ByMichael Patterson, writer at
I Write. Sometimes. Follow me on Twitter: @MichaelP93
Michael Patterson

So this weekend saw the series finale of 's Strictly Come Dancing, in which three couples competed for the coveted glitter-ball trophy — which eventually went to winners Ore Oduba and Joanne Clifton. But despite an evening of some amazing performances, as I sat and watched the Final unfold I found myself having only one thought — I miss Claudia and AJ.

Renowned for their revolutionary routines, Olympic gymnast Claudia Fragapane and her professional dance partner AJ Pritchard made it all the way to the Semi-Final before their shocking elimination. And their absence in the Final reminded us why they are actually the true winners of this series.

AJ Excelled In His First Year

Being one of Strictly's new professional dancers, AJ Pritchard had a lot to contend with. After all, the show was full of seasoned veterans who had been choreographing routines for years. But as the series progressed, it became clear to everyone that he was exactly where he belonged. In fact, AJ choreographed some of the most exciting and jaw-dropping routines, all of which highlighted Claudia's strengths. And despite falling victim to some severe undermarking from the judges, the two still ended up constantly stealing the show. And this just highlighted AJ's ability to adapt to each routine.

AJ provided us with some mature choreography in his & Claudia's Viennese Waltz. (BBC)
AJ provided us with some mature choreography in his & Claudia's Viennese Waltz. (BBC)

And it wasn't just all in the moves, his skills extended far beyond that. AJ always attacked each performance with passion. And this resonated on screen as he always completely immersed himself in the performance. And whether it was the look of overwhelming joy on his face in the Charleston, or the way he looked at Claudia like she was his whole world in their Rumba, you just knew that an AJ routine would deliver. And they always did. Pritchard provided us with both excitingly outrageous and elegantly mature choreography that never failed to impress.

The rapport he had with Claudia was undoubtedly one of Strictly's highlights this year as the "Pocket Rockets" ended up becoming one of this series' favorite couples. This friendship between the two of them also ensured that she trusted him enough to deliver some of the most show-stopping lifts in their dances.

Check out incredible lifts in the pair's unforgettable Salsa:

So let me put this in context for you, at only 22 years old, AJ has won countless championships all over England, and now both he and his amazing dance partner Chloe Hewitt — who really deserves to be regularly featured on next year's show — are pros on Strictly Come Dancing. So, to say that he has mastered his craft would be a major understatement. Furthermore, on Strictly, he not only managed to come up with some of the most innovative choreography we have ever seen on a talent show, he also managed to outlast some of the show's most tenured dancers, making it all the way to the Semi-Final. Claudia trusted him with her Strictly journey, and he delivered — big time.

With an incredible first year on the show, I can only see major things ahead for AJ Pritchard.

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Claudia Developed Into An Incredible Dancer

When it comes to talent shows, one word that I think we all hate to use is "journey" — simply because it's become so overused that it's a cliche. But Claudia Fragapane is undoubtedly the personification of a talent show journey. While some contestants had previous dance training and others had no dance experience at all, it was Claudia who was at the biggest disadvantage. Being a gymnast, she had learned to move her body in a rather stiff manner. However, as dance is a completely different ball game, it required her to unlearn her gymnastic training in order to loosen up for dancing.

Claudia's flexibility was on full display during her and AJ's Argentine Tango. (via BBC)
Claudia's flexibility was on full display during her and AJ's Argentine Tango. (via BBC)

And with AJ's help, she managed to improve each week, delivering more and more brilliant routines. In slower dances, such as the Waltz and Foxtrot, you could see how she perfected her footwork while in the quicker numbers, she never faltered, managing to keep up with AJ. In fact, if you watch her routines consecutively, you can see how each dance is more polished and precise than the previous.

And although it was an injustice that this amazing dancer never reached the Final, her Semi-Final Quickstep was the perfect dance to go out on, because it highlighted how far she and AJ had come by showcasing all her strengths.

Check out Claudia's faultless Semi-Final Quickstep:

And I know that she was often criticized by certain judges for not putting enough "character" into the dances, but if you re-watch her Strictly journey, you can actually see her grow more confident and convincing as the weeks went on. In the same way that a fictional character develops over time, Claudia developed with each performance, moving further away from the schoolgirl image in the early weeks, and maturing into a powerful woman by the end. Just look at her mischievously playful performance in the pair's Lion King Salsa or her fierce and empowering outing in their Argentine Tango.

And as for the "lack of chemistry" comments, all you need to do is watch the pair's Viennese Waltz, Argentine Tango or their Rumba. Whether they were portraying cute high school sweethearts or intensely passionate lovers, Claudia and AJ's chemistry was on display for us all to see.

High school sweethearts to intense lovers: Claudia gave us a diverse range of emotions. (BBC)
High school sweethearts to intense lovers: Claudia gave us a diverse range of emotions. (BBC)

Claudia's technique continued to improve until she got to the stage where she consistently delivered each week. And this is why the Final sorely missed her presence, because — aside from their show-stopping dances — Claudia developed and became one of the show's strongest dancers, and the Final suffered as it couldn't showcase the culmination of her journey.

And despite not making it to the Final, she proved to the world that not only was she an amazing gymnast, she was also an incredible dancer. As she continues to excel in her gymnastic career, I hope that we see Claudia back in the ballroom one day, because she is quite simply, a phenomenal dancer.

The People's Champions

Being the show's youngest couple — as well as delivering some of the most original dance routines we had ever seen — it was no surprise that Claudia and AJ became a hit with the public. And this resonated online as the pair's dances always ended up topping multiple "favorite dance" polls. Furthermore, the consistent undermarking that they suffered from actually ended up working in their favor as their support continued to grow, largely in part due to this. And this culminated with their Semi-Final elimination, when fans revolted by setting up a petition to reinstate them which garnered over 1500 signatures.

Claudia and AJ were undoubtedly the people's champions.
Claudia and AJ were undoubtedly the people's champions.

And while they didn't competitively compete in the Final, that didn't stop them from stealing the show in the group dance. Seeing Claudia backflip her way towards AJ who was cheering her on at the other end made their reunion the standout moment of the Final. And it highlighted two things that she excelled at — gymnastics and dancing. This moment once again led to the public voicing their support for them online and made us all — including me — realize that the Final of Strictly Come Dancing would have been a much better place with Claudia and AJ competing in it.

Best friends: Claudia and AJ's friendship really came through on screen. (via BBC)
Best friends: Claudia and AJ's friendship really came through on screen. (via BBC)

Claudia and AJ may not have been in the Final of Strictly Come Dancing, but that hasn't stopped them from becoming winners in their own rights. Despite their young ages, the two delivered stunning routines each and every week that highlighted just how well they mastered their craft. In his first year as a pro on the show, AJ made a major statement by making it all the way to the Semi-Final. Moreover, Claudia was the one who managed to take him there as she became a phenomenal dancer, delivering confident convincing and concise performances. And because of all this, they became the people's champions.

Claudia and AJ may not have won Strictly Come Dancing, but they won something far more important — our hearts. This platform has given them a loyal fanbase — who appreciated the effort, hard work and training put into each routine — that will support them both as they continue to go from strength to strength in their young careers. And that makes them the real winners of the show.

Were you rooting for Claudia and AJ? Let us know in the comments below!


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