Thursday, May 16, 2013

DWTS: It's the Semi-Finals (and the 300th show), baby!

Yes, I know. I missed a few episodes in there where we had some lovely dancing. What can I say?

Let's skip ahead to this week. It's the semi-finals. Nearly everyone who can't really dance is gone now (except Ingo, and he left this week). And I'm just going to leave him (sorry Kym) out of this week's recap too. Time to focus on the real dancers.

What we are left with is dancing, sublime dancing. So much of it, the 10 paddles were flying all over the ballroom. It was wondrous to behold. I hope you did.

Each of the remaining dancers had two dances, one chosen from whatever dances they still haven't done yet (not surprisingly, at least two couples had the Argentine tango still left, since that's one of the really hard ones); and the other dance was "chosen" by the Internet public at large from a pre-selected group of dances that have nothing to do with each other and haven't really been tried by most of the pros. FUN!

So I will describe both their real dance and their (for lack of a better term) frou-frou dance, in order of how I would place them overall (and hope how they place at the finals).


Their frou-frou dance was the lindy hop. Just forget about it. Seriously.

For their real dance, they had the Argentine tango. There are times when Karina's choreography takes my breath away just as much as the big boys' does. This dance was one of those times. Truly sublime. (Just wish I didn't dislike Jacoby so much.)

Jacoby Jones and Karina Smirnoff perform the Argentine tango. Courtesy of ABC/Dancing with the Stars.


For me, there are two things going on here. First, Kellie Pickler bugs the crap outta me. I started Day One wanting them to win, and consistently more and more throughout the season, she's been like a burr on your saddle, if you know what I mean. She would space out, as Brooke is asking her questions. "Squirrel!" kind of stuff. Non-focused. Annoying. Really seems like the kind of person that I wouldn't want to spend five minutes in conversation with.

All that said, Derek Hough is indeed a miracle worker. He is surely one of the finest choreographers on this show, definitely one of the reasons it has lasted 300 shows. His choreography (and dancing) is a joy and blessing to watch every single week. I adore him, flat out.

This week, for example. Their frou-frou dance was the flamenco, which Derek has "never danced." Wow. And he was flat-out amazing. I won't even mention how hot he looked in those flamenco pants... Ahem... Ok, I guess I will. But he was flamencoing to beat the band up there, and Miss Kellie was just kinda laying around. (IMHO)

Derek Hough's first flamenco. With Kellie Pickler. ABC/DWTS
One of the things that I truly hope happens from this season is that one of the costumers is fired. The one who keeps putting diminutive women in bustling dresses that weigh them down. (In fact, one of the things Ms. Pickler blamed her poor performance on was that her dress "was so heavy." Those words should never be uttered into a microphone, and whoever was responsible for that should be fired.) Seriously, all season long, there have been costume mishaps, women tripping, women weighed down, partners stepping on long gowns. It's unnecessary.

They are dancers. We need to see THEIR FEET. How they execute the steps. That's all. As little clothing to get there as possible. Certainly not volumes of fabric! For heaven's sake. It's not a period drama here.

And while I'm on my costuming tangent, whoever was responsible for the women sometimes wearing low or no-heeled shoes, God bless you. Maybe it was Zendaya herself insisting she just danced better in tennis shoes. Wonderful. If heels make you trip or miss steps, then don't wear them. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.

I'm sure dance purists are having a fit right now, but tough. It's about the Dance. That's all it's about. It's not the Academy Awards of costuming. You telling me there aren't dance costumers out there who know how to do this? Come on, ABC! Get it together.

But to get back to the matters at hand, Kellie's voluminous costume was at least part of the reason I didn't like her flamenco. Now maybe it was, in fact, covering up the fact that she wasn't dancing very well, but I'd rather see that.

But then, we have their tango. Oh my, their Argentine tango. Stunning. Even the footwork, which is oh so complicated, was very well executed, by both partners. Tens across the board. So beautiful to watch.

Derek Hough and Kellie Pickler. Courtesy of ABC/DWTS.
For the most part, their dances lack passion between them, but this one... ahem... had its moments.


You know, Mark Ballas, also one of the most brilliant choreographers to walk the planet, has really had his share of bad luck on this show, being saddled with partners who don't want to disrobe or dance scantily (as is this show's wont), partners who just plain don't want to dance, all sorts of nonsense. As a result, he hasn't been in the finals as much as he really should, given how stunning his choreography is.

But, on the occasion when he gets a partner who is willing to go down whatever crazy pathway he devises, we are witness to magic, ladies and gentlemen. Take this week, for example. The cast has all these crazy dances thrown at them. Mark and Aly were literally begging for "AfroJazz." Guess what? They got it. And here it is.

Aly R and Mark Ballas dancing "AfroJazz." Courtesy of ABC/Dancing with the Stars.
Mark beats anyone on this show ever with getting in touch with all things primal. And this dance in the hands of anyone else would've been ripe pickings for a joke or two. But the way Mark Ballas constructed this, WOW. There was this moment where he was lying on the floor, and Aly was sort of bouncing on top of him that looked for all the world like sex, you know in a primal African sort of way.

It was sublime.

Speaking of that, both Aly and Zendaya are young girls who haven't had much experience with relationships, passion or even sex (the show didn't say that, I'M saying it). So how does one dance very sensual, romantic, passionate songs with no reference points? Mark Ballas is in the finals now because he was able to somehow get Aly to convey that which she knows NOTHING of.

Case in point. Their rumba.

To me, this dance was heartbreaking. About love and loss and passion and strength. I had tears in my eyes at the end, and Aly is a girl who hasn't yet experienced this!!! Amazing. Incredible what great choreography and sensitive coaching can do. BRAVO Mark Ballas.

Aly R and Mark Ballas dance a stunning rumba. Courtesy of ABC/Dancing with the Stars.


Most people who read my stuff know that I think Mark Ballas, Derek Hough and Karina Smirnoff are the best choreographers on this show. I start every DWTS season rooting for these three to be at the end. (I just selfishly want to see what dances they create along the way.)

But who wins, or whom I want to win, depends greatly on other variables. Namely, the person involved (the "celebrity" or "star" they are paired with). What the chemistry of the two of them is like. Other things.

For me, I've had a strong love-hate relationship with this show and Maksim Chmerkovskiy (as documented here). But most of the time, he was up there, listed with those other three in my book. And he was such a strong overwhelming personality, that when his little brother Val came on the show, well, I kind of ignored him.

Then the love affair/strong friendship/special bond of last season with Val C and Kelly Monaco made me look at Val in a different way. Especially their contemporary dance. Mind-blowing.

But it was this season, when Val was paired with teenager Zendaya that everything broke loose. He started breaking loose from Maksim's shadow in the Kelly Monaco season. But this season: WOW.

Really every single dance they have danced has been a treasure (always a hallmark of the eventual winner). Val has come up with very inventive choreography and new takes on boring dances. And it's been amazing to watch.

Their quickstep from tonight (which got Len all bent out of shape, but I loved) had a racecar theme. Brilliant. Full of speed.

Valentin Chmerkovskiy and Zendaya, dancing a quickstep really quick. Courtesy of ABC/DWTS.
But, for me, one of their most memorable dances of the season will have been their frou-frou dance of this week. They were tasked with dancing hip hop. Now, teen Zendaya is from the hip hop world. That's what she knows and makes her money at. Poor Val has never danced hip hop. (Remember when lovely Karina was tasked with dancing hip hop last season? She was so far out of her element, I thought she would have a nervous breakdown. She missed steps, she started crying, it was not a pretty moment.)

In contrast, look at Val. (And whoever's decision it was to have Val dressed in a suit while Zendaya is decked out in traditional hip hop clothes gets BIG props from me. That was just brilliant.) 

Zendaya and Valentin Chmerkovskiy doing hip hop. Courtesy of ABC/DWTS.
Just look at them. She is totally in her element, he is also, actually, in his (the dance floor). This, unlike anyone else this season, is an equal pairing.

She's got miles of star quality, he's got years of dance training. It's a match made in heaven for us.

Val C and Zendaya doing hip hop. Courtesy of ABC.
These are the people I want to win the Mirror Ball this season. Not because the other competitors aren't great (they are). But Val and Zendaya just have a really special sparkle this season together. (And Val has never won a Mirror Ball yet.) Just look at their chemistry together.

Zendaya and Valentin Chmerkovskiy dance hip hop. Courtesy of ABC/Dancing with the Stars.
Big brother Maksim has never won a Mirror Ball either. But then, he got into tussles with the judges, and was pouty and belligerent when he even came close. Little brother Val, in contrast, seems to be just enjoying the journey, taking things as they go and seeing what happens. 

The mark of a true champion. Heck, Zendaya's even taught him to smile this season.

*fingers crossed for them*


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