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'Dancing With the Stars': Let's get ready to rumba!

April 14, 2009 |  7:25 am

115636_1217a_pre It’s hump week at "DWTS." No, not like that, ballroom fans! Get your minds out of the gutter. I'm talking about the halfway point. This is where we separate the contenders from the pretenders, as Len and Tom said. Though, I guess it could also have that other meaning, considering that last night's program featured the rumba, a.k.a. the dance of love, and many of the contestants were costumed as if they just emerged from the bedroom (albeit a glittery one filled with mirror balls and the Harold Wheeler band). The show featured the jive along with the rumba, and it ended up a mixed bag: Some dances were arresting (APB alert for hot Lil’ Kim!) and some were just developmentally arrested (Ty, I’m talking to you). Here’s how the contestants stacked up:

Move over, Gilles and Cheryl, because there’s a new sheriff in town! Taking down the longtime leaders were Lil’ Kim and Derek Hough, whose smoking jive set to Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” had enough snarly vim and verve to launch them to the top of the leader board with a total of 28. And their wonderfully energetic and entertaining hop was hands down my favorite of the night. I loved how Derek so slyly made himself the fugitive and Lil’ Kim the Maglite-toting officer in their routine, and Lil’ Kim embodied her pursuant cop role with brazen oomph and saucy relish. And the fake gun-toting action and what Len dismissed as “theatrics” made the dance that much more enjoyable, bringing Queen Latifah and the rest of the studio audience to their feet. Bruno and Carrie Ann seemed to agree: Both gave them standing ovations. “Arrest me! Frisk me!” Bruno gurgled over in his excitement. Too bad Len had to play the bad cop in what was otherwise a perfect shakedown, complaining that their dance wasn’t by-the-book “ballroom jive.” “What was on the label wasn’t in the tin,” he sulked.

Just a point behind with a total of 27 were Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani. Up until this point, Melissa’s impressive dancing had all but made me forget her previous reality show existence as the "Bachelor" contestant who was so ceremoniously dumped on national television by her ex-fiancé. So it was unfortunate when it all came rushing back to consciousness in one fell swoop during rehearsals.

Tony, perhaps trying to score another one of those real-life dance metaphor gems, tried to get his partner to assume a certain arm position by telling Melissa to make the fingers on her left hand droop. “Pretend you have this like 10-carat diamond right there, OK?” To which Melissa simply replied, “Instead, here’s my empty finger?” Cue flashback to Melissa’s crushing breakup on national TV. And then Tony, after a pause long enough to assume he’s having his own realization flashback, complete with foot in mouth, sheepishly acknowledged, “Maybe bad analogy on this one.” And while their rumba was not windshield wipers steamy, and despite the sparkly yellow-purple ombre monstrosity that Tony sported, the judges seemed to find it perfectly serviceable. Len called it “clean, precise” and Bruno dug further into the uncomfortable metaphors by declaring that Melissa’s “body can assume the most incredible shapes with such ease.”

Slipping into third place were Gilles Marini and Cheryl Burke. Maybe it was because he had his shirt on: Their jive earned them just a 26 this week. And like Len said, it did seem to be a little bit hectic and not all that fun. Though maybe that’s also because of the heavy and metronomic version of Fall Out Boy’s “Dance, Dance” that seemed to grind the routine into the ground and suck out any sort of levity. Bruno likened Gilles to something of a “mad squirrel,” and I have to say I did enjoy Bruno and Carrie Ann’s back-and-forth squirrelly imitations of Gilles’ arm movements. It reminded me of Lucy Liu doing that ferret impression in "Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle."

Also earning a 26 were Shawn Johnson and Mark Ballas and their rumba. And Shawn was uncomfortable from the outset with this dance of love. “It’s out of my comfort zone,” she stammered. “I’m only 17.” But kudos to Mark for getting Shawn to channel the romance in something endearingly innocent and relatably “age-appropriate” — her prom. And the mini-prom Mark set up for her (because she’ll miss her own if she goes on in the competition), balloons and banner and tux and all, made it that much more awww-worthy (and very "13 Going On 30"). And it totally translated in their routine: Shawn looked great in her sparkly bedsheet, and Mark kept his bedroom scruff. And their dance, to John Mayer’s “Slow Dancing in a Burning Room” was lovely and bubblegum sweet, though punctuated with what Bruno called “the devil” when she laid her bare leg on his. “That was so beautifully pure, that was almost angelic,” Bruno praised. And it hit just the right note for Len. “The rumba is a bit like a fire: It can warm and it can burn,” the head judge said. “And for me, sometimes the rumbas are too hot. But I think this was just right.” Yay!

Which is perhaps why Goldilocks/Len (Goldi-Len?) had a problem with Chuck Wicks and Julianne Hough. Who channeled their own real-life passion for each other in a sultry rumba that left Carrie Ann fanning herself in their wake. After a small spat in rehearsals and a romantic reconnection at the Santa Monica Pier, the laced-out couple more than made up for the friction when they danced; there was a split second in the end when I wasn’t sure whether they were going to get it on right then and there. Although  he pointed out that the dance still had some technical glitches, Bruno said, “I’d like some more of that, please” (to which Carrie Ann sighed, “Me, too!”), but Len said “parts of that were more suitable for the bedroom than the ballroom.” Total dance score: 23, though the passion was off the charts.

Just one behind that were Lawrence Taylor and Edyta Sliwinska, who scored 22 for their groovy jive. The fun, happy-go-lucky LT didn’t come easy, though: The usually gentle Giant, still reeling from his dance-off from the week before, was turning into Hulk smash with his frustrations and letting out a barrage of expletives not suitable for prime-time television. Luckily, Season 7 "DWTS" contender and ray of sunshine Warren Sapp talked LT down from the fences and got him to ease up. And maybe it was Sapp’s pep talk, or Edyta’s smashing hot-pink legwear that really let LT loose. He looked smooth in his gray suit, and she was the embodiment of fun with her short fringy skirt and ponytail (and that fabulous legwear!). Bruno said it was “alive and kicky,” and Carrie Ann remarked that LT’s “got his groove back,” and it was charming to see LT grinning from ear to ear.

Not so lucky were Ty Murray and Chelsie Hightower, who seemed to take a couple of mistimed steps back in the competition with their jive. After some cool uses of a hula hoop and mini-trampoline to get Ty moving and a shakin', the dance -- despite being choreographed to a country tune and incorporating line-dancing -- had all the rhythm of a bucking bronco. It’s unfortunate, really: Ty’s super charming, but I wonder whether his penchant as a dancer has plateaued and if he might be ready to be put out to ballroom pasture. Plus, I don’t know if it's his inability to dance or the height difference between him and his partner, but doesn’t it seem like he cops a feel on Chelsie every time there’s some kind of lift or hold? It was like her patriotic top was getting manhandled in this number. Is that any way to treat the spangled American flag? The judges were harsh on our rough-around-the-edges cowboy. Bruno said there were “20,000 kicks and flicks and none of them were right.” Carrie Ann called it “a little tough to watch.” Their total: 18.

Which was two points higher than Steve-O and Lacey Schwimmer. A gaseous Steve-O was having trouble toning down his flatulence and mustering up the right amount of passion for his rumba with Lacey, whom he sees more as a sister. Luckily, his adorable little dog was there to turn up the romance and cuddle where Lacey couldn’t. Last week Steve-O said how he missed his little pup, and apparently the absence made his heart grow fonder, as they wrestled on the floor in a segment that was cute … until it became uncomfortable. Tom aptly called it a Mickey Rourke moment (RIP, Loki!), but it seemed to have worked: Steve-O gave a scantily clad Lacey, who looked like she was posing for a Victoria’s Secret catalog, the right amount of bedroom eyes for their performance. Too bad this bit of acting didn’t help much with the judges. In what was the most divisive score of the night, Bruno said Steve-O had “the charm of a confused puppy, but the dancing is bad,” and gave them a 5, and Len said it was “no good” and then gave them a vote of no-confidence with a sad little 4. Carrie Ann, however, said “there was something oddly mesmerizing about watching you dance” and gave them a nice 7. Steve-O said he was hoping for “perfect 7s,” but one out of three ain’t bad. Well, unless the other scores are a 4 and 5, that is.

As sad as I am to say this, I think Ty will be on the chopping block tonight. And Steve-O should join him, unless his voters save him once again.

Who do you think will be in the bottom two? And who did Lil’ Kim dedicate her routine to? Baby Regis? 

-- Allyssa Lee

Photo: ABC

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