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'Dancing With the Stars': Top 9 couples perform

On tonight's Dancing With the Stars, the contestants will take on the Viennese waltz or the paso doble in an attempt to impress the judges and the viewers.

First on the floor are Kristi Yamaguchi and Mark Ballas, who have been the top scorers with a 27/30 for three weeks running. They are among the couples doing the paso doble, so she will have the opportunity to bring the emotions that the judges wanted to see from her last week during the tango. They dance to "Blue Monday," and the choreography has, as it should, a very aggressive, sharp feel. Head judge Len Goodman says, "You can't dance bad, as far as I'm concerned. ... My slight criticism would be that every dance has a slight sameness to it." Ah, the hazards of consistency! Judge Bruno Tonioli says she was "Jezebel out there." Judge Carrie Ann Inaba says Kristi and Mark have set the standard this season and are forcing everyone else to work even harder. Scores: 10-9-10, for a 29/30, which includes the first 10s of the season.

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Priscilla Presley and  Louis van Amstel work on the delicate movements of the Viennese waltz by going roller skating. Go figure. Their performance is very flowy and romantic, but lots of it seems to depend on Priscillia swishing her skirt around with her hands, and that's kind of distracting to me. Bruno says, "It was like watching a scene from The Merry Widow. ... Great interpretation." He adds that she needs to watch the line of her neck. Carrie Ann says she creates lots of drama with her facial expression, "but I feel that your balance was just a bit off, and unfortunately, I think there was a lift." Len: "It had elegance, it had flow across the floor. ... I've got to drop a point because you did a lift, and lifts are forbidden." Scores: 7-7-8, for a 22/30. 

Adam Carolla and Julianne Hough are next. Adam is wearing a crazy fake mustache, and host Tom Bergeron points out that last week, he managed to insult his partner, the wardrobe department and two entire faiths. Adams says in the pre-performance segment that he is now "in it not to lose it." They start the dance with Adam on a unicycle. Well, that's something I don't think we'll be seeing from the other contestants. Despite the silly start, their dance is actually fairly dramatic and entertaining. I think Adam's improving just a bit, and Julianne is getting better at playing to his strengths in the choreography. Carrie Ann: "It was smooth, it was dramatic, and your turns were fantastic ... and then you got off the unicycle." She gives them an A for creativity. Len says Adam is such a lovable character that people want him to do well, but unfortunately, he's not much of a dancer. Bruno says he is the classic example of genius and insanity going hand in hand. Scores: 6-7-6, for a 19/30.

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Marlee Matlin and Fabian Sanchez are concerned during practice that all the turns in the Viennese waltz will present a problem since Marlee's deafness affects her balance at times. But they work through it. My inexpert eye doesn't notice any balance issues, and they handle the turns and the speed with their usual grace. Len: "I thought it was very, very good. ... It was poignant." He does mention that she needs to work on her head during holds occasionally. Bruno says she always interprets the music beautifully, and he doesn't know how she does it, but it was great. He does, however, also mention the posture. Carrie Ann says the performance moved her to tears. "You truly touched me, and for that, I am grateful." Scores: 8-8-8, for a 24/30.

Mario and Karina Smirnoff hope to rebound from "bitterly disappointing" Len last week with this week's paso doble. They go for aggression, and masculinity, and sharpness -- and Karina throws a couple of tricks in there, too, including a crazy flip at the end. Mario looks pretty thrilled when it's over. Bruno: "It is Mario the conqueror, all guns blazing, full of attack. ... You had a very strong Spanish flavor to it, which is very difficult. I liked it very much." Carrie Ann says this week was an improvement over last week, and it was clear that he had spent more hours in the practice room. She does say he has a few awkward moments to keep an eye on. Len says he admired his spirit, but, "You've got one style of dance, and it's sort of wild." Bruno interrupts: "It's powerful. The boy works his ass [off] out there." Back to Len: "I want you to do good. I'm telling you: Work on the styling a little bit more." Backstage, Mario says Len keeps him on his toes, and he's trying to make this his No. 1 priority. Scores: 8-7-9, for a 24/30.

Jason Taylor and Edyta Sliwinska prepare for the Viennese waltz and try to improve his chivalry and get rid of his (totally contrived) locker-room attitude during the practice footage. Their performance is lovely and seems to get at the fundamentals of the dance. Also, I buy Jason as the one leading this performance, which doesn't always happen with the guys dancing with the female professionals. Carrie Ann says, "That was beautiful. ... I love that you guys added a very seductive angle that took it right over the top." She also points out that he stumbled at one point during the performance, "but I'm going to forgive you." Len says, "That was a wow of a waltz." Bruno: "You manage to make the Viennese waltz sexy, sensuous, erotic." Then he compares it to an exotic swan's mating ritual. Ahh, Bruno. Scores: 10-9-10, for the second 29/30 for the evening. Dang, I guess they are forgiving him for the stumble.

Cristian de la Fuente and Cheryl Burke prepare for the paso doble, and she is very hard on him in practice. For their performance, they are, first of all, both wearing smaller costumes than anyone else tonight, and secondly, said costumes seem to be patent leather or plastic or something, which gives the whole thing a strange kind of dominatrix feel. But the dance itself is good, strong, entertaining, etc. Len says he loved the passion and the drama and the intensity, though he doesn't necessarily think they conquered the (very strong) music. Bruno says Cristian had "the pride and the power of the biggest bull in the arena." Carrie Ann says they did keep up with the music, but adds that Cristian should watch his expression when he's out of the hold because he looks a little panicked at times. Scores: 9-8-9, for a 26/30.

Shannon Elizabeth and Derek Hough had a tough week -- Derek got injured during a practice, so Shannon spent most of her practice time with Jonathan Roberts. I think, had we not known that, viewers wouldn't have guessed there'd been an issue. Their Viennese waltz is romantic and sweet -- and without the appearance of injury. Bruno says, "The hot babe has graduated into a class act. ... It was like spring!" Carrie Ann says she is comfortable in her body, so she lets her body find its own movement, and it was beautiful. Len says, "It's the best dance I've seen tonight." Oooh, is a 30 in the future? Scores: 9-10-9, for a 28/30. So no 30, but that would be Len's first 10 of the season, and Shannon's first, too.

Marissa Jaret Winokur and Tony Dovolani are the final pair of the evening. In practice, Tony says he's stepping up the choreography, which ... it's about time! They work the emotion of the dance, and these are the most complex steps Marissa's had to work with so far. Carrie Ann: "Guess what: I thought it was fantastic." Len says at last, the true Marissa is coming out; "well done!" Bruno says she took risks and was a strong performer; "that is the way to go." Scores: 8-8-8, for a 24/30.

I can't disagree with the judges' top choices: Jason and Kristi, or bottom, Adam. What do you think about tonight's performances?

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