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Injured arm doesn’t stop Cristián on ‘Dancing’

A fractured left tendon in his arm doesn't stop Cristian de la Fuente from beating Kristi Yamaguchi to the top spot of the night.
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

Just like last week, the celebrity hoofers from “Dancing With the Stars” took on both ballroom basics and Latin routines Monday night. To mix things up this time around, the stars had a chance to add a little more excitement and occasional altitude to the usual steps, thanks to judge Len Goodman’s recently enacted lenient lift rule. But the real action didn’t come from the dancers’ newfound freedom to toss their partners into the air.

The biggest moves of the night were on the leaderboard. It wasn’t just that Kristi Yamaguchi landed a second-place repeat, or even the fact that Jason Taylor wasn’t the one to steal her spot. No, this time, the surprise was how an injured Cristián de la Fuente managed to steal the show with one arm tied behind his back. 

Getting into the grooveWhen the evening kicked off Kristi faced her first chance to reclaim her “Dancing” queen status. She said the abrupt end to her six-week streak left her more determined than ever before, and that inspired effort showed in her quickstep. The only unfortunate choice in the dance was the long, leg-obscuring gown Kristi wore, as it minimized the view of her precision footwork. The number closed with Mark Ballas hefting her onto his shoulder in the first and most modest lift of the evening.

Both Len and Bruno Tonioli praised the dance, complimenting the varied tempo and flow, but Carrie Ann Inaba, no longer able to wax annoying about lift infractions, claimed Kristi started the routine out of synch. The other panelists looked at Carrie Ann like she was out of her mind.

The one point knocked off for that hard-to-spot (and likely non-existent) synch issue, left Kristi heading into the next dance with a 29. Unfortunately, the samba wasn’t a worthy follow up. Despite some impressive spins, the awkward, body-shaking number fell flat with the judges and only managed a meager 26 points.

In rehearsals, Mario worked on his big ballroom weakness, stiffness — as in not enough of it. Karina Smirnoff played posture taskmaster until she deemed him, “almost as stiff as rusty old Len.” Way to kiss up to the head judge, Karina.

The two took the floor for a not-so-limber Viennese waltz, and aced it. Showing more control in the waltz than his faulty foxtrot last week, Mario moved with grace and only minimal foot flubs. Len said watching Mario dance was usually like watching Britney Spears get out of a car, “It’s not very elegant. Sometimes you see things you’d rather not,” but he added, “Tonight I thought that was marvelous.”

And the set of nines from the judges backed that up. In an almost repeat, Mario scored just one point less for his jive effort. Though Bruno applauded the rock ’n roll, youthful feel of the dance, Len didn’t care for it. Still, with 53 out of 60 overall, it could have been worse.

Falling behindUndaunted by her bottom two finish last week, Marissa Jaret Winokur is in it to win it. “When I started out, I just wanted to prove that you didn’t have to be a size 2 to dance,” she said in rehearsals. “Now that I’ve gotten this far, I kind of want to win.” She still has a long way to go on the dance floor to back that up.

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In her foxtrot, Marissa let her big Broadway personality shine, maintaining a sense of elegance while still going for the larger-than-life gestures. That’s the part what bothered Bruno, who felt like he was watching Ethel Merman stomp her way through a routine. Still, the resulting 25 points were fair enough.

The mambo didn’t work any better for Marissa. In fact, ambitious moves like a Kristi-esque spin backfired with the judges. Carrie Ann felt the flaws in the “pepper pot” spin were even worse since “Kristi just nailed it.” That left Marissa firmly in the back of the pack with 50 for the night.

Last week’s leader, Jason Taylor took a beating Monday after an inconsistent showing. His tango blew the judges away with intense footwork and impeccable timing. Well, all of the judges except for cranky Len, who felt into was a bit too “Argentinean.” Bruno reminded Len that the dance itself originated in Argentina, but the panel tiff aside, they called it almost perfect and gave it a 29.

It all went downhill with the samba. Jason displayed plenty of flexibility and hip shaking, but the flamboyant attempt failed to impress, even with the help of Edyta Sliwinska’s huge vertical lift. After knocking Kristi off the top spot last week, Jason barely beat Marissa with 52 points.

Best at his worstReturning from a rough week that included a last place finish and a ruptured tendon in his left arm, Cristián de la Fuente surprised everyone with his knack for one-armed dancing. His tango, oddly set to Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” made for one of the best of the season. Somehow Cristián, aided largely by creative choreography from pro partner Cheryl Burke, danced better down a limb.

“You are the man with the golden arm,” Bruno exclaimed before the panel gave him a 28 for the routine. When Cristián came back for the mambo, he only needed to match that score to lead the night. But he did one (point) better.

Toe leads, one-armed lifts and perfect posture should have earned the dance a perfect score. It would have, had it not been point-stingy Len. After Cristián raked in the 29 and a standing O from the audience, he reckoned, “We should have started dancing with one arm way before!”

Which star is destined to exit before the “Dancing” finals?  This is the point in the competition where there are just no blatantly bad dancers to cut, so it’s all about the viewer votes. Despite Mario’s higher than usual score, his fans have let him down before. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him in the red light, but with Marissa expecting bottom two-déjà vu and boasting the lowest overall score of the night, the R&B star should be safe.

Ree Hines is a regular contributor to msnbc.com.