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"Dancing with the Stars" - Week 3 April 4th, 2011

Dancing With the Stars Episode 3 Critique

This week’s Dancing With the Stars was called “Story Night”, where the stars were given the chance to choose a song that meant something special to them, and use the song and the accompanying dance as a vessel to tell a story. It’s a fun idea, and it’s always interesting to see what the pros come up with. As a dance professional, I do this all the time. As the dance studio’s resident choreographer, I get called upon often to do choreography for shows and demonstrations where the student walks in with the song in hand. Sometimes we come up with our most interesting choreography through this channel, as we are given a better sense of our students’ personalities.

Needless to say, we had a wide range of dances. From Foxtrot to Samba, we can easily say that the vast majority of the dancers chose a Latin dance (actually only Wendy and Tony danced a Standard dance) and the song to which was danced a Foxtrot was actually a Cha Cha anyway. But that’s not the point.

In addition to the judges’ scores, I’ve also provided you with the ranking I would give the couples. It is based purely on the objectivity of my experience. Instead of offering scores, as the Dancing With the Stars judges do, I will judge them as if they were dancing in a real dance competition. They will get a ranking from 10th to 1st. My rankings are at the bottom of the page.

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:


Wendy Williams & Tony Devolani

Score: Carrie-Ann=5, Len=5, Bruno=5 for a total of 15 and a grand total of 46

Dance: Foxtrot

Foxtrot, as I mentioned in my first review, is one of the hardest dances of all 10 competitive dances. It requires grace, a fluid transfer of movement from foot to foot, and an understanding of swing within the body and within the partnership. The partnership must know the difference between a rotary movement versus a curvilinear movement, and the difference between swing and sway. Needless to say, Wendy has none of the above, and the choice of Foxtrot as the “Story Night” dance seems an odd one to me.

Especially since the song itself wasn’t a Foxtrot. Tony would have been better off doing Cha Cha or Hustle, or even West Coast Swing, to that song, rather than Foxtrot. It would have fit better with the song, and would have made Wendy look better. Then again, it’s possible there were some factors out of Tony’s control that I don’t know about. It’s very possible that his choices were limited to the 10 competitive dances, and Cha Cha was disallowed because Wendy had already danced Cha Cha. I don’t know. My comments are based on what I do know; and what I know is that the song wasn’t a Foxtrot and the choice of Foxtrot was not a good one.

Then again, they didn’t dance much Foxtrot either. I actually calculated how much time they spent dancing Foxtrot. In closed hold, it amounted to approximately ten seconds. If you include the American Style Foxtrot, it added up to a total of approximately 28 seconds of recognizable Foxtrot. I don’t know if they should even be allowed to call what they did a Foxtrot.

What I saw of Wendy’s dancing is no different than what I’ve said in my last two reviews. In case you didn’t read them, I’ll go ahead and quickly repeat myself. She is heavy on her feet, unable to articulate her feet and ankles, and has a difficult time moving her mass gracefully across the floor. Her frame was not pretty, and she has a terrible case of the “Claw Hand”. In other words, when she is in frame, her left hand should be placed lightly and flatly on top of Tony’s right arm, somewhere between the point of his deltoid and the crease of his elbow (depending on which teacher you listen to). The index and middle finger should lightly rest on his arm, and the ring and pinky fingers should float softly in the air. Wendy’s left hand looks like she is clawing onto him for dear life! Good God!

I had no qualms with anything the judges said. And I agreed with the score.

Romeo & Chelsea Hightower

Score: Carrie-Ann=7, Len=6, Bruno=7 for a total of 20 and a grand total of 62

Dance: Rumba

I was very disappointed with Romeo this week. I agreed with Len 100%, he took a major step backwards. Maybe Rumba was a bad choice. I suppose he could have danced Foxtrot if he wanted. He had no hip action, unfinished leg lines, and terrible heel leads. A heel lead, for those who don’t know, is when the step is taken with the heel first, instead of the toe. In Latin dancing, generally, the steps should be taken with a toe lead. All of our Rumba dancing gentlemen were guilty of heel leads, but Romeo’s was by far the worse. It was bad, bad, bad. I would venture to guess that for most trained ballroom dancers, there are few things that make us wince more than blatant heel leads such as Romeo’s. I caught it immediately, and couldn’t help but let out a groan of horror.

As a side note, I thought it was very funny that he complained so much about wearing high heels for Latin practice, but didn’t wear heels at all for the performance. And for all of his complaining about “being a man” and that men don’t wear heels or don’t move their hips, he doesn’t seem to care about how ridiculous he looks practicing in basketball shorts and calf-high socks and a wife-beater. He seems to have a pre-occupation with looking cool which only ends up making him look like an awkward teenager. Maybe it’s time Lil’ Romeo grew up??.

It’s funny, Bruno literally said exactly what I said, word for word. I agreed with Len, and I can totally disregard Carrie-Ann’s comments. They had no value.

The score was too high. Plain and simple. Romeo’s Rumba was not performed well; his step back was definitely much more than the three points they took from him, and he was not comparable with Ralph or Chris, Kirstie or Kendra, by any stretch of the imagination. I know that overall he was given a lower score than the other four, but Carrie-Ann and Bruno gave him the same score they gave to Kirstie, Chris, and Ralph; only Len gave him a 6, which is the score I would have given him, too.

Sugar Ray Leonard & Anna Trebunskaya

Score: Carrie-Ann=7, Len=6, Bruno=7 for a total of 20 and a grand total of 54

Dance: Paso Doble

Paso Doble is a rather easy dance, once one understands how to perform it. You must dance on angles, in diagonal lines, and with a wide silhouette. I don’t think Sugar Ray did any of those things. His posture, as well, was unacceptable for Paso. Although his posture has improved since the beginning of the competition, Paso requires you to carry your centre of gravity in the upper sternum; as a result, the hips should be carried forward, though the front should never be collapsed. I saw no difference in Sugar Ray’s posture from last week to this week. Granted, this is a difficult thing to learn, but vital to the character of the dance.

That said, Sugar Ray is a good performer, and I grant him that he did his best. The music was good, the choreography was good, and Sugar Ray performed to the best of his abilities. I was unfortunately not sure of what Anna’s role was supposed to be in the dance. Was she supposed to be the personification of adversity? Perhaps, but it was a bit ambiguous to me.

The judges didn’t seem to give any usable feedback (which unfortunately became a theme throughout the night). Bruno’s comments could be easily discarded, what Len said was true, and Carrie-Ann was right, it did improve. But honestly they could have all just sat there picking their noses and we wouldn’t have lost anything from it.

Honestly, I thought the score was a tad high, but I could live with it. I could have lived with anything in the range of 18 to 20.

Chris Jericho & Cheryl Burke

Score: Carrie-Ann=7, Len=7, Bruno=7 for a total of 21 and a grand total of 63

Dance: Rumba

Chris is improving a lot. This is the first week I think I can see his cowboy legs disappearing. His posture is getting better, his chin higher, and his legs better coordinated. However, Rumba was a difficult dance for him, and it showed on the floor. At the beginning of the dance, he did a basic step called a Cucaracha, which involved stepping to the side on one foot, then replacing the weight back to the other foot, then either bringing the legs together or stepping forward. The point of the step is to move your hips. In actuality, the step was invented as an exercise for learning to move one’s hips. The Cucaracha was the first recognizable step in Chris’s routine… and he failed miserably. He just rocked from side to side. Also, he had a number of heel leads in his forward walks, which (as I mentioned in Romeo’s review) is really out of the question when it comes to Rumba.

Modern choreography for Rumba involves a lot of lines for the men and stretches and spins for the ladies. While this type of choreography can be very aesthetically pleasing when danced at a high level, these boys are not high level dancers. On them, it simply looks unfinished, awkward, and sometimes downright ugly. I would really love to see their professional partners give them more appropriate choreography.

I agreed with Carrie-Ann and Bruno for the most part, and while I agreed with Len, I will have to say that Chris’s lines, while certainly very pleasing for Chris’s ability, where not as finished as Ralph’s (whose review is upcoming). It would be nice for the judges to compare the dancers against each other instead of grading on a rather mercurial curve. I did not agree with the score. I think Chris has made a lot of improvement, but he did not deserve the same score as Ralph.

Ralph Macchio & Karina Smirnoff

Score: Carrie-Ann=7, Len=7, Bruno=7 for a total of 21 and a grand total of 66

Dance: Rumba

I said it last week, and I’ll say it again: something more is going on behind the scenes than simply the judges’ scores. Yes, Ralph has things to work on; no, he wasn’t the best one out there tonight. But neither was he as bad as Romeo, or Sugar Ray, or Chris. But the judges are scoring it that way.

I watched his dance many times through. Right off the bat, I was impressed by his leg lines and his stretch across the body. He is by far the most advanced of all the boys out there. If the dancing isn’t enough, just listen to the judges’ comments! There Bruno is, complaining about “spatula hands” when all of the boys have spatula hands. But he carried himself very well throughout the dance, and that Sliding Doors he did was miles better than Romeo’s. Not only did Ralph manage to increase stretch across his body, but he is also starting to point his feet more.

But not enough. He is still too flat-footed for me. His hip-action, too, was dismally inconspicuous. However, I think a big part of that is Karina’s choreography. She choreographed a lot of lines and holds, which didn’t give Ralph a lot of opportunities to just dance. I wrote it in my review of Chris, but this style of choreography is simply inappropriate for dancers of these boys’ caliber.

Len was right, he did need more hips, and yes, Bruno, he does have “spatula hands”. But this time I agreed with Carrie-Ann; they were far too harsh on him. Len dissolved into complaining about Ralph’s manic style of dancing, which really made me check. I decided to go back and watch the dance again, after having listened to the judges’ comments, and unfortunately I simply can’t agree. If anything, Ralph looked almost lifeless in his Rumba. Certainly not manic, as Len said. And he most certainly did not handle Karina as if she was “too hot”. For once, I really agree with Carrie-Ann. Those two went “cuckoo”.

However, Carrie-Ann’s defense of Ralph didn’t carry too far. She gave him a lower score than Kendra (I’m still scratching my head) and the same score as Romeo. I would have given him an 8. To me he deserved a 23 or 24.

Kristi Alley & Maksim Chmerkovsky

Score: Carrie-Ann=7, Len=7, Bruno=7 for a total of 21 and a grand total of 62

Dance: Rumba

I am continuing to be impressed with Kirstie. She is a great dancer and has so much ability. Her knees were straight, her feet turned out, and she strove to point her feet even more than before. She is also beginning to understand how to articulate her hands and fingers, which results in added depth to her dancing.

Yes, Maks fell at the beginning of the dance; sometimes those things happen. It was through no fault of Kirstie, and she did a wonderful job picking herself back up and finished the dance wonderfully. Her recovery was far better than what I would expect from someone who has been dancing for such a short period of time.

She still needs to work on her posture and her comportment on the floor. She’s a bit too casual. More urgency in her manner would make her a better performer.

The judges said absolutely nothing of value. Thanks for wasting a good seven minutes of my time.

I completely agreed with the score. It was very fair.

Kendra Wilkinson & Louis van Amstel

Score: Carrie-Ann=8, Len=7, Bruno=8 for a total of 23 and a grand total of 60

Dance: Rumba

To me, Kendra was the most improved of the night. Her knees are getting straighter, her posture is improving, and her hips are beginning to settle behind her ribcage, instead of being carried in front as if she was pregnant. She looked miles better tonight.

That said, there were a lot of things that were simply ugly. Her entrance, for one, looked terrible. She stood there on the turntable with her legs wide open, wiggling her butt to a random time with turned in toes, then topped it all off by almost falling off the steps. She blamed her stumble on the smoke (I’m not surprised; she whines about everything), but in watching it again, it’s really shameful to blame it on the smoke. She stumbled on the last stair, long after she was out of the smoke, and she stumbled because she stepped down on the stair with her foot turned in; when she placed her weight on her terribly turned-in foot, she rolled to the outside of her ankle, causing her heel to slip inwards, and she stumbled. Sorry, Kendra, not the smoke.

The choreography was great. Louis is a great Pro/Am partner; he knows how to give his girl just enough choreography to make her dance, yet the content is not too difficult for her. Another great success for Louis. Also, the outfit was beautiful on her. It covered her postural problems, but showed off her legs, which (despite having bent knees every time she attempted to spin) are beautifully sculpted and are even more beautiful when she can get them under control.

I agreed with Len, her leg action has improved but she is still too wobbly for me to actually enjoy watching her dance. Bruno and Carrie-Ann were worthless. Kendra’s score was inflated. I get the sense they are judging the improvement of the individual dancers versus the dancers against each other. I would have switched her score with Ralph’s.

Chelsea Kane & Mark Ballas

Score: Carrie-Ann=7, Len=8, Bruno=8 for a total of 23 and a grand total of 62

I really like Chelsea, and she grows on me with every week. It’s her partner and his choice of choreography that I’m not so fond of; but I’ll talk about him in a moment. Chelsea is a great performer; whatever Mark gives her, she goes out there and does it at maximum volume. Mark, I will say, is doing a great job with her technique, as well. She had knees straight enough not to bother me; her posture was good; her expressions were natural and fitting; and she hit her arms! I really liked her in this dance, although I couldn’t get over the fact that she reminded me so much of Kym!

The only thing was, I didn’t see a lot of Cha Cha action, but this is once again more of Mark’s fault. Yes, he choreographed a few Cha Cha moves, though not many, but they were not danced with a clear Latin interpretation. Also, Chelsea’s character was not right for Cha Cha. She was too hard, too loud, and too forthright for Cha Cha; normally the character of Cha Cha is supposed to be flirtatious in a cheeky sort of way. Think Betty Boop or Marilyn Monroe, not Madonna.

As far as Mark goes, I want to preface my criticism by saying that Mark is a great dancer. He is flexible, agile, and extremely talented. But he does not seem to be content with dancing ballroom. I find his dancing, and his choreography, inauthentic and therefore frustrating to watch. Why can’t he just choreograph a Cha Cha? Why does it have to have all this other stuff in it? I may sound like Len, but I admit I’m a purist. If I wanted to watch hip hop, I would. I don’t, so don’t show it to me.

Len was right, Carrie-Ann was completely right about needing more hip action, and Bruno was… well, Bruno. Enough said.

I thought the score was too low. In my book, she had the best dance of the night, and she deserved to win. Her score should have been swapped with Petra and Hines.

Hines Ward & Kym Johnson

Score: Carrie-Ann=9, Len=8, Bruno=8 for a total of 25 and a grand total of 69

Dance: Samba

I like Hines, plain and simple. He’s fun to watch and he picks things up quickly. He always has a great expression while he’s dancing, which draws you in and makes you enjoy him. His smile is adorable. His posture improved tenfold since the premiere, and he had surprisingly good hip action for Samba! While Foxtrot is the hardest dance for the Standard, Samba is definitely the hardest dance for Latin, and I think Hines pulled it off really well! So did he deserve the score he got? In a word, no.

He had heel leads in both his Bota Fogos and his Voltas, which are basic movements in Samba. If someone can’t pull off the most basic movements, I can’t justify such a high score. His feet were turned in everywhere and he missed the final pose of his performance. Besides, he had “spatula hands” too, although all of the judges blithely failed to notice. I thought he did well, but not that well.

Len and Bruno said nothing of value. Carrie-Ann said he looked like he’d been dancing Samba his whole life. I’d have to kindly disagree. I have been dancing Samba my whole life (almost; I started dancing when I was 5), and my Samba looks considerably better than his. But yes, I’ll concede that it was good.

Petra Nemcova & Dmitry Chaplin

Score: Carrie-Ann=8, Len=9, Bruno=8 for a total of 25 and a grand total of 61

Dance: Waltz

Waltz is one of my favorite dances, and Petra looked beautiful in this dance. The dress was gorgeous, her expression was perfect, and the choreography suited her wonderfully. Her improvement is huge, her posture is far better than that first Foxtrot, and she is finally learning how to comport herself with grace. She danced beautifully, except in frame.

Her left elbow droops dangerously beneath Dmitry’s, and she has a difficult time extending her head without breaking her neck. All of the women do this in Standard frame, but it doesn’t excuse it. If Petra deserved a 25 for her Waltz, then Kirstie deserved the same score for her Quickstep last week. The judges gave her a 20. I don’t think Petra deserved the 20 they gave Kirstie last week, but she should have scored somewhere around 23 or 24.

The judges said nothing of value whatsoever. I am flabbergasted that Len gave her a 9. To me, her frame should be worked out before she can even be considered for anything above an 8. But then again, Len was a Latin dancer in his day.

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.



Listening to the judges’ comments and seeing their scores has reminded me why I stopped watching this show in the first place. Their scores seem completely arbitrary. The judges don’t seem to have a value assigned to the numbers they flap up. Take the instance of the three boys dancing Rumba. Their scores were almost identical, with Romeo scoring 20, and Chris and Ralph both scoring 21. Yet the differences between the three boys are vast. Ralph is undeniably the better of the three, whether or not he happened to perform a boring Rumba. Are you going to tell me Romeo or Chris were any less boring than Ralph? I took a few minutes to freeze a frame of all three of them in almost the same lines, and you tell me who has the better lines, the greater stretch. You decide.


Dancing with the Stars - Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff
Dancing with the Stars - Romeo and Chelsea Hightower
Dancing with the Stars - Chris Jericho and Cheryl Burke

As for Bruno’s “spatula hands”, I simply can’t believe he complains about it so much with Ralph, but says nothing to anyone else. I agree with Bruno, Ralph needs to work on his hands. But so does everyone else. It’s a unanimous problem, yet the judges continually pick on such little things with Ralph when they refuse to do so with anything else. By the way, I should think Len would have really enjoyed Ralph’s dancing. After all, those “spatula hands” were all the rage back when Mr. Goodman was competing. In fact, Ralph’s dancing was absolutely indicative of the good old 1970s. I’m surprised Len complained at all.

And I still don’t know what their scores mean. Their numbers have no value. In a real dance competition, competitors are judged against each other on the day they are dancing. Take, for instance, an NCAA tournament. It’s quite possible that the No. 1 seed could get knocked out of the round of 16 because they played badly. In a dance competition, that same scenario is possible when the couple is judged by comparison to the other couples based upon their dancing on that day. However, in Dancing With the Stars, it seems that improvement within the dancer is more important than how they look in comparison with everyone else, and this bothers me. A strategy proven to win, therefore, would be to start out at the bottom of the middle of the pack, then suddenly improve a lot halfway through. Not only will you get Bruno gyrating and Carrie-Ann howling (much to my annoyance), but you’re sure to get a good score, whether you’re actually any good or not.

And it bothers me to no end.

So here is my ranking for this week’s performers, regardless of improvement and in direct comparison with each other based on their performance on the night:

10th: Wendy

9th: Romeo

8th: Chris

7th: Sugar Ray

6th: Kirstie

5th: Kendra

4th: Ralph

3rd: Hines

2nd: Petra

1st: Chelsea


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