It was really no surprise that the three figure skaters in the competition had the strongest opening week, as their natural skills on the ice translate well to the ballroom. But historically, football players and other types of athletes have used their natural drive to greatness to push even harder and start to rise up and make things even more competitive.
We did see a tightening of the field this week, as some of the other competitors made a run at the figure skaters, but with only four weeks total in the season, they're going to need to work even harder if they want to supplant them. And the eliminations keep coming fast and furious, with two more getting the boot this week, and three getting cut next week.
A little too into his heels throughout this dance, Josh nevertheless certainly got into the matadorial spirit of the paso doble, even if he was a little over-aggressive with a lot of his arm movements. For a second week performance, he had a solid command of the stage, and certainly looked like the lead in the dance if you weren't paying too close attention. This early in the season, even though it's only a four-week season, attitude will go a long way to overcome the minor deficiences in the performance. With the biggest critique being his arms (the hardest thing to pick up, surprisingly enough), Josh is in good shape to make a run for that trophy.
Judges Scores: 7, 7, 8, 8
My Score: 7
Jennie Finch Daigle & Keo Motsepe
Jennie went over Keo's head by contacting the producers and forcing him to change the song because she thought it was too risque for her personal values. Thus, she had only three dances to learn the new dance he had to choreograph. That could be in part why she was not at all peppy and high-energy on this cha cha. Keo was bouncing and joyful, and Jennie looked so heavy bounding across the stage. She knew the choreography, but her hands were stiff and her movements not sharp and quick enough. Even worse, she performed them with zero attitude, as if she was still uncomfortable.
Lindsay's decision to open this salsa with her riding on the shoulders of another dancer was both surprisingly hilarious and even more shocking, effective. The two dancers atop one another were roughly the same height as the towering Kareem, giving them a true partnership that can't be matched when she is firmly on the ground. In those moments, Kareem looked more confident and sure of himself, though he is still far too stiff overall. He works through the steps he's given, but they lack finesse, and his arms are disappointingly flat.
Judges Scores: 7, 7, 6, 6
My Score: 4
Chris Mazdzer & Witney Carson
Chris really let go in a way this week that translated beautifully on the dance floor. His confidence in this Viennese waltz was infectious, as he gracefully led Witney across the floor and into his arms. And those arms! I was extremely impressed with the fluid movements of Chris' arms and the position of his hands. However Witney modified her approach to handle his ADHD really translated into a more confident and beautiful final product. It was a stunning progression from what he gave just seven days ago.
Judges Scores: 9, 8, 8, 8
My Score: 8
Tonya Harding & Sasha Farber
Considering her story, it was pretty hilarious that Sasha chose "Redneck Woman" as their song this week, but Tonya absolutely owned every bit of it. Once again, she came out fierce and ready to compete, and what a triumphant and joyous performance she gave us. The quickstep is usually the death knell for any dancer on this show, and Tonya got it the second week. I couldn't believe what I was seeing in her feet. Not only was she nailing the choreography, but she was light on her feet, had wonderful carriage and her partnering with Sasha was fabulously on point. That's twice now that Tonya has come out and blown me away with what she is capable of in dance. Maybe she missed her second career path. Maybe it's not too late?
Judges Scores: 8, 9, 8, 8
My Score: 9
Mirai Nagasu & Alan Bersten
Mirai beat herself up for getting a 7 last week from Carrie-Ann, proving both that she's a committed competitor, but also probably a little too hard on herself. This week, she channelled the magic of Disney to become the princess of foxtrot, and she really commanded herself well. She had a great opening week, no matter what she thinks of it, and she upped her artistry and her technique in this second dance. I wasn't able to find anything to critique. She was grace personified, her footwork was fantastic and her arms and body language flawless. I wasn't sure she had this much improvement possible, but she found it.
After taking the challenge from Carrie-Ann, Arike got into heels for this foxtrot, and she surprised me. I wasn't expecting as much grace out of her as she gave us. Arike is a strong competitor, but last week that strength translated into a stiffness that she couldn't shake off. She was still a little too stiff with her shoulders up, and her face was all concentration and work, but she also showed a softer side of herself. Arika would be well served with a longer season so she could really get out of her own head and relax and settle into being a dancer.
Judges Scores: 8, 9, 8, 8
My Score: 7
Adam Rippon & Jenna Johnson
It doesn't matter how busy Adam's schedule is, because this guy is a serious competitor and a huge threat in this competition. He has attitude and charm, which go a long way with the viewers at home, but he brought technique and confidence to the dreaded quickstep, which has undone many a fine dancer. His precision was staggering, his posture was where it needed to be. They never lost the timing. This partnership is one of the best of the season and it's translating on the dance floor.
Judges Scores: 9, 9, 9, 10
My Score: 9
(Kareem, Chris, Josh, Tonya) Once again, Kareem was used as a prop throughout this routine, which was disappointing, but he's not nearly at the same caliber as the rest of the dancers in the competition, so it's understandable. In the solo moments, Josh didn't really bring it as well as he could have, while Tonya and Chris were much stronger. Honestly, the group dance didn't really help anyone as they all performed about as well as we might have expected, with Josh bringing it a little less than he did his first time out. If anything, he might have hurt himself a bit.
Judges Scores: 8, 9, 8, 8
My Score: 6
(Jennie, Mirai, Adam, Arike) This routine felt a lot less chaotic than Team Tennis, the solo performances were high energy and fun, even if Arike again looked too heavy and stiff on her feet. Adam and Mirai tried some stunts and neither were pulled off flawlessly, but the overall routine was an infectious disco romp that was full of quality dance content from the era and highly watchable from beginning to end. Also, that football spin at the end was damned impressive. That thing spun forever!
There wasn't a lot of change from last week with the figure skaters again dominating the competition, but Chris really upped his game and made a strong case for himself on the show. I didn't see enough growth out of Jennie, Kareem or Arike, so if it were up to me, those would be the three in jeopardy.
Kareem & Lindsay were the first couple put there, which is appropriate. We're already closingin on the finale, so we have to cut the chaff, no matter how charming they may be. I was disappointed to see Chris & Witney there, but he wasn't strong last week, and America's votes were based on that. Jennie & Keo faltered this week, but America supported her freshman outing, which made it bad news for Arike & Gleb, who deservedly rounded out the three in danger.
In the end, it was Chris & Witney who secured safety, which means America got it right this week. Chris needs to keep improving as he has been, while Jennie needs to relax and give herself up more to her partner and this process. The tension between her and Keo was painfully palpable.
We're back at it again next Monday, when three dancers will get the boot. There are only two weeks left until it's all over and we have our Season 26 winner on "Dancing With the Stars," airing Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.