'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Instant dance - just add music
Can you believe we’re at the eighth week of “Dancing With the Stars’” 12th season? The semifinals are within spitting distance, and as host Tom Bergeron said during his voice-over introduction, “the only theme this week is STRESS!” Each couple had the Herculean task of preparing one individual dance and one (gasp) Instant Dance. Yes, it’s the return of the deliciously unpredictable insta-dance, where each couple received their second routine’s music a mere half-hour before they had to perform. No time to prepare! Everything to lose! Destination: Horror!
Actually, I thought the couples acquitted themselves quite nicely in their routines. There were no dynamite insta-breakouts like Kyle Massey from last season, and barring an unfortunate injury, I thought each star upped his or her game.
Back at the top of the leader board were…
Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas. And I liked how Chelsea got right in Mark’s face and talked out her frustrations about Mark’s peevish behavior. Chelsea maintained her image of civility and good cheer and Mark got his diaper changed. And look where it got them — back to first place! After the heart-to-heart, Mark had an attitude adjustment and realized that he was the frame and Chelsea was the art (not the other way around), and their waltz was made all the better for it. Employing nifty special effects (ooh, look! A wave washing over them!) Chelsea and Mark portrayed a glamorously shipwrecked (yet modern) couple who found love, blue-lagoon style. And as if to go along with the castaway theme, cameras panned to yet another “American Idol” castoff, Casey Abrams, in the studio audience (could Mark be dating him as well?) as well as Chelsea’s Disney Channel costar Nick Jonas. Len liked the dance overall, though he thought it was “a bit theatrical for my taste.” Bruno, however, thought it was “fa-bu-lous,” and thought Mark found “the perfect setting for Chelsea to shine like a precious jewel.” Carrie Ann thought perfection was completely and totally earned. Both she and Bruno gifted the couple with 10s for the highest Season 12 score evah!
For their instant dance, Chelsea and Mark enlisted the expertise of fellow Disney Channel star, Season 11 finalist and Insta-dance maven Kyle Massey, who did his part by barking out ever-helpful commands like “I need more hotness!” Their insta-dance salsa, set to Sean Paul’s “Get Busy” was like a summer street party scene from “In the Heights,” with Mark doing his Lin-Manuel Miranda impression (with green socks) and Chelsea in a bra top and those ubiquitous pipe cleaner carwash pants (this time in white). I thought Chelsea looked a bit tentative at first, and sure enough, Tom pointed out that there was a jump in the music cue at the routine’s outset (prompting Len to applaud, “very observant, Tom…A man your age!”). Bruno said Chelsea and Mark set the bar very very high” and “the difficultly was incredible.” Though I agreed with Carrie Ann when she said it was a “great performance,” but she “didn’t feel a connection to the music.” Chelsea and Mark got a whopping 29 for their waltz and a 26 for their salsa. Total: 55 out of 60.
These pros are really throwing their weight around this season. Step this way. Turn this way. Propose to me at Central Park with this ring while doing the fox trot! At least, that was Kym Johnson’s directive to football star Hines Ward. And their resulting routine, danced to “Everlasting Love,” was a great creamy swirl of delight that ended with Hines on one knee slipping Kym a ginormously blingy “DWTS”-sanctioned ring. “Yes! Yes! Yes! I’ll have it!” assented Bruno. Though it wasn’t just the bauble that had him smitten: the dance had the judge at hello with the park bench homage to 1953’s “The Band Wagon” with Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire. Carrie Ann, however, didn’t see lithe Fred Astaire in “little cheesy” Hines (one of his 57 varieties) — she saw a burly Gene Kelly. “You’re such a guy’s guy,” she said. The Pittsburgh Steeler’s nacho ordinary fox trot also had Len making romantic fromage overtures. “Your dancing has such great appeal,” the head judge said. “If that’s cheese, I love it.” Their insta-jive was also a hoot. I’m glad Hines got over his stress and was really able to relax into the routine. Sure, he was flat-footed (Bruno likened him to a “penguin”), but wasn’t it also great fun? Plus, Kym looked like she was channeling Barbara Eden with her bangs and ponytail. Hines and Kym got a 28 for their fox trot, and a 26 for their jive. Total: 54.
Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy needed to work out some of their kinks. Kirstie thought the Argentine tango had “enough steps there to stomp out all the cockroaches in New York.” She wasn’t eating, and that lack of energy caused her to loose her footing, resulting in some unsightly falls. Luckily, they were able to work through the issues during rehearsals to deliver a polished, intense Argentine tango that was crisp and clean and featured a newly chastened smoke machine (and yay, lifts!). Front-row audience members Kathy Najimy and Kristen Chenowith were fans. Bruno thought Kirstie delivered “just the right amount of passion to lead him into the ultimate seduction,” he said. “Plus, your footwork was brilliant!” Carrie Ann admired Kirstie’s movement quality. “I actually felt like I saw real life acted in front of me.” Len said they “captured that feeling.” Plus, “it was hot,” the head judge said. “I’m surprised Maks only took his hat off.” You and me both, Len. You and me both.
Turned out Maks was saving the good stuff for the insta-dance, baring his chest down to there and trotting out those treasured form-fitting pants, for a salsa set to “Cobrastyle” by Teddybears featuring Mad Cobra (never heard of them, either). I thought this insta-dance had the best energy and attitude of them all. Bruno said it was “smooth and slow” with “lovely arm passes” but Kirstie “lost sync three times.” Carrie Ann, however, thought “they were totally in sync.” She also loved Kirstie and Maks’ chemistry, “because there’s so much tension going on, it’s riveting to watch.” Len conceded that this was a slower salsa, but Kirstie “showed rhythm,” he said. “Your hips were moving; it was oily.” No doubt enhanced by those slick fringed leggings! Like long hairy legs, but so much more fun. Kirstie and Maks got a 28 for their Argentine tango (including their first 10!), and a 25 for their salsa. Total: 53.
Romeo had a lot to prove after he plummeted from first to last place in the course of a week. But last week’s stinky samba was officially deigned a long-lost memory after this week’s tango, which could also have been titled “Step Up II: Tango With a Vengeance.” To be fair, credit had to be given to pro partner Chelsie Hightower, who battled through choreographer’s block and gamely put on a skin-tight screaming fire engine red vinyl outfit with knee-high boots, black bunting in her bustle, and a slit up to there to allure viewers. And everything that was wrong with the samba last week was righted this time around. Romeo and Chelsie’s tango was tight and intense and right on the money. “Someone’s in it to win it!” Carrie Ann extolled. “When you’re in it, I cannot take my eyes off of you.” Bruno said Romeo was “strong, dark, handsome, convincing in leading the tango,” he said. “You’ve done marvels!”
The multi-hyphenate Romeo was looking forward to the insta-dance salsa. His movie “Jumping the Broom” had come out, and he wanted to celebrate. Chelsie smartly took Romeo out salsa dancing to get him used to dancing to different tunes. She also did what she could in a barely-there fringe skirt and a fun Flashdance-y sparkle top, and by making great big twirly motions on the floor. Carrie Ann thought the routine was “very casual” and felt a bit out of sync at the end. But Len, God bless him, was hip to their vibe. “You’re the cool dude, she’s the hot chick, and you danced!” the head judge grooved. “I was with it!” Romeo and Chelsie received a 27 for their tango and a 25 for their insta-salsa. Total: 52.
Oh, no, Daniel-san! It was like life imitating art. Just like in “The Karate Kid,” Ralph Macchio has been hobbled by a leg injury. Only, instead of being swept in the leg by Cobra Kai Johnny, he’d been beset by a ruptured cyst behind his knee. Not only did it feel like a knife stabbing him in the leg, but the injury waxed off his and Karina Smirnoff’s rehearsal time from the usual 40 hours to a mere 9. But pain does not exist in this ballroom, does it? (No, Sensei!) And like Daniel, Ralph soldiered on like a champion, piling on the guyliner and performing an admirable Viennese waltz despite his considerable pain. Len said Ralph had “good hold in posture” but it “lacked polish.” Bruno said it was “fascinating, mesmerizing, dangerous creatures of the night” and went off on some tangent about “vampire lovers…am I going to kill you, or love you?” Carrie Ann said Ralph was inspirational, and that he performed the dance “with grace” and “elegance.”
Poor Ralph was more of an underdog with the insta-dance. He and Karina had absolutely zero rehearsal time for their second dance, and had to depend on the scant amounts of cha-cha training that he had before his injury and a cup of hot water to flesh out this cup o’ballroom steps into a real meal. If Ralph ever needed to break out the crane move, it would be now. And while he smiled all the way through the routine, set to “Stuck in the Middle With You,” there wasn’t enough hip work to earn him the high scores that he had hoped for. All the judges lauded Ralph’s tenacity — Len said he admired the movie star “for getting out there and never giving up,” but they all docked him for the lack of hip action. Still, Ralph received a standing ovation from the panel as he and Karina made their way to the celebraquarium. The duo received a 25 for their first dance, and a 21 for their second. Total: 46. Which puts him in the bottom slot and ripe for the picking.
What do you think, ballroom fans? Do you think Ralph should be saved by the viewers’ votes to dance to the semifinals? Who would you want to leave the competition instead? What would Mr. Miyagi do? Which was more pointless: Brooke Burke’s backstage interviews with the couples as they prepared their insta-dance, or that swath of fabric dangling from her left shoulder? Discuss.
Photo credit: Romeo and Chelsie Hightower; Maksim Chmerkovskiy and Kirstie Alley: Adam Taylor / ABC