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"Dancing with the Stars" - Episode 2 March 28th, 2011

Dancing With the Stars Episode 2 Critique

On Week 2 of Season 12’s Dancing With the Stars, the eleven contestants had to battle it out while performing the Jive and the Quickstep. Both of these dances are very physically challenging. As last week was just the premiere episode, no contestants were kicked off in between these two weeks. Tomorrow, the first star/pro team will be saying their farewells, which in essence means the show will get a little easier to watch.

As for a little background of the two dances we watched, I’ll start with the Quickstep. In the Standard 5-dance round, Quickstep is the final dance, designed to test the competitors’ endurance. Foxtrot, the Standard dance we watched last week, is the fourth dance (normally, except at the British Open Championships in Blackpool, England, the world’s most prestigious competition, where Foxtrot and Tango are swapped in the lineup). There are two different styles of Quickstep you’ll see on the competition floor: the Hoppy Quickstep, characterized by runs and flicks, jumps and kicks; and the Step and Swing Quickstep, wherein the choreography is based more off of the basic movement. The best dancers in the world will sway more to one or the other, although they will all do a little bit of both. Even though Quickstep is a fast-paced dance often associated with runs and hops while in a solid frame, Quickstep should not be “boppy”. In other words, the partnership should not bop up and down, as if you’re on a trampoline. When running or scattering down the floor, the feet should skim the surface, so that the action will create greater flight across the floor versus up and away from the floor. Quickstep, after all, originated as a faster version of Foxtrot. Leave the bops to Jive.

Which brings us to the Latin dance of this week, the Jive. Like Quickstep, Jive is placed at the end of the Latin 5-dance round, also designed to test the competitors’ endurance. Most often, Cha Cha (last week’s dance) is performed first. Jive is a derivative of Swing, the dance most people nowadays associate with Lindy Hop. Swing is really an umbrella term, encompassing East Coast Swing, which was the original version of Jive; West Coast Swing, the “slot” version of East Coast; Lindy Hop, that type of Swing most people think of whenever anyone says the word “Swing”; Jive, which is essentially East Coast done to a faster tempo and with stricter technique; and any other lesser known varieties such as Rock n’ Roll and Jitterbug. The competitive form of Jive was carried over to Europe by the American soldiers during World War II and further developed there, which helps explain why East Coast Swing and Jive nowadays look so different.

And on to the competitors. Like last week, I will critique the Latin competitors first, from order of lowest score to highest. For our first set:


Dancing the Jive

Mike Catherwood & Lacey Schwimmer

Score: Carrie Ann=6, Len=5, Bruno=6 for a total of 17 and a grand total of 30

I’d have to say he’s improved a lot. His posture is better and he didn’t look so awkward in his dance shoes. However, he still has a lot of work to do. His feet are terribly turned in, so much so that I found myself watching his toes instead of his kicks. He also had a difficult time performing some basic figures. Lacey choreographed a series of Overturned Fallaway Throwaways into Chicken Walks, in which Mike hardly took any steps. Unfortunately, Lacey didn’t really do her Chicken Walks either. So it was just a failed attempt at an otherwise easily recognizable figure.

I was unimpressed by the choreography, but I must blame that on the teacher. It didn’t do much to show off Mike’s talents.

I agreed with Bruno and Carrie Ann 100% throughout their criticisms of Mike. Len was a little nice. But then I listened closer. He is the master of the “compliment sandwich”! He started out by saying, “It’s better than last week”. Then he compared Mike to “a wasp at a picnic”, then reassured Mike that he was “smiling the whole way through”. That’s an awesome compliment sandwich!

Chelsea Kane & Mark Ballas

Score: Carrie Ann=6, Len=5, Bruno=7 for a total of 18 and a grand total of 39

I can hardly say anything about Chelsea. She performed her choreography very well, hit all of the lines, basically did everything she was supposed to do. In fact, she didn’t make any mistakes. Good job. So why the low score?.

Honestly, it’s her teacher’s fault. Mark, once again, failed to choreograph a dance and choreographed the song instead. He’s forgetting the most important thing: this is Ballroom Dancing! It’s not cabaret! Yes, the choreography hid Chelsea’s deficiencies marvelously, but it also hid what dance they were doing. I can’t call that a Jive. I would call it a cabaret with a couple of Jive steps in it. The judges agreed with me, but it was obviously not to Mark’s liking. In the back, he recounted all of the Jive figures. He counted up four… and two of them were not basic Jive figures. Mark, I have some news for you: if you can count the number of basic Jive steps on one hand, it’s not enough. Start choreographing Ballroom. Watching all of this cabaret is getting on my nerves.

I agreed with Len all the way through. One of Len’s best friends is also one of our coaches. His name is Michael Barr, a five-time World Standard Champion from 1981-1985. Len told Mark and Chelsea that “there was too much mucking about” and not enough dancing. I could almost hear Michael saying the exact same thing. Good dancing is good dancing. Bad choreography is bad choreography. There’s no more about it.

I really wanted Bruno to just shut up. He got on Chelsea about not pointing her feet. I don’t understand. He liked the style, and the style was very modern. She wasn’t supposed to point her feet. She was supposed to do the opposite. If he liked the style, why did he complain about her feet? And Carrie Ann basically complained about the choreography the whole time to Chelsea. I agreed with what Carrie Ann said, but why was she talking to Chelsea? That was all Mark’s fault.

I really don’t know how they were able to judge that. Chelsea performed well, but Mark messed up big.

Petra Nemcova & Dmitry Chaplin

Score: Carrie Ann=6, Len=6, Bruno=6 for a total of 18 and a grand total of 36

I want to like Petra. I really do. She’s beautiful in a natural sort of way. The ‘40s look really suits her, and she’s got these beautiful limbs that seem like they should just float in the air. But then she starts dancing, and I can’t help it. I simply don’t enjoy watching her.

She’s extremely unstable. She seems unable to use her feet to her advantage, and as a result they just end up looking like huge duck feet. Not once in that entire routine did she point her feet, and she can’t seem to keep her thighs together if her life depended on it. In Latin dancing, the girl’s thighs are supposed to cross and stay closed, almost as if she was dancing Latin while incorporating figures from “The Bathroom Dance” (that dance little kids do when they have to pee). Petra should seriously work on that.

The choreography was not bad. Her outfit at the beginning was stunning and fit her so beautifully. It’s really a shame Dmitry pulled it off, because the outfit underneath was hideous. Not only was it a couple of random blocks of color, but it did nothing to hide her gangly legs and feet. Besides, she didn’t have nearly enough tanning on.

I agreed with Bruno, she needs to work on her core. Carrie Ann couldn’t have been farther off. Yes, ok, she agreed with Bruno too, but she called Petra’s legs pretty. Petra’s legs were not pretty. They were awkward and reminded me of a gangly 12-year-old girl.  But Len is quickly becoming my hero. He gave yet another fantastic compliment sandwich: take a slice of “beautiful body” and a slice of “you looked good while doing it” and fill with a hearty helping of “very bad technique”. I love Len.

Sugar Ray Leonard & Anna Trebunskaya

Score: Carrie Ann=6, Len=5, Bruno=6 for a total of 17 and a grand total of 34

Sugar Ray did a very good Jive. But than a good Jive, he truly excels at the Boogie Woogie. He can really “get down with it”! He is a lot of fun to watch, not just because he dances better than he looks like he should, but because his face shows us how much fun he’s having while he’s dancing. Unfortunately for Sugar Ray (and for Carrie Ann), you get judged on how you dance, not how much fun your face is having. And while I am impressed with Sugar Ray time and again, he remains excruciatingly flat-footed. Also, the way he danced his Jive was simply too social. There’s nothing wrong with social, except that he’s dancing a competition. There was a little too much relaxed fun, and not enough urgency. Competitive dancing is difficult in the sense that the dancers must strike a balance between the urgency of a competition and the relaxed attitude of “I do this all the time”. Sugar Ray is a little too relaxed.

Len hit it right on the knob, and I guess Bruno and I were hooked up to a telepathic signal. Simeon started cracking up when Bruno began to talk, because it sounded like he was repeating me word for word. Carrie Ann… I suppose is content just watching Sugar Ray’s face. I won’t comment.

Ralph Macchio & Karina Smirnoff

Score: Carrie Ann=7, Len=7, Bruno=7 for a total of 21 and a grand total of 45

Ralph’s Jive was by far the best dance of the night. He was highly underrated by our three stooges behind the desk. His Jive actually looked like the sort of Jive you would see on the competition floor. Where Romeo and Hines both looked like syllabus level dancers, Ralph could easily have held his own in a Pre-Championship competition. I won’t say Championship, but he might be there by the end of the season. He was very brave to wear white shoes, which drew the attention to his feet. I thought his technique was very good, even if his legs did seem a little heavy during his kicks. The problem with his kicks was that he was kicking out. In Jive, you want to think about pulling the leg in and up, and the kick will take care of itself. Ralph made a common and oftentimes deadly mistake.

Regardless, he is my undisputed winner so far. Karina only helped him with her great choreography and her very attractive outfit.

Len said it was frantic, and Bruno reiterated it by advising Ralph to focus on his hands. Carrie Ann wanted him to punch his legs more. All of this was true, but was it necessary? For me, no. Those critiques are valid, of course, but Ralph’s dancing is not at a level where any of that is important. They were giving him advice that was far beyond his level. And I didn’t agree with their scores at all. He deserved a 23 to 24, in my book. If you think about it, Carrie Ann gave him the same score as Kendra, and there is very obviously NO comparison between the two. Ralph got screwed this week.


Dancing the Quickstep

Wendy Williams & Tony Devolani

Score: Carrie Ann=6, Len=5, Bruno=6 for a total of 17 and a grand total of 31

She has really improved a lot. Her posture looks better, she is lighter on her feet, and she is carrying her spine straighter. Her improvement reflects in her score. Tony is doing a very good job with her. Unfortunately, in ballroom dancing, we are most often judged by our faults, not our improvements. And Wendy still has a long way to go. She is terribly heavy, and poor Tony works so hard to move her around the floor. It can’t be easy. I’ve met Tony. He’s not a small guy. But Wendy is a big girl (not just in girth but in height and one structure as well) and she is obviously having a difficult time moving her mass across the floor. As in the Cha Cha, her inability to articulate her feet and ankles shows in her Quickstep, despite the long dress’s attempt to cover it up.

That said, Tony did a wonderful job with the choreography. It had the right mix of dancing in frame and out of frame. The side-by-side and out of Standard pieces fit beautifully with Wendy’s personality, and the actual figures were easy enough for Wendy to perform. Good job, Tony.

I agreed with all three of the judges, but had a good laugh at Len’s use of the word “economical” to describe Wendy’s movement. It was really the perfect word.

Kendra Wilkinson & Louis van Amstel

Score: Carrie Ann=7, Len=6, Bruno=6 for a total of 19 and a grand total of 37

There were no surprises here for Kendra’s Quickstep. She looked pretty much as I expected her to look – like a Bronze level dancer. (For those who don’t know, Bronze is the first level in competition, followed by Silver and Gold; Novice, Pre-Champ, and Championship make up the Open levels.) Her posture is awful; I get the sense those huge “chesticles”, as Len so beautifully called Kendra’s chest, are weighing her forward, so she has to strain her chin up and back, giving her an ugly curve in the back of her neck, just to make it seem like she’s extending. She definitely tried very hard, but unfortunately you could see it on her face. Her smile was manufactured, as plastic as her “chesticles”.

Louis put together a very good routine for Kendra. The playboy bunny has very little grace and ability, but Louis seems to be working well with what he got. Added together with the fact that the song ABC gave him was (once again) not a Quickstep, and I think Louis did really well.

Bruno had it right on, but I found myself rolling my eyes once again at Carrie Ann’s remarks. I don’t know if we were watching the same show, but she said Kendra had a lot of content in her routine, which just simply wasn’t true. Louis made an easy and slow routine, which was exactly what Kendra needed. If even that simple routine seemed like it was too much for Kendra, then unfortunately that is just testament to Kendra’s inability to dance.

Kristi Alley & Maksim Chmerkovsky

Score: Carrie Ann=7, Len=6, Bruno=7 for a total of 20 and a grand total of 41

Suffice it to say, Kirstie was not as good in her Quickstep as she was in her Cha Cha. She was far too upright in her upper back, giving me the impression that she was resting her cheek on Maks’s shoulder the whole time. In her frame, her right arm remained lifted and poised, but her left elbow continuously drooped below Maks’s arm like a soggy, wilted flower. It was a very good decision to leave her hair down, because it hid from the mass public Kirstie’s nonexistent extension and strained shoulders. That is something Kendra could have benefited from. That said, she and Maks were the only couple to actually dance a line move, and she did a very nice job with it. Yes, she tripped in the middle of the routine, getting her feet a little tangled with Maks, but I’m sure she didn’t need Carrie Ann to point it out. Since Kirstie was the one who tripped, I’m sure she knew about it herself.

Maks, very good choreography. And, if I might add, you frame surprised me. Very straight from elbow to elbow. As a Standard dancer, I’m impressed.

I agreed with all the judges had to say. Even Carrie Ann, although she seemed a little over-exuberant in her comment. I had to shield myself from the flare of her excitement. I guess Carrie Ann really likes Kirstie.

Chris Jericho & Cheryl Burke

Score: Carrie Ann=8, Len=7, Bruno=8 for a total of 23 and a grand total of 42

I was so shocked with Chris’s performance. He had a complete turnabout from last week! I was expecting his frame to be strained and up around his ears, but he managed to keep a more relaxed shoulder-line. Normally men have a more difficult time with Standard rather than Latin, but Chris seems to be the exception. He was much lighter on his feet and managed to use those stiff feet. I was impressed.

Finally, Cheryl choreographed a piece more suited to her partner. The beginning and ending on the loveseat was a nice touch, as well.

Len and Carrie Ann had it right on. I think I agreed with Bruno…. Actually I’m still confused with what Bruno said, but yeah… I think I agree.

Hines Ward & Kym Johnson

Score: Carrie Ann=8, Len=7, Bruno=8 for a total of 23 and a grand total of 44

I am impressed with Hines. He is surprisingly light on his feet for a football player. That said, I don’t think he deserved the score he got. I would have given him a score around 20 or so, but he got 23, and tied for the highest score of the night. Yes, I said he is light on his feet, but that is for what I know of football players. He is still a heavy dancer, with cowboy legs and flat feet. He did maintain a nice frame, which is more than I can say for some of the other men, but in my opinion he simply didn’t dance well enough to elicit this score.

Kym’s choreography for Hines was far too difficult. She gave him a Turning Lock to the Right, a difficult step for anyone in Quickstep, not just a beginner such as Hines. Instead of working on such difficult choreography, she should be focusing on the articulation of his feet.

I didn’t agree with what Bruno said, that Hines looked easy and light. In fact, I said exactly the opposite. Kym gave Hines some very difficult figures and it showed in Hines’s performance. Len was right, Hines maintained a beautiful frame. However, the final score was extremely forgiving.

Romeo & Chelsea Hightower

Score: Carrie Ann=7, Len=8, Bruno=8 for a total of 23 and a grand total of 42

I was very impressed with Romeo. I was expecting him to not be able to hold a frame. As it was, he did a nice job keeping his shoulders down and his elbows up. That said, there were some things that bothered me. The most annoying thing about Romeo was his flat-footedness (as normal) and his right hand. It was flailing around on her back, as if he had a huge open wound that the fake tan would infect. I try not to be too picky when it comes to the stars, as they are basically beginners, so I stick to complaining about things that really bother me. Usually I wouldn’t pick on a guy’s right hand until a higher level, but it annoyed me enough to want to say something.

The rest that bothered me was more Romeo’s partner than his dancing. The song was great and the choreography was well done. It’s just too bad Romeo does not have a very good partner. At the beginning of this review I mentioned that Quickstep is supposed to flow across the floor, not bop up and down. Chelsie’s technique is a great example of what not to do. It’s ok. It’s always good to have examples of how to do it wrong, too.

Bruno said Romeo is “the one to watch”. I can’t disagree more. Yes, he’s good, but he’s not that good. Len mentioned it was the best dance of the night. Not by a long shot. Given the across-the-board praise for Romeo and the unanimous criticism of Ralph, I have to suspect the producers have something to do with this.

By the way, are Mark and Chelsea the youngest couple? Or Romeo and Chelsie? I’m confused. They both said it last night. Anyone want to do the research and find out who it is?



That wide gap between the best and the worst dancers is beginning to close. The scores are getting closer, but I don’t think the scores are a practical and honest representation of the differences between the dancers. The scores tell us that Chris Jericho looked BETTER than Ralph in every way. So did Hines. So did Romeo. And both Bruno and Carrie Ann though Ralph and Kirstie deserved the same scores. Carrie Ann thought Ralph and Kendra deserved the same score. There is an inherent problem with this. My guess is that Ralph ended up looking better than anyone expected, so in order to level the playing field, the producers told the judges to bash Ralph down and bring up the unexpected couples. Yes, Chris looked better. Yes, he improved a lot. But he did not dance at a higher level than Ralph. This is par for the course. If you have a clear winner at the beginning, not as many people watch. If you bring the clear winner down, it increases viewership ratings. More drama=better sponsors.

That said, this little kick in the pants for Ralph will probably end up being a good thing. He and Karina will work harder, and hopefully he will come out on top next week, where he belongs.


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