Strictly week eight 2021: Kai and AJ’s Paso Doble

In week eight we were treated to a Paso Doble by AJ and Kai. I have looked forward to this since I first saw AJ dance and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I was breathless and on my feet!

AJ Odudu and Kai Widdrington Paso Doble to Game of Survival by Ruelle

AJ Odudu and Kai Widdrington Paso Doble to Game of Survival by Ruelle

Different ways to perform the Paso Doble

The judges were surprisingly, even confusingly, hard on AJ. I wonder if maybe they were comparing it to the much more traditional interpretation in the week before and didn’t see it for the little masterpiece that it was in its own right. But comparison is the thief of joy.

It’s funny because last week I wrote about the variety of interpretations we get to see on Strictly Come Dancing, while head judge Shirley explained that Pasos can be interpreted in the powerful style or in a more balletic traditional style. Here we have proof that’s true, because this Paso was very different to Tom and Amy’s in week seven. And that’s one of the many things I love about Strictly.

Partnering and shaping in the Paso Doble

In the Paso Doble, the leading partner embodies the matador, while the following partner interpretes the cape. So the dance brings to life how the matador manipulates or dances with his cape. I think Kai moved AJ stunningly and together they created very powerful, visually stunning and emotionally impactful shapes.

That’s only possible because of her strength, as extraordinarily demonstrated in the vertical drops she performed! I’m not just talking physical strength. Such drops and giving yourself over to your partner in the Paso Doble require courage and mental strength.

I think AJ did eat the space with her powerful steps and never felt overwhelmed by Kai’s demanding hold. What I mean by that is that I felt Kai was challenging AJ to the edge of what her body could do and she totally delivered. I also quite liked the nearly pedestrian strides, which the judges commented on unfavourably. I think they gave the performance a suitable rawness that fitted perfectly with the music and chosen setting.

Expanding your wing span and using your back in the Paso Doble, and beyond

As room for further achievement I would hope to see AJ expand her wing span even more in future. Simply put, her arms could’ve been wider when manipulating her skirt. Of course it’s more complex than that. The wing span evolves from an extreme engagement in the back. AJ’s posture is great, so I wonder if work on her frame didn’t seem as urgently necessary as for some of the other celebrities. But I’m sure she can refine and expand it more. I would love to see her upper back become more expressive, reach further and command more space. In ballet it’s called epaulement, outside of ballet you can call it style (that’s a quote by my fabulous jazz dance teacher Ashley Nottingham!). Such work on the back will not just be beneficial for the Paso Doble, but for all dance styles.

I’ve loved AJ’s attitude to the competition from the beginning. The high energy, dedication and love she brings to rehearsal and performances seems to me her secret weapon, the quality that makes her excel, learn so fast and entertain so brilliantly. I’m a big fan and can’t wait for all her future performances, hopefully all the way to Christmas 🤞.

It’s Musicals Week next! Watch it on BBC One on Saturday 20th November 2021, at 6.35pm.


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