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"Dancing with the Stars" - Week 7 May 2nd, 2011

Dancing With the Stars Week 7 Critique

"Ballroom Greats", the theme for this week's Dancing With the Stars, was a big treat for a lot of us dancers who watch the show, mainly because we finally got to see some actual good dancing on the show. But, coming in a close second, we were also happy because of the couples they invited. Riccardo Cocchi and Yulia Zagoryuchenko, for those who don't know, are the current World Professional Latin Champions and are very deserving of the title. They recently beat out the 4-time former World Champions, Michael Malitowski and Joanna Leunis, last October at the 2010 World Championships and successfully defended their title for this year's worlds, at the beginning of April. To make things more interesting, Michael and Joanna won the United Kingdom Championships, the second more prestigious competition in the world, in January. That means Michael and Joanna and Riccardo and Yulia have divided the world judges. With the Blackpool Dance Festival looming at the end of this month (Blackpool being the world's number one most prestigious competition, more so even than World Championships), I expect the Opera House to be packed to overflowing on Wednesday night, the night of the Open Professional Latin, as either one of these amazing couples might win.

Arunas and Katusha are the current World Professional Standard Champions and have been so for three consecutive years. They are having a tough time, themselves, keeping their title, although they have yet to be beaten by the vice-champions, Mirko Gozzoli and Edita Daniute. Interestingly, Mirko was the former World Champion with his former partner, Alessia Betti; and when he and Alessia split up, Arunas and Katusha were ready to fill the void. Even more interestingly, Arunas was a World Amateur Standard Champion with his then partner, Edita Daniute, the same girl he is now defending his world title against. It's very exciting, especially when you consider the huge differences between Mirko and Edita versus Arunas and Katusha. Many feel that Mirko and Edita deserve to be the champions. My personal opinion is that Arunas and Katusha have an undisputed air of elegance and ease about their dancing which screams nothing less than "Champion". Luckily, many people agree with me.

Also included in the "Ballroom Greats" were some past champions, two people who are veritable legends in our business: Luca Barricchi and Shirley Ballas. I'm not exagerrating when I talk about how exciting it is to see these people on the show. Personally I have never trained with either Luca or Shirley, but I have trained with their contemporaries - other Standard champions like Marcus and Karen Hilton and Andrew Sinkinson, or in the Latin like Nadia Eftedal and Barbara McColl and even Donnie Burns' competing partner, Gaynor Fairweather - and I would immediately attest to their knowledge, their capabilities, and their experience. I wonder if the stars can fully appreciate the depth of importance of these people.

The Group Cha Cha

I thought the group Cha Cha was so much fun, and it was very well put together. Both teams did very good choreography, and all of the dancers managed to be rather sychronized. This is the most difficult part of formation dancing. Granted, they only had three couples. The big-time formation teams have upwards of twelve couples... imagine synchronzing twenty-four people! Six seems rather arbitrary when compared to that.

What I liked most about the formation Cha Cha was the fact that everyone (excpet for Ralph) has done Cha Cha before, and for many of them it was their first dance, way back in the premiere episode. So, in watching, I had a chance to truly gauge their improvements, and what I saw was very impressive. Kendra, in particular, stole my attention. I remember her with terrible bent legs, a stiff spine that she couldn't get off of her heels, and hands and a way of moving her body that reminded me inexplicably of a gawky twelve-year-old I happen to know. Honestly, I hardly saw any of that. Every once in a while I saw that gawky twelve-year-old coming out again, but that was more of flashes rather than a general impression. That said, I like Team Chelsea personally, but I think I was just biased towards the costumes. I loved Karina's black pvc pants... so much so that I think I'm going to go buy me a pair right now....

Kirstie Alley & Maks Chmerkovskiy

Score: Donnie=9, Carrie-Ann=7, Len=6, Bruno=8 for a total of 30 (I'm not calculating grand totals this week)

Dance: Jive

This wins the award of being the cutest performance of the night! I absolutely loved it. L-O-V-E-D loved it! Not to mention the fact that Kirstie has lost a ton of weight and is looking great! Actually, I would say that for her, she shouldn't lose any more. I mean, remember that she's 60 years old. If she lost more, it would start to show her age in her face. The little bit of extra plumpness is what keeps her face looking young. That said, she's looking great right now. Also, I felt this was one of the better Jives of the season. Certainly, it was better than Ralph's. And it was a Jive, which means it must be better than Chelsea Kane's, as Mark didn't even bother to teach Chelsea the Jive. I would say to Kirstie, "Bravo!"

That said, it wasn't perfect. Kirstie's constant chicken arms bug me to no end - but not here! In Jive they are characteristic. What I didn't like about Kirstie's Jive were her kicks. They were clunky and her feet were floppy, with no energy through the ankle to keep the feet looking nice. Also, one thing that bothers me overall about Kirstie is that she's constantly looking to Maks to lead her through the dance. She doesn't know the routines on her own. Having taught Pro/Am dancers for about ten years, both amateurs that I dance with and amateurs that Simeon dances with, I can recognize at a split-second glance that look in their eyes that says "Oops, I just screwed up, oh no, I can't remember what comes next, oh yeah, that's what I'm supposed to do, oh no, I'm behind". Kirstie gets it at least twice in almost every routine, and it drives me crazy.

The overall score is very fair, although the way we reached it was a little twirly. Donnie was way too forgiving and paddle happy. Len was way too harsh. Kirstie deserved neither a 9 nor a 6. 7s and 8s were more than enough.

Romeo and Chelsie Hightower

Score: Donnie=7 (or 8??), Carrie-Ann=8, Len=7, Bruno=8 for a total of 30 (or 31??)

Did no one else see that flub in the scoring? Normally, I read other reviews just to see what people are saying. I always read them after I watch the show and write my notes, so as not to be swayed one way or another by someone else's opinion, but I like to compare my own opinion with normal people or journalists who really don't know much about dancing. It's very interesting. But, strangely, at least in the reviews I read, no one said anything about the judging flub. If you didn't notice it, go back and watch Romeo's portion of the show, but fast forward to the scoring section. When asked to give his score, Donnie delays and leans in to ask Carrie-Ann something. Unfortunately, Donnie's mike came on just at the time that Carrie-Ann whispered in Donnie's ear, "Give him an eight". Donnie dutifully picked up his paddle and announced "Eight!" Yet it showed up as seven on the scoreboard, and the final score was calculated as 30. The funniest moment was with the final score beneath the scoreboard showing "7, 8, 7, 8" and Donnie smilingly holding up his 8 paddle. So what happened? Why did no one else notice this? Or mention it, if you did notice?

Honestly, I simply didn't get this Samba. Maybe there's something in the lyrics I'm missing, but I was honestly confused. I didn't get the whole half-hearted military thing, I didn't understand how that tied into Chelsie's flippy pink and black get-up, and I didn't see how the little bonefire related. I guess that's just me, and my preoccupation with the confusion of the theme melted away pretty quickly when they started dancing, because then I had to sit there and watch Chelsie bring shame to professional female Latin dancers worldwide. Okay, that was a bit harsh, it wasn't that bad, but Chelsie does not have a good Samba. In the overturned runs, she had turned in feet; she also had turned in feet in many other mini-poses and she managed to dance the entire routine off of the insides of her feet. Simply not good technique.

S'o it shouldn't suprise me that Romeo had next to no technique either. I thought his feet were very flat, which is killer when it comes to dancing a good Samba. There was very little bounce, which is in part a result of his flat feet and in part a result of simply neglecting to bounce through his knees. His hip motion was disappointing. In other words, he had none... except where it was choreographed. That doesn't count. Hip action is so important to Latin dancing because it actually helps us move. Romeo didn't use hips to help him move, or settle his movement, which means he missed the point of the hips. The only time he moved his hips was when it was choreographed, and even that, for me, was simply "egh". I've seen much more done much better. If Carrie-Ann thought that was hot, she should watch the male dancers of Karina's caliber. Sergey Sourkov? Hot. Stefano di Filippo? Hot. Romeo? A dime a dozen.

Someone please tell Bruno not to try to perform a Samba action. It doesn't look good. He's not a ballroom dancer and I doubt he could pull it off. However, that said, how interesting would it be to have Bruno and Carrie-Ann be "stars" on this show? Then we'd all get a laugh!

Kendra Wilkinson & Louis van Amstel

Score: Donnie=8, Carrie-Ann=8, Len=7, Bruno=8 for a total of 31

Dance: Tango

I was honestly not impressed with this Tango. I know Kendra worked very hard, I know she tried her best, but there were just too many things that were wrong and unattractive for me to enjoy it. Partly, I think this was Louis' fault, as he did give her some spectacularly difficult Tango choreography. Literally, some of the steps that Kendra tried to do are figures that Simeon and I do, figures that Simeon and I have worked on for years, figures that Simeon and I have had trouble with for years! It's no wonder Kendra looked bad!

So Louis' fault aside, let's talk about what, exactly, I thought was unattractive. First, her left hand under Louis' arm was splayed open like a starfish clinging to his armpit. Ugly. Second, her right elbow was so far below her shoulder (partly because her elbow was down, partly because her shoulder was hunched up) that her arm made the shape of a V. Also ugly.Third, she constantly cocked her head inward toward Louis, whether she was looking left or right, so that she looked like she was about to lay her head on his shoulder. It might be okay for Argentine Tango, but European Tango, ugly.

But I'll be fair. Not everything was bad about her Tango. To begin with, and as I already mentioned, the choreography was far too difficult for her level and she did manage to pull it off... just barely. She flubbed up terribly early on and if it wasn't thanks to Louis hauling her around the tough parts, I'm not sure she would've remained on her feet. But she did pick it back up and even, at one point, she managed to get into the feel of the dance. I saw some aggression on her face! !The ending, as well, was great! I loved the line and I loved her bright smile.

It was nice having Donnie on the show. In other words, it was nice having a judge who is told by the producers how he should critique the dancers (although it seems he was told by Carrie-Ann how to mark). What Donnie said was very true, the steps were extremely difficult and Kendra coped very well. I thought I agreed with Carrie-Ann, too, when she said it was the most sophisticated dancing we had seen from Kendra... until she called her elegant. Compared with Kendra's past performances, it was very sophisticated. But when it comes to Kendra, sophisticated and elegant are not good adjectives to use. She is very simply not.

Chelsea Kane & Mark Ballas

Score: Donnie=8, Carrie-Ann=9, Len=8, Bruno=9 for a total of 34

Dance: Paso Doble

There Mark goes and does it again. He's got this great, fun, talented girl in front of him and he fails to use her best assets. What else is new? I thought, after the last few weeks, that he was beginning to turn a new leaf, but no, he was just trying to get to the top of the leaderboard. The thing that bothered me most about Mark's shenanegans was that, this time, it didn't just effect Chelsea's score, it also effected her look. She seemed very awkward this week, more so than every time I've seen her. She didn't have good paso posture, the hip hop at the beginning looked shaky and unsure, and every time Mark had to pull her up from the ground, they had to freeze for a split second to recalculate and get Chelsea back on her feet. It was a good thing she had all that play with her skirt, because it hid from the general audience the many flaws she had in her legwork.

The judges' dissension was very interesting. It separated the ballroom dancers from the non-ballroom dancers. I agreed with Len and Donnie, I didn't see the character of Paso, which is Spanish Dancing, Flamenco, the Bull Fight, not gothic killer military man (although the goth in me really loved it). And forgive me, but Mark really showed some true character there as he walked off the floor. Not good character, mind you. Len and Donnie are both not only very accomplished dancers and judges in their own rights, but they were also Latin dancers in their day. They should be held in the highest of respect, and for him to make the gesture of "suck it" as he walked off the floor just showed how immature, rude, and crass Mark really is. I lost a lot of respect for him at that moment.

Hines Ward & Kym Johnson

Score: Donnie= 9, Carrie-Ann=9, Len=8, Bruno=10 for a total of 36

Dance: Tango

Still overscored. I know a lot of people like Hines, and I admit he does really well for a football player. But I'm not judging him as a football player, I'm judging him as a dancer, and I'm sorry, but he really just doesn't do it for me. Granted, he is still one of the top contestants on the show. I don't dispute that he deserves to be in the top three for sure. But I think he gets a lot more credit than he deserves.

He seemed very stony-faced throughout his Tango. Even Kendra had more expression than him, and that's saying a lot. Interesting that none of the judges except Len mentioned anything about it. Also, his Tango was bouncing around everywhere, which is not good technique for European Tango. He still suffers from the Cowboy legs syndrome, and he was pretty much looking at Kym throughout the entire dance, except when he was in Promenade Position. Actually, when dancing Standard, the man should have his head left, just like the lady (though slightly less exaggerated by the lady). Don't watch Maks or Dmitry for your example, please. Watch Arunas. He's the World Champion, he does it right.

And Kym is not a very good Standard dancer. Her head was so twitchy I thought for a moment there was something wrong with my internet connection. Then I went back and watched it again and realized, no, it's just Kym thinking that's how you move your head during pivots in Tango. Her choreography was so-so, althought it didn't show off much of Hines's good features, and the ending was bad. I think I understand the idea of it, but Hines almost lost it on the landing.

I think Burno misunderstood what Len was saying. There was no "light and shade" in Hines's dancing. "Light and shade" is a term used to describe changes in the intensity or mood of the dance. What Hines suffered from was an inability to maintain focus. That is a completely different matter altogether.

Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff

Score: Donnie=10, Carrie-Ann=9, Len=8, Bruno=9 for a total of 36

Dance: Quickstep

If you read my reviews, you know by now that I like Ralph. This week is no exception. His Quickstep definitely had some problems, which I'll mention below, but overall I was very impressed. Karina gave him very difficult choreography and he managed to perform it - not just dance it, but actually perform it. There is a difference, by the way.

The problems I had were mainly in his frame. His left arm was pushing forward quite a lot, which when dancing with Karina means disaster for Karina's back. As Karina is a Latin dancer, she makes the same mistake 100% of people uneducated in Standard dancing make, which is to assume that layout is created by arching the back. Layout meaning the girl's extension in her head and neck away from her partner. Watch Arunas and Katusha and you'll get what I mean. By pushing forward his left arm, Ralph puts extra pressure on Karina's back and, therefore, accentuates her arch. Ouch. Also, he was rather hunched in his shoulders, and more so during the difficult piece. The only thing that caught my negative attentions aside from his frame were the height of his jumps. In Quickstep, they are supposed to stay low to the ground. However, I won't fault him too much on that, as the useable floor space in that setup is very small and when you don't have space to stride, you normally jump up.

This Quickstep was second only to Chelsea's, last week. It was well choreographed, with very difficult amalgamations, and Ralph did a very good job. His footwork was very impressive, and his timing was right on. I would have given him a 9 for sure.

The score he got was fair, but like Kirstie, the way it got there was a little loopy. Len was far too harsh on Ralph in giving him an 8, but Donnie was far too excited in giving Ralph a 10. I've said before that Ralph is my favorite, but the hunched frame and shoved-forward left arm kept me from giving him a 10.


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