Dancing With The Stars, Week 7: Niecy Nash Makes Even the Argentine Tango funny!
We’ve seen just about everything on “Dancing With The Stars” this season – Kate Gosselin’s tantrums, Aiden Turner and Jake Pavelka’s wounded male pride, Buzz Aldrin’s corny bravery, Erin Andrews and Chad Ochocinco’s rumored affairs with their teachers, Niecy Nash’s goofy hilarity (photo, left), Pamela Anderson’s cartoonish sex bomb act, Shannen Doherty’s tears of frustration, Nicole Scherzinger’s neuroses, and Evan Lysacek’s injuries (two broken toes and a concussion when Anna Trebunskaya dropped him on his head).
But it wasn’t until last week that the circus sideshows subsided (OK, except for Anna dropping Evan on his head) and the show finally focused on … dancing!
For me, this was good news. As a professional dancer and teacher, I love knowing that millions of viewers were able to focus on two of ballroom’s most demanding dances, the Argentine Tango and the Samba, without being distracted by a lot of hokey-pokey. Give the celebrities credit for what they accomplished last Monday with less than a week to learn the steps. Now that the complainers have been voted off the show (yes, that means you, Kate!), it was wonderful to see the remaining contestants seriously wrestling with such a difficult challenge to their bodies, minds, and hearts.
Niecy Nash got to the essence of the Argentine Tango by wondering if anyone had ever done a funny version. This is usually a very serious dance, full of drama, sometimes even tragedy – something about the music, sudden changes in tempo, and quirky movements makes it so. It’s really unlike anything else in ballroom. While some dancers specialize in Latin (Cha-cha, Rumba, etc.) or Standard (Fox Trot, Waltz, etc.), Argentine Tango dancers often perform nothing else. It requires that kind of intensity and discipline to do it well.
Niecy succeeded in making the Argentine Tango funny, starting out by snatching a rose from Louis van Amstel’s teeth and trying to eat it (a reference to her healthy appetite), then pretended to knee him in the groin during one of her kicks between his legs; at the end, Louis temped her with a cookie, then ate it himself. Fortunately, Niecy also did some serious dancing, showing clear, precise footwork and good timing.
Pamela Anderson didn’t do nearly as well with her footwork, which was very wobbly, but she knows how to use her body to tell a story and really got into the character of the dance. Chad Ochocinco failed to understand that Argentine Tango is one of the few ballroom dances where the man must be totally in charge. By mostly just standing there, he drained the dance of its drive and energy (though for some reason, the judges rewarded his performance with three 8s).
Though the stars did surprisingly well, their performances shouldn’t be confused with real Argentine Tango. Rather than using words to explain what it’s supposed to look like, I’d rather show you a brilliant example. There is a saying in the ballroom world that you don’t choose the Argentine Tango – the Argentine Tango chooses you. It never chose me (and believe me, I tried!), but it definitely chose Orlando Reyes Ibarra and Adriana Salgado, my teaching colleagues at Paul Pellicoro’s DanceSport studio in Manhattan, who are among the best Argentine Tango dancers you will ever have the privilege to see. Watch and enjoy, and then we’ll move on to Samba.
The other dance highlighted last week – the Samba – is a specialty of mine, so perhaps that’s why I was more disappointed in the performances. Again, give the stars credit for what they accomplished because the Samba is probably the most difficult of all the Latin dances. Forget the image of a carefree, feather-shaking party dance to carnival music – learning Samba is a lot of work! You have to train different parts of your body to move independently of each other, and all the contestants made the mistake of bending their knees deeply (rather than just flexing them) and then not bouncing back up, making the dance look heavy and slow.
Jake Pavelka was the worst – his Samba was jerky and stiff – and Erin Andrews got ahead of the music and could not isolate the movements of her upper body from her lower half (how Carrie Ann and Bruno could give her 9s is hard to imagine). Evan Lysacek was much better, moving his hips, connecting to his partner, and characterizing the dance well, but once again he had the footwork of a skater with no bounce in his steps. The closest thing to a real Samba came from Nicole Scherzinger, who had very good Rolls (when both dancers, in the shadow position, bend forward and then backward together). She was also light on her feet and bounced better than the others – though her knees were still bent rather than flexed.
Once again, rather than trying to explain how to perform the dance properly, I’ll offer another video clip. Here I’m doing the Samba with my partner, Werner Figar, at a professional ballroom competition earlier this year in Stamford, Connecticut. Keep in mind that I’ve been dancing Samba since taking up ballroom at age 14. If I were to ask Evan for a few figure skating lessons before performing on national television, I’d probably end up in worse shape than two broken toes and a concussion. And after critiquing Chad every week for the past couple of months, I can only hope he doesn’t ask me to play football with his buddies on the Cincinnati Bengals.
Below is my ranking of the 6 remaining contestants based on last week’s performances. On Monday night, Nicole and Pamela will be doing the Waltz, Niecy and Erin the Quickstep, Chad the Viennese Waltz, and Evan the Argentine Tango. The dancers will also be paired into two groups of three to perform a Cha-Cha and the group’s scores will be added to each couple’s individual scores.
I was sorry to see that Jake Pavelka, who was voted off the show on Tuesday, never lived up to the potential he showed in the season premier. I actually picked him to finish in the top 3 by the end of the season, but he could never get out of his head and into his body (and too often seemed more interested in posing than dancing). So I was wrong there but still feel good about my prediction that Evan and Nicole will be in the top 3. At this point, it looks like that third spot will be filled by Erin, though Chad is also a contender. Much as I will miss her, I’m afraid this might be the last week for Niecy unless she delivers a great performance and one of the other dancers stumbles.
Tatiana’s Ranking Changes Since Last Week: Nicole and Evan stay #1 and #2 respectively for the fourth straight week by doing admirable versions of the difficult Samba and Niecy jumped three spots to #3 with her excellent footwork on the Argentine Tango. Erin dropped two rungs to #5 with a shaky Samba and Pamela climbed one spot to #4 with a competent Argentine Tango. Chad dropped two rungs to last place with an Argentine Tango that, unfortunately, included very little dancing.
Tatiana’s Rankings of Last Week’s Performances
1. Nicole Scherzinger
2. Evan Lysacek
3. Niecy Nash
4. Pamela Anderson
5. Erin Andrews
6. Chad Ochocinco
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