Dancing With The Stars: Sweep The Knee

Dancing With the Stars revived the “Instant Dance” on Monday night – a second dance where the celeb and his/her pro aren’t given the music their Latin dance will be set to until the live show is already under way. The goal on this night is to simply keep up with the pack and not make a mistake, but one of the season’s supposed fan favorites is in deep trouble, going strictly by judges’ scores. How much of a deficit can a fanbase made up of the original MTV Generation overcome?

Ralph in danger: News broke on Monday that Ralph Macchio was suffering from a ruptured cyst in his knee, and that his participation was up in the air. He struggled through the night, but the judges made almost no allowances for his condition, and his combined score for the two dances (25 for his opening Viennese waltz, 21 for the instant cha cha) was well behind everyone else. The main issue he and Karina Smirnoff faced, aside from the knee pain, was simple lack of rehearsal time. They threw what practice they could muster into the waltz, and it was actually one of his cleanest dances of the season. But the cha cha was completely unrehearsed, and Ralph did little more than stand there while Karina shimmied. Ralph attempted to reassure voters that his knee would be only a one-week problem, and perhaps he’ll get the votes to hang on. Too bad for Karina, who looked as if she might get back to the finals for the first time since her debut season.

Mark behaves: Chelsea Kane essentially let partner Mark Ballas know that his displays of temper were interfering with her chances of winning, and to his credit, he seemed to shape up this week – although it’s also true that the judges let quite a bit slide on their opening waltz, during which the partners spent more time apart than one expects to see. But everyone responded to its overall prettiness, and the result was a 29, the highest score so far this season (grumpy Len was the one 9 holdout). The pair then tied for the highest score on their instant salsa, despite a major distraction when the band jumped its cue. Their  “let’s move a lot, and the scores will follow” strategy worked for a 26. They had top scores of the night, leaving Mark with little to cuss about.

Mr. Consistency: We saw rehearsal drama from an unusually snippy Hines Ward, who was thrown off by having to practice the instant dance without music (and possibly also by his encounter with the police last week, which wasn’t mentioned on the show). The judges definitely graded his instant jive on a curve, pointing out that it’s very difficult to learn without knowing your music. Hines looked lost most of the way, but still earned a 26. As for his opening foxtrot, Kym Johnson had stressed the need for Hines to get in touch with his cheesy side, and the reminder worked, as he avoided that overly serious face that has been distracting of late. He was good, but I can’t avoid the perception that he isn’t making strides at this point of the season. Of course, he may not need to.

Go, Chelsie! Chelsie Hightower has never been to the finals in her time on DWTS, and she’s two more safe weeks with Romeo away from doing just that. That might explain why she sexed it up in their instant salsa. I don’t like thinking of Chelsie as sexy … makes me feel like I’m going to get arrested. Romeo’s attitude on the salsa was to pretend he was at the club, and if that approach was good enough for Len Goodman, who are we to argue? Their opening tango looked pretty good to me, even though this was the only couple other than Ralph/Karina to not get any 10s for their ballroom dance. But Romeo proved last week’s low-energy samba was a fluke, possibly owing to his promotional efforts for Jumping the Broom. Despite the good week, Romeo is fourth of five in the judges’ scores this week – six points clear of Ralph, but will that be enough?

She’s melting! It’s been obvious for weeks that the DWTS grind is causing Kirstie Alley to lose serious weight – she’s basically the anti-Bristol. The show would have us believe that she’s falling down in rehearsal because she’s too obsessed with dancing to remember to eat, which may or may not be true, but certainly advances a powerful storyline. Kirstie is bearing up better on these two-dance nights than I thought she might. The highlight of her opening Argentine tango was Maksim Chmerkovskiy carrying her down the stairs, during which the audience seemed to hold its collective breath. The choreography wasn’t too difficult (Bruno Tonioli’s 10 was ridiculous), but it was proof that she’s not just clowning around. And despite Maks throwing a rehearsal fit for the cameras during practice for the instant salsa, the pair was good enough (if still a little ragged) to beat out Ralph, which was really what it was all about.

You’re a celeb now: Evicted American Idol growler Casey Abrams was in the audience, without explanation. These shows are the best of friends now, aren’t they?

We’re waiting: Is it just me, or is it still hard to see any one of these stars actually winning this in two weeks? You have to go back to Season 3 to find the last time we went this long into a DWTS season without anyone scoring a perfect 30. The most consistent dancers have probably been Hines and Chelsea, but neither has been so spectacular, or so much improved from week to week, that they seem to merit a Mirror Ball.