Monday night saw new challenges for pros and amateurs alike on “Dancing With the Stars,” as the fifth week of the competition ushered in four dances never seen on the show before.
Sure, every dance is new to the celebrity soft shoes, but the hustle, jitterbug, West Coast swing and salsa upped the ante by forcing the pros to master the moves before passing them on to their students.
For some, the shake up only served to highlight the problems that have plagued them all season long. But a few rose to the occasion and put their best feet forward as they faced off against other couples for a night of head-to-head dance-offs.
Jumping jitterbugsThe most unexpected overachiever of the night was “Hannah Montana” star Cody Linley, who along with pro partner Julianne Hough took on the jitterbug. The duo went all out in the high energy, swing-based dance with arm and leg extensions, fast footwork and loads of campy charm.
“That wasn’t a jitterbug,” according to judge Bruno Tonioli. “That was a firebug!”
With the rest of the panel in full agreement, Cody raked in 28 points. That made for his highest score in the competition and the first time the coveted 10 paddle was aimed his way.
Even with those big marks, Cody trailed a point behind the ballroom’s leading lady Brooke Burke in the battle of the jitterbug. Yes, the model-turned-TV host topped the leader board once again in a dance so alien to her partner, Derek Hough, he required rehearsal printouts in order to learn the steps.
Of course once they hit the floor, there was no sign that the dance was new to either of them. All the audience saw were big moves and precision lifts, which were allowable for a change in all of Monday night’s routines.
Carrie Ann Inaba offered to nitpick the number before admitting there was nothing to nitpick, an opinion Bruno shared.
That’s one spicy salsaIn a come-from-behind performance, Maurice Greene put his the memory of his so-so samba to rest with a salsa that wowed the crowd. The catchall Cuban dance closely related to the mambo put the spotlight on his strengths, such as keeping up with the beat and putting up with his taskmaster of a partner, Cheryl Burke.
Evidently Cheryl’s bad cop approach, in which she called Maurice lazy and accused him of not caring, served him well, as head judge Len Goodman told the former Olympian his dance was almost worth a 10 on energy alone. Just shy of that, with a set of nines, Maurice landed the closest thing to a perfect score he’s seen so far.
In an effort to recapture the winning formula from her tango last week, Cloris Leachman got into character for the salsa — a character she described as a “skanky ho.” While most 82-year-olds would probably consider that a tall order, the Oscar award-winning actress went with it.
And, well, it sort of worked. The now shtick-free star pulled off some impressive overhead handoffs and maintained a tricky speed throughout the dance, but she’s out of her league when compared to the competition.
“You were hotter than a chili pepper,” Len remarked before congratulating her partner, Corky Ballas, for a great job “under difficult circumstances.”
With 21 points for the night, Clorky were down just one point on their previous performance.
Do the hustle! Still bringing his “A” game to the dance floor, retired defensive end Warren Sapp shook hips in time with Kym Johnson for the hustle. The dance, which is sort of a ballroom free-for-all with a ’70s theme, or as Len put it, a “disco-Studio 54-woo!” affair, incorporated all the “Saturday Night Fever” moves one might expect and earned a standing O from the in-house audience.
The routine started slow but as the music picked up, the big guy pushed himself to meet the beat, as he’s done with each of his earlier routines. Warren’s score of 25 put him three up on last week and back on par with his previous best.
The hustle didn’t look nearly as good in the hands (and legs) of daytime diva Susan Lucci. While she gets credit for working through one of those requisite “Dancing With the Stars” injuries, in this case a fractured bone in her foot, that hardly seemed to be what was holding her back in the slow-paced and lackadaisical dance.
Len pinned the problem on Susan’s partner, Tony Dovolani, for overly careful choreography that left the actress looking like a fragile china doll on the dance floor. That point might have been forgiven given her injury, if it weren’t an ongoing issue for the pair. Since it is, they earned just 22 for the night.
Swing low Tony was hardly the only pro causing problems for his partner on performance night. ‘N Sync alum Lance Bass suffered a setback in the West Coast swing courtesy of Lacey Schwimmer. That was one of the night’s big surprises, as Lacey’s a champ in the to-and-fro routine based loosely on the classic Lindy Hop.
Even though Lance slipped during the dance (and to his credit, quickly recovered), the panel focused all their criticisms at the freshman pro, who literally danced circles around Lance, before they handed the couple just 21 points.
R&B singer Toni Braxton rated one pointed above her swinging competition, but failed to cinch the breakout performance she’d hoped to finally deliver. A couple of decent lifts just weren’t enough to distract for an overall boring performance, which featured a moonwalk interlude that tanked with the judges.
A sympathetic Carrie Ann assured Toni her big break was still to come, but Toni hardly looked happy to hear it.
As for Tuesday night’s results show, the next elimination is anyone’s guess. Dance-wise, despite improvement, Cloris is still the weak link in the ballroom chain, but her score this week puts her in a dead heat with Lance. It seems the only safe bet is to expect a battle of the fan bases. Scores don’t mean a thing without the viewer votes, and that means anyone could go.
Ree Hines is a frequent contributor to msnbc.com.