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Janel and Artem Burlesque DWTS

Alfonso Cheryl Flamenco DWTSOh boy, dance fans, it’s Switch-Up Night on “Dancing with the Stars” and it is a rough night. Usually when I have trouble picking a Top 5 it’s because there’s too much that’s really good. I’m afraid that’s not the case tonight, as it’s tough to find a really standout number.

Len is still away so Jesse J. fills in as guest judge, while also performing some of her hits. Her performing is much better than her judging, as her comments aren’t quite clear, and certainly don’t match what she’s doing with the paddles. She sounds generally positive in her comments, but then gives pretty low scores throughout the night.

A few of the dancers say all the judges are being harsh tonight, but I think they’re pretty fair. Apparently the switches are difficult for everyone because the routines are rough almost across the board. Even in some of the stronger routines, there’s a little something that’s missing. That’s not just because of the change in partners but because the dancers, pros and stars alike, are challenged with new styles too. Taking a page from “So You Think You Can Dance,” DWTS now includes more non-ballroom styles, like Bollywood, Flamenco, and Broadway. Some of the new styles are similar enough to dances we’ve seen before, like jitterbug (lindy hop or jive), mambo (salsa), and burlesque (jazz), but it’s still a challenge.

I’m personally disappointed with some of the new partnerships too. Were these really the decisions made by voters, or did the producers have a hand in it? I was hoping Emma would be placed with someone she could challenge, who would also challenge her, like Alfonso. Peta is back with “the hot guy” again, although it didn’t really do either of them any favors. To be fair, watching them rehearse I thought Peta would be a pretty good match for Jonathan, but it didn’t quite turn out that way (more on that later). And some of the other switch-ups seemed too similar to last year’s. Especially having Derek and Mark just switch partners, which they half did last year (Mark took Derek’s partner but Derek had Tony’s), is a wasted opportunity because they’re so similar. Same thing with Artem and Val: last year, Maks and Val switched partners, exchanging one fiery Russian ballroom dancer for another. They do the same this year, but the part of Maks is played by Artem.

Alright, let’s get to it, shall we? Here’s My Top 5:

Antonio and Allison’s Bollywood: This could be Antonio’s best dance. It’s certainly not perfect, and he’s watching Allison a lot because he seems unsure about where he’s going, but he’s clearly having a great time. Bollywood is extremely difficult, but Allison may have a slight advantage here because she’s done it before on SYTYCD. Then again, she may not have done Bollywood any more than she’s danced any of the other ballroom dances, since she’s primarily a contemporary dancer. Still, Antonio needs more sharpness and energy, but keeps up pretty well—and that’s a very fast routine. The problem remains, as I’ve said before, that Allison is still such a star that she’s a little too good for her partner. It’s hard for her to let her partner look good when she’s such a standout performer, and Julianne finally pointed this out too (though perhaps in the guise of synchronization and unison). I confess the ending had a little touch of “if you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance…” but it’s fun.

Alfonso and Cheryl’s Flamenco: Alfonso and Cheryl’s routine looks more like flamenco than the troupe dancers’ post-break demonstration, which frankly is just a paso doble. I love that Alfonso even includes a little zapateado (he’s a tapper, so why not), but I wanted more. I’m sure he could have handled more, but I don’t know if Cheryl has the experience to teach him more. I enjoy the rest of his movements too, though something is a little off with his posture; his arms are not quite straight enough and the arch and rotation in his back isn’t quite there. Cheryl’s been my favorite pro for years and she does a great job with this routine, but I can’t stand that outfit she’s wearing. Very distracting.

Janel and Artem’s Burlesque: I want to know more about how they are defining burlesque, especially given Julianne’s comments. Burlesque has a long history, one that has changed over its nearly 200 years, and “burlesque” doesn’t really refer to a dance so much as theater. Carrie Ann is right that it started as comedy (a parody, actually, in the 1800s), and then became a strip tease, so what it refers to now, I’m not sure—unless it refers to the Cher-Xtina movie (which Julianne Hough also starred in). What exactly is Julianne looking for when she says this routine is not authentic enough? I agree, but I’m not sure we’re working from the same definition.

That said, I like this routine, though frankly I’d just call it jazz. I love the Big Spender reference at the beginning, and Janel is becoming quite a star and an excellent dancer. She works well with Artem, and it’s a sexy routine. If Carrie Ann and Julianne mean that it’s not authentic enough because it’s less tease and more giving the sexy away, that does seem to fit a bit with the history of it, but we’re also in the 2010s, so I’m not sure what they’re looking for or how they’d fix it. I wish they’d explain that more.

Sadie and Derek’s Charleston: This music isn’t exactly Charleston either, but it works better than some of the others do (especially Tommy’s “mambo”). Derek also throws in some hip-hop tutting and tough Lindy hop tricks (the same Duck and Dive that Peta and Jonathan do, in fact), which is not authentic, but a) I’m sure that’s not what they’re going for, and b) considering the Lindy developed from the Charleston, I suppose why not. Sadie handles it all well, despite a few timing issues here and there, and needing to point her feet. Bruno’s right: those swivel steps can be difficult and she does them well.

Lea and Val’s Broadway: Though I’m getting tired of the butt smacks, this is a cute routine. There’s a good bit of jive in it too, which makes sense with the music (despite it being “Broadway”). Lea is still adorable, and dances well despite seeming a little unsure. Her deathdrop is fantastic, very smooth and doesn’t look painful at all.

The Rest:

Bethany and Mark’s Hip-hop: Bethany is definitely getting more confident as the weeks go on, and though she needs to get down into the floor and sync up the unison more, she’s handling the hip-hop well. I enjoy that tango basic thrown in there too.

Jonathan and Peta’s Jitterbug: What a shame, because Carrie Ann’s rough comments are completely correct: there are a lot of mistakes in the routine. I largely blame the choreography, because Peta stuffed a number of really difficult Lindy Hop aerials in there, including back-to-back tricks (those two Duck and Dives in a row? One by itself is difficult), and the routine is fast and non-stop. A little simpler with some time to breathe and Jonathan probably could’ve knocked it out of the park.

Michael and Witney’s Disco: Oh boy. She’s still dancing around him and he definitely needs to improve a little faster. Despite looking like Burt Reynolds, he’s not so debonair, and I definitely don’t like the “little girl and grandpa” routine. Ick.

Tommy and Emma’s Mambo: Ok, so if Emma’s not responsible for the choice of music (phew!), then who is? That music is definitely not a mambo, which is practically identical to salsa. I do agree though that we need to see him do something other than a Latin dance. He also deserves more: Tommy’s a terrific dancer, and a really interesting guy. They need to stop making his persona all about pot.

Fortunately, with the switch-up there’s no elimination tonight. Good thing too, because the scores are rough enough that many people might be in trouble. Hopefully everyone will be back in tip-top shape next week, and back with their original partners.

So what do you think, dance fans? Do you agree that it was a rough night? Did you like the new partnerships, or are there pairings you wanted to see but didn’t? Which are your favorite dances? Let me know in the comments.

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