Martha Graham once said, "Dance is the hidden language of the soul." Graham, a modern dance pioneer who passed away in 1991 - way before the TV series Dancing with the Stars was even a twinkle in a producer's eye - would probably not have been a viewer of this show, nor would she have believed any of these contestants to be speaking any kind of hidden language of the soul. The show is based on the popular BBC series Strictly Come Dancing and its eighth season was rolled out with a two hour program last night via the American Broadcasting System.
As in past seasons, a famous person is paired with a professional ballroom dancer who teaches them a different style of dancing each week to be performed on the show in front of a live audience. Each contestant is introduced in turn, then we're shown footage of them meeting their dance partner/coach; they perform on a very Lawrence Welkian set with a live orchestra; submit to panel judging; endure a brief interview and their scores are announced. This week there were no eliminations; the blood bath will start next Monday night. The judges are Len Goodman (also head judge on the British version of this show); Carrie Ann Inaba (dancer/choreographer/actress/singer); and Bruno Tonioli (super-twee British dancer/choreographer and also a judge on Strictly Come Dancing).
This season we've got quite the celebrity mashup. From rapper Lil' Kim to Go-Go Belinda Carlisle to Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak to Steve-O from Jackass to country singer Chuck Wicks to Olympian gold medalist Shawn Johnson to comic David Alan Grier to... yes... Denise Richards; It's Complicated - and more. The show starts off with a bang as Lil' Kim dedicates her first dance to "all my girls in the federal detention center" (she got hooked on the show while serving her prison sentence). As she and dance partner Derek approach the chopping block - I mean, judges' panel - host Tom Bergeron jokes that he is dedicating his hosting tonight to everybody at Riker's Island. No one laughs.
Other highlights: Belinda Carlisle is told by Bruno, "on first spin you looked like Julie Andrews - then you turned into Cloris Leachman." NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor: "My body is not built to go in these directions." Steve-O from Jackass at rehearsal: "I'm very Caucasian; I can't keep a beat" and later, after he and partner Lacey perform a waltz: "I just wanted to put my foot in the waltz's butt." A double entendre live TV moment takes place after the torrid cha cha cha performed by actor Gilles Marini (apparently known only for being the naked guy-next-door in the Sex and the City movie) and Cheryl when he tells co-host Samantha Harris, "trust me, it was hard."
Season 8 has its share of drama and um, pathos. Singer Jewel and TV host Nancy O'Dell have both had to drop out days before last night's premiere due to injuries sustained in rehearsals. Jewel's replacement is former #1 Hefner gal pal Holly Madison, who cheerfully admits she has no dance experience, but she loves a challenge. O'Dell's sub is Melissa Rycroft, America's newest sweetheart after she was all oh-i-made-a-mistaked in front of the world by super-weenie Jason Mesnick last week on The Bachelor. Rycroft, a former Dallas Cowboy cheerleader, also has had ballet training. She signed on last Friday and has only been rehearsing since Saturday morning.
Possibly the strangest contestant ever has to be Apple's Steve Wozniak, who created the Apple computer with Steve Jobs. You have to wonder why a guy like this, who is a multibillionaire, would sign on to do this show. Did he lose a bet with a fellow multibillionaire at a party? Woz seems to be a nice enough chap, riding a segway to his first meeting with dance partner Karina. At rehearsals, he opines that though keeping track of the dance steps is very mathematical and left brain, the dancing itself is very analog. It's a safe bet this conclusion has not been reached by any other contestants in the history of the show. Karina and Woz do the cha cha cha to Bachman Turner Overdrive's "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet." Before the judges pronounce sentence, host Tom asks, "If Safari freezes should I force quit it or just give it a second?" (to which Woz advises him to reinstall). Bruno declares that watching their pas de deux "was like watching a Teletubby going mad in a gay pride parade." Woz, cheerful to the end, lets all the criticism (and lowest score of the night) just roll over him. Note to self: the next time I invent a computer that will change the world, he seems to be a good guy to do it with.
There's more, there's more. The final two dance contestants are Denise Richards ("actress" as it says in the chryon under her name; you'd think it would say "husband-stealer" or "devil-woman") and the aforementioned Melissa Rycroft. Denise's rehearsal footage reveals her to be a big crybaby who can't stop apologizing (girl, get a therapist!) and she calls her partner Maks Maksipoo. She wears some kind of insane hot pink outfit that practically hurts the eyes. Their score is - I kid you not - 6, 6, and 6. Proof that she is Satan! I knew it!
Melissa and her partner waltz to "Moon River." During the show, we've seen shots of them rehearsing throughout as they've only had three days to prepare. They do pretty well, considering. Len says, "When one door shuts another one opens and I think the Bachelor's loss is Dancing with the Stars' gain." Bruno waxes poetic about her arm movements, "like watching a beautiful bird about to take flight."
The next episode airs Monday night, March 16. Be there or be square!
Read more of Holly Cara Price's ruminations on the slings and arrows of outrageous pop culture at Snoop* Du Jour.