Sometimes, real life can get to be too much and we need to escape to a place more sparkly and frivolous, if just for a little while.
And it’s in times like these that “Dancing with the Stars” can be such a glittery reprieve from a harsh reality. And there was much to look at in the fifth week of competition. More dances! More pros! More Len! Two Len Goodmans, in fact, standing side by side to introduce “Loveable Lenny’s Side-By-Side Challenge.”
In it, each of the remaining nine couples had to dance alongside a pro couple. The pro couple kicked off the dance, then the pro couple and the celebrity couple danced side by side, and then the celebrity couple danced on their own.
That way all the couples are judged on a higher standard and, as Len said, “every step must be perfectly in sync.” Plus, it gave us a chance to welcome back some of our favorite pros: Chelsie Hightower, Anna Trebunskaya, Tony Dovolani, Tristan MacManus and ... Maksim Chmerkovskiy! (whose eyebrows got a huge entrance in the Lacey Schwimmer-choreographed group dance number at the top of the performance show).
And although having each celebrity dance alongside three pros seemed like a daunting task, the stars really rose to the challenge. Performance levels were challenged and raised, the routines were longer, the pro partners got a little break from all that instruction halfway through this 16thseason, and we got an eyeful of pro dancing, as well as really solid efforts from our stars.
Regaining the lead was Disney Channel star Zendaya -- who is quickly making gazelle leaps up the ranks as one of my all-time favorite “DWTS” competitors.
Not only did she and Valentin Chmerkovskiy have to dance alongside another pro couple, but it turns out that Val’s never danced the Argentine tango before in his life. And Zendaya’s only 16, so was having a hard time digging her neon-colored nails and her emotions into this performance.
Luckily Anna (!) and Val’s brother Maks (!) were there to show Zendaya the ropes. “Gotta teach a girl how to be a woman,” Anna commented. “It’s not easy.” Loved how Anna taught Zendaya, how Maks and Val danced together for a spell, and particularly how everything came together in their performance.
Anna and Maks slunk across the dance floor like hot bandits. Anna passed along her bejeweled bracelet to Zendaya, the “Shake It Up” star took it and ran with it like a stealthy pro. She “snapped” Val’s neck and took her seat alongside Anna like the pro that she was.
“Zendaya! A lethal beauty. Tale of entrapment, deceit and desire,” Bruno said. “Next to Anna you were as good and as strong. Your lines -- you were up there with the best we’ve ever had.”
Carrie Ann said she enjoyed how Zendaya’s every move “has a story. It’s like watching stylized life happen, and I love it.”
Len likened the dance to a lemon tart: “Sharp and tangy at the top, crisp and tasty down below,” the head judge said. “That was a gem of a dance.” And one that fittingly earned the first two 10s of the season. Total: 29 out of 30.
Kellie Pickler and Derek Hough were having a tough go of it during rehearsals this week. Their fox trot was the first ballroom dance of the competition, and in their awkward first steps at the dance, country singer Kellie predicted, “we’re going to be a tangled mess.”
Derek, particularly, was getting frustrated with how long it was taking Kellie to learn the steps. Luckily, Anna and troupe member Henry Byalikov came along, and Anna was Cynthia Rhodes’ Penny to Kellie’s Jennifer Grey/Baby, correcting every shoulder, back and arm position and giving Derek a much-needed break in instruction. And their fox trot, set to “It Had to Be You,” was classically beautiful and great (save Kellie’s wig).
“I think you’ve all blossomed working with another set of pros,” Carrie Ann observed.
“That was fabulous!” “That wasn’t a fox trot -- that was a hot trot,” hooted Len. “You put the ‘ooh’ in ‘smooth’!”
Bruno said Kellie managed to dance with the glamour and humor of Jean Harlow in “Dinner at Eight.” Total: 27.
We all knew Jacoby Jones was a Super Bowl champion, but who knew he was a superman as well? The NFL player’s got flight.
The Baltimore Ravens wide reciever wanted to get the encore this week, but the Big Easy native had to tamp down his itch to do the New Orleans skip in favor of the jive with Karina Smirnoff first.
Good thing Maks and Anna were on hand to help out. First, it was great to see Maks and Karina in the same space. Second, Maks helped make the moves for Jacoby more masculine. Third, Maks and Anna are just beautiful people. And Maks and Anna looked great at the beginning of this back-alley jive (all that fringe!).
Not to say Jacoby didn’t do his part; he more than held his own with all that knee-knocking, those splits down at the floor, and that split leap over Karina!
The routine had Bruno up in arms. “Jacoby and Maks! It was like watching two stallions at the peak of their power fighting for supremacy,” he crowed. “Masculinity and testosterone pouring from everything.”
Though Bruno did provide one critique: “Point your feet on the kicks and flicks.”
Carrie Ann declared her love right then and there. “You hammered that jive!” she exclaimed.
Len, however, brought Jacoby back down to earth. “You’ll never get a 9 off me with those feet,” he said. “You’ve got to get sharper, you got to get better.” Total: 26.
Boston-area native Alexandra Raisman dedicated Monday night’s dance with Mark Ballas to her hometown and all those affected by the day’s horrific events. The Olympic gymnast got some help tapping the inner Brazilian sexy of the samba from troupe member Witney Carson and Tony Dovolani. As Aly said, “Witney has the it factor, and knows how to work it on the dance floor.”
It really seemed like the two hit it off during rehearsals. Even though Mark can be a good girl (“He’s really sassy,” Aly remarked), Witney gave Aly helpful pointers on how to make hairography work for her (“You have to whip it all around,” she advised).
As Carrie Ann said, Aly really held her own alongside Witney and Tony at the beginning of their samba. However, after a small stumble, the judge said she saw Aly’s confidence “come down a notch.” To think how it would have worked out had she kept that hard-hitting, high-pumping sass until the very end.
Still, Len thought Aly’s “bottom is the tops. You were right in sync with Tony and Witney. Once you got out there, there was a little bit of a mistake here ... and your legs are a little bit flimsy.”
Bruno said he had no idea Aly “could be sassy and saucy” and that he liked how she came into her own. He also liked her “lovely carefully effortless attitude.”
Carrie Ann also said she liked how Aly brought the sexy, and seeing that what Witney taught her came out in her dance. Total: 25.
Sean Lowe and Peta Murgatroyd got lucky (the luck of the Irish, maybe?) when they were paired with Tristan and Chelsie Hightower in their side-by-side challenge.
Sean said it best himself: “Tristan is not just a beautiful dancer, he’s a beautiful man.” Amen, brother.
Sean decided to pull a Single White Male on Tristan during rehearsals, showing up in the same hot pink shirt and aping the hunky Irishman’s every move. And it seemed to have worked.
Sean’s quickstep with Peta was pretty impressive. Tristan and Chelsie looked fantastic as they whipped around on the dance floor, and Sean did his best to imitate his Irish idol when he followed suit.
Bruno said Sean up until now was “always a bit of a lumberjack. Tonight, you turned into a swan!”
“You’re back, my friend,” Carrie Ann agreed. “You’re bold and it was beautiful.”
Len took Bruno’s swan metaphor flew with it. “Last week, a statue, this week, a pigeon!” he crowed. Apparently, Len thought it would be better to be a flying pigeon than a lifeless statue. Anyway, the head judge said, “That’s your best dance so far.” Total: 24.
Ingo Rademacher and Kym Johnson had the unenviable task of going first with their cha-cha -- and Ingo was really intimidated to dance alongside all-star pro champ Tony Dovolani and Emma Slater.
This was the actor’s first Latin dance and required him to move his hips “in that way,” and rehearsals quickly turned into a living nightmare for the “General Hospital” star.
But he sure looked the part of a smooth operator sitting at a cafe with Tony. And he sure did go for it in his cha-cha routine (no points for effort). Ingo’s wife was up on her feet in support, and his cute son waved to the camera.
The judges, however, pointed out the routine’s technical flaws. “You’ve got the flair, we need the care,” Len said.
“‘Lady Marmalade’ got you in a bit of a jam,” said Bruno. “You got the character right, and so you disguise a lot of technical problems.”
Carrie Ann agreed, though she said “those pelvic thrusts were obviously a hit.” She told Ingo to take care and “watch below the belt.”
Ingo, for his part, said there was a “fine line between looking sexy and looking stupid.” Total: 21.
Victor Ortiz and Lindsay Arnold are fighting to stay out of the bottom two this week. Victor was having some personal strife and was distracted during rehearsals after he found a girl he was dating was with some other guy. After punching it out in the gym a bit, he chose to channel all that emotion into his Viennese waltz alongside Tristan and Emma.
I liked how the dance, set to INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart,” started with Tristan and Emma as mannequins come to life, and ended with Victor and Lindsay going back into mannequin poses in the end. Sure, it was kind of clunky. But Victor really seemed to pour himself into it.
“I saw that was a victory. ... I think you channeled your emotions well ... you actually nailed the grace of the dance,” said Carrie Ann -- though she also crankily pointed out the lifts on the floor.
Len said he wasn’t going to take them to task for that because “there was no intent to lift,” he said. “This is better than last week, and that’s the way to go,” he said.
Bruno said Victor was “back in the game.” Total: 21.
D.L. Hughley is barely hanging on, though he really did give it the college (humor) try in his tango with Cheryl Burke. Having the additional assistance of Sasha Farber and Chelsie Hightower helped.
Though D.L. held his form and he held his arm up in triumph at the routine’s end, the musicality seemed to suffer a little bit.
Len likened the dance to decaf coffee: “It looked all right, but it lacked any snap ... you had to attack the dance.”
Bruno, however, thought D.L. attacked the dance so much that “instead of a stalking panther, you turned into a romper stomper.”
Carrie Ann said she loved D.L.’s intensity and his focus, but “side by side, you can see the difference.”
“Was it the hair that gave it away?” D.L. asked. Total: 18.
Andy Dick is still in awe that he’s made it this far in the competition, as comedians have notoriously not made it very far in their quests for the Mirrorball trophy. But when pro partner Sharna Burgess brought along a cape and forced the funnyman to think “matador, not magician,” Andy said he felt the furthest thing from “that machismo – ole! Kind of thing.”
Luckily, he had the help of pros Emma and Sasha to help ease him into the Zorro role. “When you think of paso doble, you don’t think of Andy Dick,” he said right before his performance. “But you will after this dance.”
Andy played “Ando machismo,” coming to save damsel in distress Sharna from the evil clutches of Sasha and Emma.
And, well, the zipline entrance was pretty cool and “the cape work was pretty good,” said Carrie Ann. But “once you lost the cape, it kind of fell apart for me.”
Len said, “It was more Pasadena than paso doble. But as always, it’s great fun and I enjoyed watching you.”
Bruno said the title of the dance could be “The Attack of the Killer Cape.” Though he quickly crossed the line when he said “the only thing missing was Cloris Leachman.” Total: 18.
Andy did plod along, but I didn’t think his dance deserved that harsh of a critique -- though I do think it’s interesting how the comedians seem to take the critiques the hardest.
What do you think, ballroom fans? Agree with the scores this week? What did you think of the side-by-side challenge? The return of the Maks? Think Jacoby should get the encore dance this week? What was your favorite routine?