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'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Once upon a dance

April 4, 2011 | 10:58 pm

123412_1558_pre Break out the tissues, ballroom fans: Things just got real on the dance floor. It was Personal Story week in the “Dancing With the Stars” universe, and each star was tasked with choosing a song near and dear to their heart, which they then had to interpret in dance.

And while I’m not always a fan of the oft-used “DWTS” theme nights, I thought this one ended up being quite effective. The stars were forced to get in touch with their emotions, which led to a more personal connection to the dance. And after hearing all the back stories, how could you not enjoy the routines, at least a little bit? I feel like I love the Season 12 stars that much more after learning what they’ve been through, and the pros as well for choreographing their personal stories into rumbas, sambas, paso dobles and cha chas. Week 3 had tales of love, loss and triumph (and a scary fall toward the end!). All this emotional upheaval also resulted in a shake-up in the leader board. Here’s how the stars stacked up:

In a tie for the lead position were:

Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward & Kym Johnson and supermodel Petra Nemcova and Dmitry Chaplin, both of whom earned the first 9s of the season and had totals of 25.

I have to say, Hines’ routine was my hands-down favorite. His and Johnson’s samba, set to “Fantasy” by Earth, Wind & Fire, was dedicated to his mother, an immigrant from South Korea who worked tirelessly to gain custody of her only child and give him a better life. I’ve always loved hearing this football star’s triumph-against-adversity story, and this time was no less moving. “She’s the heart and soul of who I am,” he declared. Not only did he have a compelling story and a lovely dedication, Hines delivered the goods with his completely ebullient execution of this famously difficult dance. It was like Carnival on the dance floor, with Hines shaking his hips and everything else his mama gave him and injecting the studio with a jolt of Brazilian-fused energy. Woo-woo! Samberific. I wasn’t the only one who loved his performance. “Boo-yah! Baby’s got bounce!” newly-engaged Carrie Ann yelped. “Mama, you must be so proud of him.” “I’m proud of you,” head judge Len approved. Bruno declared the dance “an uplifting expression of happiness.” “We’re going to the moon, ma!” Hines happily announced in the celebraquarium. “We’re on ‘Dancing with the Stars!’ ” Cut to his mother adorably bringing her hands to her mouth in surprise. Joyful tears all around!

Sharing in Hines’ triumph was Petra Nemcova. The supermodel really stepped up her game this week.  She chose Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up,” saying it gave her hope while revisiting Thailand after the tsunami, and gave her the courage to start the Happy Hearts Fund to rebuild schools after natural disasters. Her resulting waltz with Dmitry Chaplin was as beautiful and as uplifting as the back story that accompanied it. “It had grace, it had elegance,” Len said, declaring this routine his favorite of the night. “Petra, you’re like a vision from heaven, and you dance like an angel,” Bruno said. “Your beauty is great, but your heart is more.” Carrie Ann agreed: “Your heart was all over the movement,” she said. “You’ve gone from supermodel to super-great inspirational dancer.”

Locked in a two-way tie for 3rd and 4th place were Kendra Wilkinson & Louis Van Amstel and Chelsea Kane & Mark Ballas. Kane’s personal song was a no-brainer: It was, aptly, “Chelsea,” written expressly for her by her first love, Brian Dales of the rock band the Summer Set. But that sweet story and accompanying cha cha were nearly eclipsed by pro partner Mark’s uncanny ability to shake his hips and be, according to Kane, “a better girl than I am.” Both Kane and Ballas were also intent on restoring the judges’ confidence in them after their risky jive from last week, which they did (it also helped that Kane did more than her part by wearing a barely-there gold fringe bra top and mini). “Sexy sexy!” appraised Bruno. “I could really feel that excitement running through you. … Tasty Tasty. And a great cha cha.” “I’m a great fan of love and romance, and I’m a big fan of that cha cha!” lauded Carrie Ann, who dubbed Kane a little baby Julianne Hough, but told her to work more on her hip action. The dance prompted Len to recall his first love, Sally Frostyknickers. Kane’s first love not only was a sweet story, but it got her and Ballas a happy ending with the judges, earning a 23 for their performance. “Now I have another awesome memory to go with that song,” she exclaimed. Good times!

Wilkinson and Van Amstel did a bedroom dance, set to Musiq Soulchild’s “You and Me,” as a symbol of Wilkinson’s relationship with NFL star Hank Baskett. And it was sweet of Baskett and their son, Hank IV, to come visit during rehearsals. “I’m the happiest person because of my husband and because of my son,” Wilkinson said. To which Baskett replied, “I’m honored she chose me to be her husband.” Awww. Though try as it might, not even the smoke monster could get in the way of Wilkinson and Van Amstel’s rumba (“Last time we get a smoke machine at the yard sale,” Tom zinged). After what seemed like a small eternity, she finally made it out of the fog and into Van Amstel’ arms. I thought the dance was good, but a bit wobbly and detached. Clearly, though, I missed something in the ballroom, because the judges were feeling the heat. Len praised Wilkinson’s “beautiful feet” and “gorgeous leg action.” Bruno said there was no shame in “a good stripper,” and he might become one himself. Of the dance, he said it was “teasingly erotic … they are turning purple out there.” Carrie Ann said it wasn’t just the men who got excited out there. “That was hot hot hot,” she fanned. Holla! Total: 23.

Then came the bottleneck of 21 scores. It was hard not to get misty-eyed at Chris Jericho’s “Let it Be” routine, dedicated to his mother who passed away in 2005.  Particularly when the erstwhile Chris Irvine was so vulnerable and matter-of-fact with his emotions during the rehearsal segment. “I love her and I miss her every day,” he said. His and Cheryl Burke’s resulting rumba was a loving homage to her memory, set to the Beatles classic that was also played at her funeral. It’s nice to think maybe the pro wrestler agreed to be on this show because of his mother, whom he said loved dancing shows like “Solid Gold” in the ’80s. “That was a beautiful tribute to your mom,” Carrie Ann said tearily. “Your hip action: a little strange. But emotionally: amazing.” Len said Irvine’ lines were excellent, though he lost his fluidity throughout the upper body through the arms. Bruno loved the great sense of warmth the wrestler brought to the dance. Total: 21.

Ralph Macchio chose “Stay Gold” for his personal dance, a song that had a double meaning. First, it was the theme song from the seminal movie “The Outsiders,” which launched the actor’s career. Secondly, it was the song played at his and wife Phyllis’ wedding, the anniversary of which they were celebrating this week. And while there was no denying Macchio’s dedication to and love of his wife, there was some question, at least on the judges’ part, about his dedication to his rumba with Karina Smirnoff. Len thought the routine was crisp and clear, but needed “a tad of refinement.” Bruno, again, pointed out Macchio’s “spatula” hands, and said the actor danced like he didn’t know what to do with Smirnoff. Carrie Ann thought it was “very sweet,” but told Macchio to “work a little bit on your core strength.” Total: 21.

We all know that in live shows, anything can happen. But with produced shows such as this, one never expects things to actually happen that aren’t really supposed to happen? Even the dramatic announcements and surprise eliminations have a planned air about them. So it was with genuine surprise and disbelief that we saw Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy take that tumble at the beginning of their rumba routine, set to Israel Kamakawio’ole’s sweet version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” My heart just about stopped when I saw them lose their footing, and then had its own muscle strain when I saw Maks wince from the pain and take some counts to recover. But I have to say, to see them get it back together and dance gorgeously made the routine all the more moving. It was, as Carrie Ann said, magical. “It’s not about how you fall, it’s about how you get up,” Tom relayed. Alley had chosen the “Wizard of Oz” song to illustrate the “agony and ecstasy” of a 72-hour period in 1980 when an accident claimed the life of her mother and nearly killed her father, and she ended up getting her first Hollywood role. But the judges seemed to pick up more on the poignancy of the immediate moment. “Sometimes tragedy leads to amazingly beautiful moments,” said Carrie Ann. “Dancing is a bit like life — it’s about overcoming adversity,” Len said sagely. “You got up, you dusted yourself off, and you got stronger.” “You can’t keep good talent down,” Bruno stated. “Because once you got up it was better than ever.”  I can’t state enough how much I love Alley and Maks together. Just hope Maks is OK enough to stay with her and continue baring his chest in the competition. Total: 21.

Romeo chose Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” for his rumba with Chelsie Hightower, dedicating it to the memory of his cousins Fred and Lance, young boys who tragically had their lives cut short. It was a personal song in a personal moment, and Romeo got caught up in the emotions and took it out on his high-heeled “leprechaun” shoes. Ultimately, however, he delivered a lovely dance, heels and all, with Hightower the angel on his shoulder. “You really put your heart and soul into it, and it showed,” Bruno said, though he pointed out that Romeo’s “leg placement wasn’t quite right.” Carrie Ann liked the way the recording artist “committed emotionally throughout the dance.” Len, however, thought this week was “a huge step back.” (To which Tom declared, “Later tonight, Len goes to the Wizard for a heart.” Ha!) Still, Romeo’s attitude was great. “This song, I felt I couldn’t go wrong, even if I messed up,” he said. Total: 20, but let’s give him extra credit for his big booming heart, shall we? 

Sugar Ray Leonard was a bit battered after sweating it out under the heat lamps of doom during last week’s elimination hour. As an underdog in the competition, the six-time boxing champ chose Bobby Brown’s “My Prerogative” — the theme for his comeback fight — to stage his own comeback on the dance floor with Anna Trebunskaya. In the words of special guest announcer Michael Buffer, “Let’s get ready to paso!” And Leonard’s boxing-themed paso doble had some punch, though I daresay more of it came from fierce Trebunskaya than Leonard (except for that upper cut on the punching bag at the end, which proved he was still a contender). “Sugar Ray, the raging bullfighting spirit got you back in business!” Bruno ole’d, though he cautioned the boxer to “refine your Spanish lines and thrust your hips forward.” Carrie Ann said she definitely saw improvement. “You made some lines, you extended, you took some control,” she said. Len said he came back stronger and fought back. Total: 20.

Wendy Williams was all about strength  and her tenacity to establish herself as a radio and media star, and everything she said was declared with such confidence and strength. If only she could transfer that into her dancing (“Pose me, Tony!”). But as it turned out, the song, Indeep’s “Last Night a DJ Saved My Life,” was a bit soft, and so was this dance, with hardly a nod to her strength and perseverance aside from those unapologetic gropes of Tony Dovolani’s booty to bookend the routine. Len thought the dance about Williams' struggle was “a struggle” that “lacked fluidity.” “It was a dance suited for the radio,” he said sadly. Bruno mostly agreed: the fox trot is supposed to be long and fluid, and “at times it looked like you put down roots.” Carrie Ann gave Wendy props for being a woman who has courage and follows her dreams, but felt the tawk show host took “a little step backwards” with her routine this week. At least Tony “made a great choreograph.” Total: 15.

Which puts the tawk show host in a grievous five-point deficit come eliminations on Tuesday night.

What do you think, ballroom fans? Were you impressed with the gamut of emotions displayed in the ballroom on Monday? What was your favorite dance of the week? Who’s your pick to go home? Will Maks’ injury hamper him from continuing on in the competition? Finally, which star videotaped him/herself in the buff during rehearsals?

-- Allyssa Lee

Related:

‘Dancing With the Stars’ results recap: The first cut is the deepest

‘Dancing With the Stars’ recap: Jive or die time

Complete ‘Dancing With the Stars’ coverage on Show Tracker

Photo credit: Bob D'Amico / ABC

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