Thursday, 23 December 2010

See Pamela and James' Argentine Tango

Even though the series has ended, still those nice people in the BBC Strictly Office are giving us some little presents to make us happy.

All Pamela and James fans were as dismayed that we didn't get to see their Argentine Tango as they were that they didn't get to perform it during the Final on Saturday night. Here it is, though, as they recorded it in training.

Even though they're in a gymnasium, with a crew of at least 3, this is one smokin' hot dance. Can you just imagine how it would have been with them in full hair and make up and costume and atmospheric lighting. It would have been better if they'd put up their dress rehearsal, but then our laptops might have spontaneously combusted.


Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Pamela writes about her Strictly experience and her crush on James

As her beautiful showdance told us all, Pamela had the time of her life on Strictly.

She wrote about the final, her regret at not getting to do her Argentine Tango (I feel her pain, really),  her crush on James and how they and their spouses handled it with honesty and humour in her Guardian column. Enjoy.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

The Strictly Finalists 2010; Pamela Stephenson and James Jordan

As we wait for the most exciting Strictly Final in years, this is the last of my profiles of each of our deserving finalists, with a look at their pre Strictly life (as if that actually matters), and Strictly story with their first, best and my favourite of their dances. Kara's is here, and Matt's is here

Pre-Strictly Life

The first I ever heard of Pamela Stephenson was actually some time in the 70s as the wife of Nicholas Ball, the guy who played Hazell, the Cockney Private Detective who was the Minder of his day, I suppose. I can't really remember much except I thought he was quite good looking. 

It wasn't until Not the Nine O'Clock News started that I really got to like Pamela. That show was my first real introduction to irreverent political and satirical humour. It felt very grown up and very wicked to be watching it. I really can't resist the opportunity to show a bit. In the making of this profile, much time was wasted watching great moments such as these. Here's Pamela in one of their fabulous parody songs, I believe:

It was during this programme that she met Billy Connolly. This man has been making me laugh since I was a tot. There was not one single long car journey that didn't feature the car cartridge gadget thingy playing one of his shows. He's hilarious.  The two of them seemed exceptionally well suited and that's been borne out by the longevity of their relationship. 

Pamela has also stood for election to Parliament, in 1987, for Windsor and Maidenhead, for the Stuff Blancmange down Terry Wogan's Trousers Party. Not something I'd ever want to waste a moment doing, but it takes all sorts. The proof comes courtesy of Mr Derek Payne, on Twitter, who very kindly responded to my plea for definitive evidence of this result. 

If you're going to be a successful comedian, you have to have an interest in and understanding of human nature. It made a lot of sense then, that Pamela has been a respected psychotherpaist for the last 16 years. She specialises in sexuality and has done research as well as had a private practice. 

As well as that, she wrote a super and frank biography of Billy Connolly, not an easy thing to do when you are so close to the subject.

That's not to say she's just spent the last 16 years sitting behind a desk. She decided to take a year to go sailing in the South Pacific. With that sort of adventurous spirit, it's not surprising that she's done so well on Strictly. She doesn't do anything by half measures, embracing every challenge put to her. 

Strictly Partner

It's been quite a job to learn to love James Jordan. After his treatment of Georgina Bouzova in 2006, which verged on the bullying, I absolutely loathed him. He reminded me of some training footage of ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean in which he absolutely ripped her to shreds and made me wonder why on earth she'd put up for him for so long. It was literally years before I could even look at him again after I saw that.

It took me a while to find his redeeming features - and there are plenty. He is a fabulous dancer and an inventive, intuitive choreographer who is capable of really suiting routines to the people dancing. His Rumba to Songbird, with Cherie Lunghi was utterly beautiful and tasteful when I suspect someone else (that'd be you, Mr Cole), could make it look brash and inappropriate. He is very funny, as his testosterone fuelled Twitter Banter with Brendan often shows. 

He looked to be on course for victory with Gabby Logan in 2007, but while they were technically good, the public didn't warm to them because they made no secret of their desire to win. We British are strange - we're quite happy to encourage ambition, as long as we don't, at any time, show that we want success. Had they had any other dance than the Samba, always a difficult one to impress with, I suspect that they would have beaten Penny Lancaster in the dance off.

It was the Samba that saw him off last year too, in week 7, with Zoe Lucker. 

By a little bit of luck, or producer sleight of hand, do you want to take a guess at which dance he and Pamela haven't done?

His wife Ola won last year with Chris Hollins, so will he be able to take home another glitterball to even up the mantlepiece tonight?

Strictly Story

Every so often, the producers put a couple together who have an absolutely magical partnership, bringing out the best in each other. Bill Turnbull and Karen Hardy were one example. Chris Hollins and Ola Jordan were another. 

Pamela and James are another great match. Pamela has enough life experience, poise and balls not to take any of James' nonsense. They are two very strong personalities and it could have gone very badly wrong, but Pamela has really got James laughing and toning down his harsh competitive edge while he has appreciated the talent he's been given and taught her extremely well, giving her choreography that shows her at her best. He's appreciated that he has a partner who, despite being past her Diamond Jubilee, will try any challenge given to her and has an inner grace and radiance that is beautiful to watch.

It may be that with her psychological knowledge, she's ensured that she and James have been playing the audience like a fiddle, manipulating us into loving them. But even if that's the case, I don't care. I still love them regardless and could watch them dance all day. And train. And laugh. And talk to Claudia on ITT.

Pamela had a wee trip on her first journey down the famous Strictly stairs, which didn't bode well. Her waltz in week was one of  the most beautiful, elegant dances we'd seen. The judges raved about her arm placement, which gave me some confidence as that's what I'd been saying too. The question after week one was could she do Latin?  She came out the next week in a scarlet dress and showed that she could deliver an amazing Salsa. The fact that she stumbled, and while she seemed to be on her way to hit the deck, gave a radiant smile and a shimmy before she righted herself and carried on with the dance earned her many fans. "Don't throw Granny on the floor" she said afterwards. And then on It Takes Two the next week, she literally spent five minutes giggling about it with Claudia. I think that moment showed her spirit and even then set her on track to the final.

We knew that she had public support from the unfortunate incident on Hallowe'en. Ok, so she lost her place a couple of times in the Jive, but she actually jived down the stairs. The judges undermarked her, giving her only 27 when she desrved much more leaving her in a perilous bottom of mid table position. She made it through and that was her only real wobble and her only sub 30 score..

She always manages to capture the spirit of the dance and has used her acting skills and comic timing to great effect in her Tango, her cheeky Charleston and 40-scoring magical, ethereal Viennese Waltz to Unchained Melody. Last week she excelled with a dramatic Paso to Lady Gaga's Bad Romance but scored another perfect 40 for a complicated Quickstep which involved a routine with canes at the beginning, a costume change in the middle and a spot of tap dancing on her own.

Pamela's the finalist who's had the most improvement, who's surprised us the most and whose radiance has grown with every dance she's done.  In an age obsessed with youth, she's struck a blow back for women with a certain age.

The Dances

First Dance - a beautiful waltz

Best Dances perfection for their Viennese Waltz and Quickstep

My Favourite

It has to be the Charleston. Of course it plays to her comedic strength, but look at how intensely difficult this choreography is. And it shows the depth of trust between them. Those lifts are dangerous. She had to pick him up, then end up a split second later upside down doing a tumble off his back. That takes guts. And to portray the cheeky, slapstick spirit of the dance while you're doing it is remarkable.

I suspect her showdance will have Hollywood panache, elegance and glamour, with a splash of comedy and some outrageous tricks. She's the one I'll be voting for as soon as the lines open tonight and I hope that the whole country will vote for a brave, spirited, funny woman who brings beauty and grace to the dance floor.

Friday, 17 December 2010

The Strictly Finalists 2010: Matt Baker and Aliona Vilani

As we wait for the most exciting Strictly Final in years, this is the second of my profiles of each of our deserving finalists, look at their pre Strictly life (as if that actually matters), and Strictly story with their first, best and my favourite of their dances. Kara's is here and Pamela's is here.

Pre-Strictly Life

Matt Baker is another Blue Peter boy made good. Like Simon Groom, who was one of my Blue Peter presenters, he was raised on a farm - but unlike Simon, he is also a accomplished acrobat and gymnast. He wanted to be a physiotherapist, but ended up presenting Blue Peter for seven years instead. Since leaving Blue Peter in 2006, he's been doing various presenting jobs, most notably The One Show and Countryfile. He's also commentated on gymnastics and participated in a previous reality series, Only Fools on Horses, for Comic Relief which was ultimately won by Jenni Falconer. He's also been on tour in a dance show before, Disco Inferno. 

So, coming into Strictly, we knew that he had a cheeky chappie side to him, he was incredibly fit and agile, and game for anything. All of these indicate huge potential to do well on the show and he has wowed us with tricks and acrobatic feats never seen before on the show, but which were there to enhance his already natural ability to dance. He's back-flipped off the Judge's desk and ridden a unicycle, for goodness sake. Sometimes the dancing hasn't been as polished as it could have been, but when you consider that he had a full work schedule as well, what he did achieve was spectacular.  He has thrown himself in to everything he's been asked to do despite the exhaustion.

Strictly Partner

We didn't learn much about Russian Aliona Vilani last year as she was out very early on after her partner Rav Wilding in the third week. I have to say that I didn't take to her at all. She seemed quite sulky and petulant with few saving graces. This year, it's been very different. She can sometimes be quite fierce and sulky, but anyone who is as obsessed with custard as she is has to have a lot of good in them. She is also very funny and quirky. Her hair is the most garishly unashamed shade of red I have ever seen - although she seems to have put some softer highlights in it for the final. It clashed with everything except her Austin Powers dress. Her inventive choreography has sometimes brought trouble and their marks generally haven't reflected how good their routines are.

Strictly Story

Matt's first move on Strictly was a double cartwheel. I don't know if he's the first ever to do that while wearing a tartan tank top but the evidence exists, so he could end up in the Guinness Book of Records. He could have been mistaken for a professional in that first dance - and he even beat Kara that week by one point. He threw down the gauntlet in style.

He has always been up there at the top of the leaderboard, but the judges' marks haven't always reflected the excellence of their performance. I think that maybe they didn't appreciate Aliona's choregraphy. Their American Smooth was a case in point. Aliona had captured all the drama of the song. It was very untypical to see a man do the Smooth without a suit on. 

I said at the time that whoever thought of doing an Argentine Tango to Bat out of Hell should be shot at dawn. Despite that mismatch, they did really well and deserved their 34. 

They have established themselves as the couple with the quirkiest choreography and spectacular acrobatics and were dead certs for the final from the very first show.

The Dances

First Dance

That show-stopping cha cha cha

Best Dance

There are two of these, a carefree, bouncy, Samba from Blackpool and a dramatic, edgy Tango from the semi-final. It was strange that Matt managed to achieve his highest and lowest scores in the space of 24 hours in week 11 of the show. His Salsa was uncharacteristically as insipid as the costumes he and Aliona wore on the Friday, but he came out and nailed his Tango on the Saturday.

First though, that spirited Samba, in which he demonstrated beyond any doubt that he knew where his hips were and what they were for. They also really captured the essence of  young hearts, running free. And getting a ten for a Samba takes some doing.

And the Tango, to Hung Up, one of my favourite songs.

My Favourite

I have hummed and hawed over my favourite dance. Charleston or Jive, Jive or Charleston. At one point I thought of copping out completely and putting up both. But, because Matt nailed his character so well, and he was so brave in doing the backflip off the Judge's desk on live tv, it has to be Austin Powers. There was next to no Jive content. And they'd spent half the week in the Outer Hebrides - the first week of the snow, too. It was just perfect for the theme and I loved it.

Matt has to start tomorrow night as the favourite - he's a boy, and it's women who vote, and he has charm, pizazz and lots of tricks at his disposal. Their showdance will be acrobatic and fast. He'll have all our hearts racing. 

Download X Factor Gamu's Charity Single for Aberlour Child Care Trust

I hope you don't mind a bit of an X Factor crossover. I like the way Strictly and the X Factor have not clashed so that it's easy to just sit down with your glass of wine and watch them both on a Saturday night. So, many of you will remember the lovely Gamu Nhengu, who lives in Clackmannanshire. She got through to the Judges' Houses stage and everybody seemed to love her. Unfortunately, Cheryl didn't pick her.

She has recorded a charity single, Where will you sleep this Christmas?, in aid of the charity Aberlour Child Care Trust which helps vulnerable children across Scotland.

Please take some time out of your day today to download this song. As a mum, I find it searingly poignant.  Christmas is about helping people and the fantastic folk at Aberlour will make good use of the money it raises. Have a look here at some of the things they do right across Scotland.

The Strictly Finalists 2010: Kara Tointon and Artem Chigvintsev

As we wait for the most exciting Strictly Final in years, I thought I'd do a profile of each of our deserving finalists, look at their pre Strictly life (as if that actually matters), and Strictly story with their first, best and my favourite of their dances. Matt's is here and Pamela's is here.

Pre Strictly Life

Kara's been acting since she was a child, playing Brigitta, one of the Von Trapp children, in a production of the Sound of Music,then roles in various team dramas like Dream Team, before playing Dawn in EastEnders for four years. After leaving the show last year, she became the face of Michelle for George underwear at ASDA.

She also has Dyslexia and filmed a documentary about it, called Don't Call me Stupid earlier this year.

Strictly Partner

Russian Artem Chigvintsev made it to the final of So You Think You Can Dance in the US and has been dancing all over the world since he was 15. My friend Elspeth will be particularly interested to know that he was once in the OC - being seduced by an older woman. I think I want to borrow that episode.

He can be quite fierce and exacting and has pushed Kara way beyond her comfort zone. He's given her very complicated choreography from Day One. She's had to master lifts and drops and props and all sorts. Doing the Argentine Tango with a hatstand takes some skill.

If the tabloids are right, though, his ferocity doesn't seem to have put her off him as there is all sorts of speculation in the tabloids about their off screen relationship. I have to say, though, it must make it a lot more difficult in some ways if a Strictly couple are getting it on for all sorts of reasons.

Strictly Story

Kara and Artem don't know what it's like to get a Strictly score of less than 30. They have been that good, from the beginning. They did get away with murder, though, in the lifts department as, until Len laid the law down about half way through the series, all their dances contained some sort of lift. They've also played fast and loose with the format of some of the dances, much to Len's dismay. If their adherence to the rules has not been total, their performances have always been excellent. Their American Smooth caused the biggest division of the judges all season, with a grumpy Len only giving it a 6 while Bruno and Alesha gave them 10. They are taking a risk by doing it again in the final, especially after poor Artem was injured during rehearsals for it. My view is that so what if they were only in hold for a few seconds - it was fabulous.

It looked for a while as if Kara might go the way of people like Emma Bunton and Lisa Snowden who were always panned for being technically good but not giving enough emotionally to their dancing. I wonder if that had more to do with the fact that she had to spend so much time mastering the incredibly difficult choreography Artem gave her. He will squeeze every tiny nuance out of every single phrase in the music. Maybe that intensity was hard to get to grips with at first.

It wasn't until her Paso Doble, danced to the Phantom of the Opera, in week 5, that her performances really started to join head and heart. That was strong, passionate and dramatic and she looked Artem's tempestuous equal on the floor.

I am, frankly, very annoyed that her semi-final performances of Viennese Waltz and Rumba didn't get 40. The Rumba certainly deserved it and Craig really needs to be slapped about the head for that. The Rumba is a hellish dance to master - although it may have been easier if the speculation about their relationship is true. The routine was technically very complicated but still captured the emotional frisson of the dance.

Kara is incredibly graceful and she manages to produce beautiful, fluid, elegant lines. She has this great awareness of what each part of her body is doing - but makes it look effortless. She's also really gone for it in the costume department - really flaunted everything she has, but in a very tasteful way. From the vampish cha cha outfit, to the tinsel two piece she wore for her Charleston, she's looked fabulous.

The Dances

First - Cha Cha Cha Dominatrix style with wardrobe malfunction and fantastic recovery

Best - there are two here, so I might as well put them both up. First a graceful Viennese Waltz, secondly probably the best Rumba on Strictly ever. Up there with Rachel Stevens.

Now, my favourite. I have found it really hard to choose between their Paso, Charleston, Tango and Argentine Tango. I've had to watch them all again several times. In the end, though, the Tango wins. I mean, a hatstand is one thing, but overbalancing a chair and then continuing, seemlessly, a complicated routine is quite another.I also think it shows how everything combines to make a fabulous performance. It's not always about the dancing - the props, dress, make up, acting and music all mix together to give an outstandingly intense performance. It made me think the unthinkable - that it might be better than Zoe and Ian's from five years ago.

Kara is one of the best dancers ever on Strictly and I'm looking forward to seeing their showdance tomorrow. It will no doubt be full of drama and deep intensity.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

The Strictly Separation Anxiety has started already

I can't believe that we are just two days away from the Strictly Final already. This must have been the fastest series ever.

Every year about this time, I get Separation Anxiety. Claudia Winkleman has been on my tv every day except Saturday since the middle of September and the thought of not seeing her makes me feel a bit sick. How will I cope without her batty hilariousness for a whole nine months?

At least we still have Film 2011 to look forward to. I know that re.l film buffs were less than happy with her appointment. However, I never bothered with the programme before - it was on way too late and an hour of Jonathan Ross in any given week was more than enough.  I now have it on series link on the Infernal Wickedness of Sky Plus and I thoroughly enjoy it

Jennie felt that Claudia's knowledge wasn't as broad or as deep as she wanted but maybe those are the very reasons she appeals to my trashy shallowness. My knowledge of film isn't great & nor really is my interest, but I feel like she's dragging me along on a great adventure & making me want to learn more. That surely has to be a good thing. You have to follow her on Twitter to get the maximum effect, though. She went off to see Burleseque at about 8am the other day. That just didn't seem right, somehow. It's the sort of film you'd watch after several cocktails, I feel.

This last week of Strictly is always hard - things like coming to the end of Vincent's Strictly alphabet, or Len's last dance class, or the closing stages of the pro challenge. I still think we should have an ITT on the Monday after the final and around the Christmas Special. Maybe next year.

I am so looking forward to the Final. The right three made it, much as it pained me to lose Scott Maslen. I actually prefer him and the partnership he has with Natalie to Matt and Aliona, but the latter pair have been more consistent.

Do you experience Strictly or Claudia Separation Anxiety and how do you deal with it? I always save a selection of the classic ITTs to watch later so I don't have to go completely Cold Turkey. Ann and Anton and Pamela and James have provided most of my must see again moments. Pamela discussing her Salsa stumble has to be one of the funniest tv moments of the year. Here it is again, just for fun.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Ann to dance with Craig on Strictly Tour

When I say Craig, I'd better make it clear that it's not Daniel Craig, I'm talking about, or Wendy Craig, even. Nor Craig Charles, nor Craig David.

In one of the biggest twists in Strictly history, Ann Widdecombe will be doing a special dance with the man whose been cruellest about her weekly performances, judge Craig Revel Horwood. I'm impressed that Craig has put his professional reputation as a choreographer on the line because he'll have his work cut out to do a better job than the genius of Anton Du Beke. Who can forget Ann flying in to dance her Tango, or her finger waving Salsa, or the hilarious Titanic themed Rumba?

I also wonder how the dynamic between Ann and Craig will be. They have a very feisty banter on the show, and that will probably transfer over into their routine. She and Anton have a hilarious relationship, but there are times when she's dancing with him that she looks at him with an almost childlike faith and trust. Will Craig get as much out of her as Anton does, or will he get upset if she refuses point blank to do certain things?

Craig is stretching himself this year - as a judge, director and performer in the show. I'd decided to give the tour a miss on financial grounds this year but now that Ann's going to be there, I kind of think that eating can wait that week. With Patsy, Pamela, Matt and Jimi, also appearing, it'll be well worth seeing.

Erin Boag against the machine

If you've been watching It Takes Two, you may have seen Erin Boag giving the Midweek Report the last couple of weeks, with the wonderful machine which makes Claudia feel nauseous and scares the life out of Ian Waite.

Erin, though, has no such fear. Her mastery of the technology is complete. She can make it do things nobody else can and talk quite happily while she's doing it. This may be very wrong, but I kind of had a mental image of her showing her Christmas Special partner Vince Cable some detailed feedback on his performance, drawing for him what he should be doing with the various bits of his body.

Joking aside, though,  this gizmo must be an incredible teaching tool.

In Erin's hands, it's her that's scary, not the machine. She is a genius.

Here's this week's in case you missed it. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Anyone fancy a Midnight Tango with Vincent and Flavia?

I was cheered last night to read that Strictly Pros and Argentine Tango specialists Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace are touring the UK from the beginning of April to the end of July next year with what seems to be a very sensuous and sultry show called Midnight Tango.
Midnight Tango is set in a late-night bar in downtown Buenos Aires. Vincent and Flavia will be joined by ten of the finest Tango dancers in the world, and, between them, they will take the audience on a journey into the heart of this intoxicating city, as danger and excitement, joy and jealousy, pain and passion combine into a spectacular and explosive evening.
Anyone who has ever been captivated by Vincent and Flavia's spellbinding dances on Strictly will I'm sure love them dancing live on stage. The performances I'm in interested in are in Edinburgh from 28th June to 2nd July, and in Glasgow from 26th-30th July. I'll definitely go along to one of them.

The site also has clips of some of the couple's Strictly highlights, just to give you a wee taster of what to expect.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Ann Widdecombe vs OMG cat

Just in case you had the idea that the BBC as on organisation was terribly serious and a bit pompous sometimes, look what it's put up on its own You Tube site - a video, which is going viral, showing the transfixed reaction of a cat watching Ann Widdecombe's descent into the studio the night she did her Tango. I am eternally grateful to my friend James Harrison for alerting me to it on Facebook. It was a very pleasant surprise to wake up to.

It's very funny. Enjoy.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Matt Cutler to appear in Dancing on Ice?

If there's anything that can lift the post Strictly Winter gloom, it's the thought that January will bring a new series of Dancing on Ice. It's not the same, but it helps to pass the time on a Sunday night. The next series may well give Strictly fans an extra reason to cheer, though, because the Daily Mail is reporting that Matthew Cutler is going to be in the series.  When I say reporting, I mean that he's mentioned in passing in an article that's really about Kerry Katona also being in it.

I really enjoyed his performance on the Strictly stage last weekend and it would be fabulous to see him take to the ice. Given that he's such a talented choreographer, it would be particularly interesting to see whether he'll be able to bring his dance knowledge to the routines, or whether it'll be a hindrance.

Looking more into this, it appears that the Sun had this story in August. It just goes to show that if you insist on taking yourself off to the highlands away from internet access for a week, you are bound to miss something interesting.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Spooky Saturday - the Strictly Hallowe'en Special Review

This show could just as easily been subtitled "make up department at play". It was great to see them emerge from their sparkly glittery world and go for the sinister approach.

The first indication we had of their talents was when the show opened with a display of cape twiddling by some half naked young men - the male professionals including former and much missed Strictly dancer Matthew Cutler.

Tess had decided not to go with Hallowe'en black, but wore a split to the thigh reddish brown sparkly dress with a belt that looked like it had bolts of lightening on it.

I always thought that James Jordan was a horny devil (sorry, couldn't resist) but seeing him clad in red, with red eye make up and devil horns was a sight to behold. He and Pamela's jive to a not very good version of Devil Gate Drive was very, very difficult. Starting on the mezzanine, Pamela let no trace show of the difficulty of her descent down the stairs, which included kicks on several stairs and a turn in the middle. I couldn't do that on a flat surface. The routine was tough and included James leapfrogging over her while she was standing up, and a complex lift in which she had to propel herself backwards. All I could say was wow, and I was expecting the judges to be as complimentary as usual. I couldn't believe it when Alesha says that it was messy and tippy toey and lacked punch. Bruno said she'd messed up the steps which I felt was really unfair. To give them 27 for such a complex routine was way out of order.

Then came Tina and Jared's Argentine Tango. How would Cuteness Personified cope with a dance that requires a bit of sleaze and sultriness. Tina was wearing a catsuit made of "pleather", plastic and leather, a concept which had Claudia Winkleman on the point of vomiting on It Takes Two.  Now, I have a theory that when Sandy in Grease was done up in the skintight leather and the high heels, she really wasn't that comfortable with it - and Tina's demeanour reminded me of it. In terms of the dance, I felt that she wasn't sharp enough on her kicks, and very unsure at the beginning when she was kicking towards Jared behind her.
I was shocked that she scored more than Pamela at 28, and that Len had said it was her best dance to date. I felt that their cheeky Charleston last week was much better.

Next were Kara and Anton with a fantastic, atmospheric and passionate Paso Doble to the Phantom of the Opera. Kara's lines were beautiful and her steps positive.Everything worked. Her blood red cape dress just added to the dramatic feel.  It was no surprise to me that she was given the first 10 of the series, getting 37 in total.

Patsy and Robin's Jive to the Monster mash was heaps of fun but the choreography was pretty simple. They acted it well and the expressions on Patsy's face as she regarded and danced with the monster she had created had great comedic effect. I loved Craig's comment that he wished it were as easy to make a man like Robin. Certainly many people admired his skin tight green shirt. I still don't think it deserved more than Pamela, though and it was well overmarked at 31.

Felicity and Vincent's Viennese Waltz started on the mezzanine where two caped strangers met at a masked ball. The difficulty is that their walk down the stairs took an age - although to have rushed down would not have been in keeping with the dance. I actually enjoyed the atmosphere, but the execution was a bit flawed in places. Their Fleckerl was a bit of a damp squib. Felicity's footwork wasn't fabulous, but her dress, studded with beautiful stone work on the back, was gorgeous. I think that 26 was maybe too generous a mark for them.

Thriller really had to feature in a Hallowe'en dancing show and it was Jimi and Flavia who had that particular honour. Their Paso was very good, with Jimi sporting some very weird zombie contacts. You would think he was a born zombie, honestly. He lifted Flavia using a cape which was very trusting on her part. I just keep thinking of what could have gone wrong. Len criticised the cape work afterwards, but (and here's the benefit of writing this up after seeing Karen Hardy's Choreography corner on ITT) apparently he'd picked it up by the wrong end so it was never going to flow as it should, no matter what he did to it. They scored 30 which I think was merited - although, at the risk of sounding boring, this was more the sort of mark Pamela should have had.

I felt the music choice of Time Warp for a Jive would be quite confusing but Brendan made it work for himself and Michelle. I was impressed that Michelle's footwork seemed to be a lot more positive than it has been. Len had a go at them for doing more Time Warp than jive for the last part of the routine, but what else can you do to that chorus? She's shown she could do the Jive stuff and I felt it was all in keeping. Brendan answered back to Len and the two of them had a bit of a barney which ended with Len telling Brendan to "turn up, keep up and shut up". There's nothing like a bit of a row to bring in votes for someone who's been in the bottom two for the last two weeks, some might say. Maybe I've been involved in politics for so long that I see conspiracy theories in everything.......... I reckon that it merited 7s, and Len was a bit mean with 6, and Alesha and Bruno over generous with 8s, so they ended up with 29.

Gavin Henson's trick to gain attention this week was to dance his Paso half naked and it didn't work for me. Craig was right that his dance was basically just posturing. I really don't see what he brings to the show. The Paso suited him better than other dances because he could just stomp around and be moody, but the sooner he goes the better as far as I'm concerned.  26 marks for stomping around the stage for a minute and a half was outrageous over marking.

I'd been a bit nervous about Scott and Natalie after failing to see what was so good about their Tango last week when everyone else raved about it, but Natalie had choreographed a Viennese Waltz that left me breathless. That's quite an achievement for a dance that is not known for its ability to thrill. Dancing  around a huge cauldron in the floor, their fleckerl up the steps was beautifully done and, like the song they were dancing to, it certainly put a spell on me. I'm not sure it was three tens good, but it was certainly atmospheric and dramatic. Scott's posture was much improved, partly because of the invention of a character for him to play, Farquhar, who's apparently very much the straight-backed toff. His arm placement is also getting better and better.

I had wondered if the thought of Ann Widdecombe dancing the Paso to Wild Things on Hallowe'en might cause some sort of fissure in the fabric of the Universe. Would we survive? Their training footage showed them being trick or treated by a load of children in costume and having a bit of a dance around to them.

Unfortunately, Anton was far too modestly dressed for the proceedings. Ann certainly seemed to capture the aggressive spirit of the dance and coped with a couple of throws, landing them well. When Anton spun her, she remembered to point her toes, which was a big improvement. I feel when she looks up at Anton sometimes, she has an almost childlike quality about her. Very sweet. There's something else I never thought I'd say about Ann Widdecombe. They did their best but I really think Anton needs to try to get her to sort her arms out.

With Ann it's always the confrontation with the Judges which is as much fun as the dance. Alesha laughed at Ann's habit of counting out loud to keep time, Len said watching her was a bit like rubber necking at a road accident, Bruno finding yet another nautical metaphor for her (HMS Aptitude this time), Craig just saying OMG. They went back to their week one score of 16, which I think was fair. Ann got her own back in Tess's tower, denouncing them as the miseries, who hadn't given her credit for getting every step right.

Whoever had the idea to put an Argentine Tango to Bat out of Hell should probably be shot at dawn. Quite a mismatch. Despite that, Matt and Aliona coped, with some good story telling. In a homage to Meatloaf, Matt was in an old fashioned leather jacket. It looked a bit like Gene Hunt on the floor, but a Gene Hunt who knew how to show a lady a very good time, if you know what I mean. The overhead lifts were fabulous and although Len had a moan about them, they were very bat like. I also loved the way Matt had had a flash of Aliona's hair colour dyed into his. I think they deserved their 34.

I ended the show very worried for Pamela and James who were had gone from consistently topping the leaderboard to fourth from the bottom. It appears that Ann, Pamela and Gavin all have an element of public vote because people wanted to save them - leaving Tina, languishing in mid table, to be the casualty. I suspected she might find herself in trouble but I'd hoped that Gavin would go. Maybe next week.

I really think the theme evening worked well. Sometimes the Christmas stuff is too stilted, but maybe they could do things like 60s, 70s or 80s themed nights. It was good to see them make such good use of their fancy new lighting walls with witches, bats moons and all manner of spooky things.

All in all, more good work, building this year's claim to be the best series for 5 years.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Do you have the iPhone SCD App?

Just while we're waiting for Strictly to start this evening, I was wondering if those of you with iPhones had found this SCD app? It's not official, but it's a veritable hive of information. You can update it as often as you like to get up to the minute Strictly geekery. It has profiles of the contestants from all 8 series, scores for every dance ever, top 10s of dances, celebrities, professional dancers, all of the above split into Latin and ballroom, as well as selected videos. It's a Strictly addict's dream.

It also has the voting numbers, so if you happen to be out, you don't have to rely on people to text you the number like I did when we went to see Doctor Who Live the other week. And, being an iPhone, you just have to touch the number and it dials it for you. Bliss.

There's even a Showdown feature so you can see how two dancers performed comparatively. I've just run some James v Brendan stuff and they're very evenly matched.

It's probably the best £1.79 I've ever spent.

James Jordan and Brendan Cole - the Twitter Rematch

Remember a couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how James Jordan and Brendan Cole had lit up Twitter one night with a bit of playful banter?

Well, last night those bad boys were at it again - and it got personal. By the end of the evening, I had giggled a lot.

I'm sure neither of them are doing this as a ploy to get votes for tonight, of course - although Brendan probably needs them more given that Michelle has been in the bottom two for the last two weeks.  

Anyway, in case you missed it, here it is.

James Jordan started it with:
Guys @ is getting a bit old now, so enjoy his dancing while you can. He's starting to struggle to keep up with us young ones.
He followed up with:
@ Oh yes, you did win Strictly once!! Was that before or after I was born. How many years ago. And 8 couples right.(easy)
and then
I think @ has admitted defeat! To scared to reply!!!!
 Brendan was quiet until he delivered the killer line:
 @... I'm not too scared to reply, I'm having dinner with your wife!
 James: You can have her!! If you can afford her shopping habits ! 
Brendan: @...if you like I can retire after this series so you have a chance? Am out to dinner can't tweet anymore. Ola says hi x
James: Brendan Cole announces retirement on Strictly after this series!!.... We will all miss you mate....
Brendan: Would just like to clarify I have no intention right now to retire from SCD! Was purely thinking about giving @ chance to win

In between times, Brendan's wife Zoe Hobbs Cole had tweeted James Jordan saying
@. Dinner? X  James:   I'm in room 432 babe!!!
This is actually where the fun got multidimensional, as Zoe teasingly later tweeted:
 Would anybody like my Husband? I'm a bit fed up with him! Any offers will be considered. Willing to swap for shoes or handbags.
She was quickly admonished by her husband:
OUCH! Harsh but fair I suppose! You'll still be punished!
But his dance partner, Michelle Williams loved it:
ha hahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!
She too faced being karmically retributed, to coin a phrase of this week;
I suppose you think the same as @? You'll pay too!
I won't bore you with the subsequent arm punch challenge, but you can see it for yourself on their Twitter feeds if you like. James is here and Brendan here.
For me, these exchanges show that Strictly, as well as X Factor, has a talented Mrs Cole and we'll give her the last word:
Actually I think I'd rather have dinner with @ than either of the boys!
Me too!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Aladdin to star in the Strictly Christmas special

Well, not the real Aladdin, obviously, but the scrumplicious John Barrowman, who's playing the pantomime character at the SECC in Glasgow between 11th December and 9th January.

I do hope that the Strictly producers are kind to us and give him a Latin dance to show him off at his best. It would be very unfair of them to hide his best attributes with ballroom bow tie and tails.

He's going to be a busy man - they normally film the Christmas special either the Monday before or the Monday after the final, so either way, he's going to have started his run in in panto. I wonder if he'll have to miss a performance to take part. Either way, his professional partner is going to have to come up to Glasgow to train. All I can say is that from 12th December, there is a new train line from Glasgow virtually to my back door. Either of them are welcome to pop round for a cup of tea.

Is anyone else thinking that John and Ola would be a smokin' hot combination which would have something for everyone and she deserves a treat after being partnered with Paul Daniels.

I can't wait!

In the meantime, here's a clip of him singing "Anything you can do, I can do better" with Ruthie Henshall which can be found on You Tube here.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Is Laila Rouass the luckiest woman on earth?

This time last year, Laila Rouass was in Strictly. And not only that, she got to dance with Anton. Ok, he may have put his usually nimble feet right in it a couple of times in a manner for which he rightly  had to humbly apologise, but they were still good together and they made it to the Quarter Final.

Here is their American Smooth:

I was thrilled that Anton actually had a partner who could dance and it was fabulous that he managed to get all the way to December.

Anyway, since then Laila has landed a role in Spooks and, more importantly, this week has seen her in the Sarah Jane Adventures as the Colonel in UNIT who comes to break the news of the Doctor's death.

I've watched both parts of Death of the Doctor on CBBC earlier in the week, but they're on BBC 1 today and tomorrow at 4.30 pm.The story is brilliant and it's fair to say that Ms Rouass looks mighty fetching in UNIT uniform.

In the last year, she's had two of my absolute dream jobs, covering two of my absolute favourite programmes. Not bad at all.

Ann Widdecombe appearing in Clacton on 29th November

If you'd told me a year ago that I'd be plugging an event involving Tory blogger Iain Dale and former Conservative Home Office Minister Ann Widdecombe, I'd have laughed in your face.

However, since then, Dale has revealed his soft underbelly as a charming and silver tongued radio host (on LBC every weeknight between 7 and 10, which even I try and listen to from Scotland) and Miss Widdecombe, as we all know, has been reborn as a national treasure because of the way she's making us all smile every Saturday night on Strictly.

Iain is hosting an Audience with Ann in Clacton on 29th November. Whilst he complains about perhaps having to widen the range of the show,
I have an awful feeling we're going to have to alter our tried and tested opening routine to include some sort of dancing. You probably didn't think there was a worse dancer in the country than Ann. But I can assure you there is....
he is not above using Strictly to entice people in and take their £8 of them. Oh, and I'm sure he must have been talking about Gavin Henson when he mentioned a worse dancer than Ann.....

I actually suspect that it will be worth going to if you are in the area. Iain may be a Tory, but his interviews with people both on the radio and in his Total Politics magazine are always interesting. I still feel quite uncomfortable about Ann - she did some thing I find hard to stomach in Government and she has some highly illiberal views but on the other hand, I love her spirit and attitude to the Strictly experience.  Until someone persuades Jo Swinson to go on Strictly (and she'd be good), this is as close as I'm going to get to seeing my passions for Strictly and politics combined.

I can't imagine that the Ann and Iain Show will be coming to Scotland any time soon, but I'd go if it did.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Tutus, unicycles, light boxes: the week Strictly went Eurovision. Series 8, Week 4

I have to say, last night's show was one of the best ever. You could see that it would have potential, with the promise of dramatic, sensual tangos, and cheeky, lively Charlestons - but it exceeded all expectations. I even laughed at some of Bruce's jokes.

Tess's dress was the sleekest and loveliest of the series so far, a black, one shouldered number. The only problem was that my eyes were drawn to its left armhole which seemed to be unnecessarily deep. That probably wasn't quite the point. Thankfully when she went up to her tower, that side was away from the camera.

Anyway, first up were Jimi Mistry and Flavia Cacace. I wondered if we'd landed in Eurovision land when their routine started off with them in light boxes. They gave a whole new meaning to having fun with the neighbours as they each exited their respective "houses" and danced an energetic and fun Charleston which included cartwheels (Craig was right, though to point out that Jimi needed to straighten his legs), leapfrogs and cane twirling. Flavia really goes for broke. If Jimi had missed those leapfrogs, I shudder to think what state her neck would be in.  I was shocked that it wasn't as well received by the judges as it should have been. Despite warm words about the storytelling, Craig only gave it a 6, which I thought was very mean.

Next was Scott and Natalie's Tango. Last year, while I liked Natalie, her choreography just didn't inspire me. I wasn't over keen on Ricky Whittle, so I thought that might have had something to do with it because I've been blown away with her dances with Scott so far. Last night, though, all the judges were full of praise, saying it was the best dance of the series, but I just didn't get it. It was good, but not spectacular. I felt that they hadn't quite maximised the drama and captured the staccato element of the Tango. I was not alone, as several friends on Twitter agreed with me. I felt hat Natalie's dress, in a hideous shade of yellow, didn't help. Having said all that, the way Bruno says Scott with his whole body,  is becoming a favourite moment of every week. What will he do by Christmas if, as I hope, they stay in? I felt the dance was overmarked at 35. I'd have given it an 8 rather than a 9, I think.

It was great to see Tina O'Brien back from her absence with Chicken Pox. I had that particular disease as an adult so I know how much it takes out of you. That she could come back within a week and dance a cute and utterly charming Charleston was incredible. It wasn't the best, and Craig was right about her footwork being a bit sloppy, but it was extremely enjoyable if a little overmarked at 29. Tess's joke about her knocking the spots of the competition was taken in good grace by Tina. I remember I used to get really annoyed about it.

Just as an aside, I found the image put into my head by tweeter @willjpatterson suggesting that Jared looked like David Miliband. Cruel. Too cruel.

Introducing Felicity and Vincent's tango, Bruce reminisced about her series The Good Life, talking about cars which ran on parsley. He said that he wanted to see a train that ran on thyme. Not a bad effort.  A bit like the Tango, which had all the atmosphere, passion and just the right amount of sleaziness. Her kicks didn't have as much oomph as they could have but they did a beautiful floor spin and the tango ended in a full on kiss. The training footage was hilarious - Felicity not knowing her left from her right so Vincent putting a banana in one boot and an apple in the other. Their score of 29 was pretty much on the money, I thought.

Patsy Kensit looked like a very frightened Velma Kelly from Chicago in her dark wig.  Their Charleston was competent but to be honest it didn't really grab me. In fact, in the middle it lost me completely. She does seem a lot more comfortable and confident out of hold. It was outrageous that Craig marked this the same as Jimi's because the latter was much better in my opinion and I'm not sure it deserved 28.

Then came Gavin and Katya. Gavin's training footage included an entirely unconvincing attempt to psych out Scott, Jimi and Matt. Their Tango may not have been toxic, but it was certainly slightly contaminated. Gavin's face looked like Katya had farted. His footwork wasn't positive enough and had none of the sharpness and staccato that the Tango needs. 23 was just about what it deserved.

Not even Gary Lineker turning up in training and Erin in an incredibly sexy short skirt, waistcoat and stockings outfit could save Peter Shilton's Charleston.  To describe it as dire would be possible if I were in a very charitable mood. Peter just didn't get the steps or the timing and the transitions to and from the lifts were awful. Nice guy, like him, love Erin, but the 17 they got was where it's at. Erin was on the ball, making a plea for votes as soon as the score was in.

The Pamela and James comedic power struggle continued. I wondered if James would repeat his actions on Friday's It Takes Two where he made Pamela get down and give him 20 press ups in the middle of the dance. It was great to see Billy Connolly visit them in training and suggest that he may have picked up a few hints and tips from James in how to handle Pamela. Good luck to him on that one. If he wants to delude himself of that, then we should probably just humour him.

The Tango itself was everything a Tango should be. Maybe (whisper) Pamela's kicks weren't quite as pointy toed and sharp as they could have been, but it had enough staccato for everyone. It was sharp and stealthy and passionate and dramatic. And undermarked at 34.Another sensational performance from Pamela.

Matt Baker had adorned himself with a really hideous handlebar moustache, white braces and a very cheeky grin. Aliona had adorned herself with a tutu. Before a note was played, it looked like this could be Strictly's quirkiest dance ever - and Matt's entrance on a unicycle confirmed that. I felt that their Charleston was almost too cleanly executed, but that really didn't detract from its overall brilliance. It had that bendy legged look down to perfection and was probably the most slapstick one since Chris and Ola's last year but had a much higher level of difficulty.  I would have had them on top of the leader board rather than Scott and Natalie, so I felt that they were slightly undermarked.

Sadly, Brendan Cole's dad passed away last Saturday. I totally admire the professionalism which got him through last week's rumba and I'm full of sympathy for him. His departure for New Zealand meant that Tango king Ian Waite took his place. This was his first competitive Tango since the spectacular dance he performed with Zoe Ball in series 3. I think this was Michelle's best dance yet, although she still doesn't have that certainty in her legs or footwork. Her arm movements were good, but again could have been done with greater flamboyance. The major mistake in the footwork was Ian's, which he was quick to own up to. Michelle's dress was a bit bizarre, with a flesh coloured bodice underneath big holes in the silver fabric. I just loved seeing Ian back. It would make the series perfect if he, Darren, Matthew and Lilia were given celebrities again.  Their 27 was about right.

It was a pity, or maybe not, that they'd run out of budget for a dress for Kara, sending her out in a silver fringed bikini. Her Charleston was lovely and performed with absolutely no gimmicks. It was quite serious until she had her bottom spanked during one of the lifts.

And then came the Ann and Anton Tango, heavily trailed in the press as Ann was to be the first celebrity to make an airborne entrance. Ann really is a game old bird, saying to Anton "I can flap if you want me to". She looked lovely - her hair had been tamed into a sleek style and she wore black sparkly trousers and flapped her arms as she was lowered to the floor. It seemed to take quite a while to get her out of the harness so we had to watch Anton prowling about on his own. Nowt wrong with that. The surprise of the routine is that Ann actually did some proper footwork and the end, where Anton presented her with a rose and she kicked him back was beautifully done.  They said that they were aiming for 19 points and they ended up with 21.

Ann gets the first word in with Craig every week - this week it was that the Ark Royal had been decommissioned so she was the Flying Fortress. Craig retorted that they were like dancing hippos. Len rightly observed that watching her descend was easily worth half the tv licence fee.

What was remarkable is that Ann said in Tess's tower that she was terrified of heights. You would never have thought it the way she just got on with it. And she pushed all the buttons of the Anton fans by saying that "if you had Anton waiting for you on the dance floor, wouldn't you fly in?" Oh yes. And then some.

How on earth this show is going to be bettered next week, I don't know.

I just hope they stay in. There are a few who should go before those two - Gavin, Peter and Michelle, that would be you I'm talking about.