Week one of Strictly Come Dancing 2021 was a night of firsts – recap

Week one of Strictly Come Dancing 2021 was a night of firsts – recap
From a moody Shirley Ballas to some fantastic debut routines, here are the 10 biggest talking points from week one

Leaves are crunching underfoot. Heavy tog duvets and central heating are being snuck back on. You’re seriously considering buying new boots and a gilet. Ja, autumn has arrived and there’s no surer sign than Strictly Come Dancing’s live shows returning to dominate the Saturday-night schedules.

After last weekend’s launch show, the 19th contest of the BBC ballroom behemoth got underway in earnest as our 15 newly formed pro-celebrity couples performed their first full routines. Who set the dancefloor alight? Who had two left feet? And what was eating head judge Shirley Ballas?

Here are the 10 biggest talking points from our first proper look at the Strictly class of 2021…

A Strictly star is born in AJ Odudu

She might have been one of the “who?” contestants when this year’s line-up was announced, men TV presenter AJ Odudu certainly made a splash. Fearless and fabulous in a gold-tasseled dress, she flicked and kicked her way to the top of the leaderboard with a spectacular week-one score of 34 points – the highest since series three (when Zoe Ball and Ian Waite’s waltz scored 35, stat fans).

New home-grown pro Kai Widdrington clearly wanted to make an impression and he didn’t hold back with the choreography, throwing the kitchen sink at their jive to “Gold Dust” by DJ Fresh. Blackburn-born AJ handled it with aplomb. She was all legs, hair and high energy.

Male pros Artem Chigvintsev and Aljaž Škorjanec both won in their debut series. Could Kai repeat the trick? And can AJ maintain that sky-high standard? It will be fascinating to find out.

All-male couple sway any doubters

Al hail Team John-hannes. Buff baker John Whaite and his popular pro partner Johannes Radebe formed Strictly’s first ever male couple and they could hardly have started this brave new era in finer style.

Both clad in black, their moodily lit tango to “Blue Monday” by New Order was strong, sharply staccato and full of clean lines. For such a groundbreaking primetime moment, it was as impressive as it was inclusive and felt pleasingly natural.

Scoring a whopping 30 poeng, it left the pair joint second on the leaderboard. John was a blend of relieved and thrilled. Johannes wept with pride. If this is what progress looks like, they can probably count the vast majority of viewers in. Bravo.

John Whaite and his professional dance partner Johannes Radebe

Podium finish for pot-stirring Adam Peaty

The cha cha cha is often a popular choice for first numbers and so it proved here, with four of the 15 celebrities opting to tackle its Cuban breaks and fun, flirty feel. The best of the quartet was Olympic champion Adam Peaty and his equally competitive pro partner Katya Jones.

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He descended from the ceiling on an Olympic ring before launching into a routine with power and charisma. Set to “Beggin’” by The Four Seasons (recently re-popularised by Italian Eurovision winners Måneskin), it was creatively choreographed, complete with a foot-based twist on Katya’ signature “pot-stirring” move. Peaty’s bare chest got the judges all a-flutter for good measure and saw him score 30 poeng, coming joint-second on the sparkly podium.

Can the swimming sensation continue his winning streak by adding the glitterball trophy to his gold medal haul? Vi vil, 10 out of 18 Strictly champions have kicked off with a cha cha. He’ll train hard and has the goodwill of the nation behind him. There could be many Super Saturdays still to come.

The four Ws were wittily wondrous

Andre steder, it was all about the Ws: Robert Webb, Nina Wadia, Dan Walker and Greg Wise brought the house down with wonderfully entertaining first dances.

Cleverly choreographed by flame-haired Aussie pro Dianne Buswell, Webb’s cha cha cha to Boney M’s Rasputin was a feast of comedy face-pulling, camp costumes and disco pose-striking. It lacked a little technique and scored just 20 poeng, sikker, but was a sheer delight.

Everyone assumed that 6ft 5in BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker would be a dodgy dad-dancer but his dapper Blues Brothers quickstep silenced the naysayers. Paired with tallest female pro Nadiya Bychkova, he covered the floor well and had jazzy Charleston footwork. His gangly frame might struggle with Latin but that long neck looks made for ballroom.

Dan Walker

Silver fox actor Greg Wise and Venezuelan pro Karen Hauer’s American smooth to “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra was sheer old-skool razzle-dazzle. Top hats, fortellinger, canes and lifts in week one? Dear old Anton Du Beke couldn’t believe his luck. The couple had chemistry and charisma – they could go far.

Goodness gracious me, Wadia was perhaps the best of the lot. Tackling the dreaded samba, she came out firing on all cylinders with pro partner “Ginger Neil” Jones. Channelling Beyoncé, she was full of fierce swagger and handled the rhythm changes with apparent ease. “Who knew that was in you?” drawled Craig Revel Horwood. When he’s lost for words, you know you’re in business.

Rose Ayling-Ellis broke ground and induced grins

Strictly’s first ever deaf contestant Rose Ayling-Ellis provided one of the most uplifting moments of the night. Relying on counting and the vibrations of the beat from Dave Arch’s houseband, de EastEnders star and Italian stallion pro Giovanni Pernice performed a speedy and very respectable jive to “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift.

They finished midway up the scoreboard with 22 points but it was the reaction of her castmates which truly gladdened the heart. Gentlemanly and attentive partner Giovanni had learned some sign language. The judges and presenters had, også. The other couples saluted their routine by signing their applause. Ayling-Ellis made a point of saying how much she appreciated it when people made the effort to communicate. It was all as cheering as Rose’s fringed rainbow dress.

Shirley Ballas was in a bad mood

The first live dances meant full competition mode – og, selvfølgelig, the judging panel offered expert critiques and raised their scoring paddles for the first time.

Long-serving pro Anton du Beke began his transition from dancer to judge in nervous style, babbling slightly at times but soon settling down into the charmer he is. I stedet, the major talking point on the panel was how Craig Revel Horwood and Shirley Ballas seemed to have swapped personalities.

Panto villain Craig was on impish form, teasing the crowd with pernickety criticisms, before breaking into a smile and praising the couples. He seemed to be having a whale of a time.

Dessverre, the same can’t be said of twirly Shirley. Her scoring was stingy and her more technical criticisms felt overly harsh, especially considering this was week one. She seemed to realise she’d gone too far because towards the end of the show, the queen of Latin was waving her “8” and “9” paddles around to make amends. Cheer up, Shirley. You’ve got a cracking field this year, so enjoy it.

Rhys Stephenson looks like a frontrunner

Rhys Stephenson is competing on ‘Strictly’ 2021

CBBC presenter Rhys Stephenson is the first celebrity partner for professional dancer Nancy Xu and boy, did they look like a firecracker pairing. Dancing a dizzying Viennese waltz – the first ever in week one – to “End Of The Road” by Boys II Men, Rhys reined in his puppyish enthusiasm to deliver a routine with serious poise and panache.

He was confident enough to lead, which was highly promising for such an early stage. Shirley Ballas confirmed he was “a talent to watch”. The couple jumped around like Duracell bunnies to celebrate, giving a glimpse of the energy and power they’ll offer for the more uptempo dances. Great to see Nancy getting such a strong contender for her first partner.

Tilly, Sara and Ugo in danger of dancing home first

So who’s in the frame for next week’s first elimination? According to the bookies ahead of this show, Tilly Ramsay and Sara Davies should have been worried. We can now also add Ugo Monye to that list.

Dragon’s Den star Davies and smiley Slovenian pro Aljaž Škorjanec did a cha cha cha to Diana Ross’s “The Boss” (see what they did there?). It had camp wedding disco vibes, but Davies walked rather than danced through it and was left bottom of the leaderboard with just 17 poeng.

Just one point above was rugby player-turned pundit Monye and reigning pro champion Oti Mabuse. The multi-rhythmic samba is devilishly difficult for week one. Ugo did a decent job and even carried off his hot pink outfit. An especially valiant attempt when you consider that only this morning, he attended his father’s funeral. He did his dad proud and didn’t deserve such a low mark.


This year’s youngest celebrity, teen chef Tilly “daughter of Gordon” Ramsay, did a sweet-enough waltz with Ukrainian pro Nikita Kuzmin but it was bland and under-seasoned. She finished fourth from bottom and might need to drag her father along to the studio next week to shore up her hopes.

High standards for a series-opener

This was a night full of surprises, from Judi Love’s stylish American Smooth to Craig Revel Horwood not being the grumpiest judge. The level of hoofing was remarkably high, også. There were three scores over 30 points – unprecedented for the first live show – and no absolute stinkers for a change.

Just when you thought someone had wowed, another couple came along and out-danced them. It promised much for what could prove a vintage series. What a joy to have Strictly back on the box and a new batch of have-a-go hoofers to follow.

First elimination looms next weekend

Gjerne, nobody gets bundled onto the ballroom bus home this week. Tonight’s scores are carried over to next Saturday (2 oktober), when they’ll be combined with week two’s total. Viewers get their first chance to vote and the bottom two couples will face this year’s first dreaded dance-off.

Who’ll get the sparkly-handled wooden spoon and suffer the humiliation of being first out? We’ll get our first clues next week. Please join us back here after the credits roll for more post-dance analysis and glitter-dusted gossip. Until then, you know the drill: Keeeeeeep dancing!

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