Joanne Clifton's advice to the Strictly finalists - and what she makes of those Shirley Ballas quitting rumours
The RadioTimes.com columnist was far more impressed with the performances on this week's Strictly Come Dancing semi-final
I thought everybody in Strictly Come Dancing’s semi-final last weekend upped their game and I was actually very, very, very pleased!
Firstly, I loved Alexandra Burke’s Salsa. Loved it, loved it, loved it. I was like ‘yes!’ because that was the kind of energy, grit and determination that I got from seeing her Jive to Proud Mary in week four. That was exactly what I meant last week – to come out and do something amazing. And those lifts - she just absolutely went for it. She was fearless and she just absolutely jumped into it!
And then Debbie came out and did her Jive, which is a fast dance for someone her age. I know Craig commented on her faces being similar to the ones pulled by Judge Rinder when he was on the show, but that was probably because Judge Rinder was sat there in the audience. I was actually quite happy with her expressions because it looked like she wasn’t just being the normal, very precise, very elegant Debbie; she was actually putting more into it which is exactly what I wanted.
The 7 Debbie got from Craig for that performance was harsh, and like the other judges, I’d have given her a 9. The kicks and flicks could have been a little bit better, a little bit more energetic. But I really enjoyed watching it. And if I enjoy watching a performance, then it tells me something.
Not only that, but Shirley Ballas was really positive this week, too. I was like, ‘Yes!’ It’s better when the show opens with a bit of positivity. Also, I really doubt Shirley will leave after this year. I hope not, anyway. I know I criticised her last week, but I do think she’s the perfect replacement for Len. She more than knows her stuff and she’s like a walking technique book. And I don’t know who else could do it.
The only thing that was a little bit inconsistent on Saturday was this rule about being in hold and being not in hold. Giovanni got pulled up on it for his Foxtrot with Debbie, but it was only towards the end when they separated - but Gorka and Alexandra had a lot more time out of their Viennese Waltz this week and it didn’t get mentioned. Again, that’s not Alexandra’s fault - let’s explain that. It’s just that the judges need to be fair. They didn’t get pulled up on this 10-second rule, but Giovanni did.
Craig said he was taking a point off Debbie for that, but I don’t think it should have been deducted because they went into hold straight away and off they were. And, yes, they weren’t in hold at the end but if that was divided into a bit of the beginning and a bit at the end, so it would probably amount to the same amount of time.
Like Bruno, I would have given their performance a 10 because for me, in ballroom Debbie looked like an actual ballroom dance international competitor for her age group in that Foxtrot. She’s got one of the best ballroom holds that I’ve seen - and good on Gio for fighting Craig about that, because I didn’t agree with that either.
And what I’ve said about Debbie’s ballroom hold I will say about Gemma’s legs and feet. Her legs and feet are possibly some of the best I’ve seen on Strictly for a girl in Rumba. She was really good and I was so impressed. I wish it would have continued up into her body!
Joe’s Argentine Tango performance as a whole was amazing. And that ending thing... I mean, Katya’s a genius! The core strength that they must have - I bow down to them, honestly. I did notice he needed to point his feet more but I’d still have given it a 10.
It really could be anybody who wins Strictly this weekend and I think it’s just going to depend on what happens on the night. Luckily for Ore and I in the final last year, our dances and our Showdance went really, really well and I think that’s going to be the case here. If you take any of them on the day, they could just win it. Anybody could go wrong, anybody could have an off-week. You just don’t know.
Going into the final this weekend, I think for Debbie and Alexandra they’ve each got the opposite strengths and they’ve both got to find a balance. For me, Debbie has got so much precision, lines and beauty, that I need a little bit more performance - which she did in the Jive. Because if we can feel that she’s really enjoying it, then we enjoy it too.
Whereas Alexandra has got the right amount of character, attack and performance and she needs to make sure she’s got a balance of that and precision. Similarly if Gemma’s got ballroom in the final, she needs to work on staying out to the left a bit more than she did in the Tango this week. But she did get into it so much that I think it’s kind of a good thing, and she did it perform it very well.
For Joe, I would just say to him to just continue with what he’s doing. Carry on what you’re doing because you love it and give it 150% in both performance and technique.
And overall my advice to them would be: yes, try your hardest because you’ve done so well to get this far, and it’s really difficult. But at the same time, I just think what’s more important is to embrace your last week of training together, of Strictly itself, of being able to perform live on this amazing TV programme, don’t get too obsessed over the Glitterball, and flipping enjoy it. That’s what me and Ore did – we didn’t put so much pressure on it and I think that came across.
I had my final Flashdance performance of 2017 last Saturday and I was the only one who cried! I’m coming back next year (so is Ben Adams!) so everyone was going ‘what you crying for? You’re going to be doing this until October next year!’ and I was like ‘I know, but we’ve been a family for the last six months!’
I didn’t miss any of the performances in that time, either. Imelda Staunton is my absolute idol and I saw her (five times!) in Gypsy in the West End. I don’t know if this is true but I had heard that she hadn’t taken a show off, and I made that goal - because if she can do it at her age then I should be able to do it.
Right now I’m rehearsing for a production of Top Hat in London. It’s the absolute opposite of Flashdance and I’m literally having my wigs measured now. Getting into the famous Ginger Rogers wig is a bit different from Alex Owens’ perm!