Fire the glittery starting pistol: Strictly 2021 has officially begun! Yes, it’s the first ever competitive dance for our 15 new nervy celebrities, and their first time trying to impress the Strictly judges – as well as discerning viewers at home.
There’s no elimination this weekend (and no public vote), but the scores do roll over to next week. So, a good opening dance could help the weaker contestants avoid that ignominious early exit.
But who looks like they’re already quickstepping straight home, and who has the moves of a future cha-cha-champion? Let’s dive in…
Tom Fletcher gets us off to a McFlying start
Read all about it! The pop star had a busy week, fitting in dance training around touring the country with his band McFly, but still opened the show confidently with a newspaper kiosk-set cha cha cha to disco classic September.
Good and bad news from the judges: great rhythm and syncopated Cuban breaks, but “stiff of hip” and needs to work on his leg action. The largely positive comments were followed by bracing scores – including a miserly 4 from Craig Revel Horwood – but fellow judge Motsi Mabuse is calling it early: she reckons Fletcher will have plenty of time to improve on his way to the final.
Fletcher is dealing with inflated expectations: he’s one of the more experienced performers coming into this series, and his bandmate Harry Judd is a Strictly champ. This was a solid opener – but can he raise his game?
A right royal lesson from the Queen of Samba
Sports pundit Ugo Monye, resplendent in form-fitting bubblegum pink, gave us a fiery samba that began with some vigorous pounding of flaming bongos – a risky choice in close proximity to that much hairspray. Partner Oti Mabuse has serious form with this dance: she and Danny Mac got the first ever perfect score for samba, and it was also her Week 1 dance with eventual champion Kelvin Fletcher. Good omen?
Eventually, perhaps. This was an enthusiastic yet messy start from Monye; though judge Shirley Ballas generously said he “reinvented the volta”, she still gave him a 5. There was poignancy, however, as Monye spoke about attending his father’s funeral that morning and how he wanted to make it a day of celebration – and nothing feels more celebratory than dance. That’s a message that will resonate with many people in this difficult time.
The boys surprise in the ballroom
It was a supremely elegant Viennese waltz from CBBC’s Rhys Stephenson and new pro Nancy Xu – at least, once they’d finally ditched their cumbersome overnight bag. Ballas called him a “talent to watch”, and even Revel Horwood admitted his frame was lovely. I expected Stephenson to excel in the bouncier Latin numbers; the fact that he can access this sophistication, and partner Xu so well, in a Week 1 ballroom dance bodes extremely well.
Also showered with compliments, albeit of the backhand variety, was BBC Breakfast’s Dan Walker. “I thought you were going to be awful!” trilled Anton Du Beke, while Revel Horwood said he was “pleasantly surprised” by their decent performance. Er, ouch.
It was clearly a breakthrough for Walker though, who admitted he’d spent his life terrified of dance floors because he’s tall and awkward. But if he can get those long limbs under control, ballroom is where tall people rule. Latin… might be another story.
Deaf celebrity Rose Ayling-Ellis shakes it off
The actress silenced any critics who might question whether a deaf contestant could cope on Strictly with a fab-u-lous jive to Taylor Swift. Swishing her rainbow-fringe frock in a fun, bouncy number, Ayling-Ellis looked very comfortable – and her timing (aided by mouthing the counts) was better than many hearing competitors we’ve had on the show.
It was heartwarming to see her partner Giovanni Pernice learning sign language in rehearsal, even if the knackered Ayling-Ellis joked that she regretted teaching him the sign for “Again”. Tess Daly also accompanied some of her comments with BSL, and the whole cast employed the jazz-hands-esque sign that signals applause instead of clapping.
As Ayling-Ellis has pointed out, it only takes a few adjustments in order to create an environment where she can get on with the job, just like anyone else. Quite right.
Original posted at www.telegraph.co.uk