Dancing With the Stars swirled its way into Pittsburgh, much to the delight of its many fans. There was only one from the “Star” side, winner Alfonso Ribiero. But the pros themselves took up the slack, creating a casual atmosphere that was almost intimate, despite the Benedum Center’s audience of thousands. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
It was a “Ballroom With a Twist” at the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops program, continuing through this afternoon and featuring Dancing with the Stars’ Edyta Sliwinska, who was even more fit at Heinz Hall than in this early clip from the program with her real-life husband, Alec Maso. Read more on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
It was like that final push at the goal line, fourth and long, do or die. But the field of play was “Dancing With the Stars,” down to the final three dances with the final three competitors.
The dances were spread over two nights. Monday’s performances featured the judges’ selection and the much-vaunted freestyle, which usually determines the winner. Yes, this is when DWTS voters get serious and, it seems, vote for the most deserving celebrity.
Only this year it seemed different.
Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas led off the Judges’ Choice with the samba, hard-hitting with lots of fringe (29). Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiiy followed with another samba, dripping with sensuality (27). That set it up for Hines Ward and Kym Johnson and the quickstep. Kym did her research, streamlining Fred Astaire’s iconic tap solo with cane and a flurry of Fred clones into a smart duet (29).
But let’s get down to the nitty gritty — the freestyle. This dance has determined, more than any other, the winner of the Mirror Ball Trophy.
Chelsea and Mark came up with another “fresh,” as they like to put it, routine. Full of street smart moves and light-up hands and feet (although Chelsea’s battery pack failed midway through). Score: 30.
Kirstie and Maks. Well, when she ripped off her brown dress it made me realize the her circle skits made her bigger than she was. Kirstie looked great in the sequin unitard, showing off her new body. Score: 27.
Hines sported a big “S” on his black and gold drum major uniform. Steeler? Super Bowl? Sassy? Anyhow, they overcame the injury with daring and spectacular lifts in this “halftime” show. Score: 30.
So the judges left it up to the voters by giving Chelsea and Hines the same score. You can say that Mark Ballas gave Chelsea the edge in choreographic complexity, although they could look like they were pushing. Hines and Kym had an indefinable connection on the dance floor, with both rehearsal and dance footage reflecting a sunny ease about them.
Now for Tuesday.
The celebrities chose their favorite dance: Chelsea and Mark the “Wizard” (as in Harry Potter) waltz (30) and Kirstie and Maks, a parallel of her journey, showing an exuberance at age 60 (30). Wait — could it be possible that this was the strongest finale yet? I couldn’t recall a year where all the competitors got perfect scores. Yes, Hines and Kym got another 30 for their samba. And the judges definitely left it up to the viewers.
Was the scoring planned? It almost seemed so in this fairytale ending to the series.
The results? Viewers went with the story rather than the technique. Chelsea and Mark surprisingly took third, much like fellow Disney dancer Kyle Massey last year. Kirstie and Maks took second. And Hines and Kim, as I felt from Week One, took first.
Was it destiny? The Mirror Ball Trophy is silver, of course, but with gold accents and a black base.
Probably it was because he had plenty of support, including the Pittsburgh fifth graders, who had their own Dancing Classrooms ballroom competition last Saturday.
Okay, we can just call the dueling team cha cha a wash for week six. Team Chelsea (with Ralph and Romeo) was laser sharp and benefitted from the presence of two female pros. Team Hines (with Kendra and Kirstie) was, yes, more bootylicious, but lacked the finesse.
Why a tie you say? It had to be the producers’ call in fielding four judges. Guest judge Donnie Burns had a ton of credentials (including President of the World Dance Council and 16-time undefeated World Champion Latin dancer) and he read his notes/script well, although he made an obvious mistake in giving Romeo an 8 instead of the intended 7. Oh, the pressure!
It all came down to the solo routines and this is the way I called it:
Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas. Mark was blowing hot in his choreography for the paso doble, often overshadowing his partner. Was that a hint of frustration between them in their rehearsal clip? Mark was also hot over the scores, which he felt weren’t reflecting his talents…a little too much ego there. Score: 34
Kendra Wilkinson and Louis van Amstel. Kendra got Most Improved Dancer this week. She seemed almost content in her tango after her Jello-y samba last week that so impressed the judges. Not so hard-core, but instead a sensual grace that she developed in many ways. Score: 31
Kirstie Alley and Maks Chmerkovskiy. I love the way Kirstie’s whole body responds to the dance. So her jive was always interesting, but Maks had to tone down the relentless bouncing and keep things on a simpler track. Score: 30
Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff. Sometimes the design and cut of a costume can make a world of difference in scores. Ralph’s pinstripe suit fit him perfectly and the brimmed hat covered enough of his face so that his unflattering grimacing was, for the most part, concealed. This quickstep was his best routine of the season, full of snappy footwork and covering the flaws in Karina’s choreography. Score: 36
Hines Ward and Kym Johnson. Hines and Kym had to overcome a tango accompaniment that inspired tiptoeing through the tulips rather than a passionate, slicing duet. The judges usually like tangos with stops and starts, thrusts and parries and head snaps. This was a little too ginger, but there were enough breathtaking moments (particularly when they launched into the first phrase) to give them a share of the lead. Score: 36
Romeo and Chelsie Hightower. Romeo’s hips are a little too tight to allow for the most entertaining gyrations to be found in the samba. Despite his strong work ethic, that weakness gave him a share of the bottom. Score: 30
Kendra’s reality-based fans couldn’t pull her through. She took her exit with a strong dose of sincerity and a touch of regret. Hines goes on to next week having to put aside the Big Mistake by L.A. police, where dozens of cars descended upon him at a gas station. As it turns out, he was a passenger in a vehicle that had been reported as stolen. They ordered him to the ground and handcuffed him before finding out that the driver had not reported that the car was found. I’m sure The Incident will show up on DWTS next week.
It was a tricky weekend for dance, where Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s “Dracula” had ghostly endings that seemed to abruptly fade and Tango Fire drove theirs home with a piston-like energy. Read about the Argentinian heat wave in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.