Published March 31, 2009
Tonight’s episode of “Dancing With the Stars” boasted a lot of firsts: Gilles Marini got the first perfect 30 score of the season; the show debuted two new dances, the Lindy hop and the Argentine tango; and judge Bruno Tonioli got to break out his trademark post-10 fist-pump move.
For some reason, all that novelty sent everyone into a tizzy: The judges’ verdicts were particularly overwrought, and suddenly, for the first time in eight seasons, the dancers became self-conscious about rubbing each other’s private parts.
But at least one thing didn't change: The two Steves, Wozniak and –O, remained at the bottom of the judges’ leaderboard.
Not to put a damper on all the excitement, but this whole “brand-new dance” thing was a bit of a scam. You have to strain to see the difference between the Argentine tango and the “ballroom tango,” which the show has been featuring for years. And only an expert could distinguish the Lindy hop from either the jitterbug or the West Coast swing, both of which have been performed before on the show.
Asked by host Tom Bergeron to explain what sets the new dances apart, judge Len Goodman said the difference between the Argentine tango and the ballroom tango is that in the former the dancers can break frame and either go cheek to cheek or let the girl run free. Then even Len seemed to mix up the Lindy and the jitterbug.
Anyway, moving along, the first of the 11 couples to compete were David Alan Grier and Kym Johnson, who were coming off their best score yet. Apparently having a senior moment, DAG said, “I felt like, um, what’s that chick who won the Oscar? You like me!” To teach him their dance, Kym took him to something called Lindy Groove, in Pasadena, Calif., filled with young couples vigorously dancing to a swing beat. The sign saying Lindy Groove was just letters projected on a wall. Do you think it’s really called Jitterbug Groove or West Coast Swing Groove and they hastily made that sign to go along with the spurious “new dance” theme?
Grier made up a little rhyme: “DAG is here to stay/He’s not going away/He is going to dance till his hair turns gray,” he recited, sounding a little like, um, what’s that guy who won the heavyweight boxing championship three times? Though DAG didn’t quite float like a butterfly, his Lindy was athletic, building in energy nicely toward his climactic cartwheel.
Len and Bruno, however, thought David’s footwork was off, giving him 7’s to Carrie Ann’s 8. (Len actually gave him a “sev-EN!” That’s Len’s customary way of saying, “My score is 7. It is the correct score. There will be no questions.”)
Cohost Samantha Harris, who was losing her voice progressively throughout the show, was apparently a little feverish. She unwisely tried to match Tom witticism for witticism. After prompting DAG to sing again, she said, “And the Broadway musical version of that coming to a theater near you,” then talked through the laugh that didn’t come.
The wacky factor kicked up a notch with the evening’s first Argentine tango. Derek Hough made a big deal of how he didn’t know this dance and would have to learn it along with his partner, Lil’ Kim. (He’s performed a “ballroom tango” at least twice on the show in previous seasons.) Benefiting from a nice instrumental, Lil’ Kim looked sophisticated and graceful, if a little hesitant, in a subtly choreographed routine.
Turning to the judges, Tom said, “Bruno, you’re already wound up to go.” “Am I just!” exclaimed Bruno, hovering over the table. “That was more than a tango. That was the tale of a fatal beauty. Enticing strangers, with the promise of forbidden pleasure.” “Is it just me,” said Tom, “or is Bruno starting to look like a really tan Bela Lugosi?” (No, it’s not just you, Tom: Both you and Bruno are starting to look like a really tan Bela Lugosi.) Carrie Ann praised Kim’s “incredible transformation,” saying she looked four inches taller.
“I wasn’t so impressed with the sensuality of the dance,” said Len. “The tango is about Buenos Aires, about a bar, smoke filled, small room, sensual, quiet, passionate, then a quick fiery moment, and then back into the passion.” For a moment, it seemed as if we were going to lose Len entirely, but Carrie Ann and Bruno pulled him back by saying they found the dance plenty passionate. Carrie Ann gave them a 9, Len an 8, and Bruno a 10, with that aforementioned triumphant fist pump. In her interview with Samantha, Lil’ Kim admitted she had a hard time getting into the seriousness of the dance. “I smell a lot,” she admitted. Or did she say, “I smile a lot”?
Julianne Hough, who also smiles a lot, had a problem with her partner in life and dance, country singer Chuck Wicks. Throughout their rehearsal footage, they struggled with his fear that he would fall on his head if she flipped him. On camera, they agreed to drop the flip. This cast a pall over their cute Lindy routine, in which they were dressed like diner staffers. Carrie Ann said it was “good” (giving it an 8); Len said it was competent (“sev-EN!”). “Pizza to go, please,” said Bruno, trying very hard, “but can I have it crispier?” (7.)
Samantha praised Chuck for showing his “vulnerable side.” “Is there something wrong with having a problem falling on your head?” he replied sensibly. “It hurts.”
Lawrence Taylor, after hearing about how sensuous the Argentine tango is, was a little nervous. “I’ll still be married after this dance, right?” he asked his partner, Edyta Sliwinska, who replied, “We’ll see.” (Edyta, you minx.) Supposedly because he needed to see how the tango is done but probably because he wanted a chaperone, Lawrence told her to bring in her husband, dancer Alec Mazo, to demonstrate the moves. “We brought in A MAN to show him how it’s done,” Edyta told the camera, showing Lawrence where he can stick those fantasies.
The actual routine was anticlimactic, with Lawrence basically just standing there while Edyta did all the tricky leg moves. Evidently, lifts are legal in the Argentine tango too. “Good news and bad news,” Tom told Lawrence at the end. “Your wife’s on the phone.”
Once again the tango got the judges all worked up. “It lacked any passion,” said Len. “And you looked uncomfortable doing it throughout the dance.” Bruno somehow disagreed: “I thought you were menacing, intense,” he said, although he did criticize Lawrence’s clumsy footwork. “You need to stalk like a panther,” said Len, interrupting, “stalking its prey.” “You looked like you were almost a little afraid of Edyta’s sensuality,” said Carrie Ann, prompting Tom to ask, “Wouldn’t you be?” Carrie Ann and Bruno gave 7’s; Len just a 5, prompting gasps and prompting Tom to call Len “Little Lenny Hardbutt.”
When Tom introduced the segment on Ty Murray, the footage about Steve Wozniak began airing instead. Did the producers feel sorry for the ailing Samantha Harris and decide to have someone else screw up for once? Then Ty’s segment began; he and partner Chelsie Hightower spent a lot of time discussing how they would exploit Ty’s strength in their Lindy by doing a lot of lifts and flips.
Though the resulting routine was a little rough, it certainly had action. “Ty Murray is a dancer!” raved Carrie Ann, adding, “Wait till you see this score.” (Isn’t it better when the judges’ surprise us with scores that have little relation to what they said to the contestants?) “Hot dog and darn my britches!” said Len, trying to speak in language Ty could understand. Carrie Ann followed through with a 9; Len and Bruno gave 8’s.
People often say that if a performer is enjoying himself, the audience members will enjoy themselves too. Steve Wozniak disproves this every week. That said, how is he getting enough viewer votes to stay on the show? Is votefortheworst.com covering “DWTS” now?
Steve’s segment began with a shot of him leading a squadron of Segways down a street toward a bunch of fans, whom he hit on for votes. Tom pointed out that Steve’s score of 10 last week was “the lowest score we’ve seen since the infamous Master P refused to put on proper shoes.” Steve’s actual performance, however, was much more reminiscent of Tucker Carlson’s single performance in season 3, in which he sat on a chair for what seemed like forever. After Steve finally got out of his chair, he spent most of the tango clutching Karina Smirnoff like a squirrel on a greased pole. He’d spoken of his difficulty in maintaining a proper tango scowl, and sure enough, he broke out into a truly scary leer before sliding his thigh against Karina’s.
“It was really long,” said Carrie Ann, groping for words. “I’m trying to find something positive to say, and I’m still searching. . . . The leg rub—hot.”
“Last week was so terrible,” said Len, “almost anything that happened would be an improvement. But I’ve got to say to you, well done.” Bruno was inspired: “First let me say that we love you. Now I’m going to start. We all know that the tango originated in the gutters of Buenos Aires, but the only right thing you picked up from that is the stench. Because this really stunk.”
“Bruno,” said Woz, “I have three words: I’m still standing.” He’s just begging to be voted off, right? Somehow the audience remained on his side, booing after each of the judges gave him a 4.
Still a judges’ favorite, Melissa Rycroft (the “Bachelor” gal) had the night’s best rehearsal segments. First partner Tony Dovolani showed her how to do the kicks in the Lindy by having her try to kick off a piece of toilet paper stuck to her shoe. Then she made fun of the way Tony prances when he walks. Finally, Tony had to advise her to try to follow through more in a flip because her face wound up in his crotch, making both of them crack up. This after years of “DWTS” routines that have ended that way deliberately.
Their routine was entertaining and extremely athletic, described by Bruno as “truly, truly eye-poping fan!” (Or was that “eye-popping fun”?) He and Carrie Ann gave it a 10; fussy Len just a 9.
“Reality star” Holly Madison couldn’t catch a break. She said she’d injured her ribs last week and even hid in the bathroom to cry. But when she went to the doctor, he said she’d just pulled a muscle and could continue to dance. When she got on a stool at the start of her routine, it seemed that she might be pulling a Tucker Carlson, but she soon slipped off and began tangoing stiffly. Unfortunately, her best spins were when Dmitry Chaplin was twirling her around on the stool.
Bruno advised her to “drop the Barbie, bring out the vixen.” But it may be too late for Holly. Len said he noticed some improvement and thought he could see a light at the end of the tunnel, but it sounded like he was talking about elimination. A total score of 16 doesn’t bode well, especially if Holly does as poorly in the viewer votes as she evidently did last week.
Though Steve-O did surprisingly well with the viewers last week, he was having a crisis of confidence while practicing the Lindy. Fortunately, his partner, Lacey Schwimmer, was there to bring him a clown costume. Lest you think this was another far-fetched rehearsal-segment gimmick, it turns out Steve got his start in show business as a circus clown. Sure enough, once he put the costume on, he did some neat juggling and balancing tricks. Much happier, he told the camera, “I’ve got to get out there and say, ‘Gosh, dang, darn it, what the hey. I’m here to have fun.’ ” (If that doesn’t work, he could try saying, “Hot dog and darn my britches.”)
Sadly, Steve didn’t have much fun at all, dancing a full beat behind Lacey for much of their routine. The judges all pointed out that at least he didn’t forget any of his moves, as he had last week, and they gave him straight 5’s. “Same as last week—what were they thinking?” said Steve, laughing. (It was hard to guess which week he thought should have had a lower score.)
Somehow the Argentine tango made pro Cheryl Burke shy. “I’m gonna rub your butt with my leg,” she told her partner, Gilles Marini, in their rehearsal segment. (Cheryl, you minx.) After she did that, he said, “Mmm, I like that dance already.” (Mrs. Gilles was in the audience tonight.) When he became discouraged, Cheryl reminded him that he was the only actor performing a tango that night, and he agreed that that gave him an edge.
The real acting may have occurred when Gilles was pretending to be worried in rehearsal, because he and Cheryl nailed their routine. He actually performed some tricky leg moves on his own and stayed in sync with her even when the tempo sped up at the end.
During a lengthy standing ovation, Carrie Ann fanned herself with a book. Len launched into a rhapsody of how the routine covered every aspect of the tango. Bruno rose from his seat to declaim, “What you have here is the quintessential Latin lover. He does a tango with almost deadly animal magnetism.” When Tom told Carrie Ann she was blushing, she said, “I can’t feel my face. Am I still here? Jeez Louise.” Then, pointing to Gilles’ wife, she said, “Mrs.! Hoo-hoo. Lucky you.” Mrs. probably didn’t feel so lucky when Gilles said backstage of Cheryl, “It’s very easy to fall in love with her when you dance. I mean, in a very, you know, dance way.” Carrie Ann gave Gilles and Cheryl a 10; Len did a slow reveal on his 10; and Bruno gave the 10 with the now predictable fist pump.
It was also predictable that when gymnast Shawn Johnson got to do the Lindy, she would talk about the advantage her tumbling skills would give her. For no good reason, she took partner Mark Ballas to a gym to practice on a balance beam. The always dependable Mark showed up in a dorky gymnastics getup.
Shawn told the camera she was happy to do the Lindy because she didn’t have to pretend to be sophisticated. Not surprisingly, the routine was spectacular, full of flips and tricks. Unfortunately, as the judges pointed out, it wasn’t full of dance. Carrie Ann and Len gave them 8’s (the crowd greeted this with boos), and Bruno gave a 9 (yays!).
Throughout the show, Tom constantly reminded us that Tuesday night’s episode will feature the series’ “first ever midseason double elimination.” He concluded by saying, “Remember, there’s no crying in ballroom.” Still, if Holly and the Steves manage to avoid elimination, “DWTS” fans may shed a few tears of frustration.