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PopWatch on Ice: Culture clash on Original Dance night

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The “folk/country dance” theme for ice dancing’s second night of competition was just asking for trouble. Teams not wanting to play it safe by doing a style representative of their own country — or mainstream, like Spanish Flamenco or Indian — were going to get “creative.” The best they could hope for was viewers tuning in and thinking they were watching that scene in The Cutting Edge when the pairs team got tripped up in the lederhosen; the worst would be if viewers stumbled upon the “aboriginal” original dance from Russia’s reigning world champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin (pictured, left) and vowed never to watch the sport again. Not because of any perceived cultural insensitivity, mind you, but simply because that was arguably the worst concept for a program on ice ever and the crazy smiles they flashed throughout it made ice dancing seem like a joke. (Watch.)

How do you look at those costumes (faux foliage?!) and think this will translate? At least they did away with the face paint they’d worn in previous performances. They also lightened the skin tone of his body suit and toned down the white and size of the drawings on their backs. (Watch them at the European Championships.) Even with my anthropology degree, I don’t know enough to debate the authenticity of it all. According to NBC commentator Tom Hammond, groups have also complained that the music wasn’t authentic and that a woman could never wear red for a ceremonial dance. Shabalin has said they did do research for this program (and regardless, we know Domnina looks good in red from their compulsory tango). Hammond had the quote of the night: “Aside from looking ridiculous, does it affect the judges?” Analyst Tracy Wilson said they’d be focusing on the technique and character not the controversy. The duo, which had been in first, dropped to third heading into tonight’s medal-deciding free dance (NBC, 8 p.m. ET).

America’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White (pictured, right) were held up as the example of how to do this right: They took traditional Indian dance classes, and she and her mother went to an Indian boutique in her hometown and bought several dresses that were then pieced together for her costume. They also skated the heck out of it, from the intricate hand movements and energetic flow across the ice to the sideways twinkle in her eyes and their perfectly-synched twizzles (traveling one-footed turns) that actually had me applauding in my living room. (Watch.) They now sit in second place. Look for their Phantom of the Opera free skate to connect again with the audience tonight.

Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (pictured, bottom left) rose to the top of the field with a passionate, sophisticated Spanish Flamenco. (Watch.) Anyone else find themselves wanting their footwork to match the sound of the steps in the music? Impossible, I realize, but my mind was fighting a constant battle until that lift, which was cooler than anything I’ve ever seen on Dancing With the Stars. She was facing away from him and he reached down between her legs and flipped her over and up as she twisted. Words won’t do it justice. It was the night’s only rewind moment for me. (Correction: I did rewind Scottish siblings Sinead Kerr and John Kerr ending their Johnny Cash “I’ve Been Everywhere” trucker program with him straddling her and steering her like a rig.) I’m fine with the Canadians being in first after the performances they’ve delivered. You? I hope they got bonus points for the way she used her skirt, which just begged you to reach out and touch it. Had I been at the arena and run into her, I wouldn’t have been able to resist. Just like I wouldn’t have been able to stop myself from telling France’s Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder that their Can Can was a nice concept that would’ve worked better for me had he been wearing a tux and they played it even raunchier, like he was an aristocrat looking to get naughty at the Moulin Rouge. From his costume, and the way he mimed hanging himself with his pink scarf in the kiss and cry area, I got that he was portraying a depressed artist.

Now, it’s time to discuss America’s Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto‘s Moldavian dance (pictured, bottom right). They were another victim of creativity. At first, I was annoyed that they wasted so much time standing still at the start of the program, but by the end of their skate, I was grateful. It reminded me of a number a couple would have to perform on So You Think You Can Dance and get really pissed about — because it didn’t allow them to show all they could do. It was just another dance and costuming decision that failed to translate on ice no matter how hard they sold it. (Watch.) The Torino silver medalists sit in fourth.

Your turn. What did you think of last night’s original dances? Who do you think will win medals tonight? (Preview the free dances.) And which of the “American Country” dances was your favorite:

• Great Britain’s aforementioned trucker number (Hammond said it was for the Canadian cowboy, but Johnny Cash and Daisy Dukes are ours, thank you.)

• France’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” program from Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who slapped their butts in perfect unison for “cakes on the griddle” (I thought their circular step sequence did a nice job resembling country couples dancing.)

• The Dixie Chicks medley from USA’s Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates (I’m loving him on Twitter, by the way. “Channeling Woody from Toy Story. Be the chaps, be the chaps…” he wrote yesterday. More of his greatest hits: “Tired of admitting to other athletes ‘No, we don’t jump.'” “Hunting down every Detroit Red Wing for a picture. Kill count: 5.” “A self-portrait from opening. I call it, ‘Olympic torch engulfs unfortunate boy in unfortunate cable knit sweater.'” “Mr. DiFiore’s 4th grade class wrote us some inspiring letters which are posted in our hallway. I’d like to share some highlights… ‘Figure skating isn’t my favorite sport, but it’s cool. I’m more into football not that I’m saying skating is wimpy. Football has to do with tackling and running. Figure skating is hard too, but I dislike skating. Snowboarding is the coolest. Sincerely, Josh'” “‘I always thought skating was girly until I saw some videos. Wow! You guys can skate. Even tho I’m not into that stuff. I’m into motocross. I don’t know much about this stuff, but I do know you will win. An athletic boy, Eli p.s. I think it’d be cool if u could do an [aerial] flip.'”)

More PopWatch on Ice:

PopWatch on Ice: Ice dancing competition to have more tension than a night of Tango Romantica

Men’s recap: Lysacek defeats Plushenko in cold war

Men’s recap: Villains, heroes, and fashion victims in the men’s short programs

Pairs’ recap: Shen and Zhao win pairs gold following collective gasp

Pairs’ recap: Good music, bad costumes, and questionable scoring in the pairs’ short programs

Scott Hamilton: The 5 most memorable Olympic figure skating falls

Scott Hamilton: The 5 times I was a little too excited in the broadcast booth

Scott Hamilton: The 5 programs I would have skated

Photo credit: Dominina: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images; White: Bob Thomas/Popperfoto/Getty Images; Virtue: Matthew Stockman/Getty Images; Belbin: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images

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