Oct. 15, 2012 at 11:44 PM ET
If the all-star cast of "Dancing With the Stars" thought this season would simply give them a chance to show off new takes on the old moves they'd already mastered, the latest ballroom twist proved them wrong.
On Monday night, the couples took on dances that were not only new to the celebrity contenders, but in some cases, to the professionals too. And maybe it was that fish-out-of-water -- or pro-out-of-ballroom -- vibe that explains why one hoofer had a particularly bad night.
Sure, the tumble Karina Smirnoff took during her hip-hop routine alongside returning champ Apolo Anton Ohno had nothing to do with the dance style -- a stray mic pack set the stage for that slip. But given how vocal Karina was about her discomfort with hip-hop and her dislike of the moves, it could explain her otherwise off performance and uncharacteristic post-dance reaction.
Long before Karina's foot ever hit that pack, it was clear she wasn't as into the moves as her partner. After all, Apolo proved his hip-hop prowess back in the day during his season-four freestyle, whereas Karina's first reaction to the music in rehearsals summed up her perspective.
"I'll take disco over this (expletive) any day," she complained.
Once she took to the floor, she failed to pop the moves with the same gusto as Apolo. And after she literally hit the floor, things went from bad to worse.
Rather than shake off the misstep, as fellow pro Tony Dovolani did with an earlier lift-gone-wrong during Melissa Rycroft's 37-point jitterbug, Karina broke down crying as soon as the routine ended.
"I didn't get hurt; I just slipped," she said when the pair approached the judges. "I'm sorry! I feel like I messed up the whole routine."
Thankfully for Apolo, the judges -- including guest judge Paula Abdul -- didn't agree. Instead they were sympathetic over the fumble and heaped praise on Apolo for a mostly strong effort.
"Karina, to be honest, I wasn't even looking at you," head judge Len Goodman said. "So I don't care. You (Apolo), came out and you were fantastic!"
The couple's score of 34.5 points (out of a possible 40 for the night) kept them a couple of spots away from last place.
But Karina's breakdown wasn't the only sensitive moment of the night. Another breath-taker -- of a very different variety -- came when soap star Kelly Monaco delivered a powerful, emotion-packed contemporary routine with partner Val Chmerkovskiy. The two, dressed (well, partially dressed) as lovers, leaped and swayed in a style unfamiliar to them both. Kelly briefly stepped out of time with Val's moves in the midst of the routine, but it was a small error in an otherwise beautiful ballroom moment.
The dance earned them 37.5 points, and if the judges had been scoring for chemistry, it would have been the first perfect score of the season.
Afterward, Kelly seemed near tears as she explained how much the all-star experience has meant to her.
"This show has absolutely nothing to do with dancing," she declared. "It's about the journey, the friendships, the relationships we make, finding self-confidence and inner-worth, and trusting the people that you're with. It's just such a bigger, broader scheme here."
The other dances of the night just couldn't match those big emotions, but at least a couple of them had really big moves.
In fact, had it not been for all that passion Kelly and Val displayed, the show stopper of the night would have been the ballroom treat from yet another former champ, Shawn Johnson. The gold-medal-winning gymnast took on the mambo and punched it up with some big lifts and athletic tricks. The near-perfect routine earned her 39.5, leaving her tied with Gilles Marini, who matched that score with his bold Bollywood performance.
As for the rest of the acts, it just wasn't their best week. Emmitt Smith maintained his middle of the leaderboard spot with a bolero routine that had him clouded in so much fog, his footwork could hardly be seen. The judges saw enough to award him a generous 36 points, which put him a half-point ahead of Sabrina Bryan. Frankly Bryan was lucky to land that score. Her big blue Cookie Monster-hide cover up was far more memorable than her '70s-inspired disco dance.
Appropriately enough, Kirstie Alley and Bristol Palin landed in the back of the pack for their respective Charleston and rock routines -- though some (ahem) might argue that it was Bristol who deserved the 30 points and Kirstie who earned the 32, rather than the other way around. But rather than parsing points, the two should be worried about Tuesday night's results show.
Or should they? Their fans have kept them both safe so far, and they just might do it again.
Who do you think put on the very best performance Monday night? Take our poll below and then share your thoughts about the show on our Facebook page. And be sure to join us on Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. PT / 3:30 ET to chat about who you think might be going home!
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