— It was ballroom’s greatest hits Monday on “Dancing with the Stars,” as the celebs took on dances previously seen this season. While each routine was new to the individual stars, they all made for a dance floor retrospective with the return of the foxtrot, rumba, Viennese waltz, mambo, jive and cha-cha-cha.
The new interpretations of the familiar dances left plenty of room for surprises. While some stars stumbled, overall, it was a night of big moves and even bigger scores.
One step forward, two steps back
Jason Taylor’s partner Edyta Sliwinska promised a cha-cha-cha aimed to highlight Jason’s participation after head judge Len Goodman bashed him for not pulling his weight on the dance floor last week. Though the 6-foot-6 defensive end managed to avoid that nitpick this time around, his bigger role in the dance provided a larger opportunity to make a mistake.
The smooth and steamy cha-cha was riddled with timing issues. For much of the dance Jason was a beat behind his partner, and Len couldn't help but point out that the big guy was visibly counting, “2…3… cha-cha-cha.” That, combined with an arm line problem only Carrie Ann Inaba could see, led to a score of 24 out of 30. Not bad, but not up to Jason’s nine-plus streak.
With her soft samba and weepy reaction to it behind her, Shannon Elizabeth started fresh with the rumba. Partner Derek Hough took the “American Pie” star to the beach to get her in the mood for the romantic routine. Then again, it may have just been an excuse to show footage of Derek romping shirtless by the seaside. In any case, the latter proved more successful.
Shannon, who still looked nervous when the dance began, struggled with the same stiffness that previously cost her points. The subtlety and romance worked well enough, but the flexibility just wasn’t there. Bruno Tonioli said the dance suffered from the cardinal sin of the rumba, “no hip action.” Once again, Shannon was clearly disappointed with her score, gaining just one point from last week with 24.
The trend toward not-quite-good-enough continued when Marlee Matlin hit the floor. Not even a pre-show pep talk from Henry Winkler was enough to get her to move to the mambo rhythm. (Guess there really are some things Fonzi can’t do. Sigh.)
Providing an encore to Shannon’s stiffness, Marlee barely moved her midsection. That shortcoming was even more evident with her partner and former World Mambo Champion, Fabian Sanchez, literally dancing circles around her. Each of the judges offered a few words about how inspirational Marlee is by just being herself (which, frankly, is beginning to sound a little patronizing), before telling her how awful the mambo really was and giving it a low blow of 21 points.
Back in the game
Throughout the competition, Cristián de la Fuente has lacked consistency, and this week it worked in his favor. After a dismal showing last week landed him in the bottom two, he bounced back again with near-perfect technique. No heel leads; no distractions. He and Cheryl Burke offered up one the best foxtrots of the season.
Len was so impressed with the routine that he promised, “If you’re in the bottom two tomorrow, I’ll show my bum in the supermarket.” Bruno and Carrie Ann and followed up with equally positive, though thankfully less graphic, comments. Cristián was riding high from the praise and even professed his love to host Tom Bergeron before getting the matching set of nines.
Giving Cristián a run for his money, Marissa Jaret Winokur delivered her best number so far with the Viennese waltz. Monday night also marked the first time that the words "graceful" and "flowing" could be used to describe the dance floor dynamo.
With her pro partner Tony Dovolani at her side, Marissa smiled as she glided across the stage and didn’t miss a beat. The dance earned Marissa her highest praise yet from Carrie Ann, who admitted, “I’m definitely on the Winokur Wave!” And with a final score of 26, the beaming Broadway baby couldn’t have been happier.
From fine to flawless
It had to happen eventually. With Kristi Yamaguchi’s tendency toward powerhouse routines, it was only a matter of time before the Olympic gold medalist landed a perfect score. Monday night she did just that with a spectacular jive. And Mark Ballas deserves his share of the credit.
Mark choreographed arguably the best jive “Dancing With the Stars” has ever seen. It was animated, creative and high-energy. Both Mark and Kristi outdid themselves. Carrie Ann called it her favorite dance of the season, and Bruno agreed.
If the panel scored hip swinging alone, Mario’s score would have mirrored Kristi’s. As it is, he was only two points shy of the lead with the rumba. The R&B crooner, obviously bolstered by his success with the samba, came back strong with big poses and sexy slides.
In fact, Mario and Karina Smirnoff were so sexy, Len found it a bit too much. “The rumba is the story of a developing romance, not about a strumpet and a gigolo.” Carrie Ann decided it was better than sex, but knocked off a point for a lift, as she’s apt to do. Still, Mario had no complaints with the 28-worthy review.
After the individual routines were behind them, the stars hit the floor for the first (and hopefully last) group dance of the season. As always, the celebrities should thank their lucky stars they aren’t officially judged for this mass mess, which took the form of a great big disorganized line dance dubbed “Showdown at the ballroom corral,” this time around.
Of course fans may choose to factor the fast-paced, clumsy group number into their individual votes, and if they do, no one’s safe Tuesday night. But in all likelihood it’s only the solo duds that need worry about the results show. In other words, either Shannon or Marlee has had her last chance to dance.
Ree Hines is a regular contributor to msnbc.com.