"Dancing with the Stars" Recap: Season 11, Week 8

We've noticed an interesting trend on this season of "DWTS." While in previous seasons strong technique has been a priority (hello, Nicole Scherzinger), this time around everyone--judges and audience voters alike--seems to value drive and charm over talent. Take a look at the remaining cast of characters. While one could argue that Jennifer and Brandy do have some technical chops, we don't think either are as strong as Audrina. But while Audrina never seemed all that invested in the show--or all that interesting, frankly--the other ladies are both personable and obviously working DARN hard. And Kyle, Kurt and Bristol--oh, Bristol--are definitely points-for-effort rather than points-for-polish types.

This trend would drive us crazy if it were happening on, say, "So You Think You Can Dance." But when it comes to "DWTS," we don't think there's anything wrong with rewarding work ethic and charisma rather than technical prowess. In fact, we're all for it. Who ACTUALLY expects these untrained B-list stars to pick up the subtleties of ballroom technique in the 10-odd weeks they're on the show? Let's stop pretending this circus is something it's not, and appreciate it for what it is: A very sparkly popularity contest. Yay!

Anyway, last night's gimmick was the "instant dance round": In addition to putting together one standard routine,  each couple practiced a style of dance without knowing what music they'd perform it to, and then drew their song 20 minutes before going on. Gotta admit that we assumed this would result in utter disaster. Any yet--happy surprise!--it actually seemed to loosen everyone up. Kyle is always adorbs, but his devil-may-care "instant" jive with Lacey was pure fun. Kurt has struggled with both nervous upper-body stiffness and his musicality, but throw him into an "instant" cha cha and all of a sudden he's groovin' right on the beat and showing off his best "ow ow!" sexy face. Even Bristol suddenly discovered that she could shake it a little in her "instant" samba (never mind the fact that when she wasn't shimmying her shoulders off she was a hot mess). Ultimately, the whole "instant dance round" thing convinced us that most of these contestants would be pretty darn entertaining on a wedding dance floor, and that endeared them to us more than any painstakingly rehearsed routine ever has.

Other notable moments from the episode:
-Kyle's remarkably improved footwork in his Viennese waltz with Lacey. We think this kid could go all the way.
-Jennifer's A.MAZ.ING sparkle-and-feathers gown for her quickstep (which wasn't so shabby, either) with Derek. Talk about old-school Hollywood glam!
-Joel Grey showing up to comfort Jennifer when she hurt her knee in rehearsal. Love him! Having serious Cabaret flashbacks right now.
-This exchange between Kurt and Anna:
Anna: "The waltz is big and graceful, so i think it'll be good for you."
[long pause]
Kurt: "Um, which part of that is me?"
Anna: "Big!"
-Sarah Palin asking Bristol if her Argentine tango with Mark was "like, lap-dancin' scandalous?" Ay carumba, SP. (Also: It wasn't.)
-Brandy's unfortunate "damsel-in-distress" face during her awkwardly melodramatic waltz with Maks, which we thought looked more like a "why oh why did I eat that huge burrito for lunch?" face. (And yet, Bruno said that "emotionally [her performance] was like a symphony, like a poem." Then again...he's Bruno.)

That's all for now, folks. Check back tomorrow for our recap of the results show, where, dance gods willing, Miss (Piggy) Palin will finally be sent packing!

(From left) Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland (all photos by Erin Baiano)

Congratulations to Dance Spirit's 2019 Cover Model Search finalists: Darriel Johnakin, Diego Pasillas, and Emma Sutherland! One of them will win a spot on Dance Spirit's Fall 2019 cover. Learn more about the dancers on their profile pages, and then vote for your favorite below. You can vote once a day now through July 15.

We also want you to get social! We'll be factoring social media likes and shares into our final tallies. Be sure to show your favorite finalist some love on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, sharing their profile pages and using the hashtag #DanceSpiritCMS.

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Isabella Boylston in "The Bright Stream" (Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy American Ballet Theatre)

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