‘Dancing With the Stars’ recap: Instant Hit!

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We’ve reached the quarterfinals, ballroom fans! Traditionally, this is the week when the remaining five dancers perform two full dances in the competition. And though the first dance in Monday night’s performance program was your regular, run-of-the-mill ballroom variety, the producers decided to add another twist in the road to reality TV glory with the second routine: an Instant Dance! Which is where dancers don’t know what music they’re going to perform to until right when the competition starts — apparently par for the course in regular ballroom competitions.

Admittedly, I received news of this insta-dance with very wary ears. How were these stars going to pull off a dance when they get their music at the very last minute? More important, how were they going to match their outfits to an unknown tune? There were unsightly visions of imminent ballroom disaster and tragically mismatched fringe racing through my fevered brain. I was convinced that after a very awkward, tragically fashioned round of dances, that this whole concept would disappear and never be heard of again. Kind of like those blinged-out new scoring paddles that showed up for a season. Or (shudder) that horrible human-size doghouse used earlier this season.


But no — Instant Dance was an instant hit! There was something about the ratcheted-up stakes that, as Len said, really helped the dancers focus and made for some super entertaining performances. I would say these performances were even more entertaining because they had an element of surprise in them. For the most part, the remaining contestants all rose up to meet this new and exciting challenge head on and we were all rewarded for it.

But let’s look at how the dancers stacked up on the leader board, shall we?

Retaining their spots up top were Brandy and Jennifer Grey. Can anything stop these two powerhouses?

Last week, Brandy memorably received a 10 from Len. This week, she and Maksim Chmerkovskiy added three more to that tally. The singer-songwriter’s first dance, a waltz, was impressively dramatic, with the emotional quotient ratcheted up to 11 -- and this time all the drama was kept strictly to the ballroom floor. I’d also give her extra points for that cool cape that she sported at the beginning. “My darling, it was more than a dance,” crooned Bruno. “This was an exquisite interpretation of a song.” Carrie Ann commended Brandy for the riveting emotional quality, though she needs to elongate her neck a teensy bit more. Len is clearly enamored of the singer-songwriter, because he refuses to nitpick anything about her. “I was overwhelmed by the whole performance,” the head judge declared. Brandy earned two 10s and a 9s for the waltz, for a near-perfect total of 29.

Which gave her a major advantage going into the Instant Dance. Also giving her a major advantage? Her musicality. The singer-songwriter predicted she was going to hit this routine out of the park, and she and Maks even engaged in a playful booty shake-off during rehearsals as if to prove it (“Do you know what this is right here?”). The booty shake was replicated in good fun during their cha cha, set to Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” but I have to say, I agree with Carrie Ann and wished that they had gone into their dance a mite bit earlier. I was sure Len was going to slap them down with accusations of “messing about” — certainly, he’s taken down many a previous competitor for a lot less than what Brandy and Maks did. But while Len admitted that Carrie Ann was right, and he would have liked the dance to have started instantly, he and Carrie Ann both still gave the couple a 9 for their performance. Maks, however, took surprising offense to Carrie Ann’s criticism, and went off in the celebraquarium that he doesn’t feel appreciated (“Do you know what this is right here?”). Now, while I love myself some Maks, particularly when his shirt is open, I also feel like the Ukrainian may be jumping the gun and getting a little defensive of Carrie Ann’s critiques. Brandy and Maks got a 28 for their cha cha, which made for a grand total of 57 out of 60.

Another week, another injury for Jennifer Grey. There seems to be no end to the litany of hurt that Jennifer has suffered throughout this competition, and this week was no different. This time, it was her knee that was giving her trouble -- a pretty bad case of patellar tendonitis. This injury, however, seemed to be balmed over by a visit and a kiss from her father, “Cabaret” star and consummate performer Joey Grey, who gave her the pep talk that she needed to push through the pain, and ensure that the show went on. And it did: Jennifer and Derek Hough’s resulting quickstep was light and elegant and, as Carrie Ann said, “all the above, amazing.” “Forget your troubles,” said Bruno, who said the routine was “like watching a vintage Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers classic.” “You’re capable of brilliance. … Come on, get happy!”

And while Foreigner’s ’80s classic “Waiting For a Girl Like You” may have been foreign to the couple, Jenougher were able to pull off their rumba (which was thankfully easier on the knees) beautifully. Loved how Derek did a homage to the “Dirty Dancing” “Hungry Eyes” move by bringing his fingertips down his partner’s arm at the beginning. The whole routine was wonderfully controlled. “This challenge brings out the best in people,” Bruno declared. “Sensual, sexy … flawless!” “You captured the moment,” said Carrie Ann. “There is nothing more beautiful for me than to watch somebody reclaiming their power.” “What I love about dancing is the variations … the soft, the hard, the big, the small,” Len explained. “That’s what makes great dancing, and that’s what we saw.” Jenougher got a 27 for their quickstep, and a perfect 30 for their insta-rumba, for a total of 57.

Just a point behind were Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer, who were able to build on their wave of positivity from last week’s paso doble with this week’s Viennese Waltz. The last time Kyle had a waltz, Len said his feet were “atrocious.” But after a lot of rehearsal time and a lot more yelling from Lacey, Kyle’s feet caught up with his performance levels, and his partner turned out a routine that was as charming as it was technically proficient. “Last week, I saw a little bud,” said Len. “This week, a gorgeous orchid.” “We are all totally charmed by you,” purred Bruno. “You came back, you got better. And this is the way to win this.” Carrie Ann was all smiles and praise. “My crush on Kyle is back!” she rejoiced. “It’s like you were dancing on clouds … it was like watching a fairy tale come to life.”

And “Good Golly Miss Molly,” Kyle all but blew the roof off of the Rectagon with his Insta-Dance jive! This routine seemed to be tailor made for the Disney TV star and played up the natural performer’s strengths perfectly. And their performance was a whole minute and a half of raucous fun. I spent the whole routine with mouth agape, and a stupid smile plastered on my face. And I’m not the only one: the crowd instantly rose onto their feet after the performance -- and what a treat to see Carrie Ann and Bruno whooping and hollering along with the rest of them. While Len nitpicked and said “it was a little bit wild and wacky, but I really enjoyed it,” Bruno declared that “this was the top of the heap for entertainment value and creativity.” “It’s like this song was made for you,” Carrie Ann extolled. “That was the most fun I’ve had as a viewer.” Kyle got two deserved 10s for his performance, which, added to the 27 from his waltz, gave him a total of 56.

Oh, Kurt Warner is so dashing. He’s so charming with his affable nature. But put him on the dance floor with tails and a pink bow tie waltzing on the dance floor, and it’s hard not to root for the NFL Hall of Famer. And sure, his waltz with Anna Trebunskaya wasn’t as technically advanced as some of the other competitors. But gosh darn it if he didn’t win you over with his dapper smile and oodles of charm. “You’re like the Ken doll for mature people,” said Carrie Ann. “There’s something nice about a big guy come out being graceful.” “Overall, the whole feeling of the dance was beautiful,” said Len. Bruno called it “very very dashing,” and the judges gave Kurt and Anna a very respectable 24 for their routine..

And I was convinced that his “Hella Good” cha cha Insta-routine was going to be hella bad. But credit his kids for whipping their musically challenged father into shape, because Kurt pulled out tons of musicality from under those fluorescent yellow satin sleeves and poured it into his performance. Color me surprised to see him loosing and goosing and letting it all out – to the beat! “I’ve never seen you dance with so much charisma,” said Carrie Ann, fanning herself. Len and Bruno called him out for his foot placement and bent legs (bent knees versus flexed knees again?), but still said Kurt coped “extremely well” given the circumstances. Still, Kurt received the same 24 for this performance (which in my mind was far superior to his first routine). What’s a quarterback gotta do for some 9s around here? Luckily, it hasn’t broken Anna’s can-do spirit. Grand total: 48.

Bristol Palin warned her mother that the beginning of her Argentine Tango with Mark Ballas was going to be scandalous. To which Mama Grizzly responded, in a way only Sarah Palin can, “Is it like lap dancing scandalous?” Well, not exactly. But it was set to the Pussycat Dolls’ “Buttons,” which is not exactly the theme song of teen advocates. But Bristol took a cue from her mom, who commanded her to “just dominate, just take over!” and took fairly impressive command of her routine. Len liked the lifts, and how it was clean, but really wanted Bristol to “come out and give it some welly.” Bruno thought Bristol was “actually mean and moody,” though he pointed out that she lost her expressions in the middle of the sequence. “You have to be a bad girl all the way through.” Carrie Ann thought it was the most intense Bristol’s ever been, though she was lacking energy in her legs.

Bristol also lacked a little bit of oomph with her samba, set to “Mas Que Nada.” And despite being outfitted like she was from Brazilian Carnival and executing shoulder shimmies in full force, there were some stilted moments that revealed gaps in her musicality. Len praised her for mostly getting through all the difficult timing changes, though he “would have liked to see more rhythm through your hips.” Bruno gave Bristol and Mark credit for using the ‘pencil grinder’ and the ‘headache’ from his school of dance moves, but pointed out that Bristol “lost it a little bit.” Carrie Ann said this instant dance was the true test of musicality, and “unfortunately, I don’t think you were that connected,” she said. “It sort of came in and out and off the beat.” Bristol and Mark got a 24 for their Argentine tango, and a 23 for their samba, for a total of 47.

Which should pit Kurt and Bristol in the bottom two for Tuesday night’s elimination hour.

What do you think? Are we due for another upset in the results? Instant Dance: insta-hit or insta-dud? Was Maks right to stand up and defend himself so ardently? Can anyone stop Brandy and Jennifer Grey? What’s a welly?

— Allyssa Lee


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Photo credit: Bob D’Amico / ABC