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'Dancing with the Stars': This week's cut will be the cruelest

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Our 'Dancing with the Stars' correspondents Chuck Small and Lenni G will be back on the job for us with recaps throughout Season 12. Chuck gives us his thoughts on tonight's episode.

With next week's semi-finals coming up, tonight will be the night that shows which stars really have a shot at the mirrorball -- and which one fell just short of contention. Tonight, each dancer has two individual performances, including the return of the "Instant Dance" -- the feature in which the star and the pro find out what song they're dancing to less than an hour before they hit the floor.

Tom Bergeron and Brooke Burke kick things off, and Tom is oddly off-balance, making a crack about Brooke's spray tan after Brooke talks about the Instant Dance format that sounds like a complete nonsequitur. Hope the rest of the evening isn't as odd.

Chelsea Kane/Mark Ballas kick things off with the waltz. First, we have to endure Mark's whining again from last week, and Chelsea then has a heart-to-heart where she tells Mark to knock off the sense of entitlement, saying it reflects badly on her (she's right, and he must know if he saw any coverage from any media outlet last week). Mark gives her an "Oh, brother" look but says he'll work to be her frame and show her off. The waltz starts with an oddly cheesy special visual effect of water overlapping a shipwrecked Chelsea and Mark, but that's the only problem.

The two are in perfect sync, and Chelsea executes every move perfectly. Mark finally knocks off the overdancing and does not draw attention to himself. It's a sensational routine that's anything but boring (the young couple's fear). No sooner do I write that than Tom says the exact same thing. Still, Len finds something to carp about: too much storytelling. (Really? That just sounds ridiculous.) Bruno said Mark finally found the perfect setting for Chelsea to shine and called it "fab-u-lous." Carrie Ann said Chelsea brought out a mature sophistication and earned a claim to perfection. CA: 10. Len: 9. Bruno: 10. Their ID song will be Sean Paul's "Get Busy," and the dance is the salsa. I predict lots of freestyle, hip-hop moves ahead.

Hines Ward/Kym Johnson are next with the foxtrot. Kym says the backstory of their dance will be Hines' proposing to her in Central Park. Hines analyzed Ralph's foxtrot (Pittsburgh Steeler Hines is used to analyzing his opponents' behavior), and Kym is meticulous in her recommendations for Hines' improvement. On the floor, though, it's not quite showing. Hines' performance is not consistent: Moments of strength precede cheesiness and lack of precision.

In a couple of places, Hines barely moves while Kym does all the dancing, and at least twice Hines struggles to get the ring out of his vest pocket. Will the judges be snowed or see the missteps? Bruno says, "Yes, yes, yes" and the performance was beaming. Carrie Ann disagrees and says Gene Kelly, not Fred Astaire, is the template for Mr. Ward. Len says Hines' dancing has such great appeal (Wait, no complaining here about too much storytelling? You've got to be kidding!), but he does find some problems with the footwork. Someone should have. CA: 9. Len: 9. Bruno: 10. Their ID song will be Jerry Lee Lewis' "Chantilly Lace," which Kym knows but Hines doesn't. That should be interesting!

Romeo/Chelsie Hightower have the tango. Romeo wants to bring the passion and aggression to his character. Chelsie's stressing because she doesn't "have the vision" of what they should do. Their dance starts out with lots of passion, but it also looks a lot like a paso doble. Then it settles into more of a tango, albeit one to Britney Spears' "Hold It Against Me." (Ugh.)

Romeo looks more frustrated and constipated than angry, but the routine definitely carries the emotion that last week's didn't. Carrie Ann lauds its intensity and says, "You were dancing like you really meant it." She found one strange moment with his feet but called this his best routine ever. Len reminded Romeo he told him last week to up his game and says he did, saying Romeo is as strong tonight as his predecessors. Bruno said Romeo and Chelsie did a marvelous job coming back from last week's shaky samba. CA: 9. Len: 9. Bruno: 9. Their ID song will be The Champs' "Tequila." (Tom slyly replies, "Later tonight I'm going for the real thing.")

Ralph Macchio/Karina Smirnoff also have the waltz. A behind-the-knee cyst injury last week caused him to miss most of his rehearsal time (9 hours rather than 40), and he just was able to confirm tonight that he could still perform. Ralph and Karina do a "Black Swan"- styled dark waltz, complete with Ralph in black and raccoonlike eye shadow. It sounds cheesy, but it was a really good dance with one misstep in the middle.

I can't figure out why Karina choreographed a part with Ralph practically lifting her, knowing his injury. Still, they earn a standing O from the audience. Len said Ralph had good hold and posture but the routine lacked polish, understandably so. Bruno said the two came on like vampire lovers, and that it was "amazing to do what you did." Carrie Ann compared Ralph to his iconic "Karate Kid" character competing through the pain and saying he was inspirational dancing through it, but the injury took away a bit of the performance. The two wobble up to the celebriquarium. CA: 8. Len: 8. Bruno: 9. Their ID song will be Stealers Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You" -- I don't know what dance could possibly be done to that. Supposedly it's going to be a cha-cha-cha, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Kirstie Alley/Maksim Chmerkovskiy have the Argentine tango. After last week's space-out during the jive, she must move during this "very technical" dance or go home. I'm surprised she's not the one with an injury seeing the kinds of falls she took during rehearsals. Kirstie says she's been consuming 1,400 calories a day. (Hmm, that's not good, considering what she's burning off in these rehearsals.) It's no surprise she's falling if her blood pressure drops during rehearsals. Maks says he's stopping her from rehearsing more because her body is telling her to stop.

When the routine starts though? Wow! Hot, hot, hot! If they're going home, it won't be because of weakness. Bruno said the footwork was brilliant and all of the elements were there. Carrie Ann felt like she was watching real life acting out from the dance and that Kirstie just topped her cha-cha. Len said she captured all the emotion of the Argentine tango and was surprised Maks didn't take off more than his hat! Len said she captured the feeling. CA: 9. Len: 9. Bruno: 10. Their ID song will be "Cobrastyle." Eh? What dance can be done to that? We'll see.

Now, time for the Instant Dances -- we learn that the couples know what dance they have to do but just don't know the music (so they can't rely on the beat or the lyrics to time their routines):

Chelsea and Mark are doing the salsa. Chelsea says she's going to channel her "inner Kyle Massey" (her Disney Channel acting mate and Instant Dance coach this week) for this one. A weird miscue at the beginning has the band starting before the couple's introduction is completed. This throws Mark and Chelsea a bit, but they recover. This salsa was OK, with lots of energy, but not nearly as good as the first dance. Mark is back to mugging, but in fairness to him, the two didn't have a lot of time to create much more content -- and the song itself, full of braggadocio, is the kind of song one would mug to. Len thought the couple's "waltz was cool and salsa was hot." Bruno said Chelsea is setting the bar very high and wonders what they can do next week in the semifinals (jumping the gun, Bruno?). Carrie Ann says the choreography and execution were good but she didn't feel the two were connected to the music. (I agree with her, actually; something felt just a shade off about the performance.) The other judges protest. CA: 8. Len: 9. Bruno: 9.

Hines Ward/Kym Johnson are doing the jive. They worry about their "floppiness" in rehearsals. And they have a right to be worried: Now, this is a dance that is not connected to the music. Hines looks really uncomfortable throughout, and this is clearly not his best dance. What will the judges say? Again, they're not in lockstep. Bruno says the energy was fantastic but added that Hines looked like a penguin much of the time. Carrie Ann said Hines was amazing. Len said Hines did a fantastic job in a tough dance. (Someone clearly has drunk the Kool-Aid.) CA: 9. Len: 9. Bruno: 8. The crowd boos Bruno's 8, but I think he was right on the mark.

Romeo/Chelsie Hightower have the salsa as well. Chelsie explains the dance is all about getting down and having the rhythm but not with the club moves Romeo is busting out. She takes him to a salsa club and has him dance with strangers. Awkward practice for an occasionally awkward routine. Carrie Ann said the routine was casual and, near the end, out of sync, saying she felt it needed tightening. Len protests! He said, "You got it right. It was the club routine" with a cool dude and a hot chick. Len acknowledges a tiny incident in the middle but said he loved the routine nevertheless. Bruno, agog at Len's apparent personality switch with Carrie Ann, said the salsa is about fluidity and Romeo and Chelsie lost it but covered admirably. CA: 8. Len: 9. Bruno: 8. Backstage, Romeo awkwardly plugs his movie -- again!! (He did this last week, too, and tonight's was even more brazen and irrelevant.)

Ralph Macchio/Karina Smirnoff have the instant cha-cha-cha. They said they're going to do an "instant dance" in the literal sense, not having done any rehearsal and trying to remember their performance from the group dance last week. Ralph says he's a performer and that's what he'll do. The routine starts off with a fake, in which Ralph acts as if he won't go on, but Karina waves her hand over his knee and magically gets him going. I'm amazed they were able to incorporate a clever storyline that actually makes sense with the song lyrics "Stuck in the Middle With You" and work around an injury in less than an hour. A decent dance! The judges clearly don't want to kick a guy when he's down. Len says he admired the perseverance and dedication but said something had to give and this was what resulted. Bruno says there wasn't any passion in this cha-cha-cha but he understood why. Carrie Ann said it's amazing you were able to pull it off but was pleased he hit the beat. CA: 7. Len: 7. Bruno: 7. Ralph says he thinks his injury will heal soon and that he made it through the end of the show standing, which was his goal.

Last up with the ID: Kirstie Alley/Maksim Chmerkovskiy and the salsa. She needs to move faster, Maks urges. Kirstie needs to do the steps, she realizes. The routine itself? Wow. A lame song and a lame dance that could knock Kirstie out. Kirstie recognizes this, climbing onto the judges' table at the end. That trick doesn't work on Bruno, who says she lost sync. Kirstie says something that the censors had to bleep out. (Kirstie is immediately, really embarrassed. Bruno says don't fret, it happens to him all the time.) Carrie Ann thought the energy was good when Kirstie and Maks were in sync but adds that wasn't always the case. Len again plays the contrarian, saying this salsa was slower and more rhythmic than the other two instant salsas, with Kirstie's hips a-moving, and well done. CA: 8. Len: 9. Bruno: 8.

Well, a mixed bag tonight, with consistently strong first-half performances balanced by understandably weaker "Instant Dances." There was no obvious person who deserves to leave, although it might be merciful to Ralph to give him rest (or merciful to the audience to give Romeo and his movie plugs a rest!). We'll see tomorrow night with performances by Adele, Michael Bolton and Delta Goodrum.

                                                                                                                         -Chuck

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About the blogger

Brooke Cain isn't always proud of the number of hours she logs in front of the TV, but her loss of brain cells can be your gain. From reality shows to sitcoms to the more serious stuff, Brooke keeps her DVR smoking so that she can help keep you in the know. Brooke also tweets for Happiness is a Warm TV (you can follow @WarmTV) and updates the blog's Facebook page.
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