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‘Dancing’ finds perfection, and plenty of filler

Just six teams remain, yet the show continues to be 90 minutes long
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Just as people have gathered throughout history to celebrate great cultural happenings, fans of "Dancing With The Stars" (ABC, Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET) sat by the glow of their plasma screens to mark the first post-Master P episode of the season.

What would it be like to watch only celebrities who are actually trying? Where would the judges be without their designated punching bag? Would P's departure make George Hamilton the fall guy, even if he managed not to literally fall?

And, of course, what would ABC do about pacing, since there are six teams left and the show continues to be 90 minutes long? That amounts to only one dance every 15 minutes, creating a lot of temptation to switch over to "Survivor." ABC threw in a "group salsa" to fill time, but it just wasn't enough. When the number of couples has been cut almost in half and the show doesn't get any shorter, the dragging is bound to show, even when a fast dance like the samba is featured.

Still, the end of P marks an end to the chaff-separating segment of the season, and now, the last six couples are getting down to business. Some started stronger than others, but every team left has something going for it.

First up and in the lead with the judges was Stacy Keibler, who has been a consistent favorite, but primarily for her work in slower dances. She's all languid legs and swaying hips, and murmurs were beginning to circulate among fans that it wasn't clear how much intricate footwork she could complete.

Ants in your samba pantsBut as Stacy said early on, the samba is all about the booty, and Stacy can do ants-in-the-pants like nobody's business. She was less interesting in the samba than she's been in more elegant circumstances, but she still earned the first trio of straight 10s in the competition. It calls to mind what judge Len Goodman said last week — that it's difficult to teach talent, and Stacy seems to have it. Viewers could live without judge Bruno Tonioli's salacious "weapon of mass seduction" nonsense, but the high scores were on track, if a little overly enthused.

Consistent with the judging over the last few weeks, the second-highest scores went to Drew Lachey and his partner Cheryl. Perhaps the most consistently endearing couple in the competition, they're good without being so good that they seem like ringers, the way Jillian Barberie does on "Skating With Celebrities." They work together marvelously, and the chemistry they've had since the first week has never let up, all the way through last week's paso doble.

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Their samba was another fine performance. The competition is shaping up as a showdown between Drew and Stacy at this point, and while he isn't quite as natural a dancer as she is, he concentrates hard on technique and doesn't have the advantage of a body that earns leering compliments from the judging panel. (This is not to say Stacy doesn't deserve her scores; only that prattling on about her legs every single week makes Bruno's motives, in particular, difficult to parse.) Predictably, Drew and Cheryl didn't duplicate Stacy and Tony's perfect scores, but they did move easily into second place.

Third place went to Lisa Rinna, the competition's neurotic, needy little sister. Aside from looking sort of brittle and pointy at times, she can be appealing to watch. If nothing else, it's hard not to root for someone to whom being good at this obviously means so much.

Lisa and Louis's samba didn't have quite as much going on as it could have, but she moves with enormous energy. This is particularly impressive considering that, as she pointed out, she's substantially older than Stacy, who frankly should hope to look like Lisa at the same stage in life.

And then there's George Hamilton, who seems like a nice guy. He's ready to poke fun at his own legend, game when it comes to learning routines, and full of the sort of pull-my-finger mischief that's fun in your own uncle and no one else's.

Despite his appeal, however, he is either the most uncoordinated man in America or the one with the least cartilage in his knees, because week in and week out, he does almost as little dancing as Master P used to. Don't misinterpret — George is trying. But he doesn't really dance the way the rest of the couples do.

(Note to his partner, Edyta, re: wardrobe: Carmen Miranda was popular a long time ago. Note to George: If your choreography is going to revolve around you pretending to conduct the orchestra, it's really important to know where the beat is.)

Still, George danced a little this week. Not enough, and not as much as anyone else, but he reduced the time spent standing still. He's having a great time, and you can't fault him for that. Neither could the judges, who gave him straight 8s without even complimenting his dancing. Instead, they reveled in how much they "fell in love" or appreciated his "trick" of making himself seem to be participating. Cute a couple of weeks ago, this indulgence is looking more unfair as harder-working couples struggle to stay in.

Jerry Rice was robbedJerry Rice showed sharp improvement last week with a surprisingly nimble foxtrot. While the setup piece made it look like his hips were never going to get the samba, and while the first few beats didn't look promising, his routine ultimately took off nicely.

Jerry has an infectious flair, and when his football-playing body falls into a few beats of a truly divine groove, it's as close as the show gets to inspiring an out-loud cheer. Armed with the built-in advantage of a great song — "For Once In My Life," where others were stuck with tripe like "Le Freak" — Jerry deserved much better than the poor scores he got from the judges. The fact that he finished behind George, thanks to the empty-headed scoring practices of one Carrie-Ann Inaba, is a crying shame.

In last place: Tia Carrere. In the first week, she waltzed to "What A Wonderful World" dressed in G-rated scads of green velvet. The new mother has shown more skin since then, and she did a marvelously sexy tango a couple of weeks ago. But like Stacy, she hasn't always shown great facility with fast footwork, even stumbling a bit during last week's foxtrot.

Indeed, parts of Tia's samba were lovely, but it was slow, and the judges' low scores were fair. As judge Len Goodman pointed out, she seems more comfortable with ballroom dancing than with Latin dancing, and seemed slightly self-conscious about the shaking and wiggling the samba requires. Her partner Maksim also took a substantial risk with some unusual choreography, and at least with the judges, it didn't seem to pay off.

The dull "group salsa" was notable mostly in that the rehearsal footage for it showed Cheryl accidentally elbowing Drew in the face and giving him a bloody nose. Now we're getting somewhere!

The odds-on favorites for elimination seem to be Tia and Maksim, as their fan support has seemed low even in weeks where they've scored better. At least they outlasted Master P.

Linda Holmes is a writer in Bloomington, Minn.