‘Dancing With the Stars’ recap: In Loving Memory

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Births, deaths and second chances all figured into Week 3 of “Dancing With the Stars,” in which the celebrities selected songs from their most memorable year in order to tell a personal story through their dance. And while these weeks have a tendency to be on the more somber side, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many of these stars’ routines were more triumphant than treacly, illustrating how they banished the darker forces pulling them down and emphatically chose life.

But with such personal subject matters, the judges would be hard-pressed to criticize these dances too much and too harshly, and it seemed like many scores were bumped with a dose of kindness. And what a difference a week makes: Cranky Len looked like he had tasted the rainbow after last week’s scrunchy face fest and was high on happy pills. Here’s how the stars fared:

Keeping her lead was Ricki Lake. As it turned out, the actress and talk show host’s most memorable year was a recent one. Last year. Her house burnt down, and she just went through a bad divorce. She had resigned herself to being a single mom when she met Christian, an “incredible man” who became the love of her life. And her rumba with Derek Hough, set to “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles (also effectively used in this memorable dance), aptly reflected the push and pull of the courtship at its early ages. And Ricki emoted the heck out it. “Every step was as expressive as a word in a poem,” said Bruno. “The actress dancer at her best.” Len was full of congratulations: to Derek for his great routine, and to Ricki for dancing it so well. “Ricki Lake is on fi-re!” said Carrie Ann. “That was fabulous. It was breathtaking. It was gorgeous. It was sensual.” Total: 27 out of 30.

Some may say that Chynna Phillips’ choice of “Hold On” as this week’s anthem was a shameless one, but as an admitted Wilson Phillips follower in the early ’90s with a soft spot in my heart for this tune (which was revived recently when it appeared at the end of “Bridesmaids”), I was pleased as punch to see it back where it should be: front and center in the pop culture universe. And it was nice to discover the story’s backstory: Chynna had written the tune as a teenager suffering from depression, drug and alcohol abuse, as a paean about coming out from the darkness and into the light. Tony Dovolani wanted to do the song justice with the choreography, and the dance felt like it was a lovely tribute (if a little fast for the rumba, no?). And Carnie and Wendy Wilson were in the audience to experience it! Wilson Phillips, together again (my younger self is going crazy right now)! Bruno called Chynna “seductive, intriguing, stylish… You belong in a museum to admire.” Carrie Ann shared my sentiment when she said she had “never heard the song the way I heard it now.” Len said Chynna has “taken this whole competition to a new level,” and heaped the duo with a 9 paddle (to which Tom quipped, “Len’s so much more charming when he’s not giving neins in German”). “It’s kind of cool that my wife in the audience for a good night,” said Tony, smiling. Aw. Give this guy a Mirrorball trophy already! Total: 26


The real waterworks, however, were saved for J.R. Martinez’s performance. It was hard enough to re-watch the footage of him after being injured by a land mine at 19, and hear of the dark time he had gone through before his decision to choose to fight. But it was J.R.’s rumba with Karina Smirnoff, set to Tim McGraw’s “If You’re Reading This,” that left me a puddle on the floor. Reenacting a loved one’s anguish upon discovering her soldier wasn’t going to come home was so sad and beautifully done. Seeing this story set in such heartfelt motion made the impact that much greater. He had great, fluid movement, and I loved how J.R. supported Karina’s moves even as he wasn’t really there. Sob! “Tonight, you did something extraordinary,” Carrie Ann said tearfully. “You touched us all. … That was one of the most profound, honest dances I have seen on this show.” Len said J.R. “danced to a standard that was totally unexpected,” but pointed out he “could have been a little more musical through the arms.” Bruno said J.R. danced “from the heart,” and stretched the foot out like he had wanted. Leave it to J.R. to find elegance and poignancy in not only his dance, but his words as well, up in the sky box: “It’s amazing that we all have that power within us, and not know it.” Total: 26.

Not all the memorable moments required a three-hanky salute. Some just needed a good booty shake. Like Kristin Cavallari’s bumpin’ samba with Mark Ballas to Beyoncé’s 2005 masterwork “Crazy in Love,” chosen in commemoration of Kristin’s decision to move to L.A. and pursue her career. Now, I love this song, and felt, as Carrie Ann did, that Kristin had some big Beyoncé’d shoes to fill. And while I thought Kristin did an admirable job with the hairography and hip shakes (all that red fringe didn’t hurt, either), I wasn’t in love with this dance. But it’s hard when you’re comparing the dance to Sasha Fierce herself. I mean, after you have images of epic booty-popping and Beyoncé sweating it out in a burning car and kicking the top of a fire hydrant with her 5-inch heels burned on your brain whenever you hear this tune, nothing else really come close. The judges were high on whatever they were gassing into the soundstage, however, and gave it high marks. Len said the side-by-side stuff wasn’t his cup of tea, but “the other 80% was fabulous.” Bruno said it wasn’t just crazy in love; it was “crazy in lust.” Carrie Ann commended Kristin on doing “some very difficult choreography.” Total: 24

Hope Solo chose this year as her most memorable: The U.S. women’s team made it all the way to the World Cup finals, only to lose in the end. That’s when Hope realized that it wasn’t all about winning; “it was truly about the journey.” As a tribute to that moment, she chose Enrique Iglesias’ “Tonight” — her team’s song — for her cha cha with Maksim Chmerkovskiy. And Maks was resolved to bring out the sexy in her (and her teammates, who were seated in the studio audience, sure seemed to appreciate it). The hair department must have dusted off their crimpers, because both she and Ricki Lake showed up with crinkly ’80s hair. I kind of thought she looked a little uncomfortable in those high heels and all that glitter and lace (and what was that weird pout on her face?), but the judges all seemed to buy it. “That was very sexy and very hot,” confirmed Carrie Ann. “I just want to see you work on your walk.” Len thought the routine was good, if a bit provocative, though it could have used “a little more sharper action.” “The sexy minx is out of the cage!” bellowed Bruno. “You were going for it like a panther,” though he told Hope to cross her legs slightly when she walked, and take it on the ball of her foot. Total: 24.

After last week’s bottom two slap in the face, David Arquette admitted it wasn’t a great feeling and hard to come back. But come back he did, just like he did last year, when his marriage fell apart, he was really hurt and lost and turned to alcohol to numb the feelings. But he was grateful for it, because “life’s about love and not giving into fear,” he said. And so he could be there for the daughter. Admittedly, David is not the greatest dancer, but I just love how he loves his daughter. “She is magnificent,” he says, simply. Also magnificent: Seeing an ecstatic Coco raise her arms to clap for him in triumph after his rumba with Kym Johnson. The rains cleared out, and the blue skies came in, and David did his best to be a partner to the twirling Kym, who played the sultry angel on his shoulder. Len called the rumba “a mix of motion and emotion” and told David he was proud of him. “You brought sensitivity, vulnerability, you were achingly romantic,” said Bruno. Carrie Ann called it a “very nice comeback. … You have this incredible raw emotion that is pure and honest… that is what dancing is all about,” she said. Total: 24.

According to Len, Rob Kardashian lived up to the ‘dash’ in his last name with his fox trot with Cheryl Burke, which was set to Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me To the Moon” in honor of his father, Robert Kardashian, Sr. (who passed away in 2003). “He was literally my best friend” and “I loved him more than life,” Rob said, showing off a tattoo of his father on his left forearm. And Rob and Cheryl channeled the rat pack with their dance (though not, as Bruno suggested, “Guys and Dolls,” which — gasp — neither of them had heard of. Horror!). Carrie Ann called the dance “debonair, charming and very smooth.” I liked how they shot straight for the moon up at the top of the grand staircase at the end of the routine. Though sister Kim took a little longer to get up on her feet in a standing ovation. Maybe because she’s realizing her little brother may last a little longer than she did in the competition? Total: 24.

Three cheers for Carson Kressley! Last week’s quickstep misstep and mean girl judges’ remarks put the style maven squarely back in middle school P.E. where he couldn’t climb the rope and play volleyball. Thankfully, the self-professed dweeb, who was “rocking the dorky look before it was cool,” was able to triumphantly recount his underdog story and come back into the competition with a stylish vengeance. He rallied himself, got gussied up in a satin ballroom jacket and blasted No Doubt’s “It’s My Life” while equally fabulous partner Anna Trebunskaya fashioned a tango routine that was styled squarely in Carson’s wheelhouse –a vicious wardrobe smackdown that had each partner hunting the other’s frocks. Genius! Loved how it was staged on a red carpet. Loved how he delivered his head swivels with Blue Steel-type intensity. Loved the matching high kicks down the dance floor (Carson’s legs have got serious air!). And loved loved loved how he grabbed Anna’s heel in triumph and dropped her to the floor. “That was insanely brilliant,” Bruno said, reading my thoughts. “You got the shoes, and yes, you will make it to the ball!” “Carson, I love you, just the way you are!” hailed Carrie Ann. “You brought us drama, entertainment, enthusiasm…sassy strange.” Len, who said he didn’t need a kiss, said Carson “put the ‘boy’ in ‘flamboyant’… You danced it with flexed knees, you’ve got it with right attitude. I enjoyed it very much.” Total: 23.

Nancy Grace chose 2007 as her most memorable moment, as it commemorated the year her twins, after medical complications, were born. And partner Tristan MacManus sweetly incorporated a tribute by adding in a passé that her daughter had demonstrated during rehearsals of their “Moon River” waltz. Nancy looked like a Disney princess, prosecutor version, in her swept up hair and blue ballroom gown. The resulting waltz seemed very sonorous and sweet, if a bit slow. Len liked that there was “no messin’ about,” but said she should try and get the “ballroom stretch” for better posture. Bruno said it was “soft and dreamy” but said to carry through her port de bras. Carrie Ann gave the most evocative description of them all, saying she got lost in her fantasy Disney creation, a “live-action lullaby.” “Let’s give Carrie Ann’s imagination a 10.” Total: 21.

Chaz Bono selected this year as his most memorable: “I’m happier than I’ve ever been.” Though he did hearken back to his past, selecting the song “Laugh at Me’ written by his father, Sonny Bono, as this week’s anthem. Chaz explained that the tune had become sort of a theme song for him. “If you have a problem with me, it’s your problem, it’s not mine,” he said. Lacey Schwimmer showed her support for her partner during rehearsals with her homemade tank top, which revealed that she’s “Pro Bono.” And I’m assuming the cheetah fur vest was also pro Bono, worn in tribute to his dad. Busy Phillips and Christa Miller from “Cougartown” gave their resulting rumba a standing ovation, but the judges were a bit more hesitant with their praise. Carrie Ann was touched by his courage, but said Chaz “looked really distracted…not quite focused in the dance.” Len said it was his best performance (but slapped him down with a 6 nevertheless, saying he has a ways to go). Bruno also said Chaz looked “a little bit lost.” Total: 18.

Which, unfortunately, puts Chaz as a distinct and distant disadvantage when it comes to finding out who gets the boot on Tuesday night.

What do you think, ballroom fans? Will Chaz get cut from the competition, or will all those who are pro Bono save him from the claws of elimination? Do you feel the judges were a little kinder to these personal stories? Who’s your favorite to win?


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--Allyssa Lee