Before we get to the pairings, some random thoughts on the launch show itself:
The farewell to Brucie dance, with all the pros ending in his signature pose, was really nicely done. I know not everyone liked him and he probably stayed a few years longer than he should have, but this was a nice send-off for him.
Loved, loved LOVED Tess and Claudia together. Truly the dream team.
Am going to miss James Jordan as a pro dancer (I know that's something if an unpopular opinion!) And why why WHY is Aliona back? They fired her last year only to bring her back when Natalie got injured; given the way she behaved with Tony Jacklin and some of her comments afterward I was hoping she'd stay gone! (And the fact that they got rid of Anya for her is just bonkers).
Artemis is someone I'm not going to miss, as his inability / unwillingness to choreograph the dance he was supposed to was working my last nerve. Plus we got the lovely Irish Tristan instead of him, so this is a Good Trade!!
As far as the musical guests went, tumblr went bananas over 5 Seconds to Summer; I squee'd over Imelda May and Smokey Robinson! Honestly, if they could get her go stop touring off the amount if time it'd take, I'd love to see Imelda as a contestant on Strictly - love her!
And now, onto the pairings!!
Gregg Wallace & Aliona Vilani - not gonna lie, I cackled at Aliona's face when this pairing was announced! She was not a happy bunny!! And considering she's not one of my favourites, this thrilled me! Gregg certainly seems enthusiastic going by the group dance; but I find Aliona very limited as a choreographer (especially if she's not invested) so I don't know how far they'll go.
Jake Wood & Janette Manrara - I don't like his character in Eastenders, but Jake Wood came across well in his VT, and he looked like he could fairly move! And Janette was obviously thrilled (I think it's fair to say any partner she got this year would be less high maintenance than Julien McDonald!!)
Steve Backshall & Ola Jordan - I don't know Steve at all, but given I was fully expecting Ola to get a complete duffer, this was a pleasant surprise!
Thom Evans & Iveta Lukosiute - speaking of surprises, this was one; for Iveta as well! I don't blame her one bit for being flustered, as he is gorgeous!! And from the group dance, he can move too! I loved Iveta with Mark last year, so I'm really looking forward to seeing what they come up with!
Caroline Flack & Pasha Kovalev - hard to tell which of these two was more excited!! She comes across as really warm and bubbly so I think they'll do quite well.
Jenny Gibney & Tristan McManus - now this pairing is one I'm really excited about!! I love Tristan, and Jenny always comes across as a really lovely person. I predict lots of fun and giggles with these two - based on the group dance, I'm not sure how far they'll go, but once it's far enough for Brendan O'Carroll to appear on an It Takes Two Friday Panel, I'll be happy!! (Or Rory Cowan, because that would be hilarious!!)
Pixie Lott & Trent Whiddon - don't think I've ever seen a ringer debunk themselves in the opening VT before! She's being set up as the ringiest ringer to ever ring (sorry, Nicole Sherzcy still has that title for me!) and Trent is an unknown quantity, so I'm looking forward to this one!
Simon Webbe & Kristina Rihanoff - I loved how surprised Kristina was, don't think she was expecting this! He showed on the Christmas special he did that he could actually dance, so this could be a good year for Kristina!
Tim Wonnacott & Natalie Lowe - I think it's only fair to say that expectations for Tim are Not High. And I'm disappointed for Natalie in that regard, especially after she sat out last year injured. HOWEVER, if anyone can mark a silk purse from a sows ear, it's Natalie. And also, if she was disappointed, you'd never have known it from her reaction - some other pros could learn from that.
Scott Mills & Joanne Clifton - their reactions to this pairing was so cute! Like Jenny and Tristan, I think this is going to be a fun pairing, and I'm looking forward to seeing what World Champion Joanne brings to the table!
Mark Wright & Karen Hauer - well, after the Hairy Biker Dave Disaster of 2014, Karen was due a good partner, or at the very least someone with potential. Marks talked himself down in the papers, saying he can't dance, so this will be interesting because after last year I think Karen has a point to prove and will work him hard!
Alison Hammond & Aljaz Skorjanec - on paper, you'd think this won't go far. However, Alison can move, and Aljaz has proven a good teacher after winning with Abbey last year. I just hope they're not too heavy-handed with the Lisa Riley references - she was good the first two weeks and plateaued after that, mainly because of Robins limitations as a choreographer and dancer. (seriously, if you can tell me what that mess of a dance at Wembley was meant to be, please do!)
Judy Murray & Anton DuBeke - if you didn't see this pairing coming six miles away in the dark with no headlights on, then you haven't been watching the same show I have these last few years!! I really liked how Judy came across in the VT, she's got this persona as a cold, stereotypical sporting mother so it's nice to see another side. I actually feel bad for her in a way because she really wants to learn to dance and embrace the SCD journey - unfortunately they've given her Anton, who checked out on this shoe sometime around Nancy Dell'ollio or Anne Widdecombe and is now just going through the motions.
Sunetra Sarker & Brendan Cole - this one is interesting to me, because Sunetra's pretty much a black slate, I don't know that much about her. But once she gives it her all and tries, she'll get on well with Brendan.
Frankie Bridge & Kevin Clifton - I think this pairing could be one to watch; from the look we got in the group dance, Frankie can move, and Kevin proved last year he's a great dancer and choreographer.
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