Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

“Dancing with the Stars” Semifinals — is the fix in?

with 3 comments

Folks, I just finished watching the semifinals for the television show Dancing with the Stars (henceforth called “DwtS,” their acronym; note I’m referring to the current United States show), and I am wondering whether what on Earth the judges were smoking tonight.  To the point that I’m wondering whether the fix is, indeed, in . . . but first, some background.

DwtS is predicated on stars coming in who have little or no dance ability and little or no dance experience, both learning to dance and “put on a show” in the grand old show biz tradition, so I expect some stars to be better one week and not so good the next.  This makes the show fun, unpredictable, yet interesting, as the stars are usually outside to well outside their comfort zones in learning to dance.

I’ve watched DwtS since their second season, the year Cheryl Burke and Drew Lachey won the “coveted mirror ball trophy” (which is actually a tacky piece of hardware that tends to fall apart within a year, but the stars want it anyway no matter how gaudy and trashy it is); I’ve seen many good dances, many bad dances, and many “huh?” dances.   I’ve learned what makes up a good paso doble, what makes a good cha cha cha, etc., and I’ve also learned that the most successful stars fuse their personality with their technical ability, showing real, measured improvement from week to week as they go.  (Often, they also show a measurable weight loss, as has contestant Kirstie Alley this season.  More on Alley in a bit.)

However, I’ve never seen a night quite like this one, where I honestly felt that one couple — Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas — were handed high scores after doing extremely questionable routines where Kane’s dancing seemed stiff, wooden, and much less of everything than any previous week (including her first week, as Kane had some dance experience, depth unknown, before she came into this intense competition).  Kane had three dances — a very stiff tango, where her legs and body didn’t seem to go together very well, an extremely stiff rhumba (mind you, the rhumba has to be fluid and sexy, and Kane was neither), and worst of all, a stiff and clumsy cha cha cha.  Yet for these three dances, she was praised and given high scores — a perfect thirty (three tens, the highest score given out on this show) for the rhumba, which was a travesty of justice — then given 15 extra points in the “winner-take-all” cha cha when it was stiff, wooden, clumsy, and even the “tricks” (flashy things to divert your attention) lacked polish?

I really didn’t agree with that “winner-take-all” thing at all.  First off, in the “elimination rounds,” I thought Ralph Macchio danced better than Hines Ward, yet they kept Ward; in the other one, Kirstie Alley clearly out-danced Kane (and was probably the best cha cha dancer of the night), yet didn’t advance over the stiff and wooden Kane?  Why?

As for the other dances, well, Macchio’s time should be up.   He’s now healthier — last week he more or less got a “pass” from the viewers as he wasn’t able to dance well due to a hamstring injury — and wasn’t really any better until the cha cha (and I’ve already discussed how unjust that was), his third dance of the evening.   Ward’s other two dances were clean and precise, and I liked his tango a great deal (that one deserved a thirty; the other one, not so much, but his pro, Kym Johnson, was dancing with an obvious amount of pain after sustaining a severe neck injury and I believe the judges gave him a little bit more for the first two dances than he deserved — Ward should’ve won the cha cha considering the judges put him there with a unanimous vote, considering how terrible Kane was, but there you go).  And Alley danced with grace, elegance, and fire in her Viennese Waltz and Paso Doble — two diametrically opposed dances that are both extremely difficult — and really deserved to win that cha cha competition, too, on merit.

At any rate, Mark Ballas seems to go to the finals every year — and before some folks write in and tell me, “No he doesn’t,” I did say seems.   He was there last season with the underperforming Bristol Palin; he’s been there with Shawn Johnson (a good dancer and gymnast), with Kristi Yamaguchi (an outstanding skater and a very good dancer also), and should’ve been there with Sabrina Bryan.  He’s quite a good dancer and obviously teaches his students how to dance, of which I approve — but his attitude leaves me cold.  (Even allowing for how DwtS can edit folks, Ballas should be more aware of how he comes across on camera.  He acts like he’s the star, not his pro, and that’s just wrong.  Though of course as a DwtS pro, he has fans rooting for him no matter who his partner is, he needs to remember to be humble — or at least learn to fake it a little better.)

And as for Kane — man, can she please eat a cheeseburger or two?  Because she’s way, way, way too thin — every time I see her, I think how she needs to eat more.   And when Ballas picks Kane up for the overhead “tricks,” I think, “Whee!  She weighs what, two pounds?  How tough was that, Mark?”  (Compared to the real work Maksim Chmerikovskiy has put in, first teaching his partner Alley to dance and dance well, then to compensate for Alley being a big, beautiful woman — albeit less of one than when she started, as she’s obviously lost at least sixty pounds during the course of this season’s DwtS — I really don’t have much sympathy for Ballas at all.)

Look.  It’s just a cheesy reality show, but I enjoy it.  I like to see the dancers improve — and they all do, to some extent (even Bristol Palin improved last season).  It’s a tough gig to be on DwtS; people get injured (look at Macchio’s injury last week, or poor pro Kym Johnson’s this past week).  It’s hard to dance in front of hundreds, maybe a couple of thousand people in person, then know millions of people will see you dance either on television or YouTube.  I can’t imagine the sort of pressure that puts on all the contestants and my hat is off to all of them — even the rather klutzy Kane this evening.

But it chaps my hide something fierce when the competition does not seem on the up and up.  And I’m sorry — I know Ballas in particular, if he sees this blog for whatever reason, will not agree with me, but unless the camera angles were bad for all three dances with Kane, these were the worst three dances she has had all season.  She may have an injury; she may well have been ill; she may be the funniest, cutest, nicest contestant they have ever had on DwtS.  But she didn’t deserve the high scores she got tonight, nor did she deserve to win that cha cha as she really shouldn’t have even advanced over Alley in that first “elimination round.”

So the question is: is the fix in?  And if it is, why should I watch this show if Kane and Ballas are destined to take home the cheesy trophy?

Written by Barb Caffrey

May 16, 2011 at 10:18 pm

3 Responses

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  1. I don’t know what show you’re watching. Yes, I agree that the tango was not Kane’s best but she is an excellent dancer. Mark is the best choreographer now that Derek Hough is not competing. I admire Alley and think she did a fabulous job but she could not (given her age and physical conditioning)compete with either Kane or Ward. Ballas and Kane were easily the best dancers with the best choreography. That being said, I preferred Kym and Hines because they were always consistent and a joy to watch. The best dancers do not always win. It’s a popularity contest, especially at the end. Chelsea and Mark would have won if only the judges voted. Kirsty and Maks would have come third.

    C. Colesberry

    May 25, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    • Oh, I’d agree with you about all of that. It just frustrated me, that WTA Cha Cha event. I didn’t see the point to it and that’s why I wrote my blog with this particular headline — because I believe that was meant to get Chelsea and Mark to the finals and give them a chance to win the whole thing.

      I’m not a big fan of Mark Ballas’s personality but yes, he choreographs well. He’s not always the most original choreographer, but I can’t blame him for that, either — you have a certain thing you have to do for DWTS and if you don’t do it, you get slammed. (Witness the interesting dance earlier this year — the one where Chelsea Kane was dressed like a demented ballerina in the white dress and Mark was in a top hat with the make-up of a mime? — I liked that and thought it was original and even amusing. But because of the nature of DWTS, Ballas and Kane got slammed for that. That was one time I didn’t blame Ballas for getting upset because I would’ve been, too, in his place.)

      I never doubted for a minute that Chelsea Kane had talent. I thought she needed to gain weight — though she acquired impressive musculature — and still think that because she went from thin to really fragile despite her muscle development. (This is via HD television. Maybe in person it’s not as drastic a change. Sometimes TV does weird things to actresses, models, dancers, etc.) I wish she’d have had a different partner because her personality might’ve really dazzled with someone like Louis, who might’ve made her laugh, or Tony, who would’ve probably been a tad more empathetic, or Dmitry — Dmitry, btw, is also an outstanding choreographer in his own right, if we’re talking about male dancers/choreographers.

      I had no trouble with the Kym/Hines win.

      I was glad Kirstie and Maks finished second, though I wish Maks would’ve won one of the blasted MBTs by now . . . he’s come close a number of times now, so I’m sure that gets old.

      I also try to take into account that my favorite pro dancer on DWTS, Lacey Schwimmer, has faced some undeserved criticism in the past for how some people perceived her personality — I never forget that these “personal edits” they show often aren’t reflective of what’s really going on (sometimes the worst moment of the week is shown; sometimes the best, and not just when there’s a potentially-serious injury as in Kym’s case — thank goodness she wasn’t hurt when Hines fell on her).

      Barb Caffrey

      May 25, 2011 at 10:15 pm

  2. Anyway, that comment went so long that WordPress wouldn’t let me see any more, so I continue with this — Mark Ballas obviously is a good teacher and he’s an outstanding dancer. I do wish, though, he were a little more humble or could fake it a little better. And sometimes, when he complains about how the judges rank them, I just want to shake him and tell him how privileged he is — he’s working in his own field, he’s making good money doing something he loves to do, and so far he’s been able to rehabilitate from the serious injuries he’s had (that bad arm injury he suffered when he was partnering Sabrina, for example). He is young, healthy, employed in a high-profile field, and while I’m sure he has many stressors in his life, at least he does have those things.

    Because Ballas does not seem to understand any of this — any at all — that’s why there’s been a certain amount of backlash against him this season. And once again, off the show, Ballas may be doing all sorts of charity work. He may go to Guatemala every year, working with underprivileged kids. He may be donating any money he can spare to the victims of the Alabama and Missouri tornados. He and Chelsea may really have gotten along outstandingly well, with few arguments, for all I know, too . . . but the way he behaves doesn’t reflect that, and because of his _behavior_ — or rather, the perception of his behavior — that hurt his partner, Chelsea Kane, in getting votes in the final round. (The whole fiasco of the “WTA Cha Cha” also didn’t help; had there been some points for the others — say, 5 for the lowest score, 7 for the second lowest, 10 for the second-highest and 15 for the highest, there wouldn’t have been anywhere *near* as much blowback.)

    Barb Caffrey

    May 25, 2011 at 10:22 pm


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