Strictly Come Dancing: the semi-final kicks off!

It’s going to be a long weekend for the five remaining Strictly Come Dancing contestants as they compete for a place in next week’s final.

The first part of the semi-final took place on Friday evening, and saw them each perform a routine with their partners as well as taking part in a group ‘swing-a-thon’ in a bid to stay in the competition.

And if the judges’ scores are anything to go by then Kara Tointon is on course for a place in the final.

The former EastEnders actress dropped just one point for her Viennese Waltz with partner Artem Chigvintsev, which Bruno Tonioli described as a “work of art”.

She also won the swing-a-thon group dance in which all five couples performed until being eliminated by the judges.

However Pamela Stephenson – who scored the first full house of the series from the judges last weekend – was not far behind Kara on the scoreboard following her dramatic Paso Doble with partner James Jordan.

“It was dramatic, fast, you were brilliantly controlled, and you have maintained your standard from last week,” Alesha Dixon said.

The comedienne also finished third in the swing-a-thon.

However the male contenders found themselves on rockier ground. Scott Maslen, who was in last weekend’s bottom two, received a mixed response for his Argentine Tango with Natalie Lowe.

Len Goodman expressed doubts over the routine, saying he did not feel a “connection” between the couple but Bruno disagreed. “I think I got it because that was played like a film noir. It was very intense.”

The EastEnders star received 33 out of 40 for the routine, and also was the second person to be eliminated from the swing-a-thon.

It was also a difficult night for Matt Baker, who scored a disappointing 28 out of 40 despite performing a lively salsa which began with his partner Aliona Vilani standing on the judges’ desk.

“The whole thing was just a bit insipid,” Craig Revel Horwood complained. “Your standard has been so high, you’ve been consistent,” added Len, “but this was not good.”

However Matt fared better in the swing-a-thon, finishing second behind Kara Tointon.

And he was saved from last place on the judges’ scoreboard by Gavin Henson, who not only floundered during his samba, scoring 27 out of 40, but was also the first person to be knocked out of the swing-a-thon.

But there was some consolation for the rugby ace when he received a faint word of praise from Craig. “The good thing is the rotation in the hips was well worth the 297.5 hours you have been rehearsing over the series,” he remarked.

The couples will take to the floor again on Saturday night for the second part of the semi-final, with two couples eliminated from the show on Sunday.