And we’re off! Hot on the heels of Friday night’s delayed launch show, our 2022 Strictly Come Dancing pairs performed their first competitive dance on Saturday. The good news is that even if they had a dance disaaaahster, nobody is going home in week 1 – we don’t have a Sunday results show until next week.
But the judges’ scores from this opening dance are rolling over (and, although there’s no public vote yet, viewers will start forming their own judgements), meaning there’s definitely still pressure on our fledging Fred 'n' Gingers. So, who made a good first impression and who is already quickstepping towards the exit? Let's dive in...
Will Mellor and Hamza Yassin both score 9s
If you thought Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca was a ridiculous choice for a jive…well, you were right. And yet I was weirdly won over by Will Mellor and Nancy Xu’s routine, which hurled in sexy hip thrusts and rippling body rolls alongside rock ‘n’ roll jive content and a totally committed performance. It left Motsi Mabuse speechless (almost), while head judge Shirley Ballas said it was power-packed and Anton Du Beke called it amazing. Craig Revel Horwood said it lacked retraction in the jive kicks – but he still loved it. Never mind the restrained scores from earlier in the show: it was two 8s and two 9s for Mellor for a massive 34 points out of 40, topping the leaderboard.
But sometimes quiet, gentle and utterly charming elegance wins through too. Hamza Yassin, brilliantly taught and choreographed by debuting pro Jowita Przystal, was such a pleasure to watch in his foxtrot to Islands in the Stream. If he can match this with his Latin, he might be the 2022 dark horse. “We’ve got ourselves a ballroom dancer in the house!” whooped Du Beke, praising Yassin’s extremely promising footwork. “Who knew, darling?” summed up a stunned Revel Horwood. Mabuse called him the king of music, and Ballas loved the ease of it. Two 8s and two 9s, to match Mellor’s score.
He wasn't the only one to impress early on. Possibly channelling The Marvelous Mrs Maisel, Ellie Taylor began her quickstep as a Joan Rivers-style comedian in a chic little black dress and pearls. There were flickers of nerves, but she largely conquered them in a classic Golden Age of Hollywood routine from Johannes Radebe. Ballas praised her frame – with Taylor letting out a surprised squawk when Ballas called her beautiful. She does need to work on her feet though. Revel Horwood loved the routine, and Mabuse said it was divine. When Du Beke then gave her an 8, Taylor actually screamed. A fantastic first score of 28, which should build her confidence.
Flying high with the American smooth
Dianne Buswell didn't hold back, handing Tyler West some big lifts in their American smooth – while absolutely tempting fate by dancing to Falling by Harry Styles. In the event, the lifts were the strongest part of this contemporary-flavoured routine, which was distinctly lacking in actual ballroom technique. (Get used to this grumble from me – it will be a weekly occurrence.) Revel Horwood duly labelled it “pedestrian”, with sloppy footwork, but Mabuse enjoyed the emotion and trust in their partnership. A score of 21, with some confusion because Ballas accidentally registered a 6 on the computer but held up a 7 paddle. The joys of live television!
Helen Skelton and Gorka Marquez went more traditional with their gorgeous smooth, set to Aretha Franklin’s You Send Me, which actually had some properly danced foxtrot in it. The were lovely Fred ‘n’ Ginger-style open sections as well, showing Skelton’s musicality and confidence on her own, as well as in hold – which bodes very well indeed. Revel Horwood praised Skelton's elegance, Mabuse loved her posture (just raise the eye level), and Ballas liked how she sat in the pocket of the music. Du Beke praised her line – she just needs to own it. Once she gets that self-belief, Skelton will definitely justify that bookies' favourite status. A super 26 from the judges, which meant she led the standings at the halfway mark.
...only to be immediately toppled with the next dance. Our youngest contestant, Molly Rainford, partnered by new pro Carlos Gu, looked extremely comfortable in her samba to Anne-Marie and Little Mix’s Kiss My (Uh Oh) – a bit wild in places, but she’s definitely a contender. (If, that is, she can find the ballroom elegance too.) Mabuse said it was the best show of the night so far: lots of great basic, fundamental steps, and she’s a shooting star. Revel Horwood: “I can’t wait to see more, darling.” The pair duly got the night’s first 8s, for a big score of 31.
Who can survive the jive?
On learning she would be starting with jive, Kym Marsh had an understandable response: “That terrifies me.” Equally panicked: partner Graziano Di Prima when he had to meet approximately 300 members of Marsh’s family. Her reticence carried over into a sluggish jive (danced to Merry Clayton’s Yes; really more of a ‘maybe’) to open the show, and she needs to spot on her turns – but potential here, as Ballas noted. Revel Horwood drew boos by demanding more energy, though praised Marsh’s arabesque, and Mabuse suggested selling it more. A decent 23, with a 7 from Du Beke.
James Bye had the opposite problem: he started strong but got lost partway through the routine and made so many mistakes that he stopped dancing altogether. Revel Horwood and Ballas both suggested breathing and trying to dance with ease, instead of evident panic, which might come once he gets out of his head and…well, remembers his routine. But the scores were pretty decent in the end: 22 points, with a surprising 6 from Revel Horwood. “Is Craig OK?!” gasped Bye’s partner Amy Dowden. Quite.
The same-sex pairs start strong
Our all-female pair, Jayde Adams and Karen Hauer, definitely kicked things up a gear with their booty-shaking, shimmy-heavy, full-throttle samba to Christina Aguilera’s Dirrty – and earned the night's first standing ovation. No need for Mabuse to tell anyone to sell it here. Revel Horwood pointed out the lack of bounce action, but praised Adams’s musicality. Ballas loved the attitude, though agreed it was too flat-footed, with rogue heel leads (not allowed in the Latin dances). Still, it’s clear Adams knows how to entertain, and she notched a good opening score of 23. If she can work on her technique, she could be a real force.
Richie Anderson and Giovanni Pernice also made an impact with their gloriously camp cha cha cha to Wham!’s I’m Your Man – complete with Anderson in tight white trousers and a “Choose Dance” T-shirt. “I loved every second of it,” exclaimed Du Beke (well, other than Anderson’s iffy timing). “I thought I was on RuPaul’s Drag Race, darling,” drawled Revel Horwood. Shantay, you stay! Another 23 from the judges.
Their routine was only beaten in the kitsch stakes by the fab-u-lous introductory number from our pros, featuring feathered headdresses, bongos, streamers and an alarming amount of banana-yellow trousers. We also got some telling cameos from our judges: Motsi Mabuse, life of the party; Shirley Ballas, executing perfect samba rolls; Craig Revel Horwood, giving us all the hip action; Anton Du Beke, giving us none. Oh yes – Strictly is back!
The Latin girls get the fringe flying
Well, Fleur East definitely knows how to shake it. Her cha cha cha to Let’s Get Loud by Jennifer Lopez (which, it’s worth noting, was used by two past Strictly champions, Mark Ramprakash and Abbey Clancey) was fierce, propulsive and made that hot-pink fringe fly. She and new boy Vito Coppola are a fantastic pair – though, as Revel Horwood noted, they could stand to rein it in a bit. Mabuse loved her power and conviction; just add softness too. Ballas agreed, and wants her to fix the footwork. East finished with a very decent 29.
Meanwhile we’ve yet to see how Paralympian Ellie Simmonds, who has dwarfism, and partner Nikita Kuzmin cope with their height difference in a strict ballroom hold (we’ll find out next week) but they looked totally at ease in this rhythmic, flirtatious, irresistible cha cha. Kuzmin just bent over so that he could place his hands at her level for the connected steps, meaning Simmonds (rocking a super-spangly frock) could retain a strong posture and put her weight in the right place. The judges were hugely impressed by her timing and characterisation of the dance – as was I. A well-deserved 26.
At least one of the Adams family is doomed
Given Kaye Adams’s slow-dawning horror that she’s actually signed up for Strictly, she rather lucked out by getting a moody tango for her first dance, and the styling (glam red dress, enormous hairmet) and ABBA music helped a lot too, plus a strong lead from Kai Widdrington. Ballas pointed out her litany of mistakes, however. Revel Horwood, who thought it would be “dreadful” given Adams’s tentative launch show performance, found he actually liked it. The benefit of low expectations? A rather generous 21 from the judges.
Then, just when you thought we might have managed a gimmick-free show, we got Tony Adams lowered from the ceiling while straddling a gold cannon, wearing a football strip/waistcoat, and waving his hands to Arsenal chants. Well, a tango to the Village People’s Go West was never going to be strictly ballroom, was it? Even so, his dancing was an error-strewn mess, with strange jerky kicks that looked like a malfunctioning bucking bronco. Revel Horwood noted his protruding bottom, but at least it had attack. Mabuse believes it could come together in time; I rather doubt he’ll get it. A dismal 15 for Adams.
But might Matt Goss be in trouble? “Every single piece of me is hurting,” complained the super-intense singer in training – who objected to the core concept of the quickstep. (Too quick.) He was much more comfortable relating his Las Vegas memories to partner Nadiya Bychkova, while wearing a distractingly large hat. It didn't quite come together for their Vegas number, danced to Sir Duke, which had jazzy musical accents, but, as the judges pointed out, a dreadful frame and lots of clunky moments. “You looked like an unmade bed,” snarked Du Beke. A rather disappointing score of 20 for Goss.