Welcome to the “Dancing With the Stars: All-Stars” semi-finals, ballroom fans! This was the last chance for stars and their pros to dance to the finals before the double elimination on Tuesday night, so we got outlandish costumes. Saw what happened when you crossed espionage and the Lindy hop. And we got an actual romantic kiss at the end of a routine!
The five remaining couples danced two full dances during this performance show. The first was a combination of a new dance and off-beat theme that seemed like it was taken straight out of an acid trip, but turned out to be a refreshing and fun way to show off how creative these pros can be with challenging choreography. The second was a tribute to Michael Jackson’s “Bad” album in honor of its 25th anniversary.
Like many of the other couples, Shawn Johnson and Derek Hough were flabbergasted by their off-beat dance/theme combination. Knight Rider? Indian folk dance Bhangra? “I would rather have mustard on ice cream as a combination of things,” Derek admitted. Derek had to bring in Bhangra choreographer Daman Grewal to show how to perform what Shawn called “fast-moving kind of flailing movements.” And the dance may go against all of Shawn’s instincts, and she still may not know what Bhangra is (“It did feel like mustard and ice cream, I’m not gonna lie,” she said adorably), but man did she dance the heck out of their dance. Had David Hasselhoff learned that dance, he’d be on the all-star season, said Tom. “Another mega hit for Shawn and the hulk,” Bruno crowed. “And this time they did it Bhangra style!” “Finally, Shawn is out of breath!” said Carrie Ann. “Fantastic, great job!” Even cranky Len was complimentary: “Shut up, close the door, call me Mary: I tell you: This dynamite was fantastic.” And so was their score: A perfect 30! Loved how excited Shawn was after getting that score, running victory laps up in the sky box.
Tom remarked that “It takes an Indian folk dance to get Shawn Johnson out of breath.” Though “I’m actually getting really exhausted,” Shawn admitted after their Argentine tango. So was Derek, who struggled to find the right choreography. Shawn was initially reluctant to admit how much winning this Mirrorball trophy would mean to her, and she credits this all-star season for re-lighting the competitive passion in her. It’s also re-lit her sexy side: Shawn was dressed like Princess Leia in “Return of the Jedi” with half of her dress missing and her hair wrapped in an intergalactic-type ponytail. And their tango, set to MJ’s “Bad,” was so incredibly precise it could cut like a knife. I particularly liked that kip kick to the lunge at the end. Bruno said “stylistically it was perfect…you went for shapes, line and style.” Carrie Ann agreed that the routine was “beautiful,” but thought “it lacked a bit of drama and the intimacy.” Len said there were two parts of the dance: the movement, and the style. “For me, you nailed both parts.” Total: 59 out of 60.
We learned that Melissa Rycroft and Tony Dovolani’s original goal was just to make it to week 4 of the all-star season. And now, as the only couple left who hasn’t won a Mirrorball trophy, they feel like they have nothing to lose. The Caveman Hustle, however, did not come to either of them very easily. Maybe because the whole concept didn’t make sense. “Why are there cave people dancing at a disco?” Melissa asked, not unreasonably. Tony’s back was so confused it pooped out during blocking on Sunday afternoon. But Tony was not going to let Melissa down, and even went so far as to inject his back with goodies and don leather and some sort of seaweed-esque dreads, dance around a campfire, and use Melissa’s booty like some bongos. “Fred and Wilma have never danced so well,” Len said. “Tony had the muscle, you had the hustle.” Bruno thought it was “the most effective use of animal skins since Raquel Welch,” though pointed out that Melissa “lost your footing a little bit.” Carrie Ann thought it was “yabba dabba fun,” though her hustle was a little off. Still, as Tom said, “You have to appreciate the prehistoric dental work.”
Melissa said this was the most difficult thing she’s ever done. Officially, she’s the only one left who hasn’t won a Mirrorball trophy, so she has the extra push because she’s the only one who doesn’t know what it feels like to win. And I loved their “Dirty Diana” Argentine tango. The mood was great and angry and filled with ’80s era smoke, her short tight dress was very reminiscent of the music video, and I loved how Melissa kicked up her heels and twirled all over him. Bruno called Melissa a “dirty nasty wicked devil of a woman – you were possessed out there. That sequence of lifts was absolutely extraordinary. … You deserve to be in the final.” “Dirty Diana, I would like to introduce you to Magnificent Melissa,” said Carrie Ann. “That was beyond anything I have imagined for you.” “I would be really disappointed if you weren’t there next week,” Len said. That makes two of us. It’s also great to see Tony so genuinely happy. Melissa and Tony got a 27.5 for their caveman hustle, and a perfect 30 for their Argentine tango tribute. Total: 57.5.
For their first dance, Apolo Anton Ohno and Karina Smirnoff had to perform a Big Top Jazz routine, so Karina decided to go more for modern jazz and spice it up with a lot of circus tricks and lifts. Apolo’s doing stuff he’s never done before, and the 45 hours of rehearsal time and his relentless pursuit of perfection have left him utterly spent. “I just sunk my own battleship,” he said. And their routine was a really cool visual concept that looked like a Marcel Marceau three-ring circus. So it was unfortunate that after displaying impressive mime skills behind the curtain, Apolo slipped as he made his way to the center of the dance floor (kinda looked like he was speed skating, didn’t it?), Carrie Ann thought the slip threw Apolo off. “It was very disjointed,” she said. “It didn’t quite all come together and mesh.” Len agreed that “there were a couple of awkward moments in there,” but praised Apolo for being a fighter. Bruno, however, thought it was “edgy” and “surreal—a blend of Cirque du Soleil and ‘Clockwork Orange.’”
Apolo echoed Kelly Monaco when he said this show is about more than just dancing. And he knew that he needed to have that extra special connection with Karina in their rumba set to “Man in the Mirror,” or else “I’ll be going home early.” And their routine, while a little faster than I was used to, was romantic and inspirational, if not sexy. And check out that bare chest and hip action! “That is what I’m talking about,” said Carrie Ann.” You don’t have to overdance in this competition to achieve perfection. You went into my heart and melted it.” Len likened the dance to the seas: “There was just wave after wave of effortless motion.” Bruno said Apolo “nailed it…. That was perfectly pitched between sensuality and romance.” Apolo and Karina received a 27 for their big-top jazz number, and a perfect 30 for their “Man in the Mirror” rumba. Total: 57.
“They’re trying to wear us out,” Emmitt Smith said of the off-beat combinations after partner Cheryl Burke said she’d never seen dances mixed like this. But I loved Cheryl’s concept for their Espionage Lindy Hop: Cheryl’s the bad guy, Emmitt’s the good guy, and they’re trying to blow up the Mirrorball trophy. And since this was more of a comedic spy-vs-spy type animated routine, Emmitt really had to bring his acting skills to the forefront. And he pulled it off with aplomb. “I liked the concept, I liked the energy, I liked the lifts, I liked the fun,” said Len. “I would have liked more Lindy in there.” Bruno called it “a Looney Tunes version of James Bond — it was the most fun performance I think I’ve ever seen you do.” Carrie Ann thought “that was your most animated performance,” and then devolved into some sort of Porky Pig-type gibberish. “At least you didn’t fall over,” a cough medicine-addled Tom added slyly. Total: 27.
“This is what I call the playoff push for the Super Bowl,” said Emmitt of the semi-finals. And he and Cheryl were feeling the pressure and pushing at each other during rehearsals. But they’re both pros, and once Emmitt went through that sparkly wall of beads on the grand staircase and down onto the dance floor for his second routine, all that tension had dissipated. And while the regular tango isn’t quite as flashy as the Argentine tango, I liked how Emmitt and Cheryl added some Michael Jackson moves to their routine, like that cool little “Leave Me Alone” body pulse while in hold. Len pointed out how hard it was for Emmitt, whose quality is “ease and elegance,” to cope with two sharp and aggressive dances. Bruno loved Emmitt’s intensity: “It was almost a criminal predatory power,” though he felt “the footwork could have been more exact.” Carrie Ann lauded Emmitt for bringing his A game, though she said the “hold was a bit broad.” Emmitt and Cheryl received a 27 for their espionage Lindy Hop, and a 27 for their tango. Total: 54.
“Get a 10 or die trying,” said Valentin Chmerkovskiy as he prepared his semi-final routines with Kelly Monaco. And Val really stepped up the choreography and his strategy for their surfer flamenco: The dance was lightning fast, Kelly wore these major flamenco sandals, and Val strategically took off an item of clothing with every couple of steps. So basically he just had on Speedos, his dance shoes and a necklace by routine’s end. Loved the effect of doing the dance steps on the water. Of course, I thought the routine was a hot and vicious with the intensity of a North Shore pipeline, but the judges took the couple to task for doing more of a paso doble than a flamenco. First, Bruno said Kelly had been “upstaged by the Speedos.” Then he said that “the flamenco has a very very exact placement, and it wasn’t there.” Carrie Ann agreed: “It was all paso; it didn’t really have flamenco,” she said. Still, Len liked the attack: “the energy and the way you work was fantastic.” Was it cold up in the sky box, as a scantily Val said, or was it just the judges’ less-than-stellar scores?
If it was cold in the sky box after the surfer flamenco, Kelly and Val proceeded to light the dance floor on fire with their passionate rumba, set, appropriately enough, to “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” And really, this song was a fitting choice for the couple’s arc throughout this season. Val cheekily said the song showcased “our inner love for each other” and pushed Kelly to show more emotion. Kelly, however, revealed she was almost embarrassed for winning the Mirrorball trophy in 2005 because she wasn’t the best dancer, and was still terrified of letting America in. So the ballroom lights were dimmed and Kelly and Val, both dressed in shiny beads of gold, danced in an intimate circle as if they were the only ones in the room. And she had great extension, great emotion, and they embraced at the end….But when the lights came back on they caught them in a kiss! Was it real, or was it Memorex? “Well, that was smoldering,” said Bruno. “Driven by desire, consumed by lust. … The chemistry between you two is literally singeing.” Carrie Ann thought it was “beautiful.” “I love it when you speed it, and then you slow it down,” said Len. “The line and shape were fantastic.” “Is it still feeling cold in here?” Tom asked Val. Kelly and Val received a 25.5 for their surfer flamenco, and a 28.5 for their lusty rumba. Total: 54.
So Emmitt and Kelly are in danger of leaving during this double elimination. Though with Emmitt's strong sports fan base, Kelly's sideline showmance, a season’s worth of unexpected results and just five points separating first and last place, the new and improved Mirrorball could still be anyone’s to win or lose.
What do you think, ballroom fans? Will Emmitt’s kids get to come out for the finals? Will Kelly and Val leave the ballroom with their hearts on their sleeves? Why are there cave people dancing at a disco? How new and improved could this Mirrorball trophy be?