Saturday, November 15, 2014

DWTS Week 9:Trios and Tangos and Flight Attendants, Oh My!

Sadie and Mark Ballas and Emma perform a trio foxtrot. Stunning. Courtesy of ABC.
If you've never seen Dancing with the Stars before and wonder what all the fuss is about, or if you want to see an episode where all the dances are great, Season 19's Week 9 (last week) is one for you.

Wow. Wow. Wow, was it an amazing week!

First, sadly, Lea Thompson ended up being the one sent home. And it was sad, because FINALLY, in this week, the promise of the Lea/Artem pairing finally showed itself. They have never danced better together (both in the individual dance and the trio), and Artem's choreography really shone, and showcased Lea. It was phenomenal. If they had danced like this all along, they could've won this thing. It's always sad when that happens in Week 9.

Artem and Lea and Henry do their trio. Courtesy of ABC.
They finally break through, it finally clicks, and they get sent home. *sigh*

But really, at this point, other than Tommy Chong, everyone left is an amazing dancer, and it's going to be some mighty fine dancing from here on out. And on the subject of Tommy Chong, let me just say this...

Peta and Tommy and Sharna do a devilish trio. Courtesy of ABC.
This was arguably the hottest number in all of Season 19 so far. So salacious, so amazing, so wonderful. It's really no surprise that Tommy Chong is still here. America loves him. I love him and want him to still be there. Cause we get wondrous creations like Chong Air.  Oh my! *fans self*

(He also did a Viennese waltz with Peta which was pretty amazing.)

So, let me backtrack a bit. Week 9, everyone did a dance with their partner (all of which were great in their own right). Then, everyone did a trio dance "with a pro who had been voted out, or a member of the troupe." The trio dances this time were phenomenal. Across the board. One more stunning than the next. None MORE stunning than the one that I led this story with. But we'll get to that. Kind of shocking that we had no Cheryl or Karina or Allison chosen for the trios. But we do have four women left, and two men. Usually men are chosen to dance with the women stars, and women are chosen to go with the male stars. We had a little upset with that predictable pattern this time, leading to some incredible results.

But first, let's look at the individual dances.

My favorite among them was this one.

Bethany and Derek did a stirring, emotional Viennese waltz.
Derek's choreography, as usual, was stunning. Bethany was never more vulnerable. Just such a beautiful dance.

Mark Ballas and Sadie had a jive which rocked the house. (My 2nd favorite dance.)

Mark Ballas and Sadie jive. Courtesy of ABC.
Mark's choreography (always, but especially this season) just blows my mind. They did this jive "competition style," even incorporating their voting number on his back. Nice.

It is at this point that I must commend the amazing artistes who created the costumes for this episode. Without exception, they were stunning. Some were even more stunning than others. This one, for example.

Janel and Val do a quickstep. Courtesy of ABC.
Man. Just beautiful work. (The costumes and the dance.) This quickstep was my third favorite. And seriously, already at this point in the show, I am just marveling at how amazing the choreographers are. Such incredible, beautiful work (consistently from Val). Detailed, intricate, stunning.

Witney and Alfonso do a foxtrot. Courtesy of ABC/Dancing with the Stars.
Alfonso and Witney kicked off the quarterfinals with their foxtrot. The theme of these individual dances was supposed to be "what America wants." More or less, whoever responded to questions on DWTS' Facebook page about it. (A lame theme, perhaps the lamest of all season.) The dances, however, were anything but lame.

We are getting down to number five out of six on my list, and they are all still amazing dances. This samba that Lea did had her in this sex kitten outfit doing things over Artem's face that poor Sadie will only be able to dream about. For like a couple decades. Rawwwwrrrrr... Unbelievable and incredibly sexy.

The personification of cougar. Artem and Lea do a samba.
Even Tommy and Peta's Viennese waltz was watchable and fun.

1. Derek and Bethany (Viennese waltz)
2. Mark and Sadie (jive)
3. Val and Janel (quickstep)
4. Witney and Alfonso (foxtrot)
5. Artem and Lea (samba)
6. Peta and Tommy (Viennese waltz)


The roof blew off the joint. Everyone did trio dances. Maybe it's just cause I like threesomes... I dunno, but I have always really loved the trio dances. It's my favorite part of the season. This time did not disappoint, either.

Lea and Artem's paso with Henry continued on the wild sexuality she expressed in her individual dance, and really made me want this team to stick around longer.

Tommy and Peta's samba with fellow Aussie Sharna ("Chong Air") was just jaw-droppingly brilliant. And funny, and sexy. Way sexy. Like an Austin Powers fever dream, in dance.

Alfonso and Witney and Lindsey's paso came out of the gate with a bang. You just didn't want it to end. Powerful and passionate. Turn down for what? Indeed.

Tony and Bethany and Derek do an Argentine tango trio. Courtesy of ABC/Dancing with the Stars.
Bethany and Derek and Tony did a stunning Argentine tango, so incredible after how soft and vulnerable her previous dance was.

Val and Janel, dancing salsa with pro Keo, did a tribal power dance (with great salsa content).

But it was (again) Mark Ballas who took my prize for best trio dance. Again, he created a compact, easy to understand story. Mark and Emma, the couple, set out to dance. Mark is taken with the beauty of Sadie, and can't stop dancing with her. Emma was an unusual choice, perhaps, since the stars don't usually dance with pros of their same sex, but "all the other men were taken," so Mark had to work around it, ended up creating (to my eyes) the most wonderful dance of the night. Stunningly beautiful.

And, in as much as there was acting involved (and there was some), Emma was just perfect. Mark, perfectly balancing the fact that the spotlight should be on Sadie, and not the skilled pro Emma (which is very tough to do when you have a pro dancing). If you watch one dance from this evening, seek out this one.

1. Sadie and Mark and Emma (foxtrot, "Can't Take My Eyes Off You")
2. Alfonso and Witney and Lindsey (paso doble, "Turn Down for What")
3. Bethany and Derek and Tony (Argentine tango, "Into the Jungle")
4. Tommy and Peta and Sharna (samba, "Talk Dirty to Me")
5. Lea and Artem and Henry (paso doble, "Black Betty")
6. Val and Janel and Keo (salsa)

Honestly and truly, at this moment, I do not know who I want to win. But there are some factors at play.

So, let's take a look at the upcoming battles.

PROS: Mark Ballas, even more than Derek Hough, has this season been knocking it out of the park, dance after dance. He has not been scored high enough (IMHO). His genius of creativity has been on full display, as he has created dance after stunning memorable dance. He deserves to win another Mirror Ball, and it's been awhile since his last one.
CONS: Sadie. To my eyes, her conservatism and unwillingness to wear appropriate dancer costumes has really held her back, and could very well keep her from the big win. Also, I don't think America is as in love with her as they are with some others.

PROS: Derek is one of the geniuses of this show. His choreography is breathtaking, and he always takes stunning chances. Bethany is a beautiful partner.
CONS: Derek just won. And just won before that. He needs to sit down this time. I'd really rather have Singin' in the Rain be Derek's moment from this season.

PROS: Alfonso knocked it out of the park on his first dance this season, giving us the impression there were no other competitors. There are moments when he and Witney just take my breath away.
CONS: The rest of the season has really been up and down and all over the place (bad music choices, less than perfect dancing). Also, does Witney really have the choreography chops to compete against Mark and Val and Derek, who are doing some of their best work this season?

PROS: I could seriously see this man winning the Mirror Ball. Don't laugh. America loves him, and refuses to let go. Peta is an incredible choreographer, and her beauty and sassiness do often cover Tommy's lack of dancing ability. His trio dance with Peta and Sharna proved he is a showman and an entertainer, and that could take him all the way to the end.
CONS: The man truly cannot dance. He's always forgetting his steps and bumbling all over himself. But then, he's 78 years old.

PROS: Val has never won a Mirror Ball before. His choreography is top-notch stunning. His choreography can knock it out of the park. Janel is a willing and beautiful partner. Sentimental Chmerkovskiy double-header.
CONS: He doesn't seem as laser-focused on the win (as, say, Mark Ballas is this season). Janel isn't America's sweetheart, the way Bethany is.

Val and Janel and Keo do a salsa.
Any of these people, and I'm not kidding, ANY of these people could win. If I had to give the edge to anyone, I'd say Mark Ballas and Sadie for the win, because his choreography has never been better, and that's pretty amazing to watch. However, the judges have not been good to him this season, for whatever reason, and young Sadie may not be up to the challenge.

My second favorite to win would be Val, cause it would be so nice to see a Chmerkovskiy double-feature (Val winning for the first time right after Maks (Maksim C, Val's brother) won his first one).

But I'm not kidding that I think Tommy Chong could also win. Those same people who voted Jesse Ventura (or Arnold Schwartzenegger) governor are sitting by their phones. Heh, heh, heh. Yeah. Tommy Chong. 76-year-old Tommy Chong to win Dancing with the Stars. That'd be good. *snicker, snicker* I could totally see it. Whatever happens, it's sure going to be fun to watch the next few episodes.

Tommy Chong and Peta Murgatroyd do a Viennese waltz. Courtesy of ABC.
I also want to shout out to the other talented craftspeople on this show: the hairstylists (especially Sadie's hair in the trio dance), the camera people (really nice shot of Sadie crying on Mark's shoulder). Also the three camera shot of people getting ready is a really nice touch. All in all, the craftspeople were at the top of their game on this episode in particular. Stunning dresses on Emma and Sadie, and Janel earlier. So so much good stuff in this episode, you really should check it out. This is a great example of why we watch.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

DWTS Week 8: Delightful and Dastardly Duos

Lea and Artem doing Bonnie and Clyde. Courtesy of ABC.
This week at Dancing with the Stars, it was Duos Week, meaning famous duos from history...or TV...or the Bible, or wherever we decided to pull them from... In some cases, this worked, in others, it didn't.

I'm sitting here now, trying to think about whether Lea would be going further if she had a different partner. If she were paired up with Mark or Derek or Val (I honestly think she would be going further in this competition). Cause the thing is: Lea Thompson is a star. Artem (insert long Russian name here) is not. He THINKS he is, but he is not. Stardom is earned. You don't just get it because you become a pro.

And most of their missteps this season have, frankly, to do with his ego being too big, and not nurturing Lea, who is truly the star. Derek Hough, who is truly THE star of this show, knows that you have to step back and let the other person shine, especially if they really need to. Witness his season with Amber Riley. That girl would NOT be held back, and their best routines were where Derek just let her go to town. And that's why they won. Derek was no less a star, he was just being the professional that this show requires, and I don't think Artem has learned that yet.

Allison seemed to struggle with that concept this season, too.

Lea was rocking her best Faye Dunaway in this number. And I'm struggling to pinpoint why it wasn't a better routine. The judges basically said the same thing.

Here's the thing: Lea COULD, at this point, really turn it around, and rock her way to the end, or she could be leaving soon. It really depends on her. The judges said as much too.

But contrast what she and Artem are doing with what Witney and Alfonso are doing. Alfonso proved Week 1 that he could win this thing. He and Witney were Batman and Robin, and they danced to Prince. Great song, great costumes and makeup, great presentation. They have everything to win.

Alfonso and Witney as Batman and Robin.
And for something completely different, but also with a winning demeanor, how about Janel and Val? They chose Romeo and Juliet this week, and it was stunning. Contemporary, which is an acquired taste, but it scored perfectly with the judges, and was beautiful to watch.

Janel and Val do Romeo and Juliet. Courtesy of ABC.
Val's choreography takes my breath away, every single week. This was no exception. Wow.

Then we had the costume malfunctions. Michael and Emma are planning costumes for their duo, Tarzan and Jane. As Michael examines all the various incarnations of Tarzan over the years, he notes (correctly): "They are all wearing loincloths." Yup. That's pretty much Tarzan. So what is he wearing onstage? A cowboy outfit, with some kind of weird loincloth thing over it. :-/

Same with super-conservative Sadie. Her and Mark are doing the Adam and Eve story from the Bible (more on that in a minute). She mentions in the package that she'd be "uncomfortable" with Mark doing body paint, and going shirtless. So they have these costumes... sigh...

Sadie and Mark doing Adam and Eve. 
I mean, LOOK AT THAT. *EYEROLL* Is no one going to point out to them that in the moments BEFORE taking a bite of that apple, Adam and Eve are blissfully naked, ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE? It is once they take that bite that shame and modesty comes about.

But we will ignore all that, since she is a young conservative kid, and don't want her to feel uncomfortable even though (for me) it detracted from the dance.

However, the dance, as with all of Mark Ballas' creations this season, was blissful.

Sadie and Mark as Adam and Eve.
I just love watching his dances so much. And BC Jean's wonderful, beautiful singing just added to the magic of this dance.

But enough with the serious and contemplative. How about some FUN?

Bethany and Derek chose Lucy and Ricky, and their dance was just wondrous.

Bethany and Derek do Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. Courtesy of ABC.
Bethany is just great to watch. This salsa was a lot of fun.

Tommy and Peta were Johnny and June Carter Cash, also a lot of fun, but expect him to go home next.

1. Derek and Bethany (Ricky and Lucy)
2. Mark and Sadie (Adam and Eve)
3. Val and Janel (Romeo and Juliet)
4. Alfonso and Witney (Batman and Robin)
5. Lea and Artem (Bonnie and Clyde)

1. Bethany and Derek
2. Mark and Sadie
3. Val and Janel
4. Alfonso and Witney

Lea and Artem

Tommy and Peta

NEXT WEEK: Trios Week!


Saturday, November 1, 2014

DWTS Season 19 Week 7: Judges Disappoint. Guess who wins the Team Dance? AGAIN?

Team Creepy dances to "Time Warp." Courtesy of ABC.
It all comes down to this, ultimately: Entertainment or proper technique?

Which is more important is the fundamental question of Dancing with the Stars these days. This reality show began 19 seasons ago, with a focus on ballroom competition technique, and evolved from there. In the evolution, you've had changes (as one would expect). Much more (too much, for my taste) hip hop stuff was added; other, not strictly ballroom, dances ("jazz," "Bollywood") were added to the overall repertoire; and most strikingly, those who shepherded this project all along kind of outgrew their masters.

The judges were once the guiding force. Now many of the longtime pros have far surpassed the judges in skill and creativity and passion. The pros have really become the stars of this show. So it becomes, sometimes, a question of: are we doing this to hit our marks and pack in every piece of content requested? Or are we doing this for "entertainment"? To keep those millions of fans happy and tuning in each week?

The answer, of course, is kind of both. My answer, actually, would be that I look for enough content to see that it's recognizably the dance it's supposed to be, but within that, I love to see creativity stretched as far as it can be. I love to see the dancers having fun (the pros, I mean) and challenging themselves, and on those really lucky days, creating magic. Sometimes they just create straight-up fun. Is that a bad thing? The judges seem to still be saying Yes, but to that, I say NO! Give us fun, dammit!

This week, for example, we had the Team Dances. The remaining cast is divided into two teams. They compete as a team. Fun stuff. Only problem? Derek's team ALWAYS wins. And I mean, ALWAYS. (He has never lost.) How fun is that? What is the point?

Granted, most times, Derek's Team Dance creation stands far and above the other team. Derek Hough is arguably the best dancer on this show. And his magical Team Dances usually include solos for each cast member which seamlessly blend into the whole of the dance. That bit usually causes him to win (IMHO).

Mark Ballas and Sadie dancing as part of Team Creepy. Courtesy of ABC/Adam Taylor.
But this time, it was Derek's team against (also arguably the best dancer on the show) Mark Ballas' team. And Mark Ballas used that same technique: poignant solos by each member, showcasing their ability, really (as the judges did note) highlighting each person's personality. And in this Team Dance, he beat Derek in this point. Also note how in HIS solo with Sadie, he is still mindful of Sadie. (By all rights of this Time Warp, he should be dressed as Frank N. Furter--Speedo, fishnets, etc.-- here. Instead, he chose to dress as a jester, all covered up. I really respected that choice.)

Usually, Derek's Team Dances win because they are also dancing to the best, catchiest number. In this particular case, Mark's team had the edge because they were dancing to "Time Warp"
(from The Rocky Horror Picture Show), always a crowd-pleaser. (So Mark wins as far as music.)

I don't know if it's that the judges are just Derek Hough-blind (and don't see anyone else's talent) or what, but to my eyes, I LOVED what Mark Ballas did with his team. Their Time Warp was fantastic! And he had Cheryl and Witney (who has never seen Rocky Horror... WHAT? Someone take her, for God's sake...) and Peta (all fantastic dancers).

Peta Murgatroyd and Tommy Chong dancing as part of Team Creepy. Courtesy of ABC.
And still Derek's team won. :-(

Mind you, Derek's Team's dance was also incredible. Great costumes, great dancing. I just thought Time Warp was WAY more entertaining. WAY MORE.

Team Itsy Bitsy, the winning team. Derek's team, no surprise. Courtesy of ABC.
So that score bummed me out.

Then, both Mark & Sadie and Derek & Bethany do a paso doble. Mark's was scored a 30. Derek's was scored a 39. Seriously, judges, WTF is up with this scoring? Mind you, I did love Derek and Bethany's paso. But it wasn't in the earth-shaking realms of many pasos past. (So, a near-perfect score?)

Leah Remini (guest host last week) was hitting Derek with her microphone (inappropriately, I thought) as she was saying: "Do you know what it's like to get a 6? or a 7?" She should've been hitting the judges with it.

Bethany and Derek. Courtesy of ABC.
I don't know what the judges are smoking, but to my eyes, Bethany and Derek shot their wad on "Singin' in the Rain," and haven't been up to that level since, even though the scores since then don't reflect that viewpoint.

Whereas, Mark Ballas' paso...WOW! Fantastic music. Great dancing, great choreography, great concept. I really like the pieces that showcase a story, from beginning to end, and Mark Ballas consistently does that. So, too, this week.

In kind of a metaphor for what is actually going on on the show, young innocent girl (Sadie) gets attacked by the jaded zombies, of which Mark is the lead. Some of the judges complained about this storyline, but I thought it was just brilliant and beautiful. And Sadie played the young, innocent girl well.

Sadie and Mark do a paso doble that was extremely entertaining. Courtesy of ABC.
Also, HELLO JUDGES?, it was entertaining!!!! It's the Halloween show. Are zombies not appropriate?

The crowd was on their feet (in the studio) after this number. They were applauding so hard, that Carrie Anne had to wait a minute until she started to give her comment. It was a phenomenal, and audience-stirring, creation of a number. Other people who scored higher didn't get that kind of reaction in studio. (Just sayin...)

Mark Ballas' genius on so many levels just doesn't get the appreciation he really deserves, and it's really starting to piss me off.

We had another story dance, which the judges also didn't like: Val and Janel's Viennese waltz.

Val and Janel do a Viennese waltz. Courtesy of ABC.
The judges really don't get the concept of social media, or the idea of promoting another show, or even that the other show may have a fan base. But Janel is certainly hip to it, and she came up with the idea of pulling in her character from (her successful show) Pretty Little Liars to play off of in this Viennese waltz. I loved it. Loved the costumes, loved the dance. The judges? Not so much (scored a 31, just one point higher than Mark Ballas' score).

Val and Janel. Courtesy of ABC.
Sad, so sad. The costumes were great. The dance was great. Val's choreography, always fantastic.

I'm still rooting for Lea to pull this out. She really could do an Amber Riley if she's able to shine over Artem somehow. Her moments of taking back her own power are truly amazing, but there aren't enough of them.

Lea Thompson and Artem during Team Itsy Bitsy. Courtesy of ABC.
This team has become one of the ones I really look forward to, week after week. Their Argentine tango was awesome.

Lea Thompson and Artem. Courtesy of ABC.
I guess I wasn't kidding when I wrote earlier that I thought Val and Janel's rumba would be the sexiest all season. So far, that's held true. Alfonso and Witney gave it their shot this week, but there was no apparent sexiness in it at all. (Guess if Sadie and Mark can pull off the "nice" rumba...)

Alfonso and Witney do a rumba. Courtesy of ABC.
Peta and Tommy gave us a quickstep, which was kinda not so quick. Still, I'm enjoying watching Tommy and Peta's creations. Tommy is endlessly fun to watch.

Peta Murgatroyd and Tommy Chong. Courtesy of ABC.
The couple voted out this week was Cheryl and Antonio. It made me sad. Not because I was sorry to see Antonio go, but because Cheryl has talked in the press about this likely having been her last season of DWTS. "I started when I was 20, now I'm 30," said she.

That makes me incredibly sad. There are a few people that I really like to watch, no matter what they do (Mark, Derek, Val, Peta, Sharna, Karina and Cheryl; and Tristan MacManus, but he wasn't as much a part of the real DWTS). They are the ones I really watch this show for, so it will be really sad to not have her around anymore. I can't even really imagine it. (Although I said that when Anna Trebunskaya left, and the show has muddled along without her too, I guess.)

Cheryl Burke has always been stunning, usually dancing with a dolt of a partner, and I always ended up watching her magic, and not him so much. (Also true this season.) She will be missed so much.

Cheryl Burke (and Antonio Sabato Jr.) earlier in Season 19, possibly her last season with DWTS.
And, as we have watched her evolve as a dancer, she has only gotten more beautiful.

One more couple (or two) going home, and this is going to finally be a real competition. I can't wait. I just wish they'd start giving Mark Ballas the scores he deserves. He's really been stellar and on point this season, even if the judges can't see it. We, the audience at home, appreciate it.


1. Team Creepy (Time Warp)
2. Team Itsy Bitsy

1. Mark and Sadie (paso doble)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
2. Derek and Bethany (paso doble)
3. Val and Janel (Viennese waltz)
4. Lea and Artem (Argentine tango)
5. Witney and Alfonso (rumba)
6. Peta and Tommy (quickstep)

1. Michael (ugh)


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

DWTS Week 6: Pitbull steams up the ballroom

To show how much Switch Up week affects people, this week (back with partners week) was crazy and mixed up. Two of the worst dancers (Jonathan and Michael) had their best dances ever. Two of the best dancers (Derek and Alfonso) had their worst dances ever. Crazy nuttiness.

The special guest performer/judge was Pitbull, so you know ABC was all about pumping up the hotness/sexiness quotient. We had all kinds of rumbas, salsas, sambas, all over the place. This, for example, was the opening number.

Sharna, Pitbull, Witney. Courtesy of ABC7.
However (I just found this pic), this was the action LAST WEEK. I say Jessie J has Pitbull beat.

Getting all steamy up in here... Artem with Jessie J and Val.
Ahem... now where was I?

Oh yes. Week 6. It started banging out of the gate with Allison and Jonathan, who later in the show were voted off :-( (so sad). Their number on this night was stunning to watch, took my breath away. I really hope she's back again next season.

Sadly, theirs was the only number I really LOVED this week.

Then we had a whole lotta missteps, for various reasons. Derek and Bethany (whom I love normally) had to fly to Australia, and didn't have a lot of practice time (to my eyes, it showed, though the slavering judges still gave Derek huge scores). Derek said in his package: "It was the least practice time I've ever had." Enough said about that.

Alfonso and Witney, so good to be back together again, also (to my eyes) seemed to fall down. (Witney literally falling down and hurting herself in rehearsal.) Alfonso noted that doing the Carleton had hurt his groin. So both were injured. Ugh. Perhaps it's cause I just don't like hip hop music, but man, did I dislike their dance this week, overall.

Antonio is also bugging me (although that may have to do with the Jesus-filled Instagram he posted earlier in the day, which caused me to unfollow him immediately. Ugh. People, INSTAGRAM IS FOR PICTURES. Not long sermon treatises. Sheesh.) So I was not thrilled with their dance either. Also, Cheryl just works her heart out covering the fact that Antonio really can't dance. Big hat notwithstanding.

Janel, in the worst costume all season, and Val. Courtesy of ABC.
Janel and Val, whom I normally love, had one of the worst costumes (on Janel) on this show in a long time. WTF was that? Horrible. Could barely watch the dance, that outfit was so bad and distracting. And Val even had his shirt unbuttoned and I couldn't concentrate on it. Ugh.

Lea and Artem, whom I also normally like, suffered a lot from it being Artem's first season as a pro. He forgot (as the judges pointed out) that it's all about the pro focusing on the star, and making THEM look good. Lea looked too much like she was chasing whatever goal Artem had set for her, rather than being her own best self. And their dance, nice enough, suffered as a result.

Madness, I tell you, madness all around.

But then, we had others getting sanity back. Michael Waltrip, a racecar driver, went to race cars. His friends there told him how much they were rooting him on. And he and Emma returned with an amazing Argentine tango. As the judges noted, it was truly his most vulnerable dance.

Emma and Michael do an Argentine tango.
It was really nice to watch. His best dance, for sure. If he'd been doing this all along, he might not be going home soon.

As all the kids were going crazy, flying to Australia for YouTube events... ugh... the oldsters were getting real. Tommy Chong brought Peta to a tribal sweat lodge. It was awesome. I wish I could've been in there with them. I needed a good sweat after watching some of the night's craziness.

Tommy Chong and Peta sweat it out. Courtesy of ABC.
It's kind of sobering to realize that really Tommy Chong might be one deeply spiritual guy. So, of course, I loved his dance. It seemed really centered and flowing. Their sweat lodge sojourn served them well. (I threw all my votes at him at the end.)

Peta and Tommy do a foxtrot. Beautiful. I loved it.
Lastly, certainly not least, let me first say this: MARK BALLAS GOT HIS FIRST 10 THIS SEASON! FINALLY!!!!!!!!!!

OK, it was by guest judge Pitbull, not one of the normal ones, but STILL. He got one. I'm so glad.

Also, as we talk about pros who do this show right, ones who highlight and focus on their celeb, cater to them, make them look good, there are plenty of examples. Derek with Amy Purdy last season, for example.

Mark Ballas, for whatever reason, seems to be perpetually saddled with the crazies, the controversial, the religious, the prudes. Perhaps one of the reasons he is is that he deals with them SO WELL. He doesn't seem to care about what anyone else says. He's there for his partner.

In Season 19, he happens to have an 18-year-old girl from (let's just say) conservative parents. Now that is a difficult thing. (Although Val also danced with a teen when he was partnered with Zendaya, and there were no wardrobe issues there.) In any case, this particular girl named Sadie, is mindful of what kind of wardrobe her parents would accept. OK, fine. We don't quite get the shrouds from the last two seasons, but we don't get the proper costume either. Fine.

But there is a boggle. Some of the dances they have to dance are sexual dances. They just are. The rumba, the most sexual of them all.

And how do you do a stunning rumba when you are partnered with a very conservative 18-year-old girl? Who doesn't seem very enlightened in the ways of sexuality? How do you dance the sexiest dance of them all?

You hope and pray you have Mark Ballas as a partner.

Mark Ballas and Sadie do a rumba.
It was pretty, it was sweet. It was nothing her parents would be ashamed of. And mostly, I was just applauding the care with which he dealt with Sadie.

Sexuality, in any context, should only be displayed when one wants to, and is ready to. I respected Mark's choices, in this dance, and all season. Heck, with all the women he's been partnered with. He is an amazing dancer who puts his partner first.

So glad that Julianne finally saw that, and commented on it. Now if she'd only give him a 10 too!

1. Jonathan and Allison (jazz)
2. Mark and Sadie (rumba)
3. Val and Janel (samba)
4. Tommy and Peta (foxtrot)

1. Antonio
2. Michael

Next week, we have the Team dances, and there is a chance that Derek's Team MIGHT not actually win this time. Seriously. Look at the teams.

Team Creepy for Week 7.
Team Itsy Bitsy for Week 7. 
Did we mention it's also Halloween Week?


Thursday, October 16, 2014

DWTS Week 5: The Switch-Up and the Case for Mark Ballas

Bethany and Mark Ballas do hip hop on Switch-Up Week. Courtesy of ABC/DWTS.
An interesting thing happened during Swtich-Up Week (Week 5 of Dancing with the Stars). I switched my favorite.

The dreaded Switch-Up takes our already established pairs, and puts the celebrities (remaining) with another partner. Sometimes this has disastrous results, sometimes great ones. (Remember last season's switch of ultimate winner Meryl from Maksim to brother Val? Fantastic stuff.)

This week, maybe cause Len's still gone, we had a lot of dances not normally done, with a lot of sets and props and hooha that Len hates.

But the thing that happened to me, is that I can now see a very clear break for myself. There are PROS that I love this season, and there are celebrities. They don't really go together (in most cases).

For example, my favorite celebrity, whom I had initially chosen as my favorite this week, is Alfonso. I just dig the stuff he's doing. This week, he was switched to Cheryl, and they did a pretty amazing flamenco. It was beautiful to watch.

Alfonso and Cheryl do flamenco. Courtesy of ABC/DWTS.
Cheryl Burke has never looked better. Her flamenco was stunning. And we don't get to see the flamenco very often. It's not one of the regular dances. So all of that was very nice. (Maybe I'm still on a Carleton high from last week... dunno.)

But I was watching back the dances from this week (as I do when I write this column), and something struck me. Mark Ballas. JEEZ. Unbelievable.

I've been saying this all season long, but let me again shout this from the rooftops: WHY IS THIS MAN NOT GETTING 10s? Holy crap. This week, he did a hip hop dance with Bethany. From the very first note to the very last, it was PERFECT. He gave us a story (from the beginning to the end; loved it). He gave us incredible dancing and choreography, as he has done all season. He's savvy enough to know that hip hop is not one of Len's favs, so he does it now, and he does it with Bethany. Just perfect, all across the board.

Most of these other dances, I can watch once again and I'm done (even that flamenco), but his hip hop this week: WOW.

And mind you, he's been doing that all season with his own partner, Sadie, too. The judges went all gaga over Derek's Charleston with Sadie, and complemented the heck out of her (and it was stunning, true), but what she does with Mark Ballas has been incredible! Where are the 10s for that? C'mon, judges. Mark Ballas deserves higher scores. (I'm looking at you, Julianne.)

They rightfully took Artem to task for his burlesque dance with Janel (not enough burlesque content), yet that dance scored higher than Mark's hip hop, which had tons of great hip hop content. And it's straight-up not fair.

In other dances that I liked/loved, Val danced that nebulous category (sometimes called "jazz," sometimes called "Broadway," basically meaning whatever we want to dance to) with Lea. She, too, is one of the contestants whose dancing I really like, and like to watch. Not sure about Artem yet though.

But this dance with Val included multiple walkers... like the kind old people use. Wonderful stuff. Never been done on DWTS before either!

Val and Lea and the team of walker dancers. Courtesy of ABC/DWTS.
Those are the dances I like the best. Give me a story around the dance, make it a complete entity. (Which Mark Ballas does every week.)

Another interesting story dance was the Bollywood danced by Allison and Antonio this week.

Allison and Antonio dance Bollywood.
She's trying. She's trying so hard, gotta give her that. Her Bollywood was stunning, the best ever on this show. However, Antonio was in no way her match. Not even close.

Her regular partner, Jonathan, kinda proved that it's more him than her which is causing the low scores. He was paired with Peta, who does a mean jitterbug. Their scores were terrible.

And Witney and Michael doing disco? The less said about that, the better. (Although if someone had to dance to Car Wash, I'm glad it was the race car driver.)

And in that vein, I have to say that a large part of why I continue to vote for Tommy Chong every week (even though he is just as bad a dancer as Michael Waltrip) is that I really dig the fact that DWTS is using every opportunity to have pot-themed songs and dances for Tommy Chong (as they should). This week, no joke, he danced to "Pass the Duchie." It was supposed to be a mambo. I don't know what it was, but it made me laugh.

Ah, but let's clear out the pot smoke, and instead meditate on one of the best Charlestons ever on this show.

Sadie and Derek Charleston. Courtesy of ABC/DWTS.
Another thing, I want to really comment on how all the technical parts are coming together. DWTS has always been a miracle of costuming and sets, but the camerawork and editing both seem to have hit their stride finally . The dancers are really getting featured, as they are supposed to (catch the ending of Mark's dance to see what I mean). The cameras are where they are supposed to be to catch the best bits. And they actually catch FEET, not just faces.

Working in social media (in the Mark and Derek bits) was and is wonderful. Love that about this season. Also, Erin is really hitting her stride as a host. She actually knows what the voting methods are this season!! (YAY!) And she really asks probing, good questions. Thank whoever had the idea of hiring her. To my eyes, she is MILES better as a host than Brooke ever was.

The only downside of the technical stuff is that the music has issues. Both in song selection, and performance. Positive: we get former cast member Joey Fatone singing The Stray Cats song, "Rock This Town." (What? Brian Setzer was busy?) Negative: we get more and more taped crap, which often doesn't work (case in point: Lea and Val's song, which was loud and obnoxious), but which sometimes does (Mark and Bethany's song). When it's good ("Pass the Duchie" and "Car Wash"), it's great. When it's bad, it's painful.

That song that Allison and Jonathan danced that Gatsby thing to a couple weeks ago was a good example of new music done beautifully. Revisiting a familiar song, and putting a new spin on it. That's what I had hoped for when I heard there was a new band. Guess they're still working out those bugs.

But enough of all this. I wanna go back and watch Mark Ballas' hip hop dance again, and dream of the day when he actually gets all the 10s he deserves.

1. Mark and Bethany (hip hop)
2. Alfonso and Cheryl (flamenco)
3. Val and Lea (Broadway)
4. Derek and Sadie (Charleston)

1. Michael
2. Jonathan
3. Antonio
4. Tommy


Friday, October 10, 2014

My Favorite DWTS: Week 4

Sadie (of Duck Dynasty) and Mark Ballas wow the crowd.
My favorite dances on Dancing with the Stars involve some combination of these things: a dance which incorporates the required number of content elements, something which addresses the theme in some way, elegance of choreography: all of which together create dance magic before us.

Usually, Derek Hough's dances have all of these things, which is also why he has won most often. But also usually, so do Mark Ballas' dances. These are dances, which at the end, leave you with your mouth hanging open, just saying: WOW. This week was one of those.

The theme of Week 4 of DWTS was My Favorite Year (as it usually is). We had the usual ones: my favorite year being when I got my big break on whatever show, or when my parent (or loved one) died or was born, yadda yadda. Bethany had a moving one with the theme of: "I thought I was ugly, but really I'm not." (A new one on these shows, admittedly.)

For me, there were really two dances which went beyond the pale this week. I am now eating my words about Alfonso getting back to the top of the leaderboard. Sheesh. When that man tries! Wow. Course, he had a built-in audience-pleasing factor: the Carleton.

I never watched the show (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air)  in its heyday, but apparently "the Carleton" dance was a thing. And people, apparently, have been clamouring, ever since they knew he was going to be on DWTS, to see him incorporate it in some way. My Favorite Year seems the perfect place to do so.

Alfonso and Witney did not disappoint this week. Wow.

But despite those two dances which really blew my mind (Alfonso again taking the top of the leaderboard this week), these two were not my FAVORITE dance. That honor belonged to this:

Val and Janel doing the sexiest, steamiest rumba you're gonna see this season (although Cheryl and Antonio were also pretty hot recently). It was just beautiful and it kicked everything off. And more and more, Val and Janel are my favorite couple.

However, we also had this (the couple who actually received the most votes from me this week): Peta and Tommy Chong, dancing to Jailhouse Rock. With Peta as a policeman. With fishnets. It so worked for me, on so many levels.

And unlike another older contestant, Tommy Chong just keeps getting better each week.

Wanna know who was voted out this week? (Well, you probably already know, but it was:)

She was a little bit wacky, our Miss Betsey, but I did enjoy her dances, and the music she chose. Gonna miss her (in some ways). Also really gonna miss Tony. He's always fun and inventive.

That leaves at the bottom (literally and in my opinion) Michael and Emma (whom I thought would be leaving this week) and Jonathan and Allison. I really like Allison and I was rooting for her, but WOW was the dance they did this week terrible! No through line. More content, yay! But just awful to watch. And I had been so focused previously on her choreography missteps that I didn't before realize that Jonathan is actually a pretty bad dancer (compared to his competition, especially). So they will be going home soon (unless she really turns it around somehow). 

I hated almost everything about this dance. Except that it did have a lot of samba content. But the music was DREADFUL, the set and costumes were garish and horrible. It was just painful to watch. Just to clarify that I'm not the only one who thought this, they scored the lowest on this week. Even Betsey and Tony (who went home) got better scores on this night. Ouch.

And it's strange, because I really didn't love the music that Mark Ballas chose for his and Sadie's number. I would never listen to it on my own, and it's not even the type of music DWTS normally plays. But it fit. It was of a piece with the rest of what he was doing as a choreographer, and I think that is the difference. His choices were sublime, hers were... UGH.

I mean, I hate to say this, but I just don't think she gets what DWTS is about, exactly. She seems bound and determined to stay on her own path, and that road is currently leaving off the show soon, and that makes me sad. It really does. Her dance to Sia's music was brilliant, because she had none of these constraints. But darlin', that is what you signed up for: to choreograph these dances for these people in this way.

I do kinda get the feeling now that she never really watched this show before. Maybe she signed on cause she knew all the other choreographers, even having worked with some.

I think people may look at DWTS from the outside and dismiss it simplistically as just another reality dance show, but it really is a very complex, layered thing. 

Take Mark Ballas' amazing dance this week, in comparison. The theme was "My Favorite Year." His partner, Sadie, chose the year she first appeared on Duck Dynasty. Sure, lots of celebrities take that route. (Alfonso essentially did the same thing. Lea had done her homage to Back to the Future the week before, so she could do a more poignant dance this week.)

What can one do with Duck Dynasty? And the dance Mark chose was samba? Duck Dynasty and samba? HUH? What can one do with that?

Well, Mark took the time-honored pairing of a hunter and a duck (man vs. animal). He was the hunter, and Sadie (of course) was the duck. She was resplendent in her feathers. He was all bearded out, like the other male members of Duck Dynasty (some of them even onstage with him). And within that (up and around and over that), he wove together a samba which touched on all the content that the judges were looking for, as well as making a statement about Duck Dynasty, using a song which has LYRICS about Duck Dynasty. Boom, boom, boom. He hit every beat.

It was frikkin' beautiful. It was stunning and magical, and I don't even like Duck Dynasty.

That is, ultimately, how you do this: content (of whichever dance you are doing) + theme + stunning choreography + heart (if you can manage it). Making a statement through choreography, which Allison seems so badly to want to do. I suggest she really pore over tapes of Mark Ballas' dance this week for how to do this show right (and still maintain your edge as a choreographer). Now mind you, a winning (as in ALL 10s) dance has to have one more thing: it has to sweep away the audience and the judges, so that they are compelled to give it tens.

Sadly, Mark Ballas' dances too often don't get the 10s they deserve (he didn't with this, garnering only 37 out of 40, and it was brilliant). But, for my money, he's the most artistic choreographer on this show, and I so appreciate him for that. But Derek's Singin' in the Rain last week, Val's West Side Story last week, and Alfonso's Carleton (to Tom Jones' "It's Not Unusual") were those showstoppers that garner 10s.

Derek's dance this week, although using poignant subject matter, was almost like a rest after what must have been immense stress from doing Singin' in the Rain. It really did nothing for me. Good thing Len was gone this week. 

Oh, and another thing. They've been having all these hokey guest judges standing in while Len is out of the country. (Last week, comedian Kevin Hart, next week Jazzy J or someone...). This week, blissfully, they let "America" vote in a new system where (well, let's just say the EAST COAST, anyway) voted right after they saw the dance. Cause they announced America's vote when they announced the judges' votes (and I know we West Coasters see it later than the East Coast). Nonetheless, it cut down on all the judges' chatter, which seemed to be dragging the show down (with four judges). "America" says nothing, just votes. I liked it immensely.

And AMERICA gave "the Carleton" a 10 also! It was awesome.

Miscellaneous notes about Week 4: Erin just looked spectacular. The most fun thing was when everyone on the balcony started doing the Carleton. Sharna choreographed a wonderful opening number. And the second most fun thing was the dance where Karina's crotch ended up in Keo's face, which Tom (ever quick on his feet) called, "a great getting-to-know-you dance."

 BTW, Val kept referring to his dance last week as "The West Side Story." It's actually called "West Side Story." (Unless he was adding a "The" to the title so it wouldn't be confused with... um, you know... that other one... In which case, that was brilliant.)

Lea and Artem scored high, but their dance also did nothing for me. Beautiful to watch, and I could tell it moved her quite a bit, but... eh... (Sometimes contemporary works for me, often it doesn't.)

Antonio's first job in NYC was a little Janet Jackson video that you may've seen. It was fun to revisit that, as well. And Cheryl makes a great Janet Jackson!

When is Len coming back? Next week, right? Next week (ooh, let's hold our breath!) is also "the Switch Up." The week that all the pros hate, and usually leaves the celebrities wanting to RUN back to their partners. Fun. Can't wait. Meanwhile, let's do the Carleton again... do it with me...

The Carleton, to Tom Jones' "It's So Unusual"

1. Val and Janel (rumba)
2. Mark and Sadie (samba)
3. Alfonso and Witney (jazz and "the Carleton")
4. Tommy and Peta (jive)
5. Antonio and Cheryl (samba)