So they're beating us over the head on tonight's Dancing With the Stars with the concept that it's "acoustic night," and they're performing "in the round." Also, they're getting double the scores: a performance score and a technique score.

Basically, the stage is quite a bit smaller and raised 30 inches, so their footwork will be more on display. And the music, while not exactly unplugged, is more subdued, which means it'll be tougher to find the musical beats. They're doing Argentine tango and rumba for this evening's performances, which the pros give us a little taste of before things get started.


Kurt Warner and Anna Trebunskaya prepare for the romantic rumba, and Kurt is having issues getting into character with Anna because he's married and she's married. Finally, his wife and her husband (pro Jonathan) come to give them pointers. Kurt's wife points out that the story they're telling of the dance is somewhat like their dating life, when he couldn't decide whether he wanted to be with her. She tells him to go for it and that she understands it's just a dance, with him playing a character, and he seems to loosen up. In the performance, he seems mostly comfortable, or at least more comfortable, but I think this character is still obviously not in his comfort zone. Head judge Len Goodman says how excited he is to give the two scores. He says Kurt has great lateral hip action, but he didn't love his posture in pivots. He also thinks Kurt pitched the romantic side just right. Bruno Tonioli gives him more talk about continuous movement through his hands. He also thinks the relationship seemed more brother-sister than romantic. Carrie Ann Inaba says they had nice chemistry that was about trust and intimacy. But she agrees with Bruno about the arms and adds that Kurt's musicality was a tad off. Technical scores: 5-5-5, for a 15/30. Performance: 7-6-6, for a 19/30 and a grand total of 34/60.

Brandy and Maksim Chmerkovskiy are next, also doing the rumba. In rehearsal, Maks is being really hard on her about her lack of sexiness, and she interviews that she doesn't feel sexy unless she's in love, and she hasn't been with anyone for six years. So Maks decides to butter her up and take her out for a romantic evening, which she pretty much ruins by berating him about his flower-giving technique. (I am not making this up.) They dance to This Woman's Work, and it's quite lovely and romantic, given their seeming problem with chemistry in rehearsal. I'm impressed, but I wish I liked her more when she's not dancing. Bruno loves the mood they created, but he does say she has erratic hands sometimes, and she should work on placing her legs more precisely. Carrie Ann says she's been waiting for the real Brandy to show herself, and she did. She wants more strength in her legs. Len says he liked the technique, then my signal cuts out, and I lose the rest of what he said as WMAR switches from the HD to the regular def feed. Technical scores: 7-8-7, for a 22/30. Performance scores: 9-8-9, for a 26/30 and a grand total 48/60.

Thus far, though, the music still seems pretty much the usual to me. I guess there's less percussion, but there are certainly some plugs involved.

Rick Fox and Cheryl Burke are the first couple to do the Argentine tango. Cheryl's psyched because she went to Argentina recently to learn more about the dance. They're doing a lot of (legal) lifts in the dance, but once they see the elevated stage, they're concerned about falling. In the performance, they pull off the lifts, but maybe because of the subdued music or the smaller stage, I'm not as lost in it as it seems like we should be. Carrie Ann says they look like the cover of a romance novel, but it felt one dimensional. There's booing, but I'm totally with her. She adds that he seemed very aware of the stage size and not as committed. That matches up with what I saw, but she expressed it better. Len thinks the lifts were excellent, but his legs could have been crisper. He says they started with intensity and then gradually lost it. Bruno says he started out like Clark Gable, but it didn't hold. He adds that some of his passes "were a little bit like Megatron." Technical scores: 6-7-6 for a 19/30. For Performance: 6-7-7, for a 20/30 and a 39/60.

Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer prepare for the rumba, and they're working hard on his footwork since it was called "atrocious" last week. It seems to work -- I'm no expert, but his feet are a lot more obvious in this stage set up, and it looked like he was making an effort to get it right. Plus, he's still giving it all on the performance side of things.  Len says his footwork was much better, and he was on the ball of his feet. But overall, he felt it was too staccato (that's not the word he uses, but I can't make it out) and not as fluid as he would have liked. Bruno says he played it well as usual, and then he has moments of fluidity, but that's not maintained. Carrie Ann says she liked the tone, that it was somewhat innocent, which is good, since he's younger, and not sexual, which makes Lacey make a hilarious "uh, really?" face that I think I was also making. She says he did pay more attention to the detail of the feet, which led to that inconsistency with his upper body and arms. Technical scores: 6-6-6, for an 18/30. Performance: 8-7-7, for a 22/30, and a grand total 40/60.

The Situation and Karina Smirnoff prepare for the Argentine tango, and he's having a hard time. They're aiming to add as many tricks as possible to make up for ... well, everything. The lifts themselves are great and do show off his power, but most of the rest of the time, he's just stomping around the stage like Frankenstein's monster, except when he's trying really hard on the flicks and kicks. But they survive. Bruno says it was a big old mess and like watching someone put together a puzzle that they can't quite get. (Bruno must be a Survivor fan.) He calls it a really, really, really terrible situation. Carrie Ann welcomes the Situation's abs to the show. She says it was tough going, but it seems like the thing he's having the most trouble with is the walking. Len says it was bad throughout, but he congratulations Karina for, well, really making the most of a bad Situation. Technical scores: 4-4-4, for a 12/30. Performance scores: 6-5-5, for a 16/30, and a total 28/60.

Florence Henderson and Corky Ballas prepare for the rumba and step up the work on technique since she got tough comments last week. To make sure they are still being "dignified," they bring in Mark Ballas and Florence's daughter to help them figure out what's appropriate and not. So ... I'm not sure what the deal is. At times it seems like they're going for comedy rumba, and all of it together is just really bizarre. And not really dignified. Florence walks over to Tom and grabs him, which is bizarre. Carrie Ann looks horrified: "What just happened? You're Mrs. Brady! You definitely proved that age has no relationship to how sexy and raunchy and dirty you can make a dance, however, I felt like it went just a little too far." She says she got a little uncomfortable. Len says it was much better than he expected, well done! Bruno says a few things less would have sufficed. "I've seen better." I'm with Carrie Ann on this one. Oh, and Peter Brady is in the audience looking equally horrified. Technical scores:  6-6-5, for a 17/30. Performance scores: 6-6-6, for an 18/30 and a total of 35/60.

Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough hope to recover from last week's mistake in this week's Argentine tango. They're having some challenges because of a pinched nerve in her foot and the two screws in her neck, but in the performance, you would never, ever know it. They are SO. GOOD. She is so clearly the best this season, but I think it's interesting because she seems so much more normal than other seasons' standout dancers -- and there doesn't seem to be the level of outrage that there usually is toward the standouts. Of course, dancing in a movie in 1987 isn't the same as dancing on tour and in music videos or being an Olympic athlete who competes to music. But still. Anyway. Len say they paired excellent technique with a beautiful performance. Bruno says this is prime-time delight, performance wise and technique wise. Carrie Ann says she had amazing precision and passion. Technical scores: 9-9-9, for a 27/30. Performance: 10-9-10, for a 29/30, and a 56/60. (Those are the season's first 10s, by the way.)

Bristol Palin and Mark Ballas have the rumba, and Mark says Bristol and the rumba have zero in common. She agrees. In the dance itself, she seems to have gotten over the sexiness issue, mostly, and you can almost see her trying to get into character, which is good. It gets a little over the top when she rips Mark's shirt off during the dance (isn't her job abstinence advocate?), but I'm sure it was his idea. Bruno says she is technically very clean, but the moves never go anywhere -- he says she needs to sustain it all the way through. Carrie Ann says she has all the makings of a great dancer, but the performance isn't going anywhere. She says she's calling her out for dancing just for Mark and not for the 200 million people watching on TV or even all the people in the room. She also calls out Mark for being too distracting with the ripping off of the shirt. Len says he wants to see "more we and less me" out of these performances. Technical scores: 6-6-6, for an 18/30. Performance: 4-5-5, for a 14/30, and a grand total of 32/60.

Last up are Audrina Patridge and Tony Dovolani, who want to continue their success from last week with their performance this week of the Argentine tango. (But since they got sympathy points for doing a story dance about a dead Marine, which I still find quite irksome, I'm thinking their numbers aren't going to be quite as high.) Hilariously, in the rehearsal footage, Tony is giving Audrina some acting tips and telling her how to add some intensity to her expression when she says, "I feel like this is going to give me wrinkles!" Well, sorry, kid, when one shows emotion on one's face, that is sometimes the end result. But experiencing emotion is worth it! Anyway, in the performance, this all seems to pay off, and they are quite stunning together. I actually start to wonder whether I was being too harsh in my judgment of last week's dance. Still not sure. Carrie Ann says she enjoyed it, but that she needs to work on extending her foot past her toe, saying that she lacks energy at her ankles. She also thinks her dismounts from the lifts were sloppy, but this is the first time they could do lifts! Also, she saw more fire in Audrina's eyes. Len says it was clean and clear, but he didn't really get transported to a seedy club or anything. Bruno says she performed it like an ice queen, somewhat detached, but technically, she put in a lot of difficult embellishments, but the not pointed enough feet undid some of that. Technical scores: 8-8-8, for a 24/30. Performance scores: 8-7-7, for a 22/30 and a 46/60 total.


What did you think of the dances tonight? I just think this is Jennifer's game -- Audrina and Brandy might stay on her heels, but Audrina's so reserved and Brandy's not as likable, so I don't think either can catch up in terms of viewer votes. Am I crazy? Let me know in the comments. We shall see.