night.
- Jenny Eclair, Alexander Armstrong and Sheree Murphy all want Louise to win.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Balls to the wall

Week 10: Top 6 Results - 27 November 2016

We open with a sports-day themed group routine from the pro dancers, and because everything on this show has to be viewed through some sort of rose-tinted nostalgic timewarp, we don't get to see everyone in lycra or short shorts because this particular sports day appears to be taking place at Butlins in 1938. The good news, however, is that back in those days everyone wore their crispest cricket whites for just such an occasion, which means we get to ogle Gorka's magnificent arse in his white trousers as he plays the role of the officiator. Craig and Len do a spoken-word intro as sheepskin-jacketed commentators declaring "Gorka's got his whistle out" and guys, you already had my undivided attention, there's no need to go overboard. What follows is a charleston/callisthenics hybrid to 'You Gotta Have Pep', which is pretty flaily but also features Neil and Pasha sticking their heads between each other's legs for a series of assisted cartwheels and well let's just say I'm not hating it. Gorka is unimpressed, however, and scores them a 2. Janette then wins a tug of war single-handedly (lucky Aljaž) and Chloe, Karen and Natalie provide a hula hoop tunnel for Pasha to dive through, which Gorka scores a 7 (I never said any of this had to make sense), then Pasha and Neil have a bizarre rematch in a sack race which they (both?) score an 8 for even though it doesn't look like either of them actually wins, and it all ends with a race where Gorka cheats and declares himself the winner. Sure, why not? (Seriously though, full marks to whoever chose the costumes for this routine. In fact just make all the men wear white trousers for everything from now on. As I have just demonstrated, I am more than willing to overlook narrative shortcomings if there are butts on display.)

(PS Welcome back Gorka, I'm very glad you're okay after all of the horribleness of last week.)

As the pros troop off (I like how some of them are pointedly staying in character until they're off stage and some of them, mentioning no names ANTON, are already yukking it up the second the music stops), Tess and Claudia walk on. Tess is wearing a hideously unflattering jumpsuit with a slash right down her cleavage and seriously flared trousers, and Claudia is wearing all of the lace. No really, all of it. Tess reminds us that Saturday's show was a night of firsts: the first ever Cha Cha Challenge, and the first ever perfect score awarded for a samba. One of these is slightly more momentous than the other. The pair point out that next week is Musicals Week, but one couple will not get a callback for it. Coming up, Ellie Goulding will be doing a thing and we'll get a Len's Lens, but first it's time to look back at what happened on the performance show.

Everyone is very excited about having made it to week 10, and Ed can't quite believe he's in the top six. Louise tries to persuade us that the cha cha is "everybody's toughest dance". It is a week one dance, Louise. [But, to be fair, it's a week one dance most people do terribly - Rad] Judge Rinder thinks it adds a level of extra pressure to have to do two dances, and Danny says that they're all dancing for a place in the quarter finals. Everyone rehearses in the corridor, Ed does Blue Steel again (such a total dad, just learning the one joke and running it into the ground because it's all he knows), and Darcey renames the upcoming danceathon "the cha cha cha challenge", because wordplay is lost on her. Backstage after performing, Ore celebrates getting a 10 from Bruno, AJ tells Claudia she was amazing, Ed tells Katya he really liked being taught the tango by her, Judge Rinder had a wonderful time doing his rumba and it meant the world to dance with his teacher (I half-expect him to interrupt Alan Dedicoat at the top of the show, yelling "teacher! Robert Rinder and his teacher, Oksana Platero!" next week at this rate), Louise is the happiest she's ever been, and Danny can't put into words how amazing it feels to get the first ever perfect score for a samba.

Back in the studio, Tess is toting those Cue Cards Of Doom, and these segments are getting shorter and shorter as the herd thins, so the two couples who are safe and guaranteed a spot in the quarter-final are Louise and Kevin, and Danny and Oti. The first couple in the dance-off is...Judge Rinder and Oksana. They don't look overly surprised by this development. Judge Rinder tells Tess that he just wants to do his very best for "this excellent lady here", and Darcey tells him that he needs to develop the story between the two of them in the steps, it will read so much better. Len's opinion is also sought, and he says that Judge Rinder was unlucky to get a tough dance on a tough week, and he advises them to "just glance at each other" and get a bit more chemistry going. Glances, eh? Phwoar! Are people allowed to glance before the watershed these days? Won't somebody think of the children? [And romantic glances between student and teacher are surely very much frowned upon - Rad]

The Clauditorium looks very deserted these days as Claudia asks Danny if people are yelling "show us your charleston!" at him on the street nowdays. ("Charleston", yes, that's what they're asking him to whip out for them.) Danny jokes that he's rarely allowed out of the rehearsal room, but that when he does see people who aren't Oti, they're very supportive. Claudia asks Louise if she's going to get competitive now, and Louise provides the obligatory story about how they're all Such Good Friends, and that if they start looking at each other as competitors, then it won't all just be about The Joy Of Dance any more. Boooooo! We paid for bloooood!

Next: Ellie Goulding sings 'Still Falling For You' while dressed as Cavegirl with Kevin and Karen contempowafting aggressively in front of her.

After that, the judges join Claudia on the balcony for another unmissable Len's Lens. Len gets overexcited about Ore's bodyshaping in his paso doble and then demonstrates paso shaping for us with his hanky. Darcey wants to admire Claudia F's upper body and her core strength in her Argentine tango again, and Claudia W asks on behalf of "Planet Earth" what Claudia F has to do to get a 10. The audience noisily applaud at this, and I feel very much on my own in believing that nothing I've seen Claudia F do yet has had enough wow factor to merit a 10? [I'm with you - Rad] I mean yes there were some lovely lifts in there, but she's a gymnast, I already know she can be chucked about in the air, I want to be moved by her dancing. Darcey says that Claudia F needs to connect more with AJ to get a 10, so I assume she'll be coming out dressed as a mirror next week. Craig revisits Louise's raised shoulders, and the other judges try to convince him that this was just Louise expressing herself, but Craig is having none of it. Finally, Bruno weighs in on Danny's samba, and Bruno thinks the secret is Danny making it look so natural and believable before declaring it "probably the best male samba we've ever seen". I love that it's the only samba ever to get a perfect score, but Bruno still won't give it a superlative without adding two qualifiers into the same clause.

Back over to Tess for the final set of results, and Ore and Joanne are given the all-clear into next week, leaving Claudia and Ed waiting to see which of them is about to get the red light. It's Ed, at long last, which means Claudia and AJ are also through to next week, though from the look on Claudia's face I think she was expecting the worst. Ed walks over to Tess who tells him it's his first time here in the dance-off (lol at the very idea that Ed was ever going to get more than one appearance in the dance-off) and tells her that it was a fabulous dance and he's looking forward to doing it again. Bruno advises Ed to "keep the entertainment value going, because that is your ace". In other words, "don't try and dance now, there's no point". Tess asks Craig if he can give Ed a boost and Craig says no, but then adds he's "secretly enjoyed your dancing". Which I'm sure is easy to say when you know it's about to stop forever in the next ten minutes.

In The Abandoned Clauditorium, we spend a bit more time railing at the injustice of Claudia F not having a ten yet (*shrug*) [I was more invested in Ashley Taylor Dawson being trapped in a rut of 35s if we're talking boring scoring storylines - Rad], and Ore talks a little bit about how they all started out as a family, and that's why it's so hard to see people go each week. Joanne reveals that next week they're doing a foxtrot and Ore's going to be Willy Wonka. Because it went so well the last time he had to do a candy-themed dance?

There follows a trailer for Musicals Week, and for an alleged West End Wendy Ringer, Danny doesn't appear to have the strongest singing voice. Also, Tess and Claudia sing, and it's every bit as magical as you might think.

Afterwards, Claudia asks Judge Rinder how much he wants to stay in, and he says that he really wants to stay in for Oksana, but he's having a wonderful, joyous time. Oksana says that this is a very special dance for both of them, and she just wants him to enjoy it. They are dispatched to the dancefloor while Ed says that Katya has never compromised on teaching him to dance, but they've always tried to make it fun too. Katya says she's pushed Ed really hard, but he always delivered and she's his number one fan. It's either very sweet or Stockholm syndrome.

Judge Rinder and Oksana go first, reprising the Rinderumba - it's not vastly changed from the first time we saw it, but I think he is trying to be a little softer and smoother in his steps, and to look as tenderly at Oksana as possible. Then Ed and Katya try their tango again, and if anything it's a little more bumpy this time, though Ed does switch things up a bit this time by handing the rose that he was clenching in his teeth to Darcey instead of Craig. It's very sweet to see Judge Rinder jumping up and down and clapping heartily for him when it finishes, too.

The outcome here is unlikely to be a surprise, but let's hear from the judges anyway. Craig votes for Judge Rinder and Oksana "on a more technical performance", Darcey saves them too "on their better technical ability", and Bruno doesn't even bother to dress it up by saying that he's saving the better dancers - Judge Rinder and Oksana. Len makes it unanimous, and everyone gets to their feet in tribute to Ed. Tess asks Ed if he thinks he might carry on dancing. I thought we were still waiting for him to start dancing? Ed runs through a long list of all the wonderful people on the show who've made his time here so enjoyable, but of course none more so than Katya, who he thinks is going to go on to be a "total dynamount [sic] knockout Strictly star". That is genuinely lovely of him, I have no sarcasm here. Tess of course ruins it by patronising the living shit out of Katya, who's crying and telling us she couldn't have wished for a better partner.

Tess sends them off for their last dance and Katya sob-giggles that they "haven't practised that". Well no, I imagine it was enough of a struggle just getting him to learn the main routine each week. They dance to 'That's What Friends Are For' and it's mostly just hugging, but I'm okay with that. I know I've been harsh on Ed (and I think not undeservedly so), but you can tell from the way that everyone runs out to tacklehug him that he was clearly very well-liked by his other contestants.

Post-mortem reactions: Danny says that if you ask people about Strictly 2016, they will say two words: "Ed Balls". (Oti goes along with this, though through slightly gritted teeth, as if to say that she senses her upcoming glitterball triumph will forever be overshadowed by a man who did a Gangnam style one time.) Judge Rinder calls him "decent and funny and passionate and authentic", and Louise says he was "such a big personality around here" and they looked forward to watching him each week. The grieving ends as Claudia expresses her glee at being in the quarter finals, and Ore thinks next week will be magical.

Ed Balls.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Cha cha squeals

Week 10: Top 6 Perform - 26 November 2016

Last week! Everybody went to BLACKPOOL, where the gulf between the frontrunners and the "just here for the experience" contestants seemed to grow ever-wider, admittedly with Claudia forming something of an outlier, being scored and praised highly by the judges for a jive that was, frankly, all over the place. This left us with a BATTLE OF THE OLYMPIANS dance-off between Greg and Claudia, and even though Greg was arguably the better performer on the night, the judges saved Claudia because of her better long-term potential, meaning that for the second year in a row, the Blackpool dance-off was a decent quickstep versus a sub-par jive, and the judges ignored the actual problems in front of them in favour of the long-term narrative of the series. All I'm saying is that whoever draws the quickstep in Blackpool next year should be worried.

This week! The contestants will have to perform two competitive dances in the same night for the first time in the competition, with their individual performances being supplemented by the Cha Cha Challenge. This is foreshadowed with some grainy "home video" footage of everyone rehearsing, and why exactly is Danny only ever shown in his bathroom at home? Does he have a weak bladder? Is the rest of his house desperately untidy? Does he just stay in there all day because there are mirrors on every surface? I can't rest until I know.

Titles. I really miss Anastacia, guys. Or should I say DANCEASTACIA.

Back in boring old Elstree, Tess and Claudia step onto the stage escorted by Pasha and Aljaž respectively. Pasha is wearing a shirt that is slashed right to the navel, which gives me hope that whatever else might happen this evening, at least there's a higher than average chance of a nip slip from our Pash. Daly Dresswatch: a long white gown that's cut out over both shoulders and slashed right to the upper thigh on her right leg and has such an unwieldy train that Tess has to wrap it around the bannister as she descends the staircase. What Winkleman's Wearing: a deep purple off-the-shouder jumpsuit with a v-shaped décolletage. A bit of a misfire from wardrobe on both counts, sadly. Tess informs us that all of tonight's celebrities will have to raise their game tonight, which should be a bit of a problem for Danny who, after all, achieved actual perfection last week. She's referring, of course, to the addition of the Cha Cha Challenge, and it's a bit unfortunate that as the audience dutifully gives us a "woooo!", the camera cuts to three women in the front row who couldn't look less enthused if you'd told them that this was Agadoo Week. [I swear I've seen several dances incorporate moves from 'Agadoo' this series - Rad]

Tess introduces the judges as "four people who literally never miss a trick", which might have sat a little better if they hadn't spent last week's show trying to convince us that Claudia's jive was near-perfect and hampered only by a small slip-up. Or if they hadn't saved Peter Andre over Jamelia last year. Or...well, you get the general idea. The judges dance on, and just once I wish they would let Darcey start anywhere other than on the stairs, because she always looks so terrified that she's going to fall flat on her arse. Wasting no time, we then get straight into meeting our remaining contestants: Louise and Kevin, Judge Rinder and Oksana, Claudia and AJ, Ore and Joanne, Ed and Katya, and Danny and Oti. Kevin's end-of-sting high kick is a little off-the-beat this week, which concerns me.

Danny and Oti are up first tonight, and naturally their VT opens with Danny reflecting on getting the first perfect score of the series for his charleston last week. Danny says that words can't possibly describe the feeling, and with the best will in the world, I suspect that is true of most situations that Danny finds himself in. Danny says that he just wants to entertain people, and he's so glad that he's got another chance to do it this week. This week they've got the samba, and Oti has decided to do something a little different with it: instead of making it "carnival", she wants to make it "jungle, ethnic and tribal". Frankly you can do what you like with it as long as you don't make it "disco". Oti spends most of the rehearsal period laughing herself inside out at Danny's attempts to do a tribal jungle samba, though by his account, she claimed she was "celebrating the movement of my body". As part of their training, Oti takes Danny out to the London School of Samba, which - from the brief glimpse we get of it - seems to be very much of the "carnival samba" persuasion, though Oti tells us that it's fine because it's more about soaking up the atmosphere and just embracing the dance. Some of the students (teachers?) from the School of Samba tell us that Danny "can really shake his hips", so that's good.

Their samba is to 'Magalenha', and it opens with Danny standing on the floor with Oti directly behind him, and really all you can see of her at this point is her hair spilling out to the side, basically making Danny look like Wolf from Gladiators. Important plot point: Danny's shirt is entirely open, so I guess we've now reached the point where he is not above trading abs and nips for votes. It starts slowly but with the sense that something big is coming, and then as soon as the drum beats kick in, the routine erupts into life - Danny and Oti are rolling their way around the floor, pawing at each other, all extended arms and swaying hips. It's almost hypnotic. What I really like about the routine is the way it looks like wild abandon, but the two of them are clearly in control of every movement. I've perhaps been a little harsh on Danny before because I've found his routines - while technically excellent - to feel a little passionless and clinical, but here I think the atmosphere is electric and the chemistry fantastic. And as for the choreography: Oti is a treasure and the show should pay whatever is necessary to keep her around for a long time.

Hilariously, as they walk over to Tess, it looks like Danny has a massive bruise on his cheek, though I think - I hope - it's just where Oti's contouring appears to have rubbed off on him. Tess thanks the singers and Dave Arch's Wunnerful Orchestra for their fine work there, and Len opens for the judges by saying that Danny is a tease, starting slow and then erupting into those promenade runs. He thinks Danny was fierce like a puma, and other things Len remembers from watching Bravestarr with the kids back in the 80s. Bruno says he's palpitating and hyperventilating, and he doesn't know if he needs a doctor, a pill, a drink or a cold shower. I don't know about you, but I'm not sensing anything unusual from Bruno here. He says it was like watching a pagan mating ritual, and that every sinew was stretched and a slave to the rhythm. Craig says that he found the open shirt "a slight distraction", but Danny's hip action from the voltas was unprecedented for a male celebrity, the isolation was excellent and he loved the tribal theming. Darcey is impressed that Danny achieved that in one week, and it was like watching a perfect samba masterclass.

Everyone is throwing celebratory shapes up in the Clauditorium, and Claudia congratulates Oti on her inventive choreography, saying that normally "a samba's just like, a small parrot, and people just go like that" (bobbing up and down in a disinterested fashion) and she loved that Danny looked so surprised to get such good comments. Danny responds diplomatically, saying that they work hard all week but you never know what the judges are going to say. Scores: 10s all round again for a perfect score of 40. This is the first time anybody has got a perfect score for a samba in Strictly history, breaking the current record of 39 jointly held by Abbey Clancy and Frankie Bridge. As you can imagine, I'm very much in favour of any development that means no longer having to pretend that Abbey Clancy was the best at anything. Anyway, Oti's a little bit overcome by all of this and collapses onto Danny's chest, as would any right-thinking person at this moment. There are no special guests for the terms and conditions this week, just some cha cha music in the background to help everyone get in the mood for the cha cha challenge. Everyone grabs the nearest available partner, which ends up leaving Janette dancing with Karen, and Neil and Giovanni twirling each other around. I have to admit: into it.

As if to cement Ore's role in this series as Danny's beta, he and Joanne are the unfortunate couple who have to follow that barnstorming start. Ore also has fond memories of last week, getting three tens and being in Blackpool, and says he wouldn't change a single moment. In training, Ore tells Joanne that there have been a lot of incredible pasos so far this series, so they really need to make theirs stand out. And, with the benefit of hindsight, I can't help thinking that telling Joanne to do something striking with the paso may have been a mistake. Anyway, Ore and Joanne giggle about how they're not angry people, so this is going to be difficult for them, though we do also see Joanne basically explaining for the uninitiated what the key elements of the paso are, and what the posture is supposed to look like, which is quite good. Informative VTs: who knew?

They're dancing to Lorde's cover of 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World' and there's a table in between them. Really, have we not learned the lesson about tables yet? Apparently not, because quite a lot of this routine is taken up by one or other of them crawling on/across/under the table. Even taking the table sections out of consideration (please), this is quite a strange paso doble. There are a lot of choreographical flourishes which don't really make a lot of sense to me, and the whole thing is happening at breakneck speed. There is a slight air of panic about it, a feel of rushing through each section in order to get to the next bit on time, and I wish they'd just paused for breath and impact a little bit more, because I feel like this could actually have been quite good? But as it is now, it's a bit of a mess. Still: Ore looks great in eyeliner, more of that please. [There were aspects of this that I really liked but it definitely didn't all pull together-it might have made for a more spectacular showdance than a Paso.  With more rehearsal - Rad]

Tess tells Ore that he's "normally such a pussycat", and Ore says that he hasn't got much to be angry about on this show. Really? Not being in the dance-off when you were seven points clear of Ed Balls? I'd have been quite angry about that, personally. Bruno says that he's got goosebumps, and that the routine was "achingly stylish and original", like the film Nocturnal Animals as a paso doble. I haven't seen that film, so I shall just take his word for it. [I have and I'm not sure I see the connection - Rad] He liked how modern it was, and "it captured the zeitgeist of now". I think Bruno can take the rest of the series off, he's never going to top this moment. Craig says that there was an unsure moment where he looked a bit lost, and he needs to watch his port de bras, but he loved the grand jete en tournant, and he loved the power and the engaging story. Darcey says it was dramatic and intense, and Ore has a very supple upper body which really helps with the posture in this dance. Len says it was full of mood and atmosphere, and he doesn't think he's ever seen anyone get that level of shaping in the twist turns - but there was a little incident that he thought he spotted in there.

They report to Claudia, who calls Ore "the friendliest boy in the whole world" and Ore says that it was difficult because whenever Joanne made angry face at him, it made him feel like he'd done something wrong, and Joanne says she had to bite her lip to stop herself from smiling. Scores: Craig 8, Darcey 9, Len 9, Bruno 10 for a total of 36.

Next up are Louise and Kevin. Tess tells us that Louise has undergone a "Strictly transformation" and "really gained in confidence", which is not really what I've taken away from this series, and I say this as someone who has essentially transferred my allegiance to Louise now that Greg's gone. Anyway, Louise was pleased with how Blackpool went, particularly getting a 10 from Len, who it seems is the judge she most wants to impress. This week they have the waltz, and Kevin's hair is getting increasingly dead-spider-like in the training room. Seriously, what is going on there? Kevin tells her that it's a romantic dance and Louise confesses to not being very romantic (poor Jamie) and demonstrates this by burping banana in Kevin's face. To get Louise in the mood, Jamie comes to join them in training and Kevin shows them how to waltz together, though this just ends up with Louise feeling self-conscious and giggly again. Honestly, it's a miracle they ever conceived any children, isn't it? Still, Louise is very pleased to have her husband dancing with her, even if it was mostly giggling. Jamie tells Louise how proud he is of her, and that he and the boys will be supporting her on Saturday. Awww. They might be a rather dull couple, but they are very sweet together.

They're dancing to Michael Bublé's cover of 'At This Moment', and it's one of the more dramatic waltzes I've seen on this show in a while - perhaps Kevin was wary of doing another low-key one after what happened to Kellie last year. This one is all about a couple apparently close to breaking point, and him desperately pleading for another chance. I'm actually pleasantly surprised by Louise's commitment to this performance - the expression on her face reads as genuine emotion for once. It's typically elegantly and cleanly performed by Louise, although there is one moment where I have to pause and consider whether it's an assisted jump or an illegal lift (I think it's the former, although who even knows with this show any more?). Still, I'm just grateful to have a waltz that was actually fun and engaging to watch, because you don't get too many of those in a series.

Tess says that Louise is the highest scoring female of the series (and likely to remain that way, considering there are only two of them left) and asks Craig if she's maintained that standard. Craig says that Louise always maintains standards (way to make her sound like the dormitory mistress of a 1920s boarding school, Craig) but she needs to watch her shoulders raising in the jazz section. The movement around the floor was incredible though, and he could watch her all night. Darcey loves the two of them together and the way they tell a story through their steps. She loves the artistry of how they play with the music. Len says that we've been treated to three fantastic dances to open the show, and tells Louise not to listen to Craig's comments, which were...almost entirely positive? Bruno loved the interpretation of the music and Louise's impeccable phrasing.

They phrase their way up to the Clauditorium impeccably, and Louise says this felt like the hardest week for her - she isn't sure why, but having to be so controlled was difficult, and she worries that she drove Kevin slightly mad. Scores: Craig 9, Darcey 10, Len 10, Bruno 10 for a total of 39. Everyone claps, and I'm distracted by the fact that someone just out of shot keeps trying to push Neil over. Normally I would suspect Brendan or Anton, but they're both over the other side of the balcony. Curious indeed.

After a brief preview of what's coming up (do we really need this when we only have six couples performing?) and the standard halfway comedy interlude (involving Claudia trying to take a selfie with the camera that Ed will be using for his tango later), it's over to Judge Rinder and Oksana for their rumba. Judge Rinder tells us that he will never forget his Blackpool experience - even though he forgot the steps a bit, he felt like he was having a party. He admits to being apprehensive about the rumba, what with it being A Difficult Dance For The Men and all that, but he's genuinely moved by the routine that Oksana has choreographed for him, which is all about how a teacher can come into your life and make you a dancer. I guess the people who like dirtyfilthyrumbas are going to be quite disappointed by this one. Inspired by the routine, Judge Rinder invites one of his old teachers - the one who did all the school plays - in to meet Oksana, and Wendy (for that is her name) says that she's so proud of "Rob", seeing him dance. They look back at some photos of Diddy Rinder in school plays (one of which looks like Bugsy Malone) and Judge Rinder says that when a teacher believes in you, you can pretty much do anything. So, that's grandparents, war heroes and teachers all checked off the tribute list. I look forward to next week's Argentine tango dedicated to the enduring support shown to him by his make-up artist.

They're dancing to 'Lean On Me', and the routine begins with Judge Rinder leaning on a ballet beam before being encouraged onto the floor by Oksana. It's a sweet and tender routine, sensitively danced, although a little heavy in the feet in places. The rumba clearly isn't a dance where he's naturally strong, but I like his commitment to the mood of the piece, and it's actually a very creditable effort. Honestly, I think his biggest problem here is going to be the fact that this falls at a point in the series where the field is narrow, which makes him vulnerable with a comparatively low-impact dance like this, but we'll see.

His teacher is in the audience and looks on approvingly. Judge Rinder tells Tess that he's definitely not the best dancer here, but he's got the best teacher. Tess asks Darcey if Judge Rinder embraced the character in the story, and Darcey replies "it's difficult, isn't it?" Oof. She didn't think the story gave a purpose to all of those moves, and it is Very Difficult For A Man to have that fluidity that's needed for the rumba. She liked how he used the floor, but she didn't feel he looked comfortable and felt his weight was too far back at times. Len says it wasn't his dance, but it certainly wasn't his worst! He liked the hip action and the arm movement, but he thought it looked a bit taut and lacking in naturalness. Bruno: "Don't worry darling, everything is beautiful at the ballet" - and then goes on to say that Judge Rinder was taking the ballet seriously by acting the dying swan, and develops this thought further by saying there was an element of the funky chicken as well, though somehow this adds up to "it was a brave attempt". Craig finishes by saying it was a bit too spiky and awkward - he thought his body parts were moving independently of his core. But he loved the "earnest" quality of the dance and finds that commendable. This whole section did all feel a bit "you've done well to get this far but we're ready for you to go now", didn't it?

Claudia tells him not to be disheartened and Judge Rinder chirps "I'm not!" Heh, fair enough. Claudia says that his teacher "Wendy" is here, and Rinder replies "no, not Wendy, she's 'Miss'!" That's a whole chunk of backstory right there, isn't it? Judge Rinder says that he hates the word "journey", but that this routine was about their journey, and the teachers on the show are amazing. Scores: Craig 6, Darcey 8, Len 8, Bruno 7 for a total of 29 - sadly bringing Judge Rinder's "your scores have never gone down!" narrative, though given that they also hadn't gone up for the last two weeks either, it was perhaps time. Judge Rinder remains not-disheartened and says that they will just have to win the Cha Cha Challenge now.

Ed and Katya next, and Ed attempts to do Blue Steel straight down the camera. Tess lists Ed's many accomplishments so far this series: rescuing a damsel in distress, flying a flaming piano, and doing a salsa Gangnam style - and now he's going to be a Male Model Activate Ur Lolz Immediately. Ed says that it was a great honour to play a flaming piano in Blackpool, though Katya points out that they have yet to impress Craig. She thinks they need to work harder to prove they deserve to be here. In rehearsals, Katya is wearing some excellent shoes with a lipstick print design all over them as she explains to Ed that she's going to play a male model this week, and Ed does another Spontaneous Reaction Face that looks exactly like every other Spontaneous Reaction Face he's ever done. Apparently Ed bugging his eyes out is just that funny that we need to see it every week. Katya brings in male model Paul Sculfor to show Ed what he needs to be doing, and we approach Maximum Lolz as Ed sashays down an imaginary catwalk and does a series of sexy poses and says that he hopes he can put all of this into practice on Saturday night. Well, I don't know about you guys, but after this VT I am now fully convinced that Ed is dedicated to the craft of dance and deserves to be here.

They're dancing to '(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction', and Katya plays the photographer as Ed lies on a chaise longue and attempts to evoke Derek Zoolander. Positives: while there is still a fair bit of faffing in there, there is also a decent amount of tango content. Negatives: the tango is danced badly throughout. It's leaden and sloppy, and for all that Ed's fans keep trying to push this narrative that he "really is improving", there's absolutely nothing in this routine to back that up. In fact, I went back to look at his week one waltz where he had some basic grasp of the technique but little finesse or flair, and that's exactly what I'm seeing here. It even feels like the comedic aspects of the Ed Balls engine are running on fumes at this point and I dare to hope that this might be the routine that marks his departure from the show, since it's not really memorable for either good or bad reasons. It's just sort of 'there'. [Also, it's a tango, which has been a bit of a dance of death this series - Rad]

Tess hoots that it's "always a joy" to watch Ed and compliments him on his pout. Len snorts that Ed was dancing to "Craig's signature song", and says that there was plenty of content in the routine, and while he's not always the judges' number one choice (he has literally never been the judges' number one choice), he's the people's champion. Remember when they started saying this to Lisa Riley right before she went home? *hugs self hopefully* Bruno says that Ed is like junk food - you shouldn't have it, but you can't help wanting more. Craig, on the other hand, feels overfull and says that Ed's frame was completely hunched over, he had splayed hands, sloppy feet on the kick ball changes and it was very stompy. Darcey loved his focus at the beginning, but then he started to lose it. She thinks it was too bouncy, and that Ed maybe got a bit lost in the character.

Claudia reiterates that Ed works really hard every week, and Ed chuckles that "being a male model, it's not really me, is it?" Yes Ed, that was the joke. I think you were supposed to be in on it. Scores: Craig 4, Darcey 6, Len 7, Bruno 6 for a total of 23. The exact same score as last week, in the exact same format. Ed chuckles that he thinks he's going to win the Cha Cha Challenge.

In the pimp slot for the third time this series (statswatch: Louise has had it twice, while Danny, Greg, Judge Rinder, Ed, Ore and Will have each had it once), it's Claudia and AJ. They reflect on last week's Blackpool jive, where AJ applauds her for carrying on after the mistake and picking up the routine, and Claudia says that being in the dance-off was horrible, but she's so grateful to be here for another week. In our weekly trip to Bad Acting Corner, AJ shouts at Claudia that the Argentine tango is full of speed, quick turns and fast footwork, so he's taking her go-karting (?????), and Claudia responds that she can't actually drive. Honestly, I've seen better line-readings on The Only Way Is Essex. Anyway, it turns out that Claudia is crap at go-karting and AJ beat her soundly, so that was an excellent way to waste valuable training time, well done everyone.

They're dancing to a truly ghastly arrangement of Justin Timberlake's 'Cry Me A River', and Claudia spends a lot of time in the air. Truly she is our champion of Strictly Come Lifting. Overall it's pretty impressive: very sharp and staccato with quick, snappy movements, but the section where they hook their legs around each other is a little sloppy, and also in the running jumps they look a little more like show ponies than I would personally prefer them to. [I would have liked more of her feet touching the ground, to be honest, again it felt more showdancey - but a vast improvement on last week - Rad]

Tess squeals that their routine was "breathtaking! breathtaking!" Bruno calls the routine a "tour de force", as opposed to last week's jive, which was a tour de farce. He loved the aerial displays and thought that she was never going to land. I must admit I thought the same at one point, though I don't quite mean it as complimentarily as Bruno does. He did think she was strong, controlled and precise, and he liked that she developed a dramatic persona. Craig would've liked her legs to be looser for the ganchos and it was a little placed, but he loved it and thought it was incredible. Darcey loved her balance, control and upper body strength to produce those lifts while keeping her body so calm. She echoes Bruno in saying that it's great to see her playing a sultry, moody character. Len says that she had total control over what she was doing - a mixture of frisky movement and risky lifts.

In the Clauditorium, Claudia W tells us that the pros were very excited about the choreography and that Natalie in particular was blown away by it. Claudia F says that she loved being moody and that she went for the performance so much that her toe popped out of her shoe. AJ says that it was his favourite routine of the series too. Scores: unanimous nines for a total of 36. I've seen people say this was undermarked, and I'm not sure I agree - I think 36 is about what it deserved, but what's clearly wrong here is that it scored the same as her terrible jive from last week, so if someone could just get hold of a time machine and go back and get that corrected, that'd just be super. Claudia W ushers them off to get changed for the Cha Cha Challenge, since they only have about three minutes to do so.

Pre Cha Cha Challenge leaderboard:
1. Danny & Oti - 40
2. Louise & Kevin - 39
3. Ore & Joanne - 36
4. Claudia & AJ - 36
5. Judge Rinder & Oksana - 29
6. Ed & Katya - 23

Here's Len with a VT to explain how it's all going to work and also to give Claudia a bit longer to get changed. The rules are as follows: the professionals have drawn positions on the dancefloor from a hat, so it's all above board (I love it when things happen off-camera and we are assured they were DEFINITELY NOT RIGGED, that doesn't ring any alarm bells at all) - they must keep dancing for the duration of the music, and halfway through they will switch positions so everyone gets equal time close to the judges. There are to be no lifts, and if anyone tries a lift, they will get zero points. And everyone will get their scores at the end - the weakest couple will get one point, and the strongest couple will get six - and this will be added to their overall score. Len says that this has the opportunity to "well and truly shake up the leaderboard", and I appreciate that this VT was pre-recorded, but Judge Rinder and Ed are going to be fifth and sixth whatever happens, because there aren't enough points available to change that (unless Ed wins the whole thing and Rinder is disqualified, but that seems fairly unlikely).

Before the dance begins, Claudia reveals that the couples won't know what song they're going to dance to, and Len explains that this is how it works in a professional ballroom competition - you have to make do with what you're given, stay on time and keep it rhythmic. Bruno warns us that the couples have to stand out for the right reasons, Ed, and they need to maintain the look of the dance throughout without getting carried away with the improvising.

The couples arrive on the floor and dance to 'I Like It Like That'. As ever with the -athons, it's pretty hard to keep track of what's going on and who's doing what, but Danny and Oti seem to be the clear standouts, with Louise and Kevin not too far behind (although she could do with straightening her legs a bit), then Ore and Claudia in the middle with not much to choose between them, then Rinder and Ed clearly at the back of the pack. Nobody seems to be expecting the music to end when it does, although Ed carries on for about an extra six beats, bless him. If I were ranking it, it'd be Danny, Louise, Ore, Claudia, Judge Rinder, Ed in declining order of skill, but I imagine the judges will have other ideas.

Bruno cackles that it was nerve-wracking for him, never mind anyone else, and he thinks everyone has improved very much since week one (note: Ed's cha cha cha happened in week six). He thought they all worked hard, and while not everyone had correct timing, they did a wonderful job. Claudia says that they all looked magnificent to her, and Craig says that they weren't, of course, but the judges are really struggling to agree on the ranking, and it was wonderful to see so much great hip action. Tess says that the results could turn the leaderboard on its head (not unless they're planning on offering Ed the 18 points he needs to overtake Danny, it won't), and Len reveals the verdict: Ed is in sixth place of course, Judge Rinder is fifth, Claudia and AJ are fourth, Ore and Joanne are third, Danny and Oti are second, which puts Louise and Kevin in first. I find that slightly hard to get my head around because Danny was clearly the best one out there to my eyes [and mine - Rad], but then there was a lot going on that the camera didn't capture, so I can't bring myself to feel too cheated by it - it is what it is. Let's see what that does to the leaderboard:

1=. Danny & Oti - 40+5=45
1=. Louise & Kevin - 39+6=45
3. Ore & Joanne - 36+4=40
4. Claudia & AJ - 36+3=39
5. Judge Rinder & Oksana - 29+2=31
6. Ed & Katya - 23+1=24

So that potentially earth-shattering Cha Cha Challenge has...broken the tie between Ore and Claudia and created a new one between Danny and Louise. And that's it. Well, it filled 10 minutes of airtime, didn't it? It's still possible for Ed to be saved by the public, though the tie happening right at the very top makes it harder for him to overtake Claudia, whose vote I would think is fairly strong this week after a) being in the bottom two last week and b) a dance that was widely perceived as being undermarked. We'll find out soon enough...

Saturday, 26 November 2016

This week on It Takes Two, we have learnt...

- Greg's favourite dances were the American smooth, the rumba, the Viennese waltz and the quickstep.
- Greg wants us all to stop giving Ed such a hard time.
- There were some last-minute changes made to Danny's charleston.
- Natalie and Joanne got Greg and Ore pink fluffy cowboy hats for their birthdays.
- Judge Rinder pronounces floral as 'florral'.
- Judge Rinder was channeling Popeye when he had to lift Oksana over his head.
- If Judge Rinder can't get his steps right this weekend he's just going to rip his top off for votes instead.
- Zoe has offered to advise Judge Rinder on what to use to bribe the judges.
- We're moving into calling Judge Rinder 'Rob Rinder' now.  It'll be Robbiekins by the time he leaves, at this rate.  If he can hurry up and get to just 'Rob' soon, that'd be much better for my voice software.
- Oksana thinks Judge Rinder will claw points back from the rumba during the rigathon.  Bless.
- Gorka and Karen are the two pros who eat the most, while Oti and Katya are the bossiest.
- Natalie's favourite dance is ALL OF THEM, THEY'RE ALL AMAZING. Bless her.
- The pro dancers learn their group dances in August initially, then have a refresher on the Monday before the live show.
- Oksana has been dancing since she was six, and BOY ARE HER LEGS TIRED etc.  She also became a dancer to live out her mum's dreams, which makes me feel sad. Aljaž has been dancing since he was three-and-a-half and competing since he was five, and Natalie started when she was three.
- If Oksana wasn't a dancer, she'd like to work with animals. Aljaž and Natalie think they might have been professional athletes instead.
- Karen Hardy seems to have made a skirt from brown parcel tape.
- In open dancing competitions, people just go into the middle and fleckerl until they're the last pair standing like some sick game of endurance.
- According to Janette and Melvin's silly chart thing, Susanna Reid had the best faceography in Strictly history.
- Bill Withers wrote 'Lean on Me' because he was homesick after moving town.
- 'Lean on Me' is also, apparently, rumba music now.
- Lisa the make-up designer gets asked about contouring a lot.
- Chloe has a great jawline that doesn't need contouring.
- Claudia has an olympic rings necklace.
- Claudia just bounced up and down in the jive when she forgot what she was meant to be doing.
- Both AJ and Karen think that the mistake in Claudia's jive was so subtle that no one at home would even have noticed it. Both AJ and Karen are deeply mistaken.
- Claudia is still in love with her prop dancers.
- Ian missed out on watching BLACKPOOL live because he was at a wedding.
- Ian thinks Oti and Danny might get the first perfect samba score.
- Neil has a Nice Coat.
- Neil's Cossack dancing teacher is the most Mancunian Cossack dancer you could imagine.
- Cossack dancing started out as a way of celebrating your victory in battle.
- Harvey the Runner's attempt at Cossack dancing looks very much like a frog jumping.  In a good way.  If that's possible.
- Kevin has gone back to wearing dodgy hats indoors.
- Frankie Bridge thinks Louise should have got 40 for her paso.
- Off-brand Zoe has been watching Kevin Bridge in the jungle.
- Kevin always casts himself as the irresistible romantic hero of all of his dances. Louise seems unmoved.
- It was Zoe's turn to have a birthday this week.  Johnny Ball brought her a cake with an adorable candleabra of birthday candles on.
- Judge Rinder has taken to wearing Oksana's knee supports in training.
- Everything about Ore in a navy vest and shorts, ankle socks and heeled black shoes flouncing about in paso training is hilarious.
- The pro challenge is back! But only 13 pros are taking part. They will have to do as many jive flicks and kicks as possible in 30 seconds.
- Joanne likes a long skirt.
- The show's mannequins are too 'big boned' for Oti's outfits.
- Vicky Gill does occasionally get people telling her they hate their outfits and having a flounce.
- Jo's office looking a bit 'officey' and mention of a table makes me fear her paso will have echoes of Robin and Deborah's desk dance from series 11.
- Aljaž likes to eat squid.
- Aljaž has developed Kevin's taste in dodgy hats.
- The pro challenge has opened, with Aljaž scoring 52 jive kicks in 30 seconds.
- Pasha thinks he can beat Neil in a sack race. PASHA CAN RACE INTO MY SA--[yes, THANK you - Ed.]
- Pasha is the pro who's the most addicted to his phone, while Karen and Brendan are the grumpiest pros first thing in the morning.
- Ore hasn't spoken to his mum all week. Guess he really took those comments about his figure-of-eight in the salsa badly.
- There are only six points separating Ore and Louise (i.e. Joanne and Kevin) on the cumulative scoreboard.
- Ed and Danny doing samba rolls together is perhaps the least erotic thing you will ever see.
- Karen C just casually hangs around with her leg on Neil's shoulder.
- Anton will be trampolining in the group dance.
- Katy Brand is happy with the final six, but she misses Daisy and her “huge megawatt smile”.
- Dan Walker used to be a Tameka supporter, then he was behind Greg, and now he’s supporting Louise.
- Miranda Hart wants Judge Rinder to be her friend.
- Katy Brand worries that Danny might be too good.
- Dan Walker thinks that if you put a tea towel over the top of the screen when Danny and Oti are on, you can’t tell which one the professional dancer is. Except you can, because Oti is shorter than he is, and also a black woman.
- Oti and Danny changed their final lift for the charleston right at the end because they couldn't get it right.
- Danny doesn't think you can compare any two different dances.  I'm not sure he's got the point of this show, to be honest.
- Oti prefers a more tribal-themed samba.
- Danny’s rehearsals for the Cha Cha Challenge have not been going so great so far, according to Oti.
- Ed is very proud of that one week he wasn't bottom of the leaderboard.
- Ed has been wearing Katya's cardigan in rehearsals.
- Ed is playing a Zoolander-type character in their tango.  (Also: Ed is (justover a year) younger than Ben Stiller, think of that what you will)
- If Craig had a 9.9 paddle, he would've given Danny's charleston a 9.9.
- Craig gets annoyed by the other judges not using their full range of paddles, especially as he thinks the paddles below 4 are the 'most interesting'.
- If Craig could've partnered one of the celebs, he would've liked to do a jive with Jill Halfpenny, or anything at all with Gethin. (Careful, Craig, maybe Gorka's the jealous type.)
- AJ has never done an Argentine tango before.
- Oti has never tried to break a record before. Apart from that time Danny Mac TRIED TO MAKE HER LISTEN TO COLDPLAY, RARRRRGGHH.
- The secret to controlling your arms and legs if you're lanky is to strengthen your core.
- Oti did 57 kicks and flicks in the pro challenge, but had eight disqualified, so her total stands at 49.
- Miranda Hart misses Vincent and Flavia.
- Katy Brand and Dan Walker think Claudia (Winkleman, judging by the pronunciation) is going home this weekend, and Miranda Hart thinks it's either Judge Rinder or Danny.
- Katy Brand's head wants Danny to win but her heart wants Ed to win, Dan Walker wants Louise to win, Miranda Hart wants Ed to win.
- Natalie prefers Zoe to Gethin.
- Gethin seemed a bit lost without Gorka this week.  Sending you our best wishes, Gorka!