Dancing With the Stars: Can Antonio Keep Up the Momentum?

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 11.46.13 PMLast week Antonio and partner Sharna wowed the judges with his jazz routine. Although perhaps “wowed” is the wrong word, as I got the feeling this was what they’ve been hoping for, and even expecting, from him all along.

This week the show has thrown a monkey wrench into things by switching everyone’s partner for a week. AB will now be dancing with Karina, who usually partners another of the NFL guys, ex-QB Doug Flutie.

But before we look at this week’s dances, let’s see how Hines Ward was doing at this point, back in 2011. As I wrote then:

Ward was, surprisingly, subject to performance anxiety throughout the competition. He even admitted that he often felt like throwing up before going onstage. He was especially nervous about the week five rumba, as it is a slower dance that requires more control.

So what did the judges have to say?

  • Bruno – “Ease of movement, musicality, and just the right amount of sensuality to make all the ladies swoon!
  • Well played.”
  • Len – “It’s not false – it has a naturalness, an ease and an elegance that is charming, and I think that’s probably your best dance.”
  • Carrie Ann – “You make it look so easy – I’m getting worried for you because you make it look so easy, but that’s a good thing.”

It turned out that Inaba’s comment was not just hyperbole. Later in the season the supporters of other dancers, particularly Disney actress Chelsea Kane, spoke disparagingly about how Ward “barely moved” while his partner danced around him. Kane’s routines were high-octane, edgy, and youthful, which suited both her personality and that of her professional partner, Mark Ballas. It was evident how difficult the dances were when you watched them, but every performer knows that the greatest performances are the ones where everything clicks and it looks effortless. Ward was working extremely hard, but we generally saw the dance, not the choreography, which made him, as Bruno once said, “supremely watchable.”

At the beginning of the season KDKA radio asked Andrew Pueschel, the artistic director and resident instructor of Absolue Ballroom Dance Center to give a morning-after commentary for each of Ward’s dances. I decided to interview him and ask what it was like.

Pueschel admitted to some misgivings about the arrangement. What, for example, if Hines was awful? How could he talk honestly about his dancing without angering Steeler Nation? It turned out he had nothing to fear:

I’ve been very blessed with Hines Ward, because he is talented, he is dedicated. It would be very hard to go on the radio every week—I would have to find a way to spin it—because people in Pittsburgh want to hear about how wonderful he is. Thank God he really is. I’m blessed that I don’t have to go in and say, ‘Well, he should work on this and this.’ Instead I can say that he excelled.

There’s no such thing as a natural-born champion. No one just walks in and does it—you have to work to get there. At the end of the day, this show isn’t about who’s the best technical dancer. You have to have the chemistry with your partner, you have to have the chemistry with the audience. He has that. Some of the other dancers don’t really relate to the audience. When I watch Hines I feel like I’m watching in 3-D.

Week 5 Scores: 9/9/9

Pueschel’s comments about chemistry with your partner make it all the more obvious that changing up partners at this point in the competition, even for one night, is going to increase the difficulty, both for the “stars” and the professional dancers. Although I’m sure the pros have been carefully watching the other dancers, they still will not have the depth of knowledge about how to craft the dance, nor, of course, will they have the relationship which has developed over the many preceding weeks.

However, all of the dancers are at the same disadvantage, and in AB’s case his personality, from what I’ve seen of him, is probably going to mesh well with most anyone. I’m not saying it’s likely to be easy, though.

All of the dancers, both pros and stars, complained about how difficult it was to mesh that quickly with someone new when you’ve been focusing all your efforts on working with one person. Or as Witney, the professional dancer Von Miller has been dancing with said, switch-up week sucks. And she got arguably the best male star, Wanyá.

Perhaps the person with the hardest job is AB’s usual partner, Sharna, who was paired with Nyle, who is completely deaf. I imagine he and his usual partner have worked out ways to deal with the fact that he can’t hear the beat, and even more so than the other dancers it’s back to square one for them.

But let’s see how they did. There was a fourth judge again, a former professional on the show. (The year Hines Ward danced he was partnered with Kirstie Allie, and they came in third.)

The first of the NFL guys was assigned Peta, who usually dances with Nyle. And just as an interesting wrinkle, the fourth judge, Maks, is her fiancé. Which means that he is presumably going to have to be extra particular with this couple.

Peta and Doug were assigned a tango, and during the video montage she made an interesting observation, which is especially interesting in light of all that’s going on in terms of former players. She said “I think Doug’s number one challenge would have to be  the memory. He gets it for like five minutes and then we can lose it.” He then later commented “I have to repeat things a number of times for it to really stick. I just know how I was as a college student and how sharp I was at one time, and, you know….[long pause, then he shrugged]. Maybe it’s just my age. I don’t know.”

He later said “I’m 53 years old, and I played 21 years of professional football. I have a few aches and pains, but I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Doug Flutie: Tango

To my eyes he looks more stiff than forgetful. There were no hiccups like last week’s routine, but it’s hard to see him ever looking natural as a dancer for more than occasional moments.

Again, the judges were encouraging, but honest. Bruno talked about musicality and how he had to absorb the music, and I think that’s the essence of the stiffness and occasional lack of grace.

Bill Belichick sent him a little encouraging video. I’m not sure I would enjoy getting one, but he did…

Scores: 7/7/7/7

Antonio Brown: Cha Cha

His new partner said she was nervous because she needs to figure out how he learns to give him the best opportunity.

He was an hour late to a rehearsal, and when Karina consulted Sharna she said “that’s about right.” He said, “I’m late, but I have have kids, football, workouts. I wear this watch, but really not for time. It just looks good. I don’t think I even set it. It says Friday.”

Mike Tomlin was questioned and said “He’s far from the most punctual guy on the team, but when he shows up he’s ready to work.”

The video montage then showed Karina coming to the Southside facility to watch Antonio’s workout. She appeared to be impressed…

Steelers in the audience included Mr. Swaggin’ U himself, Ike Taylor.

The routine began with AB doing a front flip off of the steps onto the stage. To my untutored eyes it was rhythmic, focused, and had I watched it without knowing I would never have guessed it wasn’t his usual partner. It was certainly popular with the audience! But let’s see what the judges thought:

  • Len: It was long on performance, it was short on technique. There was too much bump and grind going on. All that bump and grind stuff! The bits of the cha cha you did were in my opinion poor, If you wanna shine, you’ve gotta polish. Don’t have that attitude “That’ll do.” You’ve got to go that step farther—you’ve got to perfect it. You’ve got to get the technique down. You’ve gotta perform better.” (Greeted with vast choruses of boos from the audience.)
  • Maks: I have to say I’m a fan—I can’t deny that. I’m a big fan. And you definitely shine in your jacket [sequined], in your bling, your teeth, everything shines. The cha cha—you know, the whole point of this week is to learn something you don’t know. You’re getting away with what you do know, with what comes natural to you, and that’s amazing. You put a little bit of effort and you show us an amazing cha cha. But unfortunately it’s just an amazing performance, not the actual concept.
  • Bruno: Antonio, I think you’ve got the moves. And I think you’ve got the right package, and I think you’ve got the right charisma. What happened is, at times you looked like you were dancing in different time zones. You have to synchronize watches and do the right step at the right time. When you get it right, oh my God you’re hot. SO GET IT RIGHT!!!!
  • Carrie Ann: You are a natural. No one else lights up the stage like you do. Forget the jacket. It wasn’t the jacket, it’s you. You have something very spectacular. But you’re a wild card. So I agree with Bruno but I also agree with these two (indicating Len and Maks) . This felt a bit underrehearsed. It felt like you got all the steps, barely, and your form was not great tonight. But with all that energy and all that charisma, Come back next week [she caught herself] – if you’re back next week, I want to see you rehearsed, bring all the technique INTO all that amaing-ness.
  • When he went up to get the scores, Erin Andrews asked him what he thinks he can improve on for next week. AB’s response:

“You can always improve. Every time I come here I learn something I can get better at, but it’s all about executing it, performing it, feeling like I did a good job.”

Scores: 7/6/6/7

Karina was very disappointed with the scores. This is the first time I’ve seen one of the professional dancers basically say they were wrong, although admittedly I haven’t watched every single minute.

Von Miller: Jive

  • Bruno: Big, brave, unconventional, with a big helping of swagger. But, you messed it up in the beginning. And you have to be careful, because all the swagger sometimes masks the style. Kicks and flicks have to be sharp and light. Performance value, off the rocker.”
  • Carrie Ann: She, in a great many words, commended his partner for tailoring the dance to his style, and noted that this week (switch-up night) is about the strategy. Basically, she liked it.
  • Len: It was full of fun and it was full of energy. You came out and you gave it your all. However… [he decided to just stop there.]
  • Maks: It’s tough, it’s tough. You look like you have so much to give, and you give it. Lindsey gets an 11 for all of this. I just personally want a little bit more. Thank God I’m not judging the finale. It’s halfway through the season. You guys get back with your partners and kick it up a notch. I think all of you are capable of more.

Scores: 8/7/7/7

Here are the full results for tonight, in the order the couples danced:

  • Wanya and Witney: 8/7/7/8
  • Kim and Keo: 8/6/6/8
  • Nyle and Peta: 8/8/9/9
  • Doug and Peta: 7/7/7/7
  • Ginger and Mark: 8/8/8/8
  • Antonio and Karina: 7/6/6/7
  • Paige and Sasha: 8/8/7/8
  • Von and Lindsey:  8/7/7/7
  • Nyle and Sharna: 9/10/9/9
  • Jodie and Val: 9/8/9/9

I ditched the cumulative scores, since they didn’t make sense with the different partners. There were no eliminations tonight, since the dancers were paired differently. This is just as well, since Antonio is firmly in last place at the moment. Steeler Nation, get out there and vote if you want AB to stay in the competition…

 

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