'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Bid for greatness
“Dancing With the Stars” Season 12 continued its themed shows and also made its bid for dancing legitimacy by hosting its first-ever “Ballroom Greats” week. And there was a lot of dancing muscle flexed on Monday night: Most decorated Latin dancer of all time and ballroom’s Tiger Woods, Donnie Burns (who gave off major Siegfried, of Siegfried and Roy, vibes), wedged his way up to the paddle podium alongside Carrie Ann, Len and Bruno as an honorary judge, while esteemed world champs Shirley Ballas (Mark’s mum) and Luca Baricchi lent coaching support to the remaining six couples during rehearsals.
We also were treated to pro dances from ballroom champions Riccardo Cocchi and Yulia Zagoruychenko, who not only gifted us with a samba with eye-popping rolls but the mind-blowing possibility of matching the sparkle on her hair to the shimmery fringe on her sparkly top. And pros Arunas Bizoka and Katusha Demidove alternated moves of violence and love with the tango.
This week was also the first of the season where each couple had to dance two dances! In a subtle yet still colorful change-up, the program saw the team dances perform first and the individual dances came afterward. Maybe because neither team dance had the wow factor to close out the show. Plus, both teams received exactly the same score for the judges, so there was no advantage to being on either side.
Team Chelsea danced first, and consisted of Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas, Romeo and Chelsie Hightower, and Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff. The clearly younger and hipper group decked themselves in leather and bondage and danced to Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way.” Cha cha virgin and group elder statesman Ralph Macchio had a lot of prove, but I thought he kept up very nicely. So did most of the judges. Len thought it was a “terrific job,” Bruno loved the “Gaga cha cha cha” but thought the group “lost sync” a number of times. Carrie Ann thought they did very well as a group, and Ralph more than held his own among all the young whippersnappers. Donnie Burns thought Ralph “fluffed a little bit of the footwork, but it didn’t affect the team formations at all, so I’ll buy it.” Total: 30 out of 40.
Then came Team Hines, who Chelsie snarkily dismissed as “a bunch of old parents.” And sure, the team consisting of Hines Ward and Kym Johnson, Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, and Kendra Wilkinson and Louis Van Amstel may have had more age points than Team Chelsea, but they certainly gave the other team a run for their money in terms of immaturity. First, Kirstie and Maksim were like the too-cool-for-school-students who didn’t do their solo dance homework assignment. Then, Kendra let out her silent assassin, passing gas while in the formation line. But their cha cha outfits were a lot more conservative than the other team’s, opting for brown satin with pink trim, and shiny pink sparkles with fringe. Team Shaking Our Butts R Us also unveiled their secret weapon of shimmying everything that was worth shaking, and I thought their movements and sync were a lot better than Team Chelsea. Indeed, Bruno said “the transition between patterns was very seamless,” Carrie Ann thought Kirstie’s arms were a hair late, but her solo was “on fire” and Len likened Kendra’s shaking to a “James Bond martini.” But Donnie didn’t like that the fact that the couples weren’t equidistant. “I like the pink one!” exclaimed my 3 1/2-year-old niece, but the judges were split on their decision, and Team Hines was also awarded 30 out of 40 points, which evened out the playing field.
So it was up to the individual dances to determine each contestant’s standing. And it’s like a game of musical chairs with how much these stars step in and out of their different rankings. Regaining their lead atop this week’s scoreboard were…
Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff! Ralph has been lying in wait for a comeback for a while. And just like his wax-on, wax-off Daniel-san alter ego, Ralph’s patience finally paid off. If there were aches and pains and creaky knees screaming out of that 49-year-old body (“This dance is like a torture chamber”), the Karate Kid didn’t show it during his quickstep, a fun, roaring ’20s-themed romp with him in gangster wear and Karina in a flapper/Pocahontas outfit with a feather in her headband. Their routine moved across the floor with a pleasant aplomb and ended with a toast and a quickie behind the bar at the end. Cheers! “You started vertical and finished horizontal, so it had to be good,” said Donnie. “The way you articulated your feet was fabulous this week. I thought you two rocked.” Len liked the energy, thought the footwork was clear and crisp, but said the upper body was a little bit loose. The routine was more than just a quickstep for Bruno, “it was how to grab a quick one,” he raved. “That was so vivid, so vibrant.” “Boo-yah!” Carrie Ann exulted. “This is the way I want to see you attack this competition.” Ralph and Karina got their very first 10 paddle of the season, for a score of 36 out of 40, and 66 out of 80 total.
Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward likes playing characters, so he was able to channel his inner silent assassin and James Bond for his tango with Kym Johnson. And he got lessons on how to be a proper man (violent, but still in love) during the dance from Luca (“You’re the man”) He also got extra support bussed in. From Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, who looked like he could take out the entire judges’ table with his left pinkie if they ever crossed him. Initially, I liked Hines’ attack, and Kym’s sweep of the skirt, and how her dress made her look like a fully clothed tango dancer on one side and a thong-wearing harlot on the other. But like Kym’s bipolar dress, Len said the dance was a “mixture.” The head judge also had mixed metaphors in his description of Hines, calling the silent assassin a tiger, and also a “pickle -- sharp and tangy.” Ultimately, however, he said the dance was “a bit too dainty for me.” Bruno, on the other hand, liked the way Hines played it: “Big, strong, masterful, determined,” he said. “Yet you managed to retain the slinky smooth action of a hunter underground going for the kill.” Carrie Ann hit it on the head when she said she felt Hines was “off balance at points.” Donnie expounded on Carrie Ann’s critique, saying that technically, “it was a little like American Airlines -- you were trying to fly there.” Still Hines managed to take a bite out of the pickle while attacking like a tiger and navigating that plane to safety. He also nabbed his first 10 this week, from an animalistic Bruno, and tied Ralph with a score of 36. Total: 66.
Chelsea Kane & Mark Ballas continued their search for perfection with the paso doble this week. A stern Shirley Ballas nearly chewed the Disney Channel star up and spit her out, in an attempt to scare up some intensity. And there was tons of intensity in hers and Mark Ballas’ paso, which was decked in leather, lace, thigh-high boots and copious amounts of eyeliner, and brandished with a stern “don’t smile” admonition. The audience (including “American Idol’s” Pia Toscano) liked it, but the judges were split on this one. Bruno called it a Quentin Tarantino paso, and said he liked how Lacy Lady came out and “danced with violent intensity.” Carrie Ann loved how the routine was totally progressive and pushing the boundaries. The elders Len and Donnie were a bit confused by all the non-paso shenanigans. Len thought it had “too much aggression, “was too much in my face” and “lacked some refinement about it.” Donnie thought it was more Hell’s Angels than matador. The criticism sent guylined Mark into an angst-filled tantrum, and he delivered a below-the-belt gesture on the way to the celebraquarium that cannot be described in this blog. “I think there was plenty of paso in there,” he fumed to Brooke Burke. Still, Chelsea and Mark received a 34 for their routine. Total: 64.
Kendra Wilkinson tried to make dancing hay while the sun still shone on her shimmery samba from last week. Pro partner Louis Van Amstel said it was “do or die time,” and became positively Van Aggressive with the harder choreography in this week’s tango. Luca came to help, and told Kendra to feel the dance, deal with the mistakes, and not be so stiff. And while I thought she still had a bit of rigor mortis in her routine (which was done in a distractingly big, bright poof of a skirt), the judges seemed to like it well enough. Bruno said Kendra has “never looked more elegant and ladylike, but still sexy,” though he warned her not to hang onto her partner too much. “You don’t really want him. Let him chase you,” he recommended. Carrie Ann said she was so proud. Donnie praised her performance despite the “massively difficult” content. Len thought the dance was “clean and clear” but could be “a tad more crisp.” And that she’s got “to lift it to shift it.” Kendra and Louis received a 31 for their tango, for a total of 61.
Donnie saw something special in Kirstie Alley. Sure, there were some kerfuffles in her jive with Maksim Chmerkovskiy, but the guest judge said the talent lay in between the steps, and “what you have is a talent in between the steps, and you fit it with who you are.” And it’s true: Kirstie’s got personality and a natural ease that goes on for days, and after a frustrating rehearsal week, it was evident that this was a girl who just wanted to have fun with Maks at the sock hop to the tune of “La Bamba,” steps be damned. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of technique going on, and the regular judges took the actress to task for it. “There wasn’t enough of the jive,” complained Carrie Ann, who also pointed out that Kirstie and Maks’ side-by-side “went completely out of sync.” Len said “as a jive, it was most uneventful. … your kicks were leaden.” Still, Bruno couldn’t deny the routine’s high entertainment factor: “Your musicality and your instinct are absolutely on the money all the time.” Donnie, however, still bought the dance, and got the award for most poignant advice in a mostly-ridiculous show about ballroom: “Don’t ever forget you were a star before you even got here.” Wow. Kirstie and Maks received a very disparate 30 for their dance. Total: 60.
Despite Shirley Ballas’ hip-shaking efforts to get him to “shake and bake” to a Latin beat and the recording artist’s proclamation that he’s “throwing a samba party” in both his shoes and his pants, Romeo’s resulting dance with Chelsie Hightower decidedly lacked that Brazilian party flair. During this South Pacific beach-party-themed dance, the “naughty boy” was more intent on doing his own reggaeton bump and grind in a tight wifebeater and military cap, so it was up to Chelsie to twirl and samba around him. And based on the judges’ remarks, the tiki statues in their routine worked more like the cursed idol that Bobby found while the Brady Bunch were on their Hawaiian vacation than any sort of immunity god. “Baby, you might have a party in your pants,” a now-warmed up Donnie said, “but you have an earthquake in your shoes.” “There was a lot of bounce going on, but I don’t think it was sending the samba message,” cautioned Carrie Ann. “The hottest thing about the dance was the fire,” Len cranked. “You talked the talk, but you didn’t dance the dance.” And while there was a paddle mishap on Donnie’s part while announcing the scores, ultimately, Romeo and Chelsie ended up with a low 30 for their samba, for a total of 60.
What do you think, ballroom fans? Who deserves the ax come Tuesday night? How about those Ballroom Greats? Think the contestants can benefit from legendary tutelage week in and week out? Does Ralph and Karina’s 10 count if it’s given by a guest judge?
-- Allyssa Lee
Photo credit: Karina Smirnoff and Ralph Macchio: Adam Taylor / ABC