The easiest way to predict whether a dancer did well or struggled on Dancing With the Stars was to ask one simple question: Is the contestant male or female? There was almost a perfect separation between men and women this week, with men taking the five lowest spots and only Donny Osmond breaking into the female domination of the top six. There's no way we're going to have an all-woman final three much less final six, so it will be interesting to see which men other than Osmond will outlast a woman who is clearly superior.
Four new dances were introduced to the repertoire -- the Charleston, bolero, lambada, and country two-step -- adding a new element of tension to the grind of the show.
Separating the eleven remaining dancers into four groups based on what they performed on Monday:
Charleston: This Jazz Age standard was the obvious crowd-pleaser out of the four dances on the night's menu, uptempo and easy to augment with bells and whistles. Therefore, it's no surprise that it was three major audience favorites who got to perform it, and all received huge cheers. The big revelation here was Melissa Joan Hart, who had seemed clunky onstage the first three weeks and increasingly despondent about her scores. But the Charleston demands little technical skill other than the ability to coordinate with your partner briefly, and Hart's likability and energy was on full display. It also helped that the show sold the performance as an event, with black-and-white film shifting to color, and partner Mark Ballas wearing an old-timey mustache. Hart went from being the lowest scorer among last week's surviving women to receiving a score of 28 (Bruno Tonioli doled out the 10), the highest of the season to that point. It was really too high, but she was clearly much improved.
Kelly Osbourne's performance was similar to Hart's in that it was heavy on fun and light on technique, but as it came later in the show, it had less of an impact and thus got lower scores. But as long as Osbourne can ride the wave of the producers' ugly duckling storyline (tonight's anecdote: she lost a role in Chicago because her dancing wasn't good enough), she should be able to stay safe even though her 23 was the lowest score of the night for any woman. It might also be a good idea for partner Louis van Amstel to ditch the Twilight makeup in the future. Osmond got to play the clown again as he did the week he and Kym Johnson danced the jive, and landed the highest score of the night among the men with a 24, despite some mistakes that the judges acknowledged.
Bolero: Alec Mazo seems to be remaking partner Natalie Coughlin in the image of his wife, pro dancer Edyta Sliwinska. Watching Coughlin dance in a skimpy outfit that showed off her flexibility and gorgeous legs, it was hard not to think of Edyta. The performance was lyrical and the swimmer is making great strides in getting over her shy stage demeanor, but at times the routine seemed more like a gymnastics exhibition than a Latin dance. Coughlin and Mazo had chosen to make their routine difficult on purpose, but for the other dancer who tried the bolero on Monday, Michael Irvin, almost anything would be too tough a task right now. His partner Anna Demidova brought in pro Tony Dovolani for special tutoring in smoldering, but the choreography was so simplistic -- Irvin had little to do but shuffle his feet forward every so often while Demidova twirled about -- that there was not much the judges could do to help him. Tonioli compared Irvin's dancing to the economy: "Every week it's supposed to be getting better, but nothing happens."
Country two-step: This dance has a distinguished place in American culture, but it was not shown off to great advantage on Monday by the struggling Chuck Liddell and Louie Vito, or by Mark Dacascos, who is skilled but not exactly down home. As he did last week, Liddell seems to have adopted a strategy of just making the audience happy, actual dance steps be damned. He wore a cowboy hat and a leather vest and lassoed partner Anna Trebunskaya, and that's all many will remember about his ragged performance (score of 17) before voting for him. Vito had shown some promise in the early going, but seems to have reached the limits of his potential. He and Chelsie Hightower visited her Season Eight partner Ty Murray in order to get Vito in the country mindset, but his two-step managed to be about as active as Irvin had been on the bolero. Hightower worked hard despite inexperience with the dance, but Vito's 16 tied Irvin's as the lowest score of the night. Dacascos was the only male dancer who really helped himself this week, as he used the two-step to try to mend his image as uptight. What the dance may have lacked in true country feel was made up for by some terrific choreography from Lacey Schwimmer, who coaxed a 22 out of the judges for her partner.
Lambada: There was opportunity here for any dancer who wasn't afraid to sell a sexual image -- Carrie Ann Inaba put it bluntly when she informed viewers that the lambada "is fueled by the crotch area." So it was no surprise to see both Aaron Carter and Joanna Krupa jump all over this. Carter's fall from grace is now almost complete; after high scores the first two weeks, he was nearly eliminated last week and could only manage an 18 Monday despite landing a backflip he had labored over in rehearsal. Carter executed a nice lift of partner Karina Smirnoff, but came apart near the end and overall seemed to be hyper. Krupa also came uncomfortably close to elimination last week, but she and Derek Hough (who danced barechested OMG!) should be very safe this week after a human interest segment that showed the pair working on behalf of animal adoption, followed by a difficult and intricately performed routine that matched any this season for sexual sizzle. If the lambada really is fueled by the crotch area, these two could probably keep every home in Alaska heated all winter long.
Mya got to close the night with her own lambada, but despite heavy competition from the other women, she continued to show she's playing in a different league, to the point where she co-choreographed the routine with Dmitry Chaplin. The speed and intricacy she displays leaves almost no room for criticism, except for the quibble that she and Chaplin don't always seem emotionally in sync. The ongoing storyline with Mya is her battle to win the approval of stern father figure Len Goodman; his scores of Mya have gone from 5 in the first week to 7 last week to 8 Monday, while Inaba and Tonioli gave her 10s for the second straight week. Goodman may be holding back to keep Mya from a backlash, because a perfect score this early in the season would be very bad for maintaining suspense.
Who leaves this week? My guess is that Irvin's fanbase has taken him as far as it can, but it won't be a big surprise if the combination of Carter's recent dancing and his permanent personality prove fatal to his Season Nine chances.