Strictly 2021 – Semi-final, Main Show: Frustrated Vintage Can-opener

I wonder what this means in the Naval Flag Code?

It’s the semi-final baby! So rev your engines and get ready to drive that glittery bus over one of your favs!

In the grand tradition of The Semi-final in which everyone has to dance two dances, there is one outfit that has significantly more effort put into it than the other which Vicky Gill nabbed in a Debenhams Blue Cross Sale long ago. Tess and Claudia very much kept to this tradition

It’s a semi-final Tess, I’m going to need to see some sequins, EVEN A NECKLACE WOULD HAVE BEEN NICE. But in regards to Claudia, where does one get a fully bedazzled suit? Asking for a Christmas list.

Shirley was at least on the sequin and bead bandwagon in a dress that I’m sure weighed an absolute tonne

I tried on a dress like this once and got stuck in it like some sort of Chinese finger trap – it was the most horrifying 10 minutes of my life as I struggled to slip out of it while trying to make as little noise as possible in a John Lewis changing room, which is a tough ask when you’re bedecked in 1000 clattering bugle beads.

Also riding the sequin train was Motsi who was very much starting her one woman campaign to solidify Disco as a themed week as though she learned nothing from Greg Wise doing his sentimental discowafting

so you know, prepare for a disco waltz to… Heart of Glass I guess counts as Disco technically?

And then these two decided that velvet was the way forward

not going to lie, kind of obsessed with Craig’s blazer. But I will be expecting something absolutely ridiculous for the finale and if either of you show up in mere black tie I will replace you with Bruno Tonioli just to show how easily replaceable you are.

Rhys Stephenson & Nancy Xu
Tango / One Vision – Queen

In good news for these two, they at least came to an agreement on how to best share the Strictly Therapy Chaise this week

and it seemed to work out for the most part – Rhys didn’t look like he was being followed by a tiny little rain cloud whenever he so much as looked at the judges and Nancy certainly featured a lot less worrying neck-related choreography. I think Dr. Winkleman’s Strictly Come Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy can be deemed a success story.

These two were kicking off with their tango, which the show obviously had to do a lot of work to convince us was VERY FAR REMOVED FROM THE ARGENTINE TANGO – most of which was Rhys saying “we can’t do lifts in this tango which gives it some edge.” – you know, just like it does… the waltz? But much like their Argentine Tango they were shunning the traditional music and adding to the pile of Rock Tangos with Queen’s One Vision, and I’m sure the velvet biker jacket (which I do very much want to own) is a nod to a very specific Freddie Mercury outfit that I can find no evidence of but the two of them do look like a Swedish musical duo who probably describe their music as “TechnoPunk Victoriana” – which, 10/10, I would listen.

A velvet biker jacket and leopard print cravat is also probably as close to Freddie Mercury as you can let a Cbeebies presenter dress.

And with such statement outfits, I expected the staging to be just as bold – possibly featuring The Strictly Propcycle given Rhys and Nancy’s penchant for traffic related routines. But then the routine started and… Rhys had been banished to some sort of extra-dimensional crystalline prison because the VR people have only just learned how to render glass effects

which would certainly explain quite why John was trapped in Ganondorf’s Discoball last week

and if Rhys wanted to escape this glassy netherworld he was going to have to do it alone because Nancy had forsaken him for the first TWENTY SECONDS OF THIS ROUTINE, making him dance it all alone which did make him look a bit like a frustrated waiter trying to navigate a particularly hectic dinner service

while Nancy very much just stood on the sidelines, biding her sweet time

I can’t help but feel like there would have been a better way to stage this? Let her languish on the chaise! Or if you’re really dedicated to the crystalline netherverse, there’s got to be one of those perspex drums that The X-Factor was so fond of in 2008 lying around somewhere. Either way, Shirley liked the solo work at the beginning, I thought it was a little bit silly looking, the tango just isn’t a dance that lends itself to it. Or at least Rhys, who does have a tendency to look like a praying mantis doing tai chi, isn’t a dancer best suited to it

somebody learned NOTHING from his paso doble critique then.

Once he got into hold it was much better though, although it still didn’t have that sort of passion and sex appeal that I think a tango really lives and dies by. But I blame that more on the song choice than anything else – I do love me a silly rock and roll tango but One Vision as a song just doesn’t really give you that feeling. The judges loved the drama and I think this is another difference between watching it in the studio, you’re not being treated to constant close-ups of Rhys and Nancy very much having a full blown conversation throughout this dance – it’s all part of Dr. Winkleman’s Couple’s Therapy.

They did have a lovely end of routine pose though, even if Rhys doing the devil horns hand symbol is about as convincing as HRVY doing it in a Jive to Faith by Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande

Who doesn’t love a good contrasting colour scheme?

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

AJ Odudu & Kai Widdrington
Quickstep / Sing, Sing, Sing – Benny Goodman

Kai Widdrington Timeline Update:

Oh no, he’s crossing the streams.

Fresh off the back of Salsageddon and her first late-stage appearance in the bottom 2, AJ was obviously feeling like she had a lot to prove coming in to this semi-final but with the support of a bunch of people accosted in a Christmas market behind her, she was ready to do the do. And after a couple of dances that put Kai severely out of his temporal comfort zone, they were throwing it right back to the good old Golden Age of Hollywood with an almost cliché quickstep to Sing, Sing, Sing as Kai and AJ emerge from his TARDIS which is naturally disguised as the entrance to The Savoy Hotel, he’s inconspicuous is our Kai

before we get to the absolute roarer of a routine, THAT DRESS. It’s like the Pokemon evolution of Karen’s American Smooth dress

I’m mostly just impressed that Vicky Gill managed to afford enough feathers to make it look like AJ returned particularly triumphant, bedecked in the spoils of war against The Owls of Ga’Hoole. And there’s the irrelevant media reference of the episode.

But as fabulous as the blood money pompoms were, they did come at the risk of being both a tangle hazard and Kai snorting white ostrich feathers like [REDACTED FOR LIBEL REASONS]

can’t wait for them to release the dance mic audio and it’s just Kai sneezing and AJ whispering “bless you” every time. That’s Head Canon.

Everything about this routine was just delightfully classic, as I said, it’s almost a little bit cliché at this point to do a Sing Sing Sing quickstep but sometimes you’ve just got to embrace the expected to FINALLY get that long overdue 40. But it wasn’t exactly an easy lob of a routine because my God did they speed around every inch of that dancefloor

and if we thought Rhys got air every time he so much as breathed, AJ and Kai were raking up some air miles themselves

Kai Widdrington? More like… Fly Widdrington. You can have that one for free It Takes Take tagline writer.

It’s the sort of routine almost designed for the judges to love lest they be seen to reject The ART OF DAHNCE and sure enough they all go bananas for it, none more so than Anton who desperately wishes he could have seen this danced in Blackpool, at the risk of AJ and Kai jettisoning themselves to the moon of course. He also said that if he could have danced one routine, it would have been this one. Somewhere Sara Davies sobs in her giant origami boat – your betrayal shall not be forgotten Du Beke, YOU SHALL FEEL THE WRATH OF HER ORIGAMI FLOTILLA.
Craig offered them a simple critique of “Incredible.” and no negatives which I thought was about to lead us into a 3rd extremely frustrating 9 and force Motsi to shatter that perspex barrier with the force of her rapidly tapping index finger alone, AND THEN

I don’t think a 40 has ever felt this cathartic before, I feel like I just screamed into a pillow for 20 minutes. I may have screamed into a pillow for 20 minutes.

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

John Whaite & Johannes Radebe
Couple’s Choice / Hometown Glory – Adele

And so continues the run of Couple’s Choice routines that make it hard to build a case to eradicating the genre altogether. It would be so easy for a contemporary dance to an Adele song to end up being an almost overly gushy piece of sentimentality – the sort of thing Britain’s Got Talent thrives on. However, I think this routine was absolutely pitch perfect in its simplicity, could the beige outfits perhaps have looked less like they came in Vicky Gill’s bulk order from Decathlon?

Yes, but that’s Strictly’s brand of modern dance for you, as Dianne and Neil have showcased all series.

It did at least mean that all the focus on was on John and Johannes in the routine, not a single rhinestone or sequin to glamour your attention, just the two boys and their routine of trust exercises

I think that’s what made this such a good routine, as much as it was a dance, there was a lot of focus on strength and control that often made it feel more like a piece of theatre work – especially the final Sisyphus Walk

it’s one of the most striking pieces of choreography that’s ever come from the show – it’s just a superb piece of choreographic storytelling, and more impressively is that it very much felt like this was John telling the story. Whereas in the past the routines have always felt a little more like the focus tilted towards Johannes, and I’ll be interested to see if this translates into the routines they get to re-do in next weekend’s final.

As for my favourite part of the routine, as much as I adore their final move, at the beginning when John looks back to Johannes and Johannes gives him a little nod

Oof, that got me in the feelings, just the slightest gesture, the smallest bit of reassurance that I think we as queer people thrive on between one another, perhaps insignificant to most but like a gravitational shift for us.

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

Rose Ayling-Ellis & Giovanni Pernice
Waltz / How Long Will I Love You? – Ellie Goulding

Well, someone had to get the semi-final lob of a waltz and if anyone was going to do it, it was Rose as she completes The Ballroom Hexangle and thus wins Strictly Ballroom Bingo, the prize of which is a permanent seat on The One Show’s list of revolving guest presenters, so have fun talking about how the size of the nation’s couches has been shrinking by 1% every year since 2015 – EXPOSE DFS!

While everyone else’s messages of support largely came from a series of civilians being accosted at a Christmas Market, Rose naturally got a lot of messages from the deaf community as well as a very special message from a tennis racket peacock

it’s a heartfelt display that leads perfectly into the most perfectly simple waltz and because of a premature deploying of The Waltz Bench in last week’s American Smooth, the two of them are sent to be romantic inside Big Ben

dancing inside a clock tower to a song called “How Long Will I Love You?” is so delightfully on the nose that I’m willing to tick it off as a choreographic nose boop.

Rose also continues her run of enviable ballroom outfits

those that follow my Series of Subpar Selfies will know that I’m partial to a neck bow and a billowy sleeve so this dress was right up my alley and I will be writing several letters to Vicky Gill until she relents and gives it to me.

As ever with Rose’s ballroom dancing, it’s utterly sublime and just a delight to watch – there’s a sort of beyond human way she navigates a ballroom routine, the way she and Giovanni just glided through these rotations is phenomenal

just thinking about doing that twists my ankle and puts me on bed rest for 2 weeks, which is my excuse for writing these in bed.

Speaking of her footwork, Craig was apparently feeling very cranky and noticed a single sticky right foot turn somewhere along the lines and when he mentioned it Giovanni just about Animorphed into a hawk and flew across the 10 feet between the two of them and pecked his eyes out

honestly though, watch him transform, he just stops being Giovanni and becomes somehow more bird-like than even Dan Walker

meanwhile Rose continues to laugh through anything, her blood at this point is just pure serotonin.

luckily Motsi was on hand to praise the routine into oblivion, saying she wished there was something beyond a 10 she could give Rose to show how good she was this evening. And you know what? I’m fully here for Motsi to have golden crown that she can award once at any point during the competition – but said crown does absolutely have to look like they picked it up at Claire’s accessories and does grant immunity for the week. Also, only Motsi gets the crown, I’m not risking Anton awarding it to someone for being brave during a comically awful samba.

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

A Pair of Secondary Characters in The Flintstones
Samba / It Had Better Be Tonight – Mickey Bubbles

In true Vicky Gill vs Nancy Xu: War of the Wardrobe style, Vicky promised us a feathery delight of a traditional samba outfit on Thursday

but when it came to saturday night, the outfit we got, while not-not that dress, was distinctly more of a well feathered loincloth bordering on Pebbles Flintstone cosplay – hey, we’re nearing that point where The Flintstones live action movie becomes quaintly nostalgic and Netflix reboots the whole thing but with 100% tyrannosaurs attacks so maybe we’re ahead of the curve here?

with Vicky already paying off a blood debt over whatever ostrich feathers she could bargain out of The Venezuelan Ostrich Farming Oligarchy she really had to choose between either skinning the glittery cat or bedecking Nancy in enough pheasant feathers to potentially give her the power of flight. The cat it was then, and I imagine the more concentrated feather cushioning was for the hell of a slide across the floor she did at the end

Vicky Gill’s Avian-based Coccyx Protective Measures working wonders yet again.

Due to the fact this is the semi-final, we are of course treated to a Judges Conference in an Umbrella Store

which is mostly spent talking about Rhys’s energy and how his Jive went to pot, and the moment they mention the Jive both Rhys and Nancy appear to just mentally check out

it’s like the opposite of a trigger word for a sleeper agent.

And because of the Calamity J*ve, most of the judges are all a little bit worried for this samba, with Anton noting that “it’s the hardest of the Latin dances in terms of timing.” which I don’t know is true considering last week’s salsa efforts

so with Rhys’s head now full of J*ve Memories and a distinct lack of faith from 66% of the judging panel, we go to Bedrock’s premier jazz lounge!

Oh, so we have enough feathers to reupholster Adam Peaty’s Giant Ring but not to make Nancy’s arse look like a startled macaw?


The biggest worry for this samba was how well Rhys might manage to control his energy and slip out of the controlled smoothness that it requires and into a revisitation of his electroshock cha-cha-cha (Dr. Winkleman’s therapies aren’t all a success story…) and given that there was a large chunk in the middle where Nancy just made Rhys do his Launch Show dance moves, I’m not sure he managed the feat

I found this routine, much like many of Rhys’s Latin dances, to be a little too frenetic and looking more like someone just freestyling in their bedroom than anything else – that being said, I did hugely enjoy this segment of their routine, nobody spins quite like Nancy Xu when she’s actually doing a routine she seems to like and hasn’t had the BBC dressing up box fired at her like a cannon

it might also be entirely because of the nose boop – it’s been a good year for them, I’ll call it The Oti Effect

truly the Strictly Trendsetter.

I think the biggest issue with Rhys’s Latin is that they always look like they’re taking a lot of effort, which Anton noted as though that was a good thing, I’m not so sure. But it was nice to see Nancy looking like she was having fun in a Latin routine and not fearing for the welfare of her shins at all times.

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

AJ Odudu & Kai Widdrington
Rumba / Show Me Heaven – Maria McKee

Well, I certainly made a rod for my back didn’t I?

and then Kai Widdrington decided to give me absolutely NO material to work with in this rumba, no looming four-poster bed, no bearskin rug beside some terribly rendered AR fireplace, not even AJ staring forlornly at the photograph of the time traveller she fell in love with before he was ripped through one of his sporadic temporal wormholes ending up in The Napoleonic Wars. IT’S RUMBA 101 WIDDRINGTON, MY GOD. I expected bigger things from the man who romanced a cassowary. Instead the two of them were banished to Oti and Graziano’s Desolate Land of Foggy Heartbreak

I can’t write 5 chapters of smutty fanfic off the back of the inherent eroticism of clouds alone. And to think, it started off quite strongly with the classic Dancerly Rumba Shower and Kai creeping up on her like a cold breeze through the gap of the door

and fair play to the both of them, they hammed this routine up to the very literal foggy studio heavens – Kai maybe giving it a little too much face at some points

you don’t want your romance novel cover jutting chin to distract too much from your wafting dance partner, tone it down boy!

I wasn’t sure how this rumba would go down with the judges because I do think it could have probably been technically better, there were moments of arm related awkwardness, which is understandable and as a woman with a wingspan that some might describe as “dinosaur adjacent”, I fully understand not quite knowing what you’re meant to do with your free limbs. But there were moments of divinely camp drama, nobody dips quite like AJ

which is probably why Kai seemed to put one in every couple of seconds and who could blame him?

She doesn’t really have much competition in the race for Best Rumba given that the only other ones have been James Cameron’s Highly Relevant Media Franchise Avatar: The Rumba, Monye Manor’s Sex Ghost, A Hobbit Wedding, An Ode to Sting and Dan Walker’s Own Personal Hell. Personally, I think I did prefer John and Johannes’s but I’m not going to exactly wish a 39 scoring rumba away from AJ, even with a lack of romantic lodge furnishings. I think it also rubs a bit of the romance off the routine (which Shirley has just spent an entire critique talking about the feminine zones of) when AJ, in her interview with Claudia, honks that the routine meant a lot to Kai because of his grandmother and Kai looked like he was about to eat his own face

where’s a temporal wormhole when you really need one?

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

John Whaite and Johannes Radebe
Jive / Higher Power – Coldplay (somehow…)

In true The BBC Must Be Unbiased style, John and Johannes got to do their lovely little love letter to the queer community for their couple’s choice but the scales must be balanced and thus The All Too Heterosexual Coldplay Jive is brought kicking and flicking into existence, the Sexuality Pendulum once again hangs central, like a well balanced bisexual.

The jive is kind of a perfect dance for John and Johannes because it shows off their real strength and that’s their insane level of synchronicity

it really is just an absolute marvel and I’d be very curious to know quite how much training time these two manage to pack in – it’s a pity the show stopped telling us after the Jerry Hall Minimum Minutes Hours palaver – you would never have guessed she did as little training as contractually possible from her Cha Cha Cha, ironically danced to Everybody Loves to Cha Cha

I do wish John and Johannes had danced to just about any other song because it felt like they were dancing to a different song as there’s absolutely no bounce to Higher Power which I thought flatten out the routine. Shirley however is clearly a Coldplay fan and was doing the full lipsync 20 seconds after the band had stopped playing and Tess was trying her best to talk to a clearly out of breath John

I suppose the one good thing about it was that with the song being called Higher Power, the two of them had no choice but to start the routine like a pair of glittery Kaiju destroying Eastern Europe

This was meant to be a “You’ve heard of Elf on a Shelf, well get ready for Jive on ____” but I cannot for the life of me find an Eastern European city rhyming with Jive without bastardising Kyiv to a problemtaic degree and I’ve been staring at Google Maps for so long I’m more familiar with the highways and byways of Slovenia than I am my own neighbourhood. SO THERE GOES THAT JOKE.

But you know, I can at least rest happy and content that they had these shirts

I will be thinking about whoever had to hand-stone those things for the rest of my life, you have my eternal respect and gratitude – I hope everyone in the wardrobe department bought you a drink afterwards. I bet Rose is happy she wasn’t on Vicky Gill VT duty this week

Giovanni just wanders around Elstree desperately looking for Rose as she slowly sinks into Vicky Gill’s AB Crystal pit trap. That was the plot of Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull, right?

How did Rhys cope with being in the same room as a jive for the first time since The Footloosening?

Staring into The Jive Void… Was it because they did the nose boop too?

by the way, if you watch this jive with Adam and Katya’s jive audio played over it, the lyrics say “pretty little thing” as John boops Johannes’s nose and it’s a much better jive for it.

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

Rose Ayling-Ellis & Giovanni Pernice
Argentine Tango / A Evaristo Carriego – Eduardo Rovira

Rose very much had the, what I shall be calling, Taylor Swift Narrative this evening – starting off with a light frothy, Old Taylor Waltz and then… Oh, Waltz Rose can’t come to the phone right now. Why…?

Rose has obviously had a few of the traditionally “sexy vamp routines” – although her tango was wrapped up in the delightful camp of Halloween Week and her Paso Doble was more of a dipping of the toe into the pool of Strictly Sex Appeal – there was also obviously the world’s only erotic Viennese Waltz – but this Argentine Tango, well, it was just a full submergence and phoenix-like rebirth into the siren that ate and devoured Giovanni’s soul

Look what you made her do indeed.

We start this tale of Woe and FILTH in the empty theatre

Giovanni’s life in ruins as his marionette production of The Sound of Music is stopped dead in its strings after he lost his hand to a vengeful jive dancer

and that hand, it haunts him… it mocks him…

AND SHE’S BACK FOR THE REST OF HIM… but she’s swapped her My Little Pony cutesiness for the visage of a sexy bordello lampshade

and then just proceeded with the most elegant and serene murder I’ve ever witnessed – that sentence makes me sound like I’ve witnessed a lot of murders, I haven’t, I’m just wrote that on Sunday afternoon after one too many premature mince pies.
One thing the the Argentine Tangos often suffer from is how often the professional tends to shine more than the celebrity but this was Rose’s dance from beginning to end – even as much as I do love Giovanni in his polite mid-2000s emo band member eyeliner

lowkey my favourite part of this routine was the staging at the beginning in which Rose was hiding behind Giovanni and because she’s a whole head shorter than him, her ears poked out of his neck making him look like he had a second set of neck ears. Or are they his hidden neck frill?

still waiting on that fully functioning frilled-neck lizard costume, Vicky… and the show dance is your last opportunity.

Stepping away from my one woman desire to see Giovanni dressed up as an anthropomorphic lizardman, this Argentine Tango was a feat and just one of the most effortless looking dances we’ve seen on the show – the lifts were just staggering – and all the favourites are here, including The Gazelle Carousel

The Pendulous Lost Shoe

The Frustrated Vintage Can-opener

and last but not least, The Frightened Doe In A Windstorm into Finishing Pose:

All traditional technical names, of course.

As good as the lifts were, and they really were first class, my favourite part of the routine was the bit in the middle where Rose seemingly decided that her leg was boneless and waved it around like a snake preparing to strike

in the immortal words of HRVY No-Vowels: “Such a beautiful leg.”

and the hypnotic snake-leg meant the judges were rightfully absolutely floored by the routine, and TessBot was certainly having an internal software issue as she tried to compute whether she should be cooing in The Voice or going The Full Horndog


There was after all no chance for Tess if even Katya, Queen of Filth, was rendered utterly shocked and speechless by this routine

You had your chance Jones and you choose to spend it looking like a mackerel on a Tesco self-checkout machine

In a list of my favourite dance moves of the series, Katya Jones’ core strength brag ranks pretty highly.

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

And that was that! By the way, before we get to the leaderboard, after the finale, I am planning on doing a Strictly 2021 Retrospective and highlight favourite routines, outfits, general great moments – best gifs, best screenshots maybe. If you have any suggestions, leave a comment or message me on Twitter! I would do polls but WordPress weirdly hid that behind a paywall and I don’t think I can really get away with stealing much more of the Ol’ Monkseal Schtick without Chris suing me into oblivion. How I’ve made it this far without a cease and desist is quite frankly a miracle greater than Rhys not actually self-combusting in that Samba.

And so, here’s how the individual dances ranked up:

  1. Kai Widdrington, Back Home At Last
    1. Giovanni’s Puppet Theatre Woe
  2. Once Upon a Time Traveller: A Smutless Fanfic Rumba
    • A Massive Middle Finger To Harry Judd’s Toxic Masculinity
    • A Heterosexual Power Balance Coldplay Jive
    • The Clock Tower of Love
  3. The Stealthy Flintstones Samba
  4. Rhys’s Banishment To The Crystal Dimension

And so, despite the headlights of the very glittery bus very visibly bearing down upon Rhys, we’ll have to wait for The Results Show to see who wont make the final.

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

2 thoughts on “Strictly 2021 – Semi-final, Main Show: Frustrated Vintage Can-opener

  1. jillsleight

    Good god, Rose’s pendulum lift had me SCREAMING that dance cleared my skin, watered my crops, etc.

    I’ll have a think regarding some suggestions for your retrospective!

  2. GeordieGump

    Another top re-cap….that Argentine tango was sublime.
    I think if Anton gets any more excited about Rose and Gio during the final he’ll self combust

Leave a Reply