The autumn leaves are falling, the nights are drawing in and Strictly Come Dancing is back on our screens for its 17th series.
Two weeks ago, this year’s batch of 13 celebrity contestants were paired with their professional partners, and now they’re ready to take to the dance floor for the very first time. But who will impress and who’s got two left feet?
Presenters Tess Daly and Claudia Winkleman were on hand to cheer on the celebrities and provide support, whilst judges Craig Revel Horwood, Bruno Tonioli, Shirley Ballas and Motsi Mabuse – making her Strictly judging debut – offered their professional opinions on each performance. There was also an impressive opening routine from the show’s professional dancers to Lola’s Theme by Shapeshifters.
Find out below how the contestants got on with their first performances…
Alex Scott and Neil Jones
Former footballer and pundit Alex and Neil had the daunting task of opening not only the show, but the whole series – but would their Quickstep to I Get A Kick Out Of You by Frank Sinatra send them to the top of the leaderboard? In training Alex took Neil to her old stomping ground at Emirates Stadium and talked about winning the FA Cup, as well as wanting to start a new chapter on Strictly and how much fun she was having learning the routine.
The dance: What a way to start the series! Alex gave a performance as sparkling as the champagne she popped at the end of the dance, with a lovely playful quality and bags of personality. She moved across the floor at a rate of knots, had great co-ordination with Neil and handled the difficult footwork well. If there was one thing I’d criticise, it would be the lack of heel leads, but it’s only week one after all and there’s plenty of time for improvement.
The comments: Shirley said it had ‘snap, crackle and pop’ and praised Neil’s choreography, saying Alex was on fire, but wanted her to work on her core. Bruno thought she could be a ‘big scorer’ and had amazing potential and natural elegance, although she made a couple of mistakes and threw away her free arm. Craig wanted cleaner footwork and thought it was a bit haphazard, criticising Alex’s droopy elbow and timing, but loved her energy. Motsi said Alex started off shy but lightened up as the song went on and that she looked comfortable in hold, and that she’s ‘got all the goods’.
The scores: 5, 5, 5, 6 – 21 out of 40
Chris Ramsey and Karen Hauer
For their first dance, stand-up comedian Chris and Karen performed a cheeky Cha-Cha-Cha to Lizzo’s Juice. In training Karen said Chris could be the dark horse of the competition, whilst Chris spoke about how much he’d enjoyed the launch show and his struggles adapting to the training routine, as well as his nerves and excitement about the performance.
The dance: Opening the dance with a knee slide, right from the off it was clear Chris was having a great time on the Strictly dancefloor. However his technique didn’t quite live up to his enthusiasm. I thought the dance was quite skippy in places, lacked hip action and his free hand was a bit sloppy. That said, he had lots of energy and I thought he did well in his solo section. Not the best first dance ever, but not the worst either.
The comments: Bruno could see the determination and effort, but said Chris had a total lack of timing and rhythm as well as a hip action bypass. Craig found it very awkward and flat-footed, but Chris does have some rhythm deep down inside. Motsi thought Chris had fun with the routine but wanted more of it in his body and less in his face. Shirley said it had attitude and there was chemistry between Chris and Karen, encouraging him to keep working hard.
The scores: 3, 4, 3, 3 – 13 out of 40
Catherine Tyldesley and Johannes Radebe
Actress Catherine and Johannes had the difficult job of performing a Viennese Waltz for their first routine, danced to I Got You Babe by Sonny and Cher. In training Catherine and Johannes spoke about how happy they were to be paired up, whilst Catherine found the spins of the dance difficult to contend with.
The dance: Catherine had lovely posture and nice arm and leg extensions throughout. The dance had a lovely romantic feel and I thought she acted it really well, with good control in the spins. She seemed very secure in hold with Johannes in particular and they had really good co-ordination together too. It wasn’t necessarily the most ‘wow’ routine, but it’s definitely a solid start.
The comments: Craig found the transitions a little bumpy and Catherine’s head was too high, but thought she had great potential. Motsi said Catherine and Johannes created an atmosphere, but advised Catherine to stay on Johannes’ right shoulder to look a little softer and more graceful. Shirley thought it was extremely feminine and Catherine was ‘a force to be reckoned with’ but wanted to make her frame clearer and place her arms. Bruno said it was light, breezy and romantic until Catherine began to tighten up, and told her to maintain her flow throughout.
The scores: 5, 5, 5, 5 – 20 out of 40
Saffron Barker and AJ Pritchard
For their first dance, social media star Saffron and partner AJ took on a Tango to Meghan Trainor’s Lips Are Moving. In training Saffron and AJ spoke about being pleased to be paired up with each other, whilst Saffron talked about her excitement about learning the Tango and how they got into their respective careers. Saffron also took AJ to join her in her day job.
The dance: After an opening sequence with Saffron swiping through her phone, she launched into the routine with AJ. I thought it had plenty of drama and attack, particularly with the spin and drop at the end, and she kept up well with the speed of the dance. She had a little wobble midway through and a bit of gapping in hold, but overall I thought it was a strong start for her and I’ll be interested to see what she does next week.
The comments: Motsi thought Saffron had ‘fire’ and ‘enjoyed every second’ because she gave it her all. Shirley appreciated the staccato movements and how Saffron stuck with the difficult choreography, but wanted more work on Saffron’s frame. Bruno said it was ‘hot and on it’, whilst Craig thought it was a bit too Paso in the middle but was sharp and had great energy.
The scores: 6, 7, 7, 7 – 27 out of 40
Mike Bushell and Katya Jones
BBC Breakfast presenter Mike and Katya gave us the first Jive of the evening, danced to Do You Love Me by The Contours. In training Mike spoke about being a ‘dad dancer’ and how he couldn’t wait to start learning to dance, but found the stamina needed for the routine a little difficult.
The dance: Mike came out with plenty of energy and enthusiasm and gave us a routine full of leaps and tricks, including swinging Katya through his legs and bouncing around the dancefloor like Tigger. His feet were a little flat and his kicks could definitely have been sharper, but he coped well with the speed of the routine and it was definitely a fun and entertaining performance. He might not be the new Chris Hollins yet, but there’s plenty of potential there.
The comments: Shirley thought Mike’s hard work paid off, saying his flick ball changes were beautiful and calling it ‘delightful’. Bruno said ‘it was mad, but I loved it’ and that Mike jumped higher than a March hare. Craig compared it to an overwound tin toy and loved Mike’s energy, but said he had sickle feet and the dance lacked retraction. Motsi found it entertaining and enjoyed it from beginning to end.
The scores: 4, 6, 6, 6 – 22 out of 40
Viscountess Emma Weymouth and Aljaz Skorjanec
Emma and Aljaz’s first dance was a Cha-Cha-Cha to the Tom Jones classic She’s A Lady. In training Emma took Aljaz to Longleat Safari Park, where they fed giraffes and gave the rhinos a mud bath, as well as talking about how much she’s enjoyed the Strictly experience so far and balancing character with technique in rehearsal.
The dance: This was definitely an elegant Cha-Cha-Cha, with plenty of class and sass. Emma had good hip action throughout and there was a cleanness and precision about her performance that I liked. I would have liked a little bit more cheekiness and felt like it was a little too bouncy in places, but ultimately it was a very enjoyable routine. That said, it was a good start for her and I feel like she could surprise us all in the coming weeks.
The comments: Bruno said Emma was ‘Strictly’s posh Spice’ and liked seeing her come alive towards the end, but felt she slightly under-performed. Craig thought she needed to take her hips further and use her legs, but had great rhythm and was ‘extremely watchable’. Motsi liked Emma’s sensuality and the ladylike feeling she gave to the dance but wanted her to spice it up and bring her weight forward. Shirley said it needed work in the technical area but Emma had the most amazing promise.
The scores: 5, 5, 4, 5 – 19 out of 40
James Cracknell and Luba Mushtuk
Olympic gold medal-winning rower James and partner Luba became the second couple to face the Tango this year, dancing to Gold by Spandau Ballet. In training James spoke about the challenge of Strictly and how much he was looking forward to it, but also found issues with his posture. He also took Luba rowing.
The dance: Oh James. Oh dear. Whilst he definitely gave good Tango face, unfortunately that’s the only thing I can say that was good about the performance. It was very placed and felt like he was marching around, and he seemed quite unsteady on his feet in places. His posture was very stooped too and it all felt a bit stiff and wooden. Hopefully he can improve next week or I fear he’ll be going home early.
The comments: Craig said James’s bottom was sticking out and his posture was hunched over, as well as lacking sharp staccato moves. Motsi thought James needed to open up and have fun a bit more. Shirley said James needed some work but praised him for not making mistakes and staying in time. Bruno thought ‘it could be James Bond up there’ but wanted to see more passion and story and it looked like James was dancing on his own.
The scores: 2, 3, 3, 3 – 11 out of 40
Kelvin Fletcher and Oti Mabuse
After stepping in as a late replacement for Jamie Laing, Emmerdale star Kelvin had a lot to live up to. For his first dance, he and partner Oti performed a Samba to La Vida Es Un Carnival by Celia Cruz. Before the dance Kelvin spoke about how pleased he was to be joining Strictly and enjoying training with Oti, describing it as ‘fun but intense’, but also found the speed a challenge.
The dance: Wow! Kelvin absolutely came firing out of the blocks with this Samba. He had great bounce and hip action, dynamic arm movements, and great synchronisation with Oti throughout. I also loved that he was properly going for it and looked like he was having the absolute time in his life – his joy was absolutely infectious. He got a standing ovation from the audience – and Shirley – and if he can keep this up he’ll be a serious contender for the glitterball trophy.
The comments: Motsi praised Kelvin’s hip rotation and described the dance as ‘rhythmical and fun’. Shirley said it was electrifying, synchronised and powerful, and called Kelvin ‘outstanding’. Bruno sang ‘this hunk is on fire!’ and called it the best Samba he’d ever seen on a first show. Craig criticised Kelvin’s hands and said his hips in the volta were awkward, but ultimately thought it was ‘amazing’.
The scores: 8, 8, 8, 8 – 32 out of 40
David James and Nadiya Bychkova
David and Nadiya’s first dance was a Foxtrot to Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds’ Three Lions (because what else?). In training David spoke about being nervous to find out his professional partner, but excited to start learning. He did have a couple of wobbles though – could he get past those and deliver on the night?
The dance: This was a surprisingly lively Foxtrot, with possibly a little too much bounce in David’s movement, and for me he was up on his toes too much which made the dance look a bit clumpy. That said, I thought he led the routine well with good control throughout and did well at showing Nadiya off. It’s not a terrible start but I’m hoping he can show us something more next week.
The comments: Shirley said David was light on his feet with soft knees and a potentially great frame. Bruno was surprised – he’d expected an own goal but the dance was full of content and a graceful, proper foxtrot. Craig wanted it to be smoother and said there were timing issues – David looked like a deer in the headlights and needed to perform the dance with proper emotion. Motsi said David needed to find the harmony between his facial expression and his body and to feel freer, but it was a great try.
The scores: 3, 4, 5, 5 – 17 out of 40
Michelle Visage and Giovanni Pernice
RuPaul’s Drag Race judge Michelle and partner Giovanni performed a Cha-Cha-Cha to So Emotional by Whitney Houston for their first dance on Strictly Come Dancing. In training Michelle said she was here to be the best and that she expected Giovanni to be strict but patient, whilst struggling with the amount of content she had to remember.
The dance: I must admit I’d been a bit apprehensive about Michelle’s performance but came away pleasantly surprised. Her slinky, sexy solo start was great, she had good hip action and nice cha-cha walks, as well as good synchronisation with Giovanni. I loved that she gave Craig a bit of sass too! It was a powerful routine with plenty of attitude and showed she could go a long way in this competition.
The comments: Bruno said Michelle knows how to work her angles and that it was a clean, crisp and in focus routine. Craig said she didn’t need any help, whilst Motsi liked that she made time for details and praised her shoulders and walks. Shirley thought it had sass, power and elegance, and that Michelle’s Cuban breaks and musciality were off the chart.
The scores: 8, 8, 7, 7 – 30 out of 40
Dev Griffin and Dianne Buswell
BBC Radio 1 DJ Dev and partner Dianne performed the first Foxtrot of the series, danced to The Foundations’ Build Me Up Buttercup. In training Dev said he thought how seriously he was taking Strictly will surprise people, but that he also wants to enjoy the experience. He did have issues with his frame and struggled with being out of his comfort zone, so took Dianne to join him and colleague Alice at work.
The dance: I really enjoyed this routine from Dev. He was light on his feet, had some really nice footwork – I think I spotted some heel leads! – a lovely flow across the floor and a nice smooth, controlled quality. His work on his posture had definitely paid off, and I loved how he showed his personality in the section out of hold too. He’s definitely a dark horse in this competition and I’ll be interested to see if he can build on that even further next week.
The comments: Craig said it was elegant and graceful and that he was surprised. Motsi thought it looked like a Sunday stroll with an ice cream and called it soft and rhythmic. Shirley praised Dev’s musicality and said he had beautiful body contact and the best ballroom footwork of the night. Bruno said Dev had a big hit on his hands and loved the quality and ease of movement.
The scores: 7, 7, 8, 8 – 30 out of 40
Anneka Rice and Kevin Clifton
Next up were Anneka and Kevin, with their Cha-Cha-Cha to Gloria by Laura Brannigan (reworded as ‘Anneka’). In training Anneka talked about how terrifying the Strictly experience was but also how excited she was to have Kevin as her partner, before embarking on a Challenge Anneka-style race to the practice room. She mentioned she found remembering the steps difficult – could she get it right on the night?
The dance: After descending from the ceiling on a rope ladder, Anneka and Kevin moved into the main routine. For me it was a bit of a mixed bag – her straight legs were good but there wasn’t much hip action to speak of, and she made quite a few mistakes too. But she looked like she was enjoying herself and I think she might be more comfortable in hold, so am hoping she’ll have improved by next week.
The comments: Motsi said Anneka rocked the floor, whilst Shirley praised her energy but said her co-ordination and body action need work. Bruno thought Anneka survived despite the obstacles. Craig called it flat-footed and stiff with a lack of hip action, but said Anneka is better than she’s making out to be.
The scores: 3, 4, 3, 4 – 14 out of 40
Will Bayley and Jeanette Manrara
Will and Janette – or ‘Team Pocket Racquet’ as they’ve dubbed themselves – made their Strictly debut with a Quickstep to Paolo Nutini’s Pencil Full Of Lead. In training Will spoke about giving 110 per cent in training and wanting to inspire people and prove he can dance. He did have some issues with his speed and nerves so would those affect his performance on Saturday night?
The dance: I loved the lightness and energetic quality Will brought to the routine, as well as just how much fun he was having on the dancefloor. He had a very endearing way about his performance that makes him very easy to warm to, and I liked his co-ordination with Janette in the side by side section as well. It wasn’t the most precise Quickstep I’ve ever seen, by my word was it entertaining – and based on the standing ovation the studio audience thought so too!
The comments: Shirley loved Will’s energy, poise and frame and said it was a ‘magnificent’ performance. Bruno said Will has the nation’s hearts already and showed how hard he’s worked. Craig wanted more of the routine in hold and said it was frenetic, but liked Will’s lightning speed, focus and ‘brilliant’ storytelling. Motsi felt touched and said Will was a new definition of energy and beautiful to watch.
The scores: 5, 7, 7, 7 – 26 out of 40
Karim Zeroual and Amy Dowden
CBBC presenter Karim and Amy were the final couple of the night to dance a Cha-Cha-Cha, performed to Shawn Mendes’ If I Can’t Have You. In training Karim described his Strictly experience so far as ‘madness’ as well as his hopes for his and Amy’s partnership, although he struggled with the tricky routine. Amy also came to visit Karim at CBBC, where his colleagues wished him good luck.
The dance: This was a jam-packed and lively routine, which saw Karim leaping balletically over car bonnets and doing one-handed handstands. I thought his hip action was excellent and that he finished his hands very well, as well as having tons of confidence and a slick, sharp quality to his performance. He showed Amy off really nicely and they had good synchronisation together. The audience (along with Shirley and Motsi) gave it a standing ovation and he definitely showed why he’s one of the favourites to win the whole thing.
The comments: Bruno said Karim was revved up and firing on all cylinders and that is was a tour de force. Craig loved it, whilst Motsi called it ‘so good’. Shirley liked Karim’s timing, musicality, personality and technique, and praised Amy’s choreography – it ticked all the boxes.
The scores: 8, 8, 7, 8 – 31 out of 40
Emma Barton and Anton du Beke
Last but not least was Eastenders actress Emma and her partner, ‘King of Ballroom’ Anton. They closed the show with a Jive to Honey Honey by ABBA. In training Emma said her experience on Strictly was ‘like a dream’ and that she was nervous but lucky to be paired with Anton. She also brought him down to the Eastenders set and got some tips from her colleagues who’ve previously appeared on Strictly.
The dance: This was a very promising start from Emma. Her Jive had plenty of spring and energy and her kicks and flicks were decent, but for me her arms were a little all over the place and not quite finished off. I thought her drunken sailor move was good and she had nice musicality and timing too. It wasn’t the fastest Jive I’ve ever seen on Strictly, but it’s definitely a decent start and I’m keen to see how she gets on next week.
The comments: Craig found it a bit laboured and said Emma needs to think ahead of the beat, but she has amazing potential. Motsi thought Emma had great posture and legs, controlled arms and light kicks, but warned her not to tighten up. Shirley said it was too heavy and Emma’s posture wasn’t in the correct place, and that she needed to make her connections shorter, but she’s a natural-born performer. Bruno found there were a few issues but said it was a crowd-pleasing performance.
The scores: 6, 6, 5, 6 – 23 out of 40
The leaderboard for the evening was:
Kelvin Fletcher and Oti Mabuse – 32
Karim Zeroual and Amy Dowden – 31
Michelle Visage and Giovanni Pernice – 30
Dev Griffin and Dianne Buswell – 30
Saffron Barker and AJ Pritchard – 27
Will Bayley and Janette Manrara – 26
Emma Barton and Anton du Beke – 23
Mike Bushell and Katya Jones – 22
Alex Scott and Neil Jones – 21
Catherine Tyldesley and Johannes Rabade – 20
Viscountess Emma Weymouth and Aljaz Skornajec – 19
David James and Nadiya Bychkova – 17
Anneka Rice and Kevin Clifton – 14
Chris Ramsey and Karen Hauer – 13
James Cracknell and Luba Mushtuk – 11
Strictly Come Dancing 2019 will return on Saturday 28th September on BBC One at 6.40pm. Take a look at all the action from the first live show in our gallery: