After the loss of a couple and a judge, are the wheels coming off or are we just getting started?
No elections have just been called, no lockdowns have been announced, two contestants have already been sent home: this is a normal, honest-to-goodness Strictly episode. Well, aside from the rubbish news earlier this week that Nicola and Katya, our beloved girl/girl couple carrying the hopes and dreams of a nation on their perfectly-matched backs, had to withdraw because Katya tested positive for coronavirus (be well!). And the next day we got the news that Motsi Mabuse had to travel to Germany, meaning that taking her chair on the judging panel would be none other than Anton DuBeke! It took a pandemic for him to finally get his shot and his grin as he took to the chair suggested he’s thrilled about it. Anton can be a bit marmite, but it’s hard to root against someone who is having such a good time.
First up tonight we had HRVY and Janette, doing Janette’s favourite, the salsa, to BTS’s ‘Dynamite’. (As I’ve written about before, I really love this song.) I was worried this could be a bit forgettable, especially in the opening slot, but they did an astonishing pot-stirrer (check out my knowledge!) which gave me actual chills. And Shirley cracked out a TEN! A salsa for the ages! Straight afterwards, we had Ranvir and Giovanni, who were landed with a cha cha this week. I always find this dance a little bit dull, and after the fiery start we had from HRVY and Janette this one suffered in comparison. Ranvir is a beautiful dancer but she’s definitely more at home in ballroom than latin. Proving that ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’, Maisie and Gorka later brought us another cha cha in a Barbie-themed routine to Cyndi Lauper, with some enjoyable robot-dancing thrown in. More importantly, Gorka wore some teeny-tiny blue booty shorts and Twitter collectively melted.
Max and Dianne danced an American Smooth, the dance that Nicola and Katya were supposed to do this week (but I’m OVER IT and it’s FINE). The art deco stylings were cool, but the dancing was a little flat. Anton, who, like all guest judges, was awarding some very generous scores and comments, gave Max some encouragement about his left arm (okay, sure). JJ and Amy also got some encouragement in their training session, with a Zoom call from literal Prince Harry. They danced a delightful military-themed jive to ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ and against my better judgement, I really liked it. Caroline and Johannes were back in the ballroom after last week’s underwhelming Couple’s Choice with a waltz. It was gentle, elegant and beautiful.
Like Anton, I was worried about Bill and Oti dancing a Couple’s Choice to ‘Rapper’s Delight’ by The Sugarhill Gang, but I shouldn’t have been. They put in another wonderful performance and Shirley gave out another ten! Bill is so much fun to watch – he is clearly so dedicated to learning and giving the best performance possible and it continued to pay off in spades. After a shaky start and getting into the dance off in week two, Jamie and Karen have become a partnership to watch. Jamie is slightly more enthusiasm than skill, but their samba, to ‘Bamboleo’ by Gipsy Kings was phenomenal; somehow it managed to be as wildly entertaining as their madcap Charleston last time, and with their matching hair and costumes they brought an inexplicable queer energy (no YOU’RE reaching because you miss Nicola and Katya!).
Standards have been creeping up each week as our contestants gain confidence and experience, but this show felt like a step change. Clara and Aljaž, a couple who have been brimming with promise since the launch show, rounded off the night by finally giving us the performance we all knew they were capable of. They danced a Charleston to ‘Baby Face’, a piece that came out in 1926, a.k.a. the year the Charleston hit peak popularity. Clara got to wear a gorgeous sparkly gold fringed shorts-and-crop-top combo and it was the perfect outfit for perfect music for perfect choreography, perfectly performed with style and flair. Friends and folks, we have a competition here!