With Michael Flatley stepping in for Len and a group dance thrown in for good measure, the dancers get a chance to show their stuff to someone new

By Annie Barrett
Updated October 28, 2008 at 04:00 PM EDT
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Credit: Craig Sjodin/ABC
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‘Dancing With the Stars’ recap: Bringing the street to the dance floor

Turn and face the strange changes, Dancing With the Stars fans. Last night, the show’s spark-plug-in-chief, Julianne Hough, announced she’ll have to pull out of the competition for a week due to illness; her partner, Cody Linley, will dance with Lady Leg Warmers (Edyta Sliwinska) instead. Meanwhile, Michael ”Lord of the Dance” Flatley stepped in for head judge Len Goodman, which obviously means that since I insist on calling Len the name on his vanity license plate, DANCMSTR, Flatley will heretofore be referred to as DANCLRD. It softens the blow.

Sadly, your most prominent memories of last night’s show likely revolve around that hot mess and a half otherwise known as the hip-hop group dance. Best thing about it? The completely over-the-top graffiti logo — ”GROUP DANCE,” emblazoned onto an enormous boom box — on the wall of the rehearsal studio, just in case we weren’t sure what we were watching. Cloris Leachman had it right: Stand back, let everyone else try, and eat delicious burritos. Lance Bass and Warren Sapp were the only two stars who really ”sold it” during the exceedingly uncomfortable finale, while poor, injured Brooke Burke and screaming-appendix Julianne just looked horrified that they had to do it at all.

I seem to be on a roll with the complaining, so let me get this out of the way: I’m not loving how scattered the dances are this season — I much prefer when half the couples do the paso and the other half the rumba, for example. It allows for comparison, which I assume is at least a fraction of what inspires people to vote, along with other important factors like ”general hotness,” ”costumes,” and/or ”lack of costumes”. Do you agree, or do you prefer the variety? Let me know what you think in the comments. But first: Let’s get to that leader board….

Lance Bass and Lacey: 27 out of possible 30 This week, Lance was back on target, thanks to a motivational pep talk from his ‘N Sync buddies, former DWTS ham Joey Fatone and Chris Kirkpatrick, who were probably just bored that day. (If you’re bored today, watch Chris’ visit to my fake cubicle last summer.) Lance did exude a lot more leading-man attitude during his jive — not to mention he did a kicky roundoff off the stairs. This was probably Lance’s best dance yet, in terms of charisma, at least. DANCMSTR — who is not dead, despite Carrie Ann’s ignorance of his whereabouts — would have hated all the ”rubbish” in the beginning (that fish-on-a-hook move needs to be outlawed) and the ”messin’ about” throughout (somersaults are never impressive). But DANCLRD didn’t seem to mind. ”You had everything tonight. You came out smokin’,” Flatley told Lance, just as I wondered what exactly DANCLRD was smokin’ because he was so freakin’ calm the whole night. I suppose he’s in the practice of directing all bodily energy downward to his lower half.

Brooke Burke and Derek: 26/30 No one bothered to whisper to DANCLRD that if her dance turned out to be wobbly and pained, he should disregard the memo that said, ”Give Brooke Burke a 10.” But I can’t exactly blame him for being mesmerized if he’s never seen Brooke dance before — half of their rumba consisted of slow, dramatic extensions, and Brooke’s were out-of-this-world crazy good. I even got some Edyta vibes a few times, which is very impressive considering I spent most of the dance focusing on how if my foot hurt as much as Brooke’s did, it would really, really hurt doing that dance in those heels. I agree with DANCLRD (cue fake Irish brogue): ”Ya took my breath away therrrrre.” Let’s just be glad he didn’t have cards higher than 10. He wanted ’em!

NEXT: Susan searches for the beat

Warren Sapp and Kym: 25/30 I loved Kym’s explanation of their rumba’s theme — ”You’re quite pathetic, but I still love you” — because that’s pretty much how I feel about Dancing With the Stars. The rumba just didn’t display enough content from Warren last night. I know it’s the woman’s dance and she’s supposed to whirl around the man, but I’m sure Kym could have given the big ol’ sap a bit more to do. DANCLRD wanted a bit more dancing, too, but scored Warren a 9 for emotional reasons — he liked how Warren was able to ”reach in deep and change when it’s necessary.” Then he called him ”smokin’.” (DANCLRD could stand to reach in deep and change up his adjective choice when it’s necessary.) Carrie Ann also raved about Warren’s emotional side, explaining that it was what set him apart from season 3 winner Emmitt Smith. Whatever. I seem to recall Emmitt being very emotionally attached to a certain orange satin shirt.

Susan Lucci and Tony: 23/30 For the mambo, Susan repeated red fringe, which was both exhilarating (fringe!) and disappointing (there are so many other colors of fringe available). Having kindled a fire inside her via dancing all night at a mambo nightclub that obviously contained season 5 wax figurine/Susan’s All My Children costar Cameron Mathison, Susan was ready to ”feel the freedom” on the ballroom floor. She may have taken that freedom too far — I realized only last night that Susan truly has no sense of rhythm. It could be why she never hits any of her extensions hard enough — she literally can’t find the beat. Bruno really was turning into DANCMSTR last night, correcting Carrie Ann by insisting he had been counting the many times Susan had ”lost us” in the mambo. It’s too bad he didn’t do that out loud. I always thought Bruno would count as dramatically as the Count from Sesame Street, with tons of singsong flair and a vaguely European accent. We only ever hear single digits from him. I feel we may be missing out on something sublime.

Cody Linley and Julianne: 23/30 Once again, Bruno became the voice of reason after Cody’s dance, which clearly was not, as Carrie Ann suggested, ”the most intense samba I’ve ever seen.” (Unless by ”most intense” she meant ”most like a wooden windup toy.”) Bruno thought Cody ”got it completely wrong this week,” showed no bounce at all, and seemed to be doing the paso doble instead of the samba. I thought Cody had some good ”manly” moments here and there — like that one time he stood up from a deep squat — but on the whole I’m distracted by the way you can see him planning out every next move until he loses pace and starts over somewhere else. Julianne looked like she was in pain whenever she wasn’t dancing last night, but was her usual whip-fast self during the samba. It was hard to love her turquoise fringed tutu/skirt when the long-sleeved figure skating costume top she had on seemed to have infected her with an unsightly rash to add to her endometriosis. (Gosh, that was a sad sentence to finish. Season 7 is such a giant bummer.)

NEXT: Gem of the week

Maurice Greene and Cheryl: 21/30 The judges claimed that Maurice and Cheryl lacked fluidity and chemistry during their Viennese waltz last night, but I thought it was perfectly pleasant and quite pretty, and strongly disagreed with his low score. Maurice’s posture and smoothness has vastly improved since his week 1 fox-trot, and I wonder if the judges’ perceived lack of chemistry between the couple might have stemmed from their extremely tense rehearsal footage instead of their actual dance. I’ve watched the waltz four times now, and instead of focusing on the faults, I’m noticing how suave Mo looks sans ‘stache, and how Cheryl’s choreography calls for him to do many things, which is honestly more than I can say for some of the other pairs. They’re not just throwaway solo moves, either — they’re steps that ultimately enable movement for both dancers. The dance may have seemed clunky to the judges, but I appreciated its balance. (Damn, that was like, some serious ballroom-dancing analysis! For me, anyway.)

Clorky: 15/30 First of all, how much do we love George, the ”once-upon-a-time husband” of Cloris? George’s seemingly excellent influence got my hopes up a bit too much for Clorky’s cha-cha-cha, which looked promising for about 30 seconds due to Corky’s clever story line of ”the poor, tired lady gets dragged onto the dance floor but doesn’t know the steps.” This art-imitates-life motif got old as soon as we realized that, duh, Cloris wouldn’t know the steps for the rest of the dance, either. Still, she did some steps, and Corky certainly didn’t help matters with those awful four measures’ worth of the same stationary little jig. I found Carrie Ann’s comment — ”We lost Toni Braxton for this?” — a bit harsh. She has a point, of course, but…the people voted, you know? Let it go.

What do you think, dance masters? Would you rather see more couples perform the same styles? Will the GROUP DANCE haunt your memories forever? How will Cody fare with Edyta — and why not Karina? And who’s going home tonight: Susan, Cloris, or someone else?

Episode Recaps

Dancing With the Stars

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