Footloose and Fancy-Free: The Competition Heats Up Even in Week Two of DWTS

For week two of Dancing with the Stars’ season twelve, which featured the quickstep and the jive, fast footwork and flirty flair were the common denominators of all the performances, and not one performance fell extremely short of the expectations. Although some dances were better-executed than others, none were absolutely cringeworthy, and all of them possessed at least one strong positive aspect.

The evening kicked off with a jive by Sugar Ray Leonard and his partner, Anna Trebunskaya. Like his week one foxtrot, Leonard’s jive possessed a wonderful entertainment factor, but the technique and footwork faltered. Some parts were crisp, while others were not, and a lot of his moves looked timid and stiff instead of the loose-yet-precise, rollicking nature of the jive. He looked like he was having a wonderful time, but next to Trebunskaya, who, as a professional, is fluid, the lack of technique was blatantly obvious. It was marginally better than his week one performance, but Leonard should be careful; showmanship might not save him from a knockout if he doesn’t up his actual dancing game.

Kendra Wilkinson’s quickstep unleashed the elegant lady inside the self-proclaimed tomboy, and even though there were moments when Wilkinson looked absolutely terrified, and as though she was focusing so hard on the steps that she forgot to smile, she handled the pace and volume of the choreography provided by partner Louis van Amstel with relative ease. There were a few moments when she got slightly tripped up, but those small blunders very well could have been due to the level of difficulty in the choreography; for only being week two, it appeared to be a complicated routine, and could have been much, much worse. The former Bunny might just prove herself a contender for that mirror-ball trophy.

Following Wilkinson and van Amstel were Disney girl Chelsea Kane and partner Mark Ballas, who performed an “out of the box” jive. Ballas, whose jive with last season’s partner Bristol Palin featured the pair in monkey suits and earned the wrath of the judges, should probably have kept that particular debacle in mind when he choreographed Kane’s, because his track record with going out of the box, especially with this dance, isn’t great. And that theme didn’t end tonight. Head Judge Len Goodman claimed that there was “too much messing about,” and it was true. Despite Ballas’ later assertions that the performance contained many aspects of the jive, it didn’t seem that there were enough in succession to make the dance identifiable. It’s a shame, because Kane has talent; this dance did not showcase it.

The dance of the night just may have belonged to Chris Jericho, who was fast, flirty, and fleet of foot in his quickstep. His smile was infectious, his footwork was surprisingly sound, and he easily inhabited the character of a 1940s gentleman. There wasn’t a moment when either his footwork or his character faltered, and his chemistry with partner Cheryl Burke lit up the dance floor. It was unbelievably fun to watch him cavort around the floor, and perhaps the most charming thing (one of many charming things) about Jericho is the obvious joy he finds in participating. The wrestler is a much better competitor than perhaps had been expected, and there’s no saying that he won’t find himself in the thick of this competition if he can grasp the rest of the dances as well as he grasped the quickstep.

After a beautifully elegant foxtrot in week on, Petra Nemcova was faced with a drastically different dance in the jive. Nemcova, who was warned by Goodman about the jive being a problem for dancers with long limbs, also faced the added possible setback of her previously-broken pelvis. Although her long legs didn’t prove to be too much of a hindrance, the jive just didn’t seem to be the model’s dance, and most of it was awkwardly executed despite being charming in its awkwardness. It will be the more elegant dances that make Nemcova shine, and if she can earn the viewers’ votes, she has the potential to truly dazzle.

Kirstie Alley quickstepped her way to more praise from the judges, and perhaps more importantly to the Cheers star, closer to the other goal she hopes to achieve by dancing. Alley’s footwork was, once again, precise and well-executed. Despite a moment of getting caught on her dress that caused a loss of momentum towards the end of the dance, she did not let it completely throw her off, and continued through to the dance’s conclusion. The actress is a graceful dancer, and it is a delight to watch her on the dance floor. Her determination will be her greatest strength, and it will be interesting to see how she progresses as the weeks go by.

The lowest-scoring celebridancer from week one, radio DJ Mike Catherwood, redeemed himself a little bit with his jive. In a surprising turn of events, he handled the light, quick footwork of the jive better than he did the footwork in the cha-cha, and the moments when he danced side-by-side with partner Lacey Schwimmer were actually pretty impressive. Other moments in the dance weren’t quite so fortunate, but his attitude is positive. He is still the dancer with the longest way to go, but if he can stick around, it’ll at least be an entertaining ride.

The next quickstep of the night was performed by rapper/actor Romeo, and the 50s-flavored dance – set to “You’re the One That I Want,” from Grease – was cute, fresh, and innocent. His posture occasionally slouched, contorting his frame, but overall, the dance was pretty good. Partner Chelsie Hightower might have a problem getting him to drop the ‘cool’ façade and replace it with a more mature, sophisticated one, but that’s hardly the biggest obstacle ever faced on the show. He has the potential to be a real threat for the mirror-ball…as long as he learns that inhabiting a character in the dance is sometimes as important as the steps themselves.

And Wendy Williams learned that with her quickstep. In a vast improvement over her week one cha-cha, Williams was far more sprightly and engaging as she seemed to enjoy herself much more, the timidity and overly-intense focus of week one gone from her posture and her face. The middle of the dance, however, hit a lull, and the energy evident in the first part of the dance plummeted. Although Williams and partner Tony Dovolani recovered and picked up the pace through the end of the dance, she is another celebridancer who needs to find her stride, and her comfort zone, before the competition really starts heating up and starts separating the contenders from the pretenders.

The leader from week one, Ralph Macchio, once again ignited the crowd with his jive. His foot- and legwork were terrific, but his arms were a little bit frantic. He sort of threw his arms even more than was necessary, creating an off-balance, frenzied kind of impression. Overall, however, the performance was fabulous, and there is something incredibly likeable about the actor. He’s a lot of fun to watch on the floor, and he even manages to make partner Karina Smirnoff a little more tolerable; she spends more time smiling than sneering and preening. It could be too early to tell, but if the first two nights of competition are any indication, this is a man who could stay at the top of the leaderboard for the competition’s duration.

Rounding out the lineup was Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward, whose fluid, smooth, and precise quickstep earned him the highest individual score of the night. Despite that, his combined score set him in second place on the leaderboard, right behind Macchio. But Ward should be proud of himself regardless, because his quickstep had a debonair, suave feel, and his footwork was spot-on. The chemistry with partner Kym Johnson was an added positive, and the former Super Bowl MVP might just establish himself as a DWTS MVP, following in the footsteps of Emmitt Smith.

The first elimination of season twelve will occur on Tuesday, March 29, 2011, at 9:00 PM (Eastern time) on ABC.