From week one, the standard this year has been the highest we’ve ever had! Almost across the board, the dancing has been absolutely brilliant. But the problem with that – and I know it’s unlike me to focus on the negatives – is that it set up the celebrities to fail. It also, sadly, puts pressure on them to maintain that level – we’ve already seen Danny Mac and Ore Oduba trip up a little!
There are very few weak dancers in the group, so it’s almost impossible to predict who’ll be in the bottom two every Sunday. Unfortunately, in the first few weeks it’s a popularity contest, as the public vote for those they know and like. As far as I’m concerned, popularity and how familiar a celebrity is to the viewers is all it comes down to at that stage. In the dance-offs, Melvin was up against Anastacia; Tameka against Laura; Naga found herself in the bottom two with Anastacia. The colour of someone’s skin doesn’t explain anything. Prove it and I might listen to what the tabloids have said about it. But I don’t think the public vote on that basis, and as far as the judges are concerned, the better dancer is always the one that goes through.
But now we’re at the serious end of the competition, the viewers start looking at technique. Performance starts to trump personality.
Who do I think will be in the final? Danny, Louise Redknapp, and I love Ore! Although I have a horrible feeling that Ed Balls has enough gimmicks to be the wild card... And the public will keep voting for him just to spite me!
So… who’s hopeless, who’s improving – and who’s going to win?
Louise Redknapp – A
Greatest strength: She’s a wonderful, wonderful dancer! She has a great sense of timing and musicality, but I suppose she’s had some training, which does help. It doesn’t help when it comes to working well with your partner, however, and there Louise has lucked out. She and Kevin are perfect together — his dancing is very energised and she matches him in that brilliantly.
Biggest weakness: Coming back to performing, on such a big stage as Strictly, can feel really exposing. She started the show a little hesitant and cautious, she was playing it a bit safe. She needs to really push herself.
Must improve: Hopefully she’s watching a recording each week and thinking, “Oh, I don’t look too bad in that!” And then, inch by inch, more is revealed — and I don’t mean flesh, but more of her personality. The more confidence she has, the better she dances.
Verdict: I love watching her dance, so I hope she keeps improving.
Danny Mac – A+
Greatest strength: As soon as someone walks in the room I can tell how good they’re going to be — I had my bets on Danny from the beginning and he hasn’t let me down! He’s amazing. He’s being taught brilliantly by Oti and she’s pushing and pushing him to an almost professional level. He’s excelled in every single dance that he’s done and I feel safe when he’s on the floor.
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Biggest weakness: He has let the pressure get to him once or twice, so I’m still waiting for that moment of pure perfection.
Must improve: He’s got a lot to learn about posture, he’s gapping [leaving a space between his and Oti’s body] all the time, he’s not always doing his heel leads — there’s a lot to improve technique-wise before I give him a ten.
Verdict: He’s going to be really difficult to beat.
Ore Oduba – A
Greatest strength: For someone who has never had any training before, my goodness, he can dance! He’s a real natural and fantastic to watch. I just wish he had trained as a dancer when he was younger, he would have made a brilliant dancer, absolutely brilliant! Honestly, I didn’t really notice him before that first dance and thought he’d be useless, but I’ve been very pleasantly surprised.
Biggest weakness: He’s not a technical dancer, he relies on his soul, and his natural rhythm and ability, which is so good. I just hope that will see him through and that he keeps adapting to each dance and gives it 100 per cent.
Must improve: His technique is improving every week and he and Danny are going to keep pushing each other to get better and better. I have a feeling that the end of this series will be a battle of the boys! I just hope they don’t choke under the pressure.
Verdict: A real natural and a joy to watch!
Greg Rutherford – B+
Greatest strength: His ability to take criticism and his competitive nature. As a sportsman, he’s used to being told what he’s doing wrong and then doing it again and again until he gets it right. Natalie is a superpower when it comes to pulling sportsmen together. She’s treating him in a no-nonsense way, as a coach would, and getting the best out of him. The fact that they work so well together is evident in their dances.
Biggest weakness: He is naturally bow-legged and pigeon-toed, with turned-in feet. Maybe that helps him in the long jump, but they’re not the makings of a good dancer! So he’s at a disadvantage compared with the others straightaway, which means he has to work harder.
Must improve: Because he’s a sportsman, he’s used to pushing himself and training hard — and that’s all he can do to combat his shortcomings.
Verdict: He’s wonderful to watch and he and Natalie are a lovely partnership, so there’s great potential.
Daisy Lowe – B+
Greatest strength: I’ve learnt not to expect a lot from supermodels — we’ve had them on Strictly before and they’ve been horrendous. Some of them can’t even walk, and to think that’s all they do for a living! But Daisy has a lovely personality, is beautiful to watch and seems to be able to take to any style, which is great. For some reason, though, the public just aren’t voting for her.
Biggest weakness: Her body tends to be a little bit lazy and she isn’t as energetic as she needs to be. She can sometimes lack attack. She also started by scoring a nine from Len in week one — unfortunately, there’s only one way to go on the wheel of fortune, and that’s down.
Must improve: She is a tall girl so it takes her a little longer to create perfect lines, which means she’s got to put double the energy in than someone half her size. She needs to keep practising and pushing herself to the limit.
Verdict: She’s got a great relationship with Aljaz, they are gifted together, so I hope the public give them a chance and they get somewhere close to the final.
Claudia Fragapane – A
Greatest strength: She’s a little powerhouse! She has wonderful strength in her core, which is to be expected in a world-class gymnast. She’s also not scared to try anything — some of the lifts AJ has given her are pretty terrifying, but she throws herself into it all with guts and gusto.
Biggest weakness: She looked very scared and nervous at the beginning. Sportspeople often struggle to use their face to tell a story — they’re so used to focusing on presenting the perfect routine or performance and don’t need to show any personality or expression. I was worried at first but she’s turned into a great little actress and you can tell by the smile on her face that she loves it!
Must improve: Sometimes she has a tendency to exaggerate or overdo the moves. It’s something she’s used to doing in her gymnastics routines — going to extremes — but that doesn’t work in the ballroom world. Higher isn’t necessarily better, her back doesn’t need to be overarched or her arm hyper-extended.
Verdict: Full of fun and fizzing with energy.
Ed Balls – D
Greatest strength: Much to my surprise, he actually keeps good timing. Even more to my surprise, he is entertaining. And probably to everyone’s surprise, the public love him. I was expecting him to be a lot worse than he is — I definitely didn’t think he would throw himself into the dancing as much as he has!
Biggest weakness: Unfortunately he has absolutely no semblance of technique whatsoever.
Must improve: He could train even harder, but the flair for dance just isn’t there and I can’t imagine his technique ever reaching the levels of Danny or Ore. But Ann Widdecombe got through to week ten, so anything is possible! I mean, he could go on to win it… It’s entirely up to the audience in the end, but of course if he ever ends up in the bottom two he’ll be out straightaway.
Verdict: I’d give him a D — D for desperate!
Judge Rinder – C+
Greatest strength: He has good timing, strength and stamina and on occasion he actually does create some really nice lines. He also seems to be getting his nerves — and facial expressions – under control.
Biggest weakness: He is so strait-laced in Judge Rinder and yet in the ballroom he pulls these ludicrous faces. A dancer’s face should tell a thousand stories — unfortunately his is telling horror stories!
Must improve: He needs to practise in the mirror so he can see what his face is doing. Honestly, those expressions are enough to put you right off! But in the weeks when he’s toned them down, he’s done well.
Verdict: Could do better.
And here's a little reflection on the Strictly contestants who’ve been expelled…
No one wants to go first because in week one it really is just down to a lack of popularity. There’s no getting round it — the first person to go is the least popular and no one has voted for them. His exit had nothing to do with Anastacia being injured and unable to dance — you can’t force someone to dance on an injury, can you? It was absolutely the right decision.
I was shocked she was in the bottom two because she was such a big personality and I thought she was really popular. Unfortunately, she had a dance that didn’t suit her [the Tango] and the judges had to make a decision solely based on that. I was sad to see her go — she was a great part of the show.
He had so much potential, it’s a shame he pulled out. Strictly is much harder than people think. It’s not just a case of dancing around for a couple of minutes on a Saturday night, it’s a very taxing schedule and it takes its toll physically and mentally. Unfortunately, not everyone can handle it — you need to be in a good, stable mental position and you have to be ready to take criticism.
As soon as you start judging yourself, you’re going to fail. The celebrities have to try to relax, enjoy their dances and not care about the outcome. For someone like Naga, that was hard — look at her job! Journalists tend to be serious and self-critical, especially when they’re breaking important news. She let her desire for perfection get the better of her.
She’s 71, she’s fit, she bounced around like a 21-year-old and proved it doesn’t matter what age you are, you can still get up and dance! It was wonderful to watch her, but she fell a bit behind on the technical side.
The dancing doesn’t stop for a punishing work schedule or an injury. But she handled her struggles in week one brilliantly and I’m glad she got a chance to show what she was capable of with her Quickstep.
She looked beautiful out there and she and Giovanni made such a handsome pair. That said, you can perform a lovely dance every Saturday, but the real battle is winning votes. Laura needed a bit more personality in her dancing to make it sharper, more precise, and make her more captivating to watch.
Interview by Alexia Skinitis
Strictly is on Saturday at 6:55pm with a results show on Sunday at 7:15pm – both on BBC1