Strictly 2021 – Quarterfinal, Main Show: Vaguely Allusory Garrotting Imagery

And here we see a man consoling his favourite sack of potatoes.

It’s the quarter-final which means I’m lulled into a false sense of security at having to only recap 5 dances before being thrown back up to 8 next week.

As we’re entering the festive season, it is of course a time of office parties, which we were assured on It Takes Two was the theme of this routine and then we enter through some A Christmas Carol-esque, frosted glass windows into a party of people wearing ball gowns and opera gloves

Where are you guys working? WHEN are you guys working? Is this another of Kai’s temporal wormholes? Will we ever get him back to his correct era?

And if you’re wondering what the hierarchy of the Strictly Temporally Adrift Office Party is, Amy is on coat duty and wearing coat for some reason?

Cameron is a mere waiter

that boy is NEVER getting a celebrity dance partner, he is perma-bench material through and through. Although I say that, but Neil’s only role in this was to be waved away by Oti at the beginning of the routine

is this, symbolism?

The party is going great at first, or at least nobody is three sheets to the wind and photocopying their bum yet – I didn’t see Gorka, Johannes or Giovanni anywhere during this routine though so let us not rule anything out. BUT THEN the first of tonight’s disasters strikes! Graziano enters the scene and Oti gets a moment to add to the Oti Mabuse Staring Wistfully Into The Middle Distance While Looking Utterly Beautiful Cinematic Universe

nobody does it better.

She is of course reminiscing about their old relationship which they spent entirely trapped in a Hall & Oates music video

there is no soft-focus, but I can *feel* the soft-focus.

I can only assume that they had quite the messy break up, symbolised by Oti yeeting herself off of the Strictly Come Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy Chaise that I imagine Rhys spends most of his non-training hours languishing away on

The source of this break up? Graziano was apparently an Antarctic Explorer and never told her and she wasn’t best pleased when she found out because he had to go away on a 7 month expedition to see if gentoo penguins have the answer to global warming

What can I say? It’s happened to us all. One moment he loves you, the next it’s “my heart belongs to penguin welfare.” I’LL NEVER FORGIVE YOU, NICHOLAS.

And with Graziano’s sudden appearance sending Oti into what can only be described as a Bonnie Tyler flap around the office, Amy seemingly appeared out of thin air to offer Graziano his parka and whisper a gentle “fuck off, mate” into his ears

oh and she absolutely swiped the £20 he left in his pocket – coat check-in Amy is dark sided.

With all the judges having successfully evaded Covid for the week, we were back to a full family meaning we didn’t have the shine The Erivo Symbol out over the West End for a third week in a row. But she wasn’t completely gone because Claudia had pulled a Sewing Bee and repurposed her Murder Dress in a chaotic 1 hour timed challenge likely harried by Joe Lycett throughout

it certainly wouldn’t get her eliminated but Esme Young would tell her it needed a bow.

Tess also channelled some panicked Sewing Bee energy with a dress featuring an emergency armpit vent lest she get too sweaty – there was of course an Argentina Tango on the menu this evening

I have visions of Patrick Grant poking his fingers in there asking “What’s this for then?”

Shirley however was back to her no-nonsense white and very much looking like she was about to force a Disney princess’s love interest to marry her

and Motsi was apparently in on the white memo and dressed as the Greek muse we need but probably do not deserve in the upcoming live-action Hercules film

The hair is, as ever, a wonder of the man-made world.

And Craig had deigned to give us black sequins

which would have been exciting a couple of weeks ago but he had shown up on The One Show where his only role was to promote his baffling Christmas single for 3 minutes and then just make Maggie Gyllenhaal and Dakota Johnson incredibly uncomfortable while dressed like he was in an Elton John number from Glee

Your casual clothes should not be flashier than your Strictly outfits, what are you doing?

Speaking of that episode of The One Show, my absolute favourite thing was Ronan Keating bringing up the fact Dakota Johnson’s grandmother is Tippie Hedren, vaguely alluding to the fact Dakota wouldn’t have an acting career without her and Dakota mentally wondering if she could end his chat show hosting career too

And thus ends my recap of The One Show, that’s the content you came to this Strictly recap for.

The Droppening Begins
Salsa / We Are Family – Sister Sledge

Riding high off the back of their Argentine Tango these two were under a lot of pressure to keep the momentum going. It’s just unfortunate that they were dealt what was quick to become the card of death that is a salsa. And Johannes had big plans to show that John had improved his Latin technique

and your arse apparently.

And so to the dancefloor where John has apparently been trapped by Ganondorf

and the only way to free him from this crystalline prison is through the power of a Disco Salsa, a rare beast that Anton has allegedly never heard or seen on Strictly before despite the fact I’d hazard an estimate that a good 40% of the Strictly Salsa back catalogue are Disco Salsas – most famously Abbey Clancy’s dubiously 40 scoring salsa


Johannes at least went slightly lighter on the disco than Aljaz who, like a labrador puppy in Studio 54, opened a veritable Saturday Night Fever Floodgate in the excitement of his Strictly debut series. Johannes had still packed this routine with a lot of content though and some thoroughly impressive lifts and tricks, that did seem to show off Johannes more than they did John

I can’t blame them, can you imagine the outcome of Johannes trying to lift John in any capacity considering… Well, I shan’t jump the gun. But you know, John got to do his little ballet leap at the beginning

and have his go at being The Focal Derriere of the Routine

God bless those vanilla butt cheeks, they’re good but they’re no match for the power and intensity of Johannes’s 100mph Arse

and it all seemed to be going well for this disco dancing rescue mission and then we got to the final big stunt of the routine, the big finish, the grand crescendo, the climactic closing and then…

the dawning horror on Johannes’s face as realised he’d handed John the wrong hand, seemingly knowing how this lift was going to go

God bless this absolute flaming tyre pile of a lift and the way Johannes styled it out like a cat that accidentally rolled off a coffee table

I do also fear that I may slowly be manifesting Johannes’s casting in a production of CATS: Your Anthropomorphic Nightmare and for that I truly do apologise but the man does have a certain energy about him.

My absolute favourite thing about it was the fact Tess didn’t seem to realise anything had gone wrong and after years of this show is apparently just inured to the sight of a wildly fumbled lift

and then as soon as she did realise, the TessBot Protective Failsafes kicked in and she slipped into That Voice for a few seconds before the crowd drowned her out with rousing applause – but nobody loved it more than Kai

Oh, you like fumbled lifts at the end of a salsa, Kai? Noted.

As for the judging, it’s a difficult one because so much of the routine prior to John flopping Johannes onto the floor like a tuna in Billingsgate Fish Market was truly excellent and it’s the most free I’ve seen John in a dance, which is a really lovely improvement to see but it’s also hard not to just think about John spinning around like an overloaded rotary washing line. I did feel like Craig didn’t handle it all too well, revelling in the fact it went wrong, just something about the kind of smug, self-satisfied way he said it really grated with me. Says the woman who just gif’d the whole thing. SHUT UP, I CONTAIN MULTITUDES. I love everything about that lift and if they have to do it again, I would only suggest they do it more wrong.

Judges’ Scores:
: 7
Motsi: 8
Shirley: 8
Anton: 9

Rhys Stephenson & Nancy Xu
Argentine Tango / In The Air Tonight – Phil Collins

After their third time in the dance off, I think it’s fair to say things must have been getting to Rhys and Nancy, I mean Nancy had tied her own hair into a noose

it’s ok Nancy, it’s just a Phil Collins Argentine Tango, you can do this! You survived a paso doble themed around a BBC production of War of the Worlds! And guess what? You’re back in your comfort zone of traffic themed dances

the glaring red stop light gave me major Jamie Laing’s Show Dance Vibes

sadly Rhys was not launched into the air like some sort of well-suited Messiah to act out his Dance Off Revenge upon the people of Elstree Studios – I’m sure it was on Nancy’s routine moodboard though.

This was the fifth Argentine Tango of the series and most of the other ones this year have been pretty heavy hitters: Kai’s Romancing of a Cassowary, John and Johannes Burn the Ballroom and Adam Peaty’s Empty Swimming Pool of Pent Up Sexual Frustration. Sorry to Sara’s Discotine Tango. So going in to this there was that added pressure and I think Rhys did very well, it’s certainly the most controlled we’ve ever seen him dance, I’m not sure he quite managed to embody that real debonair, dangerous sensuality that this routine called for – which is understandable given he’s a man that spends most of his time in the company of a puppet dog from Wigan – [Ariadne would like to clarify that she is talking about Hacker T. Dog and not Rhys’s girlfriend who by all accounts is a lovely girl].

I think there’s a lot to admire in this routine, some of the lifts and stunts were really, really impressive both in their very concept and the trust Nancy obviously has in Rhys

is Nancy’s neck ok? Is Nancy ok? There’s a lot of vaguely allusory garrotting imagery going on.

I didn’t think the transitions in and out of some of the lifts were as smooth as the judges claimed, there was just a slight stutter here and there and while I think Rhys danced the routine very well, I’m not sure he truly performed it and it was Nancy that truly shone. It’s the first time we’ve got to see how Nancy likes to dance, her other routines have always felt very contrived and have reeked of producorial interference but this felt very natural on her – I imagine she’s still trying to find her feet as a Strictly Choreographer and this routine was choreographed by the specialists, Leandro and Maria, who have been doing this for Strictly for a number of years now so they kind of have a better understanding of what works on television *and* in the studio. It did also help that Nancy was in a phenomenal outfit and not in a hastily bedazzled high street offering or whatever fancy dress Vicky could find in the labyrinthine BBC Costume Warehouse.

As for The Final Closeup Passionate Face Off:

it’s a solid 7 out of 10 – a little timid, Nancy’s highlighter thoroughly stealing focus, but Graziano was very proud of the two of them

What a good egg, give him a ringer next year, let him showcase a whole 13 weeks’ worth of those monogrammed fedoras.

Judges’ Scores:
: 9
Motsi: 10
Shirley: 10
Anton: 10

Rose Ayling-Ellis & Giovanni Pernice
American Smooth / This Will Be – Natalie Cole

I had hoped that they’re American Smooth would be a Viennese American Smooth with the continuation of their Manhattan Socialites Who Hate Fuck storyline, but instead they were doing a Foxtrot American Smooth so the idea of a sequel to Titanic was out of the window. OR WAS IS IT?

There was room on the door Rose!

No, the crash mat was because Giovanni was getting his own back after Rose spent an entire week being an absolute menace with a fan

his revenge being to have Rose flying squirrel herself at him like me in that recurring dream I keep having

which on paper sounds like absolutely the least elegant dance move I could possibly imagine outside of someone getting their leg trapped over their dance partner’s shoulder and riding them like mechanical bull for what feels like an entire epoch of human existence. And I can assure you, in the dream I am anything but elegant. And yet Rose managed to make it look really rather stunning – perhaps a little too long mentally preparing herself like an Olympic diver but I can understand it

at first I did think it had all gone a bit wrong because I’m not sure if Giovanni had actually choreographed anything after this Thelma and Louise cliffhanger ending stunt and the two of them just sort of hop around in pure giddy glee which if anything only added to the spontaneous feel of the routine

it just sort of dissolved into two people having an absolute blast and I think the routine was all the more successful for it.

It was of course the only non-tango, non-party Latin routine of the night so they got both The Ballroom Gazebo AND a Waltz Bench

I see Giovanni is not a practitioner of the furnitureless park teachings of one Dr. Nadiya Bychkova.

It was just a delight of a routine, the whole thing felt featherlight and I think it’s some of the best routine styling we’ve seen on the show, her outfit just fit so well with it all and didn’t feel like it was trying too hard

I adore this dress and as a proponent of the needlessly formal daytime blouse, I need this top in my life immediately – little shoelace bow and all. The only thing I might change was the hair because while I do love the hairstyling department’s dedication to giving her ponytails of such intense volume that they become a bludgeoning weapon if she turns her head too fast

I do have to worry about Giovanni making it to the end of this competition with both of his eyes.

Of course as it’s the quarterfinal, Craig’s 10 paddle is on a 2 week vacation until the final so he had to find some minor fault with it while everyone else lavished seemingly endless praise upon it – his gripe being the fact a few of her pivots didn’t go down heel first and I could almost hear Giovanni’s eye-roll.

Judges’ Scores:
: 9
Motsi: 10
Shirley: 10
Anton: 10

Dan Walker & Nadiya Bychkova
Tango / Santa Maria – Gotan Project

With Dan back in ballroom and having burnt through the entire deck of chaste ballroom dances except for the waltz, which they were obviously keeping for what was beginning to look like an inevitable semi-final appearance because Dan Walker trying to learn two dances in 1 week and one of them not being a lob of a waltz would have been cruel. So that left him with a compulsory tango, an idea that didn’t seem to fill him with the utmost confidence

but over the course of the week he did apparently fall in love with the dance, quite how that little love affair is going now remains to be seen.

It was your pretty standard tango, we of course start in the back alleys of a Spanish town with some VR that has a distinctly early 2000s First Person Shooter game feel to it

we are only but a few series away from them completely burning through every usable broadway musical score and having to swap out Musicals Week for Video Game Week – so prepare yourself for a Sonic the Hedgehog Jive, a Waltz to the Lumbridge theme and Aljaz to be dressed up as an Orc from World of Warcraft for a very ill-advised cha cha cha. But for this routine, Dan Walker was dressed as Investment Banker Kai

I did spend a significant amount of this routine fearing that Dan’s trousers were about to fall down, such is the faux-peril of a baggy tango trouser. And it seemed like Dan had similar worries because he was still pulling The Face the entire way through his routine

but that might have been because Nadiya was screaming “FISH FINGERS!” at an almost audible level into his ear for just about the entire routine – I can’t wait for them to release the audio from their dance mics because I need to know what Nadiya hissed during her Tango Vixen Snarl

“I prefer Charlie Stayt!”

Despite his obvious concentration on what he was doing, it wasn’t a great dance – there was some truly atrocious legwork which caused him a great deal of balancing issues and threatened to topple him over at any moment. Which I imagine is why Nadiya took a leaf from Dianne’s book and choreographed a whole segment in the middle where she danced with some furniture

despite the glaring issues with the dance, I do think it was the best dancing we’ve seen Dan do, I don’t think it was a great ~performance~ but in terms of doing the steps? I thought it was fine – quite what Shirley thought she was achieving by giving him a 9 I don’t really know but it kind of just really highlights the sliding scale at which the judging is being done. The thing with Dan is, he started the competition, very obviously, as a non-dancer and so the show could construct this whole narrative of The Man Who Learned To Dance around him, which they couldn’t really do with AJ ro John because they started out so well. The unfortunate thing is that it’s week 11 and for Shirley to still be churning out critiques like “Given time, Dan will shine!” is utterly patronising BECAUSE IT’S BEEN ELEVEN WEEKS SHIRLEY, the man is just not a dancer.
With Motsi also going for that line attack, it fell upon Anton’s shoulders to activate the bomb beneath Dan’s seat and go in HARD on this routine and highlight all of the issues the routine had, most of which was when Dan had to have any kind of physical contact with Nadiya. It was quite the plot twist, I thought Anton was utterly devoted to protecting Dan like some sort of ballroom lioness would her defenseless, limply tangoing cubs.

Judges’ Scores:
: 7
Motsi: 8
Shirley: 9
Anton: 7

AJ Odudu & Kai Widdrington
Salsa 2: Dropped Partner Boogaloo / Rhythm is Gonna Get You / Gloria Estefan

This salsa was… a journey. Obviously since Sambageddon we’ve all been dreading AJ getting another party Latin dance, whether it be a salsa or a cha cha cha – mostly because her legs repel the very concept of them like water off a duck’s back but also because it meant that we’d spend another week of her having to live up to The Beyonce Monolith for no reason other than that she is a Black woman who dances and looks really, really good in gold. She wasn’t even dancing to a Beyonce song and It Takes Two kept saying she needed to “bring her inner Beyonce”! And then Vicky Gill decided to spring upon us a loose interpretation of one of the looks Beyonce wears in Run The World – sadly sans B&Q art deco vase shoes

which very much missed Beyonce by 300 yards and landed firmly in Space Samurai from the Year 3081 – this is not a challenge to turn that into a Charleston theme, I know you’ve got that dress hanging around back there Vicky, BURN IT RIGHT NOW. Forget it ever happened, just, Like Tom Fletcher’s fears of crying, let it go.

Then on It Takes Two, amongst Kai dressing up as a frog for Shirley Ballas’s amphibian idée fixe – no further context shall be provided for fake fans who don’t watch It Takes Two –

AJ mentioned they were doing cartwheels… You know, that famous dance move that Beyonce always does… and I imagine Vicky Gill watched that interview in horror as she realised that what she had made for AJ was less of a salsa dress and more of a scaly death trap. I mean, it turns out the routine itself was the death trap all along but you know, she wasn’t helping.

But before we get to the routine, I would like to formally apologise for this tweet I sent out moments before their routine started

Lock me in a temple of snakes and call me Cassandra.

In his eagerness to prove that AJ had vastly improved her technique since their week 4 samba, Kai had packed this routine to the rafters with some quite complicated and intense footwork which Aj coped with remarkably well

she certainly couldn’t have done that 7 weeks ago – I do think there was a lack of direction in her arm movements though, it was all a bit “I don’t know what I’m meant to be doing with these.” and dissolved into kind of semi-gestures.

Had Rose not Superman’d herself at Giovanni, AJ’s cartwheels would’ve been the best stunt of the week

it really was a routine with very little breathing space for her, which I think gave rise to a few of the stumbled transitions out of her lifts and the slight awkwardness in her upper body – the only time she ever really got to rest was when Kai let her have a few seconds of respite to do whatever this was

it’s not quite Oti and Kelvin’s incredibly dynamic revolving blowjob but they can work on it

and with their cartwheels nailed and AJ’s legs seemingly operating in tandem with the rest of her body it was all looking like this was heading for some high praise AND THEN

the gif-timer says it’s only 8 seconds and yet it feels like it lasts an entire epoch of human existence and only gets longer and harder to watch every time you see it. Civilisations grew, flourished and crumbled by the time AJ had finished clambering down from Kai and did her best to put on a brave face

it could have been worse AJ, you could have pulled a full Matt Richardson on Dancing on Ice

there was a significant tonal difference between how the judges handled AJ’s fumbled lift and how they handled John throwing Johannes to the floor like a member of the mafia discarding a body wrapped in a persian rug – particularly from Anton who did this whole bit about telling Dave Arch to stop playing the music, not once but twice, just to make sure we all got the joke at which point it didn’t feel like we were laughing with AJ, who was pretty obviously mortified and embarrassed, but laughing at her in a very mocking way. And then he just kind of glossed over the rest of the dance which was pretty damn great, scoring AJ a 7 while he gave John and Johannes a 9.

Anton wasn’t the only one, Motsi did it too, telling EXACTLY the same joke as Anton, imaginably because we hadn’t mentioned Dave Arch enough? And Craig, well we knew he was going to revel in it.

Judges’ Scores:
: 7
Motsi: 8
Shirley: 8
Anton: 7

A Quarterfinal Leader Board:

  1. Rhys and Nancy Play in Traffic
    1. Rose and Giovanni Being Delightful For 90 Seconds
  2. A Daring Disco Salsa Escape Plan
  3. Dan Walker Mostly Just Walking
  4. AJ Odudu and Kai Widdrington Defy The Laws of Time

and so we head to the Results Show with an utterly cursed leader board that looked like it was very much promising us a face-off between John and AJ…

And if you’ve enjoyed this recap of the Strictly’s Quarter-final and would like to support the blog, you can leave a small donation via my Ko-fi HERE.

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