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Image: CLORIS LEACHMAN, CORKY BALLAS
ABC
She may be 82, but Cloris Leachman dropped her comic shtick, impressed the "Dancing With the Stars" judges, and earned her highest score yet.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 10/13/2008 11:45:34 PM ET 2008-10-14T03:45:34
COMMENTARY

Following last week’s impromptu non-elimination and a rare injury-free rehearsal week, the celebrities headed back to the dance floor for another round of ballroom blitz Monday night on “Dancing with the Stars.”

The contestants had a chance to improve their previous scores by adding their sambas and tangos to the tally. That opportunity didn’t change much on the leaderboard, but it inspired one star to shock dance fans by showing them what she can really do.

In the first three weeks of the competition, Cloris Leachman alternated between zany, somber, and what-the-heck-was-that, but the 82-year-old finally found her dancing shoes in time to take on the tango.

Forgoing the madcap gags in favor of well-rehearsed moves, Cloris and pro partner Corky Ballas stole the show with a traditional routine that highlighted her strengths, which included leg extension that dancers 40 years her junior would envy. The number was a hit with the crowd and the judges alike.

“If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Len Goodman said, and for once, he meant that as a compliment. “It was absolutely fabulous, and I loved it.”

The genuine effort earned Cloris her highest score to date, 22 points, a full six points better than her earlier efforts. Unfortunately, after a dismal showing last week, her combined total of 38 still left her in the back of the pack.

Raunchy with a capital 'Arrr'
Coming as a surprise to absolutely no one, the top spot once again went to this season’s reigning “Dancing” queen, Brooke Burke, who steamed up the dance floor alongside partner Derek Hough with a sexy samba.

Too sexy, if you asked head judge Goodman, who didn’t care for Derek’s partial striptease or the body-banging maneuvers throughout the dance. But Bruno Tonioli loved it, and found it “raunchy with a capital ‘Arrrrr’.” With final judge Carrie Ann Inaba firmly on the side of Team Bruno, Brooke danced away with a 26 and a two-week total of 54.

Lance Bass and Lacey Schwimmer have had a hard time trying to figure out what the judges want from them. When the pair breaks out the modern moves, they’re faced with harsh criticism. But when they try for a safe, old-school approach, their technical problems become more evident. In this week’s tango, they finally found a winning, albeit weird, combination.

Traditional steps teamed up with a bizarre gothic robot theme, as Lance and Lacey showcased the dramatic head-snapping moves of the tango and added their own neck-snapping twist.

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The number was a big hit with the panel, and prompted Len to dub Lance, “Sir Dancealot” before giving him 26 points. That brought the former boybander up to a total of 48 out of a possible 60.

Another winner in week four was Susan Lucci. The daytime diva finally found a way to channel her inner Erica Kane, as she looked more confident and focused than ever before on the dance floor.

After she and Tony Dovolani wowed the crowd with the sultry and well-toned tango, Susan finally heard some real praise from Carrie Ann, who’s been vocally disappointed by the star’s performances so far.

“That is what I’ve been waiting for, Miss Erica Kane,” Carrie Ann said, before she and her fellow officials handed out a matching set of eights. That marked a big improvement from Susan’s previous scores, and gave her a 45 for the double dance tally.

Joining the better dancers of the week was Cody Linley, whose appropriately youthful tango with Julianne Hough helped erase the memory of his previous haphazard jive. The “Hannah Montana” star’s mostly traditional moves stayed sharp on beat and only suffered from his occasional tendency to trod on Julianne’s dress.

“It looks like you’re starting to find your mojo,” Bruno exclaimed. That discovery was worth 23 points for the teen — two better than last time.

Toni Braxton had something to prove after receiving lackluster reviews for her weak waltz last week, and she came close to pulling it off with her samba. The routine started off strong with plenty of high-energy hip shaking, but a misstep early in the dance prevented her from improving her score.

Despite some kind words from the judges, the flubbed performance only earned the R&B singer another 22, which left her in the middle of the middling performers with a two-week total of 44.

A not-so-sultry samba led to an unexpected “Dancing” dip for Warren Sapp, who’s grown accustomed to staying hot on the heels of Brooke. But the retired defensive end may not to blame for the drop.

Warren still looked as light on his feet as ever before, but pro partner Kym Johnson choreographed a routine that offered the big guy little to do — an issue that the judges all noticed. Number 99 didn’t seem happy with the resulting 22, which left him three points down from last week.

While sprinter Maurice Greene still appears to be having a ball in the ballroom, his samba steps were all over the place as he grooved his way around two-time “Dancing” champ Cheryl Burke.

The lack of precision moves left the judges wanting more, just as the score of 20 no doubt left Maurice wanting more points. Thanks in part to his early dance, he ended the night with an overall of 44.

And then there was Rocco DiSpirito, who only remained in the game courtesy of Misty May-Treanor’s early exit, a twist he referred to as a “snafu of fate.” This time, the celebrity chef hit the floor in screaming pink fluffy flamenco sleeves that almost served to distract from his usual flat footwork. Almost.

Once the offending armwear came off, the out-of-time pelvic thrusts and floor slides just left his samba looking like more of the same. It’s not that Rocco doesn’t try; it’s just that he doesn’t have any sense of rhythm — a point the panel drove home by giving him 18, for a total of just 38 out of 60.

Without another non-elimination fake-out to save him, the reality restaurateur will likely turn in his dancing shoes Tuesday night. Usually Cloris offers him some stiff competition for that spot in the red light of doom, but given her better-than-average performance, it seems safe to say Rocco can't take the heat, and should get back to the kitchen.

Ree Hines is a frequent contributor to Msnbc.com.

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