Strictly Come Dancing 2021, week 10 recap: John Whaite tangos to top, Tilly Ramsay sambas to bottom


The fancy dress and jazz-hands of Strictly Come Dancing’s Musicals Week has been put away for another year, meaning it was back to normal ballroom business in the latest episode.

Our remaining half-dozen hoofers were bidding to get through to next week’s quarter-final. Meanwhile, continuing Covid chaos meant there was another switcheroo on the judging panel.

So who will waltz into December? And who will be in dance-off danger?

Here are the top talking points from this year’s 10th live show…

John Whaite topped table with Argentine tango

After a stellar start to the series, buff baker John Whaite seemed to have hit a hoofing plateau, but, recently, his confidence drained as his scores dipped. The judges have been telling him to let the handbrake off and go for it. – and tonight, he definitely did. Dancing the Argentine tango – the first time that John’s pro partner Johannes “Jojo” Radebe has ever performed one on Strictly – to Beethoven’s Fifth, the pair’s sizzling intimacy steamed up Elstree Studios and the nation’s TV screens.. Black-clad and eyeliner-adorned, the performance was full of fiery intent.

They swaggered in a side-by-side section, then threw their hats off before getting into hold. John led strongly, lifting and throwing Jojo around. The couple had fiery chemistry, with their bodies in close contact and the dance expressed through intricate flicky kicks, fast pivots and leg deg displacement. It had power, passion and high drama.

Always a fan favourite, the Argentine tango originated 160 years ago with working-class men dancing together in Buenos Aires; Strictly’s first male couple took it back to its roots in style. The routine was even saucier than their rumba three weeks ago, which was received with refreshing acceptance, and their best since that piratical paso in week three’s Movie Week. It matched that performance’s 39-point score, topped the scoreboard and, most importantly, restored John’s confidence.

“I feel reborn, darling,” he told Claudia Winkleman. Even Mary Berry popped up to congratulate him. Good bake – not a soggy bottom in sight.

AJ Odudu deserved more for funky freestyle

AJ Odudu and Kai Widdrington on ‘Strictly’

(BBC)

TV presenter AJ Odudu has been boinging up and down the standings recently. She plummeted from top to bottom a fortnight ago for her patchy paso doble, before recovering superbly for last week’s Sound of Music waltz, scoring 38 points – second only to the, ahem, generously marked Tilly Ramsay. Yes, the hills were alive with the sight of waltzing.

Now it was AJ’s turn to go freestyle for a Couple’s Choice routine with pro partner Kai Widdrington and wow, was it a stunner. Their song choice of “Make Me Feel” by Janelle Monáe was cooler than your average Dave Arch number. The minimal set and Michael Jackson-esque fedoras were stylish. Their funky jazz/commercial choreography was equally sharp – all slinky Cyd Charisse moves, Bob Fosse flourishes and fearless flying lifts.

The steps and collision of styles were challenging, but AJ handled it all with aplomb. She kept her timing crisp and oozed edgy, empowered attitude. Head judge Shirley Ballas hailed it as “an ultimate performance”. A pre-dance VT with AJ’s lovely working-class family in Blackburn only made her more likeable. She finished second on the scoreboard with 36 points – and merited more.

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Dan Walker found his sensual side for surprising rumba

Dan Walker has been defying the odds on ‘Strictly’

(BBC)

BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker notched his first nine and broke the magical 30-point barrier with last week’s cheeky Charleston. He’s flown the flag for non-dancers, steadily improved and won the public’s hearts. Judge Anton Du Beke said Walker was “on the best journey in the competition” and he’s the only remaining celebrity never to top the leaderboard. Would the rumba prove a routine too far?

No, it wouldn’t. On paper, slow, sensual dance of seduction – notoriously difficult for celebrity males – didn’t seem suited to the six foot, five inch committed Christian. However, “Dan the Man” sprung a considerable surprise – set to “Desperado” by the Eagles, a song Walker has wanted since he first signed up for Strictly, it was relaxed, confident and redolent of a Hollywood romance.

The rumba is his professional partner Nadiya Bychkova’s favourite dance. She leapt into his arms with jubilation at the end and was tearful with pride during the post-dance interview. “Take me down to rumba town anytime you like,” grinned Dan, joking that it was the first time he’d ever had two shirt buttons undone on TV. Shirley Ballas said he was “classic and cool, like a very tall cucumber”. Riiiight, Shirl. Craig Revel Horwood was just relieved it wasn’t “an absolute dance dis-ah-ster”.

Desperado Dan has been the bookies’ strong favourite for elimination every weekend for the past month, yet keeps getting enough viewer votes to lift him clear of danger. I suspect he won’t be rumbled by the rumba and will continue to defy the odds. If so, he’d surely be among the unlikeliest quarter-finalists in Strictly history. 

Tearful Rhys Stephenson wowed with waltz

Rhys Stephenson was tearful after his ‘Strictly’ performance

(BBC)

CBBC presenter Rhys Stephenson has poured his Tigger-ish bounce into fast, furious routines for the last few weeks: a quickstep, a Charleston and a jive. Now, he slowed it right down for a romantic waltz to Whitney Houston. The judges wondered how he’d handle it; they needn’t have worried.

Rhys controlled his energy to achieve gorgeous grace, charm and elegance alongside his proud pro partner Nancy Xu. His frame and footwork impressed, his neckline was lovely and he combined technical detail with sweet emotion. Head judge Shirley Ballas said it “astounded” her. Rhys was already tearful, even before he got a moving video message from his grandparents in the Cayman Islands.

Like fellow youngster Tilly Ramsay, Rhys is a double dance-off survivor. He finished third on the leaderboard tonight with 35 points and definitely deserves to be spared a third appearance in Sunday’s bottom two. Let’s see if the public vote agrees.

Craig was off his sickbed and Cynthia returned

What is this? A sequin-spangled game of musical chairs? Behind the judging table, it was all change again. Craig Revel Horwood tested positive for Covid two weeks ago, but was back from his self-isolation period. Incredibly, it was the first time this total trooper has missed a show in 17 years.

However, the Covid calamities continued, with Motsi Mabuse unable to travel back from Germany after being pinged by NHS Test & Trace. Happily, last week’s guest judge, the Harriet Oscar-nominee Cynthia Erivo, was persuaded to return for a second stint.

Cynthia Erivo impressed in her second week as a ‘Strictly’ stand-in judge

(BBC iPlayer)

The musical theatre star impressed once again with her supportive critiques and sensible scoring – no “Donny Osmond 10s” here. Once again, she gave her feedback to Rose Ayling-Ellis in sign language. A lovely touch from a classy operator. Any chance Strictly could hire her full-time? Probably not, but Erivo makes a terrific back-up option.

Next to her, Craig made up for lost time with some typically acidic comments. He called Rose “stiff”, Dan “jolty”, Rhys “blocky” and Tilly “awkward”. He was booed for those, then again for giving six and seven scores when others were doling out nines and 10s. His drolly deadpan face during the “voting lines are open” announcement was also a delight. Welcome back, you tango-tanned panto villain.

Tilly Ramsay tripped up by tricky samba

“Chefluencer” Tilly Ramsay has had a rollercoaster few weeks. She survived two dance-offs in a row, before scoring a perfect 40 for last week’s Matilda streetdance. Drastically over-marked, sure, but still a deserved comeback from this plucky fighter.

Now, she and pro partner Nikita Kuzmin tackled one of the most difficult dances in the Strictly repertoire: the samba, often dubbed “the dance of death” because so many celebs get eliminated after failing to nail it. Tilly duly fell victim to the samba trap. Set to “Levitating” by Dua Lipa, something of a TikTok favourite, Tilly unleashed her hips for the first time since her Halloween cha-cha-cha.

Tilly Ramsay is a contender to leave ‘Strictly’ this week

(BBC)

Unfortunately, her disco-flavoured attempt was messy, lost timing and often looked awkward. A score of 30 points deservedly left her bottom of the scoreboard. Tilly’s father Gordon Ramsay was, once again, tearful with pride in the Elstree studio audience. He might just be giving his daughter a lift home as well – the primetime TV version of picking her up from a school disco. Let’s hope she doesn’t vomit alcopops over his upholstery.

Rose’s paso doble was her best Latin yet

To date, EastEnders actress Rose Ayling-Ellis has been a ballroom babe rather than a Latin lover. Her tango, foxtrot and Viennese waltz were highlights of Rose’s Strictly run; she’d rather forget her salsa and cha-cha-cha. Happily, she finally found a Latin dance that suited her rather more.

Opening the show with a bang, her black-clad paso doble to Sia had fan-ography, flamenco hands and a stunning solo section to start. It lacked a little Spanish line and Rose stumbled slightly but she deployed her acting skills well in the dramatic storytelling. As she stalked aggressively around pro partner Giovanni Pernice, it conjured up a similar passionate intensity to that ice queen tango at Halloween.

Rose notched a respectable 33 points – her highest Latin score yet – but on a night of high scoring, it left her third from bottom of the leaderboard. She’ll surely get enough viewer votes to be safe. Just in case, Gio got his chest out to seal the deal.

Sparkling song-and-dance made for a feelgood show

There might not have been a special theme, spectacular group dance or any extra razzle-dazzle this week, but this was still Strictly at its crowd-pleasing, nation-uniting best. With just six couples remaining, the show was snappily paced at just over an hour long, with a merciful lack of padding.

Music choices were pleasingly eclectic – Dua Lipa for the pop kids, Sia and Whitney Houston for the diva devotees, Beethoven and The Eagles for more mature tastes. The hoofing was equally varied, with half-a-dozen technically challenging routines.

We were treated to a thrilling blend of Latin spice, ballroom class and Couple’s Choice originality. With wind, rain and Storm Arwen buffeting Britain, it was ideal fare for a cosy autumnal Saturday night on the sofa. Just add wine and nibbles.

Tilly, Rose and Dan in dance-off danger

It’ll be a tense wait for the results, with all six pro-celebrity pairs desperate to reach the quarter-final and extend their stay into December. However, somebody’s hoofing holiday has to end.

Dan Walker is odds-on with bookmakers to go homem but might have done enough once again. Tilly Ramsay surely looks doomed for her third dance-off. Rose Ayling-Ellis and Rhys Stephenson could also be at risk. And don’t rule out another shock after Fella-me-lad from McFly’s exit last week.

The results show airs at 7.20pm on Sunday and one couple will be home in time to open their Advent calendars. The surviving five will compete in the quarter-final at 6.40pm next Saturday (4 December). Join me back here afterwards for all the post-match analysis. Until then, you know the drill: keeeeeeep dancing.



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