Damn! Maksim Looked Hot There For A Few Seconds! – DWTS Premiere Commentary

Belated, I know.  The Dancing With The Stars (DWTS) premiere was Monday and it’s Thursday, but hey, better late than never!

Watching this show has become a special ritual for me and my mother-in-law.  She loves the dancing just as much as I do and she lets me come to her house, eat her food, drink her wine, share her company, and talk my silly head off about all that is going on in the show while it plays on her movie-sized projection screen and I sit in a reclinable home theater chair.  It’s pretty close to heaven.  The only thing closer is dancing myself!

So, being someone who actually dances ballroom, I have opinions about this show.  I’m sure most people do who watch it, of course. I mean, that’s were all the fun comes in, right?  We get to pick our favorites and cheer them on, see them transform and grow, and be inspired.

Let me say this before I say anything else.  I totally honor and acknowledge the fact that these stars are willing to get out of their comfort zone and take this challenge on.  No matter how “good” or “bad” of a dancer they show up as, I give them props for being players in the game called life.  We viewers are simply spectating.  As a person who is a player (at times – such as in my recent showcase or at competitions), I can say that there are prices and benefits to being both a player and a spectator.  As a spectator you can have any opinion you want but you don’t risk anything, really, and there isn’t much opportunity to change or grow.  As a player, you risk screwing up, failing, and embarrassing yourself, but you have the opportunity to transform, learn, gain experience and wisdom.  Neither being a player or a spectator is right or wrong, good or bad, but each is a very different experience.  From a sometime player (me) to the players on the show (the stars), I salute you.

That being said, I still have lots to say on the beginning episode of this season.  Maybe you will find it entertaining.  Maybe you won’t.  Maybe you will agree with me.  Maybe you won’t.  I don’t always agree with the judges that’s for sure! Please feel free to comment as much as you like if you have something to say.  I’d love to interact with you!

So the show is following its same formula as always which is kind of annoying.  You know they do it to cover as many demographics as possible but we had our standard Disney kid, a sexagenarian, a few athletes, some singers, a tv/movie star, and someone in the media, all of which we have mostly have never heard of.

The first couple was Maria Menunos (media person) and Derek doing a Cha Cha.  Derek, in my opinion (actually everything I write is my opinion so please just mentally insert that phrase after everything I write from here on out – I mean, it’s my thought, not THE TRUTH, you know?) Well, getting back to this run-on sentence, Derek is very good at making his partners look good.  I feel like he manhandles his women a little bit sometimes, but he has been very successful highlighting his partners’ strengths and hiding their weaknesses.

From my perspective, the Cha Cha was okay.  Maria needed a few “ticky ticky ta’s” to help her hip movement and she danced a little stiff, I thought, like a two-by-four, as Ivan would say.  So, not bad, not great, and plenty of room for her to blossom and grow.

Next was Jack Wagner and Anna Trebunskaya in their bright turquoise outfits doing a Foxtrot.  I thought Jack was very stiff but coped okay.  There was a lot of “fluff” at the beginning to waste time.  The dance for me was enjoyable because of Jack’s acting and personality but the technique left something to be desired.  Again good, not great for me, so I was shocked when Jack got two 8’s from the judges.  It made me wonder if he’d made some contract that he couldn’t be kicked off the show the first week, or something.  Especially in light of some of the other performances of the night, I thought the 8’s were pretty high for his performance.  But, I really want Anna’s shoes from this number!  They were sparkly blue goodness.

Then came Donald Driver and Peta.  Oh my gosh Peta is gorgeous.  That little number she was wearing was amazing too.  Their Cha Cha was fantastic.  I think Tom Bergeron had it right about this number – it really didn’t feel like week one watching them dance.  Donald did a lot of great side-by-side dancing which I think is difficult to do…much easier to stay in frame and be guided by your professional partner.  The side-by-side work demonstrated Donald’s balance and ability to move.  It will be very interesting to see how Donald does next week with the Quickstep, being a ballroom dance and all.  He seems much more suited to the latin numbers and had great rhythm.  So to be awarded all 7’s by the judges I was like, WTH!  I’m sure he’ll be voted through, though.

Interesting side note…I’ve only voted once, ever for DWTS and never for any other show like SYTYCD, Idol, etc.  Weird, I know.  I’m quirky like that.

Gavin Degraw and Karina were up next with a Foxtrot.  I appreciated Gavin’s authenticity about feeling more confident when he has a piano between him and the audience and I genuinely enjoyed his performance, but not so much because of the dancing.  He was a weird mix of being fluid and stiff and definitely suffered from “paddle hands.”  But I really liked him anyways and see that he has a lot of potential to improve.  I was like, awwww Gavin, I like you, even if you are a two-by-four.  His rankings were about right from the judges, I thought.

Chelsea and the token Disney kid, Roshon, were slated for the Cha Cha after that.  Can he move?  Yes.  For me, he’s like, Dance ten, attitude three.  I appreciate the fact that he shared that he is a freestyler but didn’t appreciate the fact that he claimed not to be intimidated by ballroom at all.  It was nice to see he changed his tune at the end saying that he was “very wrong” and that ballroom wasn’t that difficult.  Also, it annoyed me a little bit that he did the Moonwalk like five times during the routine.  Though I totally get why Chelsea would want to choreograph the number to highlight Roshon’s abilities, even my mother-in-law asked me what dance they were doing because she couldn’t tell.  So, I’m not a fan.  He’ll probably do very well this season.  For sure I thought he danced better than Jack Wagner, but he got an equivalent score.

OMG do I love Miss Sherri! I’m going to call her “Smiles” from now on.  As my friend Ivonne said, “Sherri Shephard just made me feel so joyful and happy. It was contagious! Watching her whole segment made me feel like I was wrapped up in rainbows and puppy dogs and kittens.”  Yep.  That pretty much sums it up.  She was darling.  I loved the part where Val put her hand on his behind and she declared, “God is real!”  Smiles will be very fun to watch this season and I’m rooting for her.

The next team on the floor was M&M – Melissa Gilbert and Maksim, that is.  Damn!  Maksim looked freakin’ hot when the showed him when he first met Melissa with the long hair and scruffy beard.  I’m not normally so into him but for those few seconds, I think he was even hotter than the Cuban guy, William Levy.  Anyways, I digress.  Maksim had it right – ugly movement (at times) but correct.  I think Melissa has the opportunity to come out of her shell and I did see some nice movement mixed in there – I noticed a really nice time step.  Considering the woman has recovered from breaking her back, I think she is doing awesome.  I hope her confidence continues to grow as the season progresses.

Oh la la.  William Levy and Cheryl Burke.  Here we have the opposite of dance ten, looks three.  It was looks ten, dance three.  Well, maybe not a three, but maybe a five or six?  Sure the man has rhythm but he dances like someone who works out.  He moved, I thought, like Psycho Mike from last season who got booted after the first episode.  A little bit stiff with pigeon toes.  Plus he danced more like he was at a club than in a ballroom.  He sure had audience support, though.  And he is pretty to look at.  Also, I love, love, loved Cheryl’s green glitter outfit with matching shoes.  Again, I think he will be around for quite a while.

Martina and Tony graced us viewers next with a Foxtrot.  Martina is darling but she dances very manly, like Hope Solo did last season.  It’s just that she has such different muscle memory from the sport she plays.  However, she did look beautiful in her dress and how awesome that she was wearing it after not donning one for 20 years.  It’s her opportunity to get in touch with her femininity and I would love to see that journey unfold.  I mean, her biggest concern was wearing heels.  I’m cheering for her success but we will see how far she gets.  You never know….Hope made it very far last season dancing that manly.

Okay, so here in the show I got a little annoyed.  It was Mark and Katherine Jenkins.  She was absolutely gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, but that’s probably partly because she really looks to me like she’s had ballet training in her past.  That, to me, is absolutely fine – I just wish they’d acknowledged it like they acknowledged the dancing background for Roshon.  You see, she made exquisite lines and the Foxtrot really suited her, but she was dancing it like a ballerina, on her toes (and with a gorgeous port de bras), not like a ballroom dancer.  I’m just sayin’.  It doesn’t seem fair that someone can be that beautiful and talented at both singing and dancing.  She is amazing and I think she will (and should) go far. She is a great dancer.  It will be interesting to see how she manages with the “sexy” dances.

Oh Gladys, you are darling and I want that red dress!  Gladys Knight and Tristan did a great Cha Cha and I thought Gladys was very cool, calm, and collected.  I was really impressed and she deserved that standing ovation.  But alas, she got the same score as Jack Wagner!  Can you believe it!?  She did amazing and I will enjoy watching her for weeks to come.

And last, but probably the best, was Erkel, I mean Jaleel White and Kym Johnson.  His Foxtrot was spectacular right from the start with an impressive 360 leap.  He was very light on his feet, had great flow, lots of charisma, and was even compared by Bruno to the incomparable Gregory Hines.  The show producers were right to put him last as the show ended with a bang.

All in all, a great first show and a nice, glittery escape from real life.  I will be watching!

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Hot Like A Mocha

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Allegre Studio

Private Lesson With Ivan and bonus, Marieta comes too!

My coffee machine is messed up. My husband, bless his little heart, decalcified it as it had been begging us to do for a week, but when I made my cup of joe this morning to caffeinate myself for my 9am lesson, it was frothy, chunky, and oily.

“Oh, It’s fine.” He says.

“No, I’m not going to drink motor oil this morning. It looks disgusting. I’ve got to get going so I can pick up something at Starbucks.”

“You were right, Stef. Just dump it out and make another cup.”

“No, I gotta go.”

I get a text a few minutes later advising me to not drink any more coffee until the issue had been resolved. The second cup was just as toxic as the first it seems.

So I call Ivan, since I’m making a special stop, and ask if he wants a coffee, but I get his voicemail.

“Call me back immediately, Ivan, if you want coffee.”

A minute or two later the phone buzzes.

“What’s up, girl?”

I bust out laughing. I can’t do it justice, the way he said it. It was like a Russian Bugs Bunny or something. He emphasized the “p” sound on “up” and “girl” sounded like, “gurrrrl.”

What’s more, he then told me that he was cool because he was saying this. “See, I cool. What’s up girl?”

“Nothing, Ivan. I’m stopping at Starbucks, want something?”

“No, I’m okay, but maybe Marieta. Ya, get a white chocolate mocha.”

“Hot or Iced?”

“Hot. Like you.”

OMG! I almost spit on my steering wheel. It’s like I’m hearing this from my brother. What a freakazoid.

“Ivan, you are ridiculous!”

He is a source of never-ending entertainment, I tell you. Laughing heartily, I agree to get him a hot mocha and hang up.

I fear the coffee will be cool by the time I arrive to the lesson – it is a good 35 to 40 minutes away using freeways – but it stays warm enough that when I see Marieta and hand it to her, she says it is a good temperature.

“What’s this?” she asks.

“Your coffee. I stopped at Starbucks. Ivan said you would share.”

Apparently he hadn’t consulted his wife. But she took one sip and knew right away, it was a white chocolate mocha. I guess it’s not the first time he’s gotten it.

We start straight away on Latin Rumba because I now know the date for the showcase at Dance Starz is February 24th. We have little time to prepare.

Ivan’s process is pretty interesting, I have to admit. He hasn’t really choreographed any cohesive chunks just yet. So far we are trying little tricks, then maybe dancing syllabus moves, and then talking about how to start and end the dance. So I have no idea what this thing will look like in the end.

What I do know is that I love the Latin Rumba. I know that I love the song I got to pick. And even though the Rumba is an over-the-top romantic dance, it feels comfortable to do the moves with Ivan. It is so great to feel that safe to express myself in this way.

I also know that I am going to pour every ounce of emotion I can muster into the number come showtime. I love it when dance moves me and my goal is to be able to be expressive enough that my dancing will move others.

The story of this Rumba is based on the song and is one of sadness, yearning, and denial. The woman singing it keeps telling her ex-lover he will come back, that he’s going to repent, that nobody could ever love him like she did. But as the song progresses, she realizes that she needs to know if the love isn’t for forever, and even so, she can’t let go. She is saying “you’ll be back” while at the same time she is coming to the realization that this love is over and her lover is truly leaving.

Where do I come up with this stuff? I have no idea. I haven’t personally experienced a situation like this so I don’t really know why it resonates with me at this time. But I can imagine how painful it could be to go through something like this, and for whatever reason I can’t wait to put all this longing, and sadness, and beauty, and fading away of love into the dance. I only hope my hips and face will be able to convey the story and that my body will hold up…it is not used to doing all this leaning, and hanging, and otherwise, dangling from another person and then dancing on top of that.

But Ivan seems excited about it too. He says that once we get the routine down, we can remove all the tricks and perform it in open competition heats. I’m beginning to feel like I’m growing up a little bit in the ballroom.

He told me, “We gonna have the best Rumba in the world.”

A scene from the Champ Latin Finals of 2005 USA Dance Nationals. Pictured: Valentin Chmerkovskiy and Valeriya Kozharinova by Tendancer

I love his enthusiasm! And it is even more exciting because after the lesson, I talked with Marieta about making me a practice outfit that will be nice enough to wear for the showcase…something flowy and lovely to accentuate the movement. Ivan felt obligated to share his opinion of what I should wear as well. He told us both what he did and didn’t like very plainly. Luckily, we all seemed to be on the same page and he liked the same skirt that I did.

New, practice shoes, new heels, and now a new practice outfit! I’m feeling like a “professional” ballroom student!

The thing that makes me feel most like I’m stepping into being a woman, rather than a cutesy-woo girl, on the dance floor, is the opportunity for creative expression. Not that you can’t have that shine through in competition heats, but there you pretty much stick to syllabus moves and you never get to pick your music. But now, I have a piece of work that I can pour myself into…physically, mentally, and emotionally. I didn’t realize how long I’d been waiting to do this.

Now, let’s be honest. This Rumba, once it finally gets created, probably won’t be the best Rumba in the world (though whatever would qualify as the best Rumba in the world I’ll never know since it is so subjective). And I’ve seen his Rumba with Marieta…it is pretty dang amazing.

But you know what?

It will be the best Rumba in my world.

No longer will I be a spectator, watching others on television or even at competitions playing this part.

I get to be it! It’s my turn!

And that, my friends, however it ends up looking

(probably about as hot as a mocha)

is enough.