It glittered and was gay: Strictly’s first week was a whirlwind of dark horses and surprisingly decent cha chas as the couples found their feet.
Here we are, it’s the first week of live dances on Strictly Come Dancing 2020! I don’t know about you, but it feels like this week has been particularly difficult, with local lockdown stress and the defeat of Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign, on top of everything else happening in our lives. We need this series of Strictly to be good, more than ever before. Based on this first week of performances, our 2020 contestants are up to the challenge.
First up it’s Made In Chelsea star Jamie Laing, along with his partner Karen Hauer, finally getting to do a real dance on Strictly for the first time, after getting injured in last year’s launch show. With their matching blond cropped hair they’re an aesthetically-pleasing couple but can he dance? Jamie’s cha cha to Iceland’s would-have-been Eurovision 2020 entry ‘Think About Things’ by Daði Freyr is no showstopper but it’s decent for week 1. Shirley says he’s got a lot of potential, Motsi says he looked like he had a lot of fun and Craig loved the energy. Score: 14
Caroline Quentin and Johannes Radebe are dancing an American Smooth to ‘9 to 5 (Morning Train)’ by Sheena Easton. Their video package is absolutely delightful: Caroline is crying because she’s already falling back in love with dance (aren’t we all!). Their routine is just as lovely – I couldn’t take my eyes off their beautiful moves. Motsi calls her a dancing queen, Craig “loved it”(!!) and Shirley says she’s graceful, charming and elegant, and my mum and I totally agree. Score: 21
After a nervy start last week, I was very interested to see how singer Max George and his partner Dianne Buswell do this week, and they’re up next, with a tango no less! They’re dancing to James Bay’s ‘Best Fake Smile’. They seem like they’re having a good time in rehearsals which will hopefully have allayed his nerves. Their tango is bright and fun, and he’s clearly trying really hard. Personally I prefer when tangoes are a bit more traditional in their styling, but this is entertaining enough. Craig says he was left wanting more, Shirley says she also wanted a more traditional tango (am I a dancing expert!?) and Motsi says she felt him thinking during the dance but that he’s “got it all”. Score:17
Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo and Aljaž Škorjanec are dancing another cha cha, to ‘Don’t Start Now’ by Dua Lipa. It’s another fun, upbeat dance. Cha chas are never my faaaaavourite but this is really entertaining, for a cha cha. They’re a very endearing couple and Shirley says it’s a very good start to the show. Motsi says every single step was “spot on”, and Craig says it was technically a bit poor, but that there’s time to improve. Clara continues to be thrilled to be here (“I’ve stepped inside the TV!”) and gets a sweet video message from Dua Lipa. It’s all very lovely. Score: 18
In a handbrake change of vibe, we have Jacqui Smith and Anton DuBeke dancing to ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ by Monty Python. They are laughing a lot in rehearsals, so at least they’re having fun. They do an election-themed routine which at this point is honestly just a bit triggering but apart from that, Jacqui does well for the absolute beginner that she is (something of a rarity in Strictly). Motsi says she looked comfortable on the floor, Craig says it lacked musicality and “ended up a little bit lumpy” but Shirley was pleasantly surprised at the huge improvement she’s made since the launch show. Clearly she’s not the best dancer but she’s having a great time and Anton’s silver fox look is really working for him so that’s nice. Score: 13
Former Marine and TV presenter JJ Chalmers and Amy Dowden are up next and they perform a beautiful waltz to ‘What A Wonderful World’ by Louis Armstrong. It is lush and gorgeous, utterly compelling. Craig says he loved it, calling it “simple and effective”. Shirley says it was “just lovely” and Motsi says it was magical and “what dancing is”. It’s Amy’s first ever waltz on the show, and she deserves a lot of credit for the beautiful choreography and her gorgeous performance but it’s the two of them dancing together that created this poignant moment. Bravo! Score: 19
The samba has been one of my favourite dances since Oti Mabuse and Danny Mac’s astonishing routine in 2016 so I was excited to see what actor Maisie Smith and Gorka Marquez came up with this week. And this! Is! Great! Their samba is phenomenal; Maisie is clearly a talented dancer and their partnership is already one of the most exciting. The routine gets a well-deserved huge standing ovation. Shirley calls her “an absolute firecracker”, Motsi says she brought it back to mother earth with her shaking hips and Craig calls it “A! Maze! Ing!” (wait, is that a pun on her name? Fun!). Score: 24
TV presenter and former NFL player Jason Bell is dancing an American Smooth to ‘My Girl’ by The Temptations with his partner, relative newcomer Luba Mushtuk. He says there are two things he likes about the dance: that it’s American and it’s smooth, words that could well be applied to Jason himself. He isn’t given all that much to do in this dance and the choreography is a bit awkward but his megawatt smile is so irresistible that Motsi says she’s going to call him ‘Jason Joy’. Craig wasn’t a fan of the choreo (me neither!) but Shirley says he gave 100% and “the sky’s the limit”. I can’t really tell if he wasn’t that good or it wasn’t his dance but I suspect he’s got a lot more to show us. Score: 16
A paso doble to Beyoncé’s ‘End Of Time’ in week one is going to be a challenge to anyone, let alone someone who is not from a performing background but that is exactly what they have given to political broadcaster Ranvir Singh and her partner Giovanni Pernice. Paso dobles, with their fiery drama, are one of my favourite dances and this one is no exception. Ranvir nails the skirt-flipping, starting the dance with 20 seconds of solo dancing before being joined by Giovanni and whatever they’ve done to his hair. Craig says it’s a great first dance, Shirley compliments the choreo (“you can be a superstar doing basic steps”) and Motsi says Ranvir’s improved loads since the launch and given herself a lot of space to grow. Score: 21
Next up it’s finally Nicola Adams and Katya Jones!!!! As a queer woman who happens to adore Strictly Come Dancing, I can’t explain how excited I am for this partnership. They’re dancing a quickstep, which are always great fun, to ‘Get Happy’ by Ella Fitzgerald. Aaaaaand, it is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen – they’re wonderfully in sync and having the best time dancing together. They are in monochrome outfits, both in trousers, and flipping the lead between each other throughout. When it finishes the crowd goes wild and Nicola, beaming, declares “I’m a dancer, baby!” and we all cried (right?). Shirley compliments Katya’s choreo and says she’s really excited for the partnership. Motsi says she loved it and Craig says they’ve proved they’re absolute dynamite. From a purely dance perspective this was cracking, and although I don’t want to pin too much to a silly dancing show, it feels really, really special to see them dance together. Score: 21
What can possibly follow that history-making moment? Bill Bailey and Oti Mabuse, of course. They are doing a cha cha to ‘Pata Pata’ by Miriam Makeba (Oti remains the undisputed queen of song choice) and I take back everything I’ve said about cha chas: this is wildly entertaining. Bill Bailey was a dark horse this year but he brings flair, his own unique style and so much fun. The one thing that kills a dance is awkwardness and there isn’t a shred of that here. Motsi calls them “a whole mood”, Craig says he’s created a whole new dance genre and Shirley says he brought the biggest smile to her face. It was unconventional but it was everything that Strictly should be about. Score: 15
Rounding off the show is a jive from pop star HRVY and his partner Janette Manrara, dancing to ‘Faith’ by Stevie Wonder featuring Ariana Grande. Jives are – if you can do them – always such a good time and this is a fantastic jive! I feel a bit like HRVY’s been hustling us with chat of nerves and lack of experience – this kid is phenomenal. Janette is always dazzling in these quick dances and the two of them are marvellous together. Craig says it was “absolutely spectacular,” Shirley says it was “fierce, fast, fabulous” and Motsi says it was “the best first dance I have ever seen”. Score: 25
This was an incredible statement of intent from the Strictly Come Dancing class of 2020. There is nobody here without the potential to improve but more importantly every single couple brought huge entertainment value. Putting footwork and fun aside for a moment, history has been made on our screens by Nicola Adams and Katya Jones. Women can love each other, marry each other, and now they can dance together on the BBC. Watching them dance their quickstep was pure joy. Being queer, for me, has opened my life up to new possibilities in ways I never could have imagined. By asking to dance with a woman – in keeping with the way she lives her life at home – Nicola is showing the country that we can question the status quo, we can do things differently, and the sky doesn’t fall in. It was a heartwarming coincidence when Tess Daly and Claudia Winkelman told us what’s coming next week and mentioned that Sam Smith is performing, using their they/them pronoun, in what I’d assume must be another Strictly first. This whole episode was a cocoon of normality and sparkle and progress and love at a time when those things can feel in short supply. They’re all dancers, baby!!