Joanne Clifton on Strictly Come Dancing 2017 Week 1: Simon Rimmer is this year’s Ore Oduba

In her weekly blog for RadioTimes.com, last year's winner Joanne Clifton reflects on low scores from the judges and what Giovanni Pernice told her about THAT kiss from Debbie McGee

Strictly jo clifton

Having performed at the launch show for Strictly Come Dancing this year and seeing the group number, I thought that as a whole, these celebrities weren’t going to be as talented from the off as last year’s.

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But I was very, very surprised when everybody came out and danced like that on Week One. I was like, “Do you know what? This is actually a really strong group.” So I was wrong!

What I did think was that the judges marked very low. Although this is the first show, and the marks got higher towards the end of the programme, I thought a few of the couples were under-marked.

Without sounding bias, I thought Karen Clifton and Simon Rimmer didn’t deserve to be where they were on the leaderboard with 17 points. I also thought Alexandra Burke could have had a few higher marks, and even Gemma Atkinson, actually. She was out first and that’s always difficult because the judges have nothing to compare you to. She got 20, but she was better than that!

If I was looking to compare this year’s group to last year I would say that Aston Merrygold is the Danny Mac of 2017, and I would put both Simon Rimmer and Joe McFadden as the Ore Odubas! Especially Simon for some reason.

Ore and I didn’t start out bad, but we didn’t start out good either. We had a bad first and second week with our Tango and our Cha Cha, but at the same time, Ore really went for it – and so did Simon. There were moments where he looked amazing, and for an absolute non-dancer I thought he was really, really good. I think he should be one to watch!

Aston was absolutely brilliant, too. They were criticised a little bit for their dance not looking like a Foxtrot – and OK, you can argue that if you want – but fair play to Janette Manrara. You need to come out with a bang, you need to look at what your dance partner does best – their assets, what they’re good at – and come out and put them in there straight away. She had the courage to do something different in a Foxtrot, which really hasn’t been done before. She was taking a risk because she knew that she’d get those type of comments, but I would have done the same if I had Aston as a partner!

I think nerves got to Ruth Langsford, and she was the one who got things wrong the most. She kind of deserves to be at the end of the leaderboard, but at the same time, if she’d have got those steps right I think she would have earned a higher mark, because she did have the gracefulness and elegance of the Waltz. Now that she’s got the first show out of the way, she knows what’s going to happen and she has performed in front of an audience. I’m hoping that from next week onwards she’s a little bit more used to it. She was nervous, but she did carry on smiling and dancing with Anton Du Beke – and they are a really nice couple.

When it comes to Rev. Richard Coles, he got 17 and he was in the right place on the leaderboard, because technically it wasn’t great. It was very entertaining, but I think Dianne Buswell needs to be careful, because I made a little bit of this mistake on some of my dances on my first year with Scott Mills.

Sometimes, because he wasn’t the greatest dancer, I thought, ‘We’ll be the funny couple’. And it didn’t quite work. The week we were knocked out we did a Foxtrot to The Addams Family and I didn’t go for funny. I went for technique, to make him feel like a proper dancer rather than thinking how entertaining the routine’s got to be, and that was the best he danced. If you have someone who’s not naturally talented, I think you have to be careful not to choreograph something too funny!

Also from my own experience, I’m a Ballroom and Latin dancer, but for Flashdance – the musical I’m currently appearing in – I’ve had to learn Street Dance, commercial Hip Hop and stuff like that. It is hard! I’ve had to have choreography changed for me because I can’t do it; to go from doing Waltzes and Foxtrots to rolling around on the floor trying to look cool is actually really hard. So I’m going to defend the ones who have had dance training because this is an ongoing discussion.

Debbie McGee is trained in ballet, but Ballroom and Latin are completely different styles. It would be so hard to free up the hips, the back and to become fluid. But her Paso Doble, wow, what a dance that was! Apart from Giovanni Pernice’s choreography, it was absolutely brilliant. Of course we know that she’s danced before and she’s great, but for that age? To do that!?

I spoke to Giovanni after the show – we’re really good friends because we trained together in Italy for nine years – and I asked him if that kiss was planned and he said, “No it wasn’t, I didn’t know what to do!” She just gave a proper performance, didn’t give a monkeys how it came across, and I really admired that.

What a surprise Kevin Clifton and Susan Calman were too! She came out and she absolutely smashed it – I couldn’t believe it. I think there’s a lot of love out there for them, and what I’ve heard from Kevin is that even though she has hectic schedules and is travelling up to Glasgow and back, she’s the one who says, “I need to go over it again and again and again, so when I actually get there it’s just in my body”.

I also think Shirley Ballas she proved herself to be the best replacement for Len that there could have been. She’s an excellent Head Judge because with every couple she was looking at the technique and that’s what you need. I didn’t think she was too harsh at all – she gave constructive comments and was very honest and I think she’s brilliant. She did a great job.

Strictly Come Dancing Shirley Ballas 2017

I had lessons with Shirley when I was a child and she used to teach me – and she’s a tough cookie. She will stand up for herself; if Craig says something that she doesn’t agree with, I’m just waiting for her to explode. It’ll be hilarious!

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Strictly Come Dancing will continue on Saturday 31st September at 6.45pm on BBC1. Joanne Clifton currently stars in Flashdance – The Musical in theatres across the UK. Visit the website for full details of tour venues and dates.