Friday, October 26, 2012

'Strictly Come Dancing' week 3: Neat and tidy downstairs

The Strictly train is well under way, mis amigos, which means that it is time to start introducing a theme for each week. More often than not the theme is tenuously adhered to by the dancers and even less so by the resources-strapped costuming department. It becomes reminiscent of my childhood Halloweens, when my mother would slap together an outfit for me on the day based on whatever happened to be at hand: "Well, we've got some pantyhose, an empty tube of Quaker Oats, a football helmet, and some eyeliner that isn't my shade... what can we make out of that?"

This week's theme was Hollywood, which is a place perhaps only one of the Strictly celebrities has ever been. And as such, it gave the show a feel of kids playing dress-up.

But does that mean I liked it any less? No. Jenn and I didn't get a chance to watch the show live because we were respectively managing and watching gigs at Sŵn Festival (On a side note, The Weeks are my new favourite band. I saw them upstairs in the small O'Neill's –– Cardiff, for some strange reason, possessing two O'Neill's pubs, each a street apart, so they are known simply as "the big O'Neill's" and the "small O'Neill's –– and they were awesome). But as soon as we got home, we popped popcorn and fired up the laptop to stay up until 2:30 a.m. watching Saturday's show. We stayed up equally late watching Sunday's results show. As I write this, I am reminded of something The Weeks' guitarist said to me when I was talking to him after his set. The band had just travelled 36 hours from Mississippi and were in a state of ridiculous exhaustion.

"See my face, man?" he said, deadpan and hollow-eyed. "I look stoned. But I'm just sleepy."

I do it all for the love of Strictly, bitches. So, here's a look at how things went this weekend, starting with the couple who will be watching next week's show from home.

Jerry Hall and Anton du Beke –– Quickstep –– 18
Honey badger showed some definite improvement last week. We'll never know what that might have led to, though. In seasons gone by, when the overall standard was often lower, she would have been right in there with a chance. This season, well, not so much. I get the sense that Anton had already accepted he would not go far in the programme and was just sort of plotting out routines from a dance version of one of those 1990s meal plan schemes where you draw 3x5 cards of different colour to create a well-balanced meal. Is that too obscure a reference? I feel it is.
Anyhoo, I felt Anton's wasn't putting a great deal of thought into his choreography. Additionally I feel the routines were hampered by the fact that he appears to have as much an ear for popular music as my father, who will always choose a rousing Sousa march over any of your new-fangled boomity-boom.

Sid Owen and Ola Jordan –– Tango –– 17
Sometimes, you get all dressed up to look like a burned-out and possibly gay roadie for Turbowolf and still it all goes horribly wrong. It went wrong from almost the very beginning, when Sid was faux playing the guitar the wrong way: he was doing the Pete Townshend windmill strum counterclockwise (i.e., up the strings, rather than down). How does a person get that wrong? Hand a guitar to just about any person on the planet and tell them to act like a rock star, the overwhelming majority will strum downward. It's not a matter of whether Sid has ever played a guitar but of whether he has ever seen anyone play one. He behaved as if he had been given a a book of sudoku puzzles and told: "There ya go, Sid. Make it look rock and roll."

Michael Vaughan and Natalie Lowe –– Cha cha cha –– 19
"Oh, Lord," I grumbled upon realising that the dance's theme was The Full Monty. "If Michael takes his shirt off I'm going to write a letter of complaint."
Thankfully, he didn't take off his shirt. Or, he did, but revealed another shirt beneath.
"Maybe he's wearing several more layers," Jenn said.
In addition to not taking off his shirt, Michael also did not dance. He spent a third of his 1:30 dance either standing still or sitting at a table (yes, I did time it; I'm a sad person). The only highlight of the routine came when Michael was sitting down, pretending to look at a menu, and Natalie was twirling about, ripping off her top.
"Ooh, is Natalie going to strip?!" Jenn shouted. "Take it off, Natalie! Woo!"
In the minute that Michael was doing things, he was not doing much. He looks like a younger, healthier Dave Barry and dances like the older, fatter one.

Victoria Pendleton and Brendan Cole –– Rumba –– 22
That dance was about as sexy as a set of house keys. In fairness, there were some wardrobe issues with Victoria's dress. Every year we learn that chiffon scarves are a dangerous thing and every year the costuming department continues to take the risk. Additionally, Brendan looked like a child in his outfit, or, perhaps, an immigrant waiter on The Love Boat. Either way, it wasn't a look that shouted: "sexy." Or even murmured it.
Speaking of murmuring, Crazy V looked to have been drugged. Perhaps this was her attempt at a sexy face, or perhaps she had consumed several packets of Xanax to help her overcome nerves. The end result is that it made me think of that high school prom in which your date has broken into daddy's liquor cabinet beforehand and put herself into such a state that she keeps referring to you as "Franklin."
What? That didn't happen to you?
Yeah, uhm, me neither.
Anyway, the dance could have been better and I wonder how long Crazy V can ride the "we really want you to succeed" wave before she has to produce a legitimately good dance. And, frustratingly, all this distracted from the fact Crazy V looked really good in her tight blue dress.

Fern Britton and Artem Chigvinstev –– Charleston –– 23
When I was a boy, Mary Poppins would air seemingly bi-weekly on the old UHF stations (man, I'm really dating myself there), rotating with The Music Man. Inexplicably, rather than watching and swearing at football or NASCAR, like every other father in Texas, my dad would watch these films. To this day, he retains the ability to pick up from just about any point and recite all the lines to Mary Poppins. I am certain this facet of my father's personality is what led to my developing a love of Britain, as well as my obsession with Strictly Come Dancing. So, what I'm saying here is that Mary Poppins is kind of a sacred thing for me and there really was no way in hell that Fern and Artem were going to meet my expectations. Nor did the Strictly band. It started confusingly, with Fern just sort of lying on the floor, and trundled on in such a way that it turned one minute and 30 seconds into an experience on par with the five-hour train journey from Cardiff to Holyhead. I just wanted it to stop. Then I wanted it to stop some more.

Richard Arnold and Erin Boag –– Quickstep –– 25
I have so far referenced 3x5-card meal packs, The Love Boat, and UHF. I will age myself even more by suggesting that Richard looked to me like a young George Burns. I kept wanting to point this out to Jenn but resisted the urge because I was pretty sure she wasn't going to catch references to 1940s American radio personalities. So, I was distracted somewhat during this dance. I was distracted further by the tightness of Erin's trousers. I could watch her move around in those all day.
Of that which I was able to pay attention to, however, I thought it was pretty good. But sitting here after the fact, I realise that it was not so good that I can remember it. I can remember thinking Richard looked like a man born in 1896 and Erin's bum being quite pleasing to the eye, but I can't remember the song they danced to, nor any given sequence.
(Having now watched the performance again I see that the song was "9 to 5" and I remember Jenn's squealing with delight. Work a little Dolly into something and Jenn is guaranteed to be pleased)

Colin Salmon and Kristina Rihanoff –– Argentine tango –– 26
"Boobs!" shouted Jenn as Colin and Kristina took to the floor. "Wait, is Kristina naked? Woo!"
She was close to it. The costuming department apparently had no money for Kristina's outfit this week and the poor girl was forced to make due with just a few satin table napkins and a BeDazzler.
About as predictably as a Tuesday, the dance was James Bond themed. Apparently there is some kind of rule that Colin's having been in a few James Bond films must be mentioned as many times as possible. Depending on which Bond you like, the British icon is supposed to be either suave or kick-ass, but Colin was neither here. He more or less stood still whilst Kristina climbed all over him.
Not that I blame him, I suppose. I mean, if a two-napkin-adorned Kristina was mounting herself on my shoulders I doubt I'd put much effort into shaking her off. But, as Darcey said, this dance really could have, and should have, been dirtier.

Nicky Byrne and Karen Hauer –– Quickstep –– 27
Easily the biggest improvement of the week. Both Nicky and Karen looked stronger and it made me realise that the professional dancers are having to learn things, too. Karen is having to learn how to choreograph for what works in the Strictly realm. It's not just a matter of Nicky learning steps, but Karen learning which steps he can do that will work best in this somewhat dichotomous environment of needing to please both judges and the studio/TV audience. They did that last week and I especially liked Nicky's rubbery arms thing at the start, mimicking Jim Carrey's physical style. I read a comment somewhere suggesting Nicky performed well in this dance because he naturally stands and moves like a chimp –– which probably means he'll go back to struggling in his next dance.

Lisa Riley and Robin Windsor –– Jive –– 29
I was unimpressed. The judges were falling over themselves with their "You go, girl!" comments, which you feel is almost requisite. One senses that on the judges' table, there is a little message that pops up in front of each of them as Lisa is dancing that says something to the effect of: "DO NOT MENTION LISA'S WEIGHT." And as such I think the praise is just a bit too effusive so as to almost be condescending. I respect Darcey for giving the dance a 6. It deserved a 6. It was energetic and fun and entertaining and, yes, Lisa is loveable in all the energy she puts into her routines, but, uhm, you know, the dancing wasn't as good as it could have been.

Dani Harmer and Vincent Simone –– Foxtrot –– 29
If this were the Olympics, and Dani were a Chinese swimmer I think we would be accusing Dani of taking illegal supplements, such was the dramatic improvement in her ability from one week to the next. Tiny, weirdly proportioned Dani really made that work –– to the extent that having a dog run into her arms at the end of the dance was entirely unnecessary. As Brucie pointed out, it killed the applause. Which seems to be the cardinal sin as far as Sir Bruce is concerned: never –– ever, ever –– kill the applause.
On a side note, did you see It Takes Two on Wednesday, when Dani was showing off the tattoos on the backs of her calves? What back alley did she get those in? When I used to teach in the south Wales valleys I worked out at a gym in Merthyr Tydfil, which meant I gained purview into the fascinating world of abysmally poor tattoos. Every true Valleys boy-o needs to have at least one tribal tattoo and usually the name of his kids on his forearm. A dragon or the Tair Pluen is also de rigueur. Most of these tattoos appeared to have been scratched out by sleepy children. But they are art –– valuable masterpieces –– compared to the unintelligible drunken baby-scrawl on Dani's legs.

Kimberley Walsh and Pasha Kovalev –– Quickstep –– 29
"I think I'm starting to love her," Jenn exclaimed. "That might be the wine, though. Woo!"
Whereas I was simply content with being able to remember that Kimberley's on the show. I still find her utterly forgettable. Sitting here now trying to recall her face I get a mesh of Kylie Minogue, Cheryl Cole and pre-blonde Miley Cyrus. I can recall her voice, though, and the fact she sounds to be a three-pack-a-day girl. Honey's got a voice so husky that in a few years she'll sound like Lee Marvin. Hot.

Louis Smith and Flavia Cacace –– Salsa –– 30
I think Dirty Dancing is a stupid movie; I don't quite understand the love for it. I far prefer to think of Jennifer Grey as Jeanie in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. But, still, how can you not respect Louis for rocking that performance with his usual "This is, like, only the fifth best thing I do" facial expression? I agreed with Darcey about Lisa but I feel she wasn't actually watching this one. Maybe she was just jealous of Flavia.
The crowd was loving it, though. I'm pretty sure that dance alone was good enough that Louis could suck for the next two weeks and still coast safely through to the consecutive weeks.

Denise van Outen and James Jordan –– Foxtrot –– 32
Something in me wants to dislike Denise. I think this is because I follow her on Twitter and she retweets her fan club, and she (like too many Strictly folk) has that annoying tendency to give in to people's requests for retweets. Stuff like: "Can I get an RT for your biggest fan?" "Can I get an RT for this picture of my dog?" "Can I get an RT for continuing to draw breath?"
That annoys the hell out of me. No one has ever asked me for such a thing but I have preemptively established the rule that if you ask me to retweet something, you, by that action, ensure the answer is no. I wish Denise should obey this rule.
What this has to do with her dancing, I don't know. And couldn't I just stop following her if it annoys me so damn much?
Nonetheless, something about her makes me want to dislike her. But then she comes out and dances awesome again. Every time, bitches. She rocked last week's dance so hard that James was the one who looked less at ease. Denise has the ability to own the stage, and for that talent I can't help but like her, or, at least, respect her. I was somewhat surprised her score wasn't higher.

  • I see the BBC are again this year putting all the dances on YouTube. I don't know, however, whether this is visible to viewers from outside the UK.
  • Darcey really is the best overall judge. I love her. She's awesome, yah? If not simply for her ability to drop all the "yah" from her speech in one week. I love all the judges, but when Darcey gives her opinion it just has more weight. If anyone ever gets a 10 from her, they can rest assured that they genuinely rocked the dance. It's not like when Alesha would throw out 10s because a person chose to dance to a track she liked.
  • So far, though, no one has scored above an 8. One wonders when the 9 paddles will first make an appearance and who will earn them.

OK, I've pretty much given up on Crazy V being in the final four. As it stands, I'm predicting: Denise, Louis, Kimberley and Dani. I think Lisa will last a long while but I predict that her rate of improvement will slow and she'll fall noticeably behind the others in the latter weeks. My money's still on Denise to win. Literally. I finally today got around to putting actual money on her –– my winnings from when I bet on Harry Judd last year. That's a whopping £8, yo. If she wins, I take home £28. Woo!

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