The remaining eight couples in Strictly Come Dancing 2009 have made their dancefloor debut in another double bill of shows.

And this week’s show began with Bruce Forsyth speaking out in defence of Alesha Dixon, who suffered a major backlash from fans after last weekend’s opening shows. “Everybody on this show is behind you,” he told Alesha and later went on to say she had been “wonderful” on Friday’s show.

The dancing was kicked off by Natalie Cassidy and Vincent Simone, who performed a tango – and won praise for their efforts.

“You should be happy,” Len Goodman told the former EastEnderss star, “you got through it without a mistake, it was neat, it was precise, you attacked it, it was a jolly good job.”

Actress Zoe Lucker also impressed the panel with her waltz with partner James Jordan, which Bruno Tonioli described as “simple, effective, absolutely beautiful”. Alesha added, “The waltz is my favourite ballroom dance and watching you guys tonight I was reminded why.”

However Coronation Street star Craig Kelly and jockey Richard Dunwoody didn’t have quite such an easy ride.

Bruno had some words of praise for Kelly’s tango with partner Flavia Cacace, saying that Kelly “gave it his all”, although Craig was more critical. “I felt like you needed to drive the dance more,” he told.

Meanwhile Bruno tried to be kind about Dunwoody’s waltz with Lilia Kopylova. “Compared to that monstrous mambo last week this was a masterpiece,” he said. “It wasn’t very good – but there is hope.”

Next up was actress Laila Rouass and dance partner Anton de Beke – and the former Footballers’ Wives star wowed the judges with her tango.

“It’s so refreshing to see Anton with somebody who could actually go a long way in this competition,” Alesha said.

And there was also high praise for Phil Tufnell and his waltz with series newcomer Katya Varshilas. “I’m bowled over,” Len told him, “that was the best footwork of the night.” “This show is always full of surprises,” Craig added, “and Mr Tufnell, you are one of them.”

However Craig was less keen on Jo Wood’s tango with dance partner Brendan Cole, complaining of “slovenly footwork”. Len was kinder. “It started with a shout and finished with a whimper but well done,” he said.

But the biggest plaudits of the night were reserved for Hollyoaks star Ricky Whittle and another series newcomer, dancer Natalie Lowe. “To come out here and doing a performance like this first time is incredible,” Bruno told him.

And Len was even more impressed. “You’re the one to beat,” he said. “I just hope your Latin is up to that standard – if so you’re going to be the most formidable couple ever.”

The eight celebrities return on Saturday night’s show to perform either a cha cha cha or a rumba, with the bottom two facing the dance-off in a bid to stay in the competition.