'Dancing With the Stars' recap: Judges flex their choreography muscles

For The Baltimore Sun
DWTS recap: The judges flex their choreography muscles.

So it looks like for Judges Team-Up Week on "Dancing With the Stars," they've taken the week where each of the contestants gets a visit from one of the judges and made it more involved, with each judge actually choreographing a number.

Erin points out that the two perfect scoring couples from last week both featured female stars, so the team dances dropped them to the bottom of the scoreboard. Oooh, I hadn't noticed that.
Nyle and Peta are announced safe right off the bat.

Nyle DiMarco and Peta Murgatroyd
Pasodoble

Peta warns Nyle about not sticking his butt out during this week's paso. They're also incorporating several beats of silence into the routine to have the other dancers experience what Nyle does — dancing without hearing the music.

Tom reminds us about the planned silence after a commercial. Don't adjust your TV, folks — it's supposed to sound like it's on mute! Nyle's butt is still sticking out. Nyle's timing is fine, as usual, but his form is kind of terrible in this number.

The silent bit comes at the very end, with Nyle surrounded by four troupe members to do a few flamenco moves.

Len thought it needed more shaping through the body on occasion. The crowd boos, but he's not wrong. The boos encourage Len to continue offering more criticism about the placement of Nyle's weight and so on. Bruno calls it "mind-blowing." He says the silent bit looked like "five men dancing to the beat of a single heart." Carrie Ann is crying. How old is she? Is this The Change? Is she having hot flashes?

Erin is crying, too. Peta starts tearing up. Calm down, people. After Erin pitches back to Tom, Tom looks at Len and says, "You're holding it together? Thank you." Sometimes the stiff upper lip is a good thing.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Len: 9; Bruno: 10

Three couples are up on stage, waiting to hear results. Paige and Mark are safe and both Jodie and Keo and Antonio and Sharna are in jeopardy. So let's make those two couples dance now!

Antonio Brown and Sharna Burgess
Viennese waltz

Antonio decides Week 8 is the week to finally, really, truly buckle down and get serious about the show. He's showing up early for rehearsals. There's a bit in the interview footage where Antonio refers to the dance as the "Vietnamese waltz" and there's a lot of back and forth with the off-camera interviewer about how to say "Viennese." Antonio seems a bit chagrined about the whole thing and it seems a little mean-spirited for the producers to show this.

There's a weird bit of blocking where there's a street lamp in the foreground, and I swear Sharna's so slender she just about disappears behind it at one point. There might be foot issues with Antonio, but his hands and arms look great.

Bruno reassures Antonio that he can see all the effort he put in this week. Carrie Ann compliments Antonio on elongating his lines, but he had a bit of shoulder hunching. Antonio sweats so hard that he looks like a freshly waxed car beading up after the rain. Len is impressed with the heel leads Sharna taught Antonio.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 9; Len: 9; Bruno: 9

Bindi Irwin is in the ballroom and Tom lets her read the teleprompter to preview what's coming up after the break. She's great, unsurprisingly.

Jodie Sweetin and Keo Motsepe
Jive

It seems like a running narrative this season has been "Keo's not that good." First there was switch-up week, where Kim Fields scored poorly dancing with him and Jodie got her best scores to that point. Then last week, Carrie Ann called out his missteps in a routine. Addressing those missteps, Jodie explains, "He said he had a cramp." It sounds like the flimsiest excuse in the world the way it's presented.

And now, the producers pull a TV site article that asks, "Is Keo Dragging Jodie down?" Poor Keo. I'm guessing we won't be seeing him in future seasons.

The gist of the routine is that it's Sunday in church and they're feeling it. This feels like a slow jive to me and, in one of those criticisms I wouldn't have understood before watching so many seasons of dancing shows, I'll say that Jodie's legs don't look strong.

Carrie Ann starts by defending Keo and saying he's great. She says this was Jodie's best dance ever. Len's grinning ear to ear. He says that he can tell Jodie's gained confidence as the season has progressed. Bruno calls it a tour de force.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Len: 10; Bruno: 10

Paige VanZant and Mark Ballas
Viennese Waltz

In rehearsal footage, Mark is asked "Are you playing it safe this week?" And he proudly answers that he never, ever, never, never, never plays it safe. In the ballroom. Where he dances. Keep on keeping on, tough guy.

This is supposed to be "Game of Thrones"-inspired because of Khaleesi and snow. Which means I'm allowed to make all the "You know nothing, Mark Ballas" jokes I want, right?

Len starts off by telling Paige that her head was too far forward in hold, which pulled up her left shoulder a bit. Bruno calls the routine "chilling and thrilling." He talks about Mark deliberately interrupting the continuous movement of a Viennese waltz to tell a story in their frozen poses. Carrie Ann praises Paige's acting throughout the routine.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Len: 9; Bruno: 9

Ginger and Val and Wanyá and Lindsay are up on stage to get results. Ginger and Val are safe and Val says something that triggers the mute button. Wanyá and Lindsay are in jeopardy.

Ginger Zee and Val Chmerkovskiy
Argentine tango

Backstage footage from last week shows Val talking about how unusually nervous he is before they perform. After the perfect scores are revealed, Ginger tells him he should be nervous more often.

During this week's rehearsal, Ginger is struggling with getting the dramatic, serious tone Val wants for the dance. He tells her to scrunch her eyebrows and she says it just makes her look constipated. Val's ridiculous hair, by the way, continues to be ridiculous. I can't wait for him to cringe in 10 years looking back at photos and footage from this year.

I'm really digging this reworking of "Telephone" they're dancing to — it makes the song perfect for the Argentine tango. They've got the close body contact and the intricate footwork down pat.

Bruno loves the routine. Carrie Ann calls it "mind-blowing." Len loves all the contrasts in the routine: fast/slow, hot/cold, hard/soft, etc. He calls it "one hell of a dance."

Erin tells us she can't scrunch up her eyebrows because she's had Botox. She seems young for that, but what do I know? Erin points out Ginger's revealing lace dress and encourages Ginger to keep the dress for Ben, her husband, to enjoy later.

Val says he tripped twice during the routine — I wonder why the judges didn't mention that, nor reflect it in their scores?

Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Len: 10; Bruno: 10

Wanyá Morris and Lindsay Arnold
Jive

Lindsay says they were disappointed with last week's scores because they want to be better. Wanyá tells us he's lost 22 pounds since the season started. During rehearsals, Wanyá accidentally smacks Lindsay in the face during a turn and she bites through her lip. She says she's proud of the battle wound because it means Wanyá is dancing hard.

The routine starts off fun, but it doesn't feel like Wanyá. I wish he'd gotten the Etta James song with the church routine. Or even had one of those World War II jives. Wanyá in a sailor suit! He'd be adorable!

I'm also not in love with the choreography, veering away from jive as often as it does. Near the end, they do a trick with bandanas on the ground and Lindsay doesn't get hers picked up because it landed farther away than planned. Wanyá is doing a few steps backward and promptly steps on the bandana and slips. It takes him a bit to recover and get back into the rhythm of the dance, so they're pretty unsynchronized for the rest of the dance.

Carrie Ann says there were more problems than just the bandana. She loves Wanyá's exuberance but wants him to push himself a little harder. Len says they attacked the dance but losing the timing will affect the scores. Bruno thinks Wanyá was "over-energized" which hurt the performance.

Erin's trying to comfort Lindsay, saying she shouldn't cry and that accidents can happen to anyone.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 8; Len: 8; Bruno: 9

Judges' Team-Up Challenge
So, not only does living in the Eastern and Central time zones mean you get to watch TV before it's spoiled all over the internet, it also means you get to be the viewer vote for the Judges Team-Up Challenge.

Team Bruno: Nyle and Peta, Jodie and Keo
Argentine tango

Bruno is waiting for the couples outside the trailers and he's wearing a hoodie zipped only a third of the way up. Oh, Bruno. He tells them they're dancing to Bizet's "Habanera" from "Carmen," and you suddenly remember he's from Italy, the way he pronounces it. He also tells them he's choreographing a section where Nyle and Keo and Jodie and Peta will dance together in hold. Interesting!

Peta explains to Nyle that "The closer you are, the better you get around," encouraging him to lean into Keo. Nyle says that dancing with Keo is no different than dancing with Peta — "He's taller and bigger basically." Peta laughs and says, "I hope he feels different."

The number starts with four female dancers on chairs, then four shirtless men come up behind them and start dancing with them. It's Fosse and sexy and totally Bruno. Jodie and Peta take their turn first and the crowd squeals in titillation. Then Nyle and Keo step forward and the crowd goes even more nuts. Keo even does a lift with Nyle, which is pretty great. It's easy enough to flip around tiny little women but watching Keo heft up Nyle and spin him around is really cool for showing off his strength. The routine ends with Nyle and Jodie dancing together.
So, we just saw two shirtless male dancers in hold doing a tango on network television on a Monday night. Good on you, ABC.

Len praises the amount of traditional Argentine tango content. Bruno, up in the skybox, is really proud of the dancers. Carrie Ann tells the dancers it wasn't an easy dance and it was very engaging to watch. She says what impressed her the most was the way they were always in sync throughout the routine.

Bruno tells Erin he's most proud of the fact that he couldn't tell who was the pro and who was the celebrity. In his comments, it's clear that having the women dance together and the men dance together was deliberate statement and not just an artistic choice.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Len: 10; Viewer vote: 9

Team Len: Wanyá and Lindsay, Ginger and Val
Samba

Len tells them they're dancing to "Jump in the Line" and Wanyá starts singing it immediately. I fall in love with him a little more. Len says the last time he danced samba was 1973 and Wanyá remarks that that's when he was born. Then Len asks if he can come into the routine. Wanyá says Len isn't as grumpy as he thought. Lindsay puts in some twinkle fingers for Len and he's delighted.

The premise of the routine is that Ginger and Lindsay are stranded on a tropical island when Wanyá and Val find them. It's really cute. Wanyá and Ginger have a bit where they're dancing together and I begin to wonder if that was a requirement of the dance? We'll see when we get to Team Carrie Ann.

In the background is a giant cutout of Len's head, like one of the Easter Island statues. I want one for my office. Then, at the end, a throne turns around and there's King Len, IN A GRASS SKIRT AND BARE FEET. I never thought I'd see the day.

Tom jokes to Wanyá that he gets his abs the same way — Wanyá is wearing a brown tank top with sequined trompe l'oeil pecs and abs on it. We also find out that Len is selling a three-CD set of his favorite songs for the ballroom. Get it, Len.

Carrie Ann loves it and is hoping it'll help Wanyá after his score in the earlier dance. Bruno takes turns complimenting Len, Ginger and Wanyá.

When Len makes a comment to Erin about how they just wanted to go out and have fun, Val smirks that they were allowed to do that knowing that Len wasn't judging.

Scores: Carrie Ann: 10; Bruno: 10; Viewers: 9

Team Carrie Ann: Antonio and Sharna, Paige and Mark
Pasodoble

Antonio greets Carrie Ann with flowers. Sucking up to the judges — I totally approve. Carrie Ann is going Big Production, with powder and water and fog machines. It's all very Mark Ballas of her.

In fact, as the routine continues, it seems more and more like something Ballas would do. And, yes, there is a section with Antonio and Paige dancing together, so it must have been a requirement. There are lots of paso elements but it has the feel of a contemporary.

It ends with them getting drenched in water and they're all wearing beige clothes, so it seems like they're naked.

Bruno calls it "impactful." I guess that's OK, since English isn't his native language. Len yells, "Carry on, Carrie Ann!"

Scores: Len: 10; Bruno: 10; Viewers: 9
America's a harsh judge, y'all. Well done, America.

Elimination

To remind you, the three couples in jeopardy are Antonio and Sharna, Jodie and Keo, and Wanyá and Lindsay. Announced safe first are Antonio and Sharna. And then Jodie & Keo are eliminated. Thus ends the Keo storyline, on a down note. Jodie says she starts production on "Fuller House" tomorrow, so I guess the elimination is at least well-timed.

Scoreboard
Ginger and Val: 30 + 29 = 59
Nyle and Peta: 29 + 29 = 58
Paige and Mark: 28+ 29 = 57
Antonio and Sharna: 27 + 28 = 55
Wanyá and Lindsay: 25 + 28 = 53

Predictions

I really, really want Wanyá to stick around one more week, but his scores tonight may be too much to overcome. C'mon, voters — he's way more fun to watch than Paige or Antonio.

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