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Tonya Plank

Tonya Plank

Posted: April 23, 2008 12:02 PM

Dancing With the Stars: The Musical Mambo Gets Marlee Matlin Booted (and Shannon Elizabeth Hangs On)


I'm very sad to see Marlee Matlin go. I can't help feeling that the show somehow failed her, either her or us. Mambo is horribly hard for someone who can't connect to the music. Samba is too, as are most of the Latin dances, but Mambo probably the most so. The judges were right in that respect. And, bad as this may sound, watching her Monday night made me feel so sorry that she couldn't hear that mad fun music, that infectious beat, and it made me so thankful that I can. I know some people with hearing problems can pick up on vibrations and I wondered, if she hadn't danced in shoes, she might have been able to "hear" the rhythm through the floor. Shoes are required in formal ballroom competitions, but I've seen show dancers perform barefoot, and it's actually rather sensual. Maybe this is silly and I'm completely wrong about "hearing" vibrating beats; I just wanted so badly for her to be able to enjoy that music. And, even if being barefoot wouldn't have helped, I still would have liked to hear Marlee's perspective on her difficulties. We only heard the judges say everything looked "forced" and "uncomfortable" and Mambo is impossible without being able to hear the music. I actually thought only the pelvic rolls looked awkward, and then only initially, until she caught Fabian's rhythm and joined him. But her shoulder shakes were much better -- she seemed at ease with those and really let loose. I thought the basic mambo steps were fine; the hip action wasn't quite there, and once or twice she was off-beat, but I disagree with the judges that the whole routine was bad. Fabian was certainly a thrill!

Anyway, onto the others: funny, but I thought Jason Taylor was brilliant at hip hop. When I saw him in that hip hop class, I thought, wow, how much he's improved. But then when it came to the Cha Cha, he floundered again, seeming uncomfortable, and looking slightly awkward, and lanky. Still, I think Jason is so hard-working, and he's got such a sweetly humble personality, I don't think he'll be in jeopardy for a while.

I thought Shannon Elizabeth did much better this week and the judges were far too harsh on her. She again lacked proper hip action during some of the straight Rumba steps, but she has a beautiful ballet body -- tall and thin and few curves. If Derek would give her more balletic moves -- like that gorgeous ronde de jambe en l'air she did at the beginning and her beautiful stretch near the end- she'll do much better and her hip weaknesses won't be such an issue.

Cristian "you can just call me Frederico Astaire" de la Fuente blew me completely away this week. I think for once the seemingly mandatory little extracurricular side-trip really helped. He was flapping about madly like a bird in peril with those arms until Cheryl got him into that pool; the water really slowed him down and gave him control. His footwork was excellent, not a step out of place, even on those fast, intricate grapevines in the beginning, his partnering was strong, and he played the dashing foxtrotting gentleman perfectly the way he glided over that floor. Even his posture and lines - formerly problem spots - were gorgeous. What an improvement!

I thought Marissa Jaret Winokur looked really good this week. She did a couple of lovely arabesques (where the back leg is lifted high off the floor) and the ending floor sweep trick was beautiful.

Kristi Yamaguchi was perfect, as always. That was, I think, the only Jive on this show ever to be danced at full speed, and Mark gave her some very intricate, complicated footwork - the same that would be given to a professional. She really is a pro out there -- not even like a pro, but an actual pro. Mark is lucky because he can choreograph the same kind of routine he'd make for himself and a professional partner; unlike the other professional dancers, he doesn't need to strive to put together choreography that highlights her specific strengths and hides her weaknesses because there aren't any of the latter. She's absolutely delightful to watch, but it's not surprising that she's doing so well given her background, which makes it seem unfair to judge her against the others.

Mario's dancing was near perfect ... when he did any dancing. I have to agree with Len that his and Karina's Rumba was a bit too much about the sexiness and not enough about the movement. I don't know if I'd have used the same words as Len though -- "strumpet" and "gigolo"? Still, I'm surprised Mario ended up in the bottom two.