With the dance floor dead weight and much of the humor out the door (So long, Cloris Leachman!), “Dancing with the Stars” got back to the business of ballroom Monday night. And just in case the beloved basics weren’t enough, the show that’s never needed a twist added one anyway.
A set of team dances mixed more fancy footwork into the performance fray, and since those group moves accounted for half of the stars’ final scores, they sent the leaderboard shifting. But the team twist mainly served as a distraction from the night’s big action — the first perfect routine of the season.
No viewer could have been surprised when TV host and reigning “Dancing” queen Brooke Burke took the top honor. She and partner Derek Hough inspired the judges to present their trio of “10” paddles after performing a flawless jazzy foxtrot.
During rehearsals for the winning number, Derek paid Brooke the highest compliment the show’s seen so far when he assured her “there are moments in there when I feel like I’m dancing with a professional.”
If the pro’s words weren’t praise enough for the star, judges Len Goodman, Carrie Ann Inaba and Bruno Tonioli piled on more, with Bruno calling the dance a “gobsmacking, beautiful performance from start to finish.”
The next best turn on the floor came from former boybander Lance Bass and partner Lacey Schwimmer. The pair may have bickered their way through rehearsals, with a teary-eyed Lacey berating the 'N Sync star, but they found their common ground on the dance floor.
In a slow and sensual barefooted rumba, Lance displayed improved control and precise arm lines and managed to maintain the time in the near-rhythmless dance. All that proved popular with the panel, with the exception of L&L’s toughest critic, head judge Len.
The resident grump didn’t appreciate the park bench prop the pair set the theme around, and he “didn’t get” the whole barefoot thing.
“You wear the shoes for a reason,” Len reminded them before contributing a 7 to their 25-point total.
Good week for GreeneThe most inconsistent dancer in the competition, retired sprinter Maurice Greene, continued his up-and-down streak by bouncing back up from last week’s weak Viennese waltz with a cha-cha-cha that tied him with Lance.
Like most of Maurice’s better efforts, the Latin number called for hip-shaking, quick feet and an impeccable sense of rhythm. Pro partner Cheryl Burke choreographed the routine to show off those strengths, and her work paid off.
It was the Olympian’s best dance yet, according to Len. “It’s like cheap jewelry,” he remarked. “Dazzling!”
“All My Children” daytime diva Susan Lucci raked in 24 points for a paso doble that still suffer from her frequent failures.
Sure, she kept up with the pace more than usual — though eagle-eyed viewers may credit that to the guiding hand of pro partner Tony Dovolani — but she looked anything but confident in the demanding, moody, matador number.
Somehow the performance inspired Carrie Ann to channel her inner Tony Robbins (as host Tom Bergeron so aptly put it) and ask Susan to turn around and tell the crowd “I am doing good!” Um, yeah.
With his usual partner, Julianne Hough, temporarily out of the competition after an appendectomy, teen star Cody Linley suffered a setback. He paired up with “Dancing” veteran Edyta Sliwinska, but week seven is a little late in the game to play getting-to-know-you on the dance floor.
Their cautious and chemistry-free Viennese waltz wasn’t a good fit for Cody, who has benefitted from Julianne’s tailor-made choreography until now.
“It was like watching a fledging bird spreading his wings, but not being able to take off,” Bruno said. The dance earned the “Hannah Montana” actor just 22 points.
Unlike Brooke Burke’s foxtrot perfection, Warren Sapp’s foxtrot fumble came as a shocker. The retired defensive end struggled through the classic dance with slight timing issues and a lot less enthusiasm than he usually brings to the floor.
When Carrie Ann asked for an explanation, Warren blamed his dancing shoes. Seems the 15-EEEs that he normally wears (no joke!) weren’t available, and his footwork, and his score, suffered for it. He earned just 21 points.
Once the usual performances were out of the way, the ballroom divided for the score-padding battle of the cha-cha-cha vs. the paso doble.
Team Cha Cha consisted of Lance, Cody, Susan and their respective pro partners. The ensemble effort was slightly better than the annual group dance disaster, but only because the team shared little more than an intro and an ending. The rest of the moves were made up of the couples taking separate turns on the dance floor.
For Lance and Lacey, that gave them one more opportunity to shine, but as they had to share the score with the rest of their not-so sure-footed team, it didn’t do much to help them.
After the panel roundly panned the performance, they handed the group 20 points to add to their earlier scores.
The reviews for Team Paso Doble, otherwise known as the team made up of the season’s better dancers, were mostly “oohs” and “ahhs.” And they were well-deserved. Brooke, Warren, Maurice and their band of pros swept up the competition with a precision routine that could almost warm one up to the idea of group dances on this show. Almost.
The 29 points Len and the gang dished out allowed Brooke and Maurice to maintain the top spots, and bumped Warren back up to a respectable third place on the leaderboard.
So who’s going home Tuesday? No one, as “Dancing with the Stars” takes a night off for all things presidential. Instead this week’s results will be revealed Wednesday night, and that’s when Susan Lucci should be voted out.
Ree Hines is a frequent contributor to Msnbc.com