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Karen Hardy

Karen Hardy

'I sobbed when I realised I could hear'

Karen Hardy is beaming with delight as she rushes in to the studio prior to commentating on BBC's Strictly Come Dancing competition, because during her Tube journey she has overheard a passenger whisper to a friend: "Look, there's that dancer from the telly!"

It is certainly not because the professional, who boasts a string of British, European and World Championship dancing titles, as well as the accolade of winning Strictly in 2006 when she partnered cricketer Mark Ramprakash, is hungry for public recognition.

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Alesha Dixon

Karen is Strictly shocked by Alesha’s exit

Bournemouth’s professional dancer Karen Hardy has spoken of her shock at hearing Alesha Dixon is leaving the Strictly Come Dancing judging panel.

The former Strictly star, who won the show when she was partnered with cricketer Mark Ramprakash in 2006, has been touted as one of the possible replacements for Alesha, who told the BBC this week she was leaving to become a judge on rival ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent.

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Alesha Dixon

Karen odds on favourite to replace Alesha

Former Strictly professional dancer Karen Hardy is the odds on bookies' favourite to replace Alesha Dixon as a judge on the 2012 series of the BBC pro-celebrity talent show.

Hardy, who won the 2006 series of Strictly alongside cricketer Mark Ramprakash, is 4/6 favourite to join Len Goodman, Bruno Tonioli and Craig Revel Horwood on the programme after it was announced that Dixon would be ending her three-year relationship with the show to join Britain's Got Talent on ITV.

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Karen Hardy

Chris had a connection with viewers

Former Strictly Come Dancing winner Karen Hardy gives her verdict on Saturday's final and reveals her hopes for the show next year...

So, BBC sports presenter Chris Hollins beat Hollyoaks' Ricky Whittle in the Strictly Come Dancing final on Saturday night. Did the right man win?

"What you've got to remember is there’s actually 12 million - and five - judges and it's always the chemistry that the voting public connects with more than the dancing. Chris and Ola [Jordan] have a magic ingredient in their dancing that you can't quite put your finger on. The quality of dancing was obviously higher from Ricky and Natalie, but it's not always about being the perfect dancer, it's about how you connect with the audience at home and make them vote."

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Karen Hardy

Craig had no chance in the dance-off

Former Strictly Come Dancing winner Karen Hardy talks about the show at the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool and Craig Kelly getting the chop...

Should Craig Kelly and Ricky Groves have been in the bottom two this week?

"On the dancing side of things sadly yes. I think what happened with Ricky Groves was there was a big floor and it was a new experience. He probably thought, 'Oh my God, I've got to get around the floor and I've got to get to people', and it diluted his performance. I think the ballroom dancers came across better than the Latin dancers. With our lovely Craig, sadly he's not able to keep up with the others. But he made it to Blackpool and the public were very gracious in helping him get there. At the end you could see that the public were saying: 'Look we've got you here, now it's down to the judges to decide.' Once he got in front of those judges I think we all knew what was going to happen."

So do you think Craig should have been booted off the show?

"Yes, he just wasn't keeping up. He loved it, but sadly he just wasn't able to keep up with all the others who are doing so well."

Some of the judges' comments to Craig were quite harsh, do you think they were fair?

"For me I think some of them were slightly harsh - it is still an entertainment show and it is still a lot of fun. Craig was only doing his best bless him."

You were teaching Strictly Come Dancing fans how to dance in Blackpool this weekend. How did that go?

"Blackpool was absolutely brilliant. I don't think the BBC thought it was going to be such a success! It was great, Rav and Bruce Forsyth came over, so fans were lucky enough to meet people off the live shows and then they all learnt a cha-cha and got to watch the show in the theatre. I hosted it, so I brought my teachers up from the studios and it really was an amazing day."

Bruno called Chris Hollins' foxtrot his 'smoothest dance to date' - do you agree?

"That was Chris's most brilliant dance! The judges on the day have to judge what they see and aren't supposed to judge on past performances. But the public will have a lot of expectation. He really went right the way down in his scores and he's made a comeback with this number this week. There were no mistakes, no cringeworthy faces - he just went out there, delivered a great dance and him and Ola together looked divine. Absolutely beautiful."

Jade Johnson and Ricky Whittle both got good reviews for their dances - what did you think of them?

"Absolutely fantastic, I've always been a big fan of Jade anyway and Ricky has been our frontrunner. Now what happened with Ricky is the pressure is coming in now. Although Natalie said it was her that made the mistakes, it doesn't matter. They can't afford to make any mistakes from now on as the judges are looking for reasons to drop points. He can't afford to make any errors, especially now Ali has got the big four 10s from the judges! Whereas with Jade she put on a great performance, didn't make any mistakes, but she had her head down which gave the impression that she didn't have confidence in what she was doing. It would have been nice to see her head up because I think she would of got a slightly higher score."

As you mentioned, Ali got 40 out of 40 and Len called it the 'dance of the series'. Do you agree?

"Beautiful! You can't go wrong with a Viennese Waltz at the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool! You had a beautiful dress, a beautiful lady together with Brian. She didn't make any errors, she was beautiful, absolutely beautiful."

Who do you think will be the next celebrity to get the boot from Strictly?

"What we needed was sadly to see Craig Kelly go and then now from here on in there will be an upset every week. I have absolutely no idea who will go next. They're going to need a lot of luck now, the dresses will have a big impact, the choreography will be so important. They've got to nail the dance. We'll be upset with whoever ends up in the dance-off and it will be down to who makes mistakes then so training will be very hard."

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Karen Hardy

It was time for Jo to exit Strictly

Former Strictly Come Dancing star Karen Hardy tells exactly what she thought of Jade and Jo’s dance-off and why she thought Craig was awful in her weekly round-up...

Do you think Jade and Jo deserved to be in the bottom two?

“Jo yes, but definitely not Jade! I just think Jade is absolutely fantastic with Ian and I have been supporting them a lot – very, very sad to see them down there in the bottom two. It’s early days, I guess people are just voting for maybe the characters at the moment and not looking at how good the dancing was. She did dance very, very well.

“It was clearly time for Jo to go – she almost gave in herself, going over to Bruce and Tess before she went to the eliminating spot! I think she was almost saying, 'I know it's time for me to go'. She was the right one to go out of the final two, it would have been wrong if the judges had even given one mark her way. There is such a big difference between her and Jade."

There was high praise for Ricky Whittle, Zoe Lucker and Ali Bastian this weekend – who’s your favourite celeb to win the competition?

“My favourite is clearly Ricky Whittle. I know what the nation is like and we all love an underdog, but he’s just so far out there! From a quality and technical point of view he’s just blowing everyone out of the competition. The connections between him and his dance partner Natalie are brilliant. He’s so far ahead from a quality of dance point of view, then absolutely – he’s my favourite by far.

“But there’s still a long way to go – we’re in week six, we’ve got another 10 weeks to go so all things could change. It’s tough both physically and mentally so we’ll have to see who can hold their game.”

Ali Bastian and Brian Fortuna got 37 out of 40 for their American Smoove which is the best score of the series so far – what did you think of their performance?

“She was fantastic – that was the performance that I’ve been waiting to see from her for so long! I thought it would come in a ballroom dance, but it was a dance that was great for her because it was kind of a mixture between the two. It was half ballroom, half Latin – so she had that security of knowing Brian wasn’t far away but then when they broke apart she was able to really excel and she looked confident, relaxed and she put on a really good performance.”

Alesha said that something had 'clicked into place' with Natalie Cassidy – do you agree?

“I thought she looked like she had matured. She keeps on coming out with this ‘Oh I love the show’ and I’ve said for weeks there’s no good saying how much you love the show, you’ve got to show what you can do. Where she looked so much more mature – she danced a lot better. This was her best performance, definitely.”

Len described Laila and Anton’s dance as 'beige' and Craig said that it 'lacked the wow factor'. What was missing there?

“She looked stunning again, but I think it was missing a bit of chemistry. When you dance in this competition, you go out there fighting for each other – I think that maybe that part of it is missing with Laila and Anton. It looks like they’re still quite individual and separated rather than going out there together as a force to be reckoned with. Individually, they’re both great, it’s when it comes together. I think that again her strength lies in ballroom not Latin. There’s still something about her that I really love – I just can’t put my finger on it."

How do you think Zoe did after the surprise of her being in the bottom two last week?

“I would have been shocked if she hadn’t come back and put on a performance like she did. It wasn’t a massive improvement – she’s just always been good - so I hope everyone could see how good she was. I think, with all that tremendous amount of pressure she took on the dance floor she did so well. That’ll be Jade next week, she’ll be coming out carrying all that pressure.

"It’s strange when you’re right at the top and for weeks you’ve been told how good you are and then ‘Bang!’ all of a sudden you’re there in the dance-off! It must knock you, it’s like being in a big fish, small pond situation and then all of a sudden you’re in an ocean.”

Alesha said that Craig Kelly’s body seemed to have a 'mind of it’s own' – what did you think of his performance?

"Awful! It was awful! And it gets to a situation when the more you say that, the more the public seem to want to vote those people back in. But it lacked any rhythm, he didn’t interact with Flavia and she was doing all the work.

"This is nothing to do with him not working hard enough because he was clearly working hard – but when you’ve got that much time to sing, then all that amount of effort needs to be put in his movement rather than in his singing. Sadly, it was just not my style and not my cup of tea at all. I even think Flavia looks shocked every week when they’re getting through.”

Ricky Groves got his best ballroom score so far. How is he doing in the competition?

“He’s going to be the dark horse, the public will warm to him really quickly. He’s proven himself - he did go out in the beginning, over-enthusiastic, almost like a clown. He’s turned the whole thing around and basically said, ‘I’m not a clown, I’m here to show you that I can do it’.

"He is behind on quality but that sort of person is someone who can come back fighting, he could be here to stay. And I just love the relationship between him and Erin – I think it’s something that the audience can appreciate and warm to. They’ll probably understand Ricky Groves more than they can understand Ricky Whittle – they will love his personality more.”

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Karen Hardy

'This year's Strictly is 'fantastic'

A former professional on Strictly Come Dancing has said that the standard on this year's show is "fantastic".

Karen Hardy was axed by the BBC for the current series but won the show in 2006 with cricketer Mark Ramprakash.

She told Strictly spin-off show It Takes Two: "I was expecting lots of mistakes in the choreography, but other than one or two mistakes, they all made it through two dances - fantastic."

She added: "Because they had two dances in week one, the technique will not be that strong yet, so don't penalise anyone - the choreography they did was fantastic."

The former World Championship winner praised Joe Calzaghe's professional partner Kristina Rihanoff for her "clever" choreography.

She said: "They got slated, but Joe took the full weight of Kristina, while she ballet walked around and if they even got it slightly wrong, she would have fallen.

"Do not look at the technique that follows, but she was very clever with that piece of choreography. They need more of that while Joe settles."

Martina Hingis was the first celebrity to be voted off this year's programme after a dance-off with Crimewatch presenter Rav Wilding.


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Karen Hardy

Karen's Strictly role to change

The BBC says its decision to change dancer Karen Hardy's role on Strictly Come Dancing has "absolutely nothing to do with age

Recent reports claimed the 39-year-old was being replaced by younger dancers.

The BBC said it was a "mutual decision" to end Hardy's tenure as a dancer. The star said she was "discussing new ways" to be part of the show.

The Latin American specialist won the fourth series of Strictly with cricketer Mark Ramprakash in 2006.

In a statement, Hardy said she was also looking at "a number of exciting projects and opportunities that have come my way".

'Change of flavour'

The BBC added: "She's been a fantastic dancer on Strictly for the past four years and we are in discussions with her as to what her new role will be in this year's series."

It is thought her new role could involve working on the spin off BBC Two show, It Takes Two.

The announcement comes shortly after the BBC said Arlene Phillips, 66, would be moved from the judging panel in favour of former winner and pop star Alesha Dixon, 30.

When the new series starts, Phillips will become the Strictly Come Dancing expert on The One Show.

Speaking about the departure at the time, BBC One controller Jay Hunt said there had been a desire to "change the flavour of the panel".

Len Goodman, 65, and Bruno Tonioli, 53, and Craig Revel Horwood, 44 are all set to return to the show when it starts this autumn.


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Karen Hardy

Karen Hardy axed from Strictly

The BBC has reportedly axed the oldest female dancer on Strictly Come Dancing.

Karen Hardy, 39, who won series 4 with cricketer Mark Ramprakash in 2007, has been sacked along with New Zealander Hayley Holt.

According to sources: "Karen is gone and it is no surprise seeing what is happening to older females at the BBC. As far as the bosses are concerned they are keeping things fresh and exciting, but some viewers may see it as ageism.

"Karen wants to branch out with her work, but the BBC were happy for her to leave. They made the decision. Despite Karen being one of the best dancers she is gone, and it seems to be another sign that bosses want to make the series younger to try to take some of the X Factor audience."

It was reported last week that Lithuanian Katya Virshilas, 25, who partnered Antonio Banderas in the film Take the Lead, will be appearing on this year's show as well as Natalie Lowe, 28, from Australia.

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