‘Dancing with the Stars’: Brooke Burke, Warren Sapp, and Toni Braxton lead the pack


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You know things are bad in the world when current events pierce even “DWTS’s” pleasantly anodyne bubble. At the outset of this week’s competition, co-host Tom Bergeron referred to the bailout bill’s failure in Washington. What is this, “60 Minutes”? Another noteworthy thing about week two was the bold display of bosoms everywhere you looked -- holy moly. There must be someone in the costume department with a degree in structural engineering. And, finally, it is worth stating that the judges -- even Bruno, who’s usually a bit looser with the compliments, however odd the metaphors may be -- were afflicted by a malaise that caused them to deliver harsh (if not undeserved) feedback and low scores to many of our contestants. Perhaps they’d invested all of their money in Washington Mutual stock. (Speaking of WaMu -- RIP -- it still had commercials running during this episode.)

This week’s dances were the paso doble (yay!) and the rumba (boo!). As you may be aware, I find the paso doble to be enchanting and dramatic, whereas any rumba routine makes me feel as if I am watching a romance montage from a 1970s film. This caused me to wonder whether the rumba was actually invented in the 1970s, perhaps to soothe rattled nerves brought on by stagflation and Watergate. But, no, apparently the American version was developed in the early 20th century. So my impression must come from the fact that the rumba music on “DWTS” is always super-cheesy and the costumes and hair are straight out of “Charlie’s Angels” and “Three’s Company.” All right, I’ve made my point.


After the second week of competition, we now officially have some early leaders, stars who have distinguished themselves in all three dances so far: Brooke Burke, Warren Sapp, and Toni Braxton.

Brooke and Derek’s paso doble was performed to that dramatic music that used to be in the diamond commercials -- you know the ones. The judges admired the dance (and, presumably, Brooke’s pushed-up bosom), if not quite as much as they admired the quickstep last week -- Carrie Ann called it a “hair off-balance.” Score: 24/30.

Warren and Kym were also assigned the paso doble, and Warren’s main issue in rehearsals was that he couldn’t stop smiling. The need to keep a straight face was made all the more difficult by the fact that the costume people dressed them in pleather-and-sequins (and, in Kym’s case, bosom-revealing) outfits that would have been more appropriate in either “The Matrix” or an underground S&M operation. Their performance and choreography were sharp, including a nice acceleration of the music and the footwork as the dance progressed. Score: 24/30.

Toni and Alec got the rumba, and, for some reason, this necessitated Toni taking Alec to a karaoke bar and making him sing her hit “Unbreak My Heart.” He sang terribly -- so terribly that it seemed forced. As someone who truly sings terribly, I can say that with conviction. The judges liked their performance and chemistry, though Len and Bruno wanted to see more rumba basics in the choreography, and Carrie Ann cited them for not one but two illegal lifts. Contestants and pros, will you never learn? Score: 23/30.

Also performing admirably were Misty May-Treanor and Maks, Cody Linley and Julianne, and Susan Lucci and Tony, all of whom ended up with 21/30.

Misty and Cody were, like Warren and Kym, assigned the paso doble and some futuristic/S&M/Xena-the-Warrior-Princess ensembles. Because they (and everyone else) had only three days to learn the new dance (as was pointed out no fewer than 20 times on the show), Maks determined that this meant he had to be harsh on Misty, and during rehearsals, she said she was getting so frustrated she wanted to cry. Maybe she needs to take Maks onto the volleyball court and spike a few balls into his smug face. Their choreography was ambitious and included Misty flipping over Maks’ back. The judges liked their determination and intensity, though they encouraged Misty once again to relax her shoulders, and they also suggested a greater focus on the nuance of the dance.

Cody and Julianne got the rumba and some ‘70s styling. At the beginning of their dance, they were really moving around, which temporarily made me think, “Hey, maybe the rumba could be interesting after all!” And then it went into the slow-motion, interpretive-dancy movements that we see in all the rumbas, and my world again darkened. Carrie Ann lauded the choreography for being “age-appropriate,” which I took to mean that they avoided indecorous grinding. Overall, the judges’ comments were laudatory, though they again mentioned that Cody needed to work on his control and polish.

Susan and Tony spent the week in New York practicing their rumba during Susan’s breaks from “All My Children.” I’ll give this to Susan: She’s very earnest and hard-working. They sought advice from Cameron Mathison, who told them just to live in the moment -- if you’re working on the soap, you’re doing that; if you’re learning the dance, you’re doing that. In other words, they shouldn’t get stressed out about all the things they have on their plate. Sound advice. The performance was good, as rumbas go, though the bosom person in the costume department had been hard at work again on Susan. Also, she was wearing some weird headpiece. And her skin looked gray next to all the spray-tan abusers backstage.

A little further back were Lance Bass and Lacey, with a score of 20/30, and Maurice Greene and Cheryl, with a score of 19/30. As is their style, Lance and Lacey did a very nontraditional paso doble to “I Kissed a Girl.” Len, of course, said this modern treatment didn’t work, and even Bruno insisted that you have to stick to the basics in a paso doble. I see their point, but I do enjoy watching Lance and Lacey. From a strategic perspective, however, I wonder whether they ought to go a little bit more traditional -- right now, their scores are higher than those of the real laggards, so they’ll probably stay in, but at some point this approach may hurt them.

Maurice and Cheryl did a rumba, which would seem to be up Maurice’s alley, given his solid mambo last week. But the judges flagged it as being “a bit rough” (Len), “too stiff” (Carrie Ann), and “rough and clunky” (Bruno). Maurice looked so crestfallen! And he couldn’t utter his trademark “winner, winner, chicken dinner” exclamation.

So now we come to the back of the pack: Cloris Leachman, Rocco DiSpirito, and Kim Kardashian. Cloris decided to get serious and sincere this week because she really wants to stay on the show. They were assigned the paso doble, which would seem to be in Cloris’s sweet spot in that it requires a great deal of Acting! And I enjoyed the paso doble after I got over my initial dismay over Cloris’ brown wig. It’s just hard for an 82-year-old to move as fluidly as the younger people, though Kim Kardashian’s performances might call this generalization into question. Bruno called the performance “surreal,” while Carrie Ann tried to get away with just saying that she hopes she’s half the woman Cloris is at 82. Score: 15/30 and last place.

I thought that Rocco and Karina, fresh off their lively comeback in the mambo, might do all right in the rumba. But Karina kept dissing Rocco’s attempts to convey romance during rehearsals, which led to the entirely predictable scene in the kitchen, where Rocco showed Karina how he created romance through risotto. Now, I love risotto as much as the next member of the bourgeoisie, but I hope that if Rocco stays on for a while, the minds behind “DWTS” can think of something else besides these kitchen vignettes to let us get to know Rocco better. Anyway, I knew things weren’t looking good when Karina appeared on stage with the darkest spray tan ever applied -- desperate times call for desperate measures, etc. Whatever Rocco’s hips had learned last week, they apparently forgot this week, and the judges also criticized him for a lack of musicality and rhythm. Len said that “it wasn’t tasty,” and all of America groaned. Score: 16/30.

Kim and Mark tried to work on their chemistry this week for the rumba, and I do have some sympathy for Kim in that it’s hard to imagine anyone having serious chemistry with Mark -- he’s just too clean and chipper and little-brother-ish, I guess. I mean, sure, Toni has chemistry with Alec -- how hard is that? Not very -- he’s hot. In order to tap her inner vixen, Kim consulted with the founder of the Pussycat Dolls. Didn’t work. Kim seems to channel all of her sultriness into her pout and sleepy-eyed glances, and those hips just don’t really move. Carrie Ann nailed it when she said that she felt she’d seen the same dance from them three times. Score: 17/30.

On tonight’s results show, Jessica Simpson is performing. My guess is that it’s one of the bottom three who gets the ax; what do you think?

-- Sarah Rogers

(Photos of Toni Braxton and Misty May-Treanor courtesy ABC)