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*This blog was first published as part of Culture Cruncher on San Diego News Network

What a week of surprises. And I’m talking mostly about the sudden death of Michael Jackson. It’s a bit hard to grasp. Here’s a man who is largely responsible for the integration of dance into the world of pop, who was of course a great musician, but was equally known for his movement. As an artist, he blended the two seamlessly. The dancers on this show are surely in his debt. Though Mr. Jackson died on Thursday, after the couples performed their routines, its hard not to have that in mind when looking back.

But to return to SYTYCD, the surprise was that Ballroom Dance ruled the competition. Never before on this show have I been more excited about the ballroom routines in a given night than from the categories of, say, hip-hop or contemporary (although Brandon + Hip-Hop? Where have you been?!). Ballroom this week was beautiful and exciting and thankfully, voters took note.

In particular, Melisaa and Ade continued to impress in a polished rumba. Kupono and Kayla managed to illicit gasps with their Viennese Waltz. As Nigel pointed out, it just wasn’t the type of routine to get a million claps – “it isn’t fast, it isn’t fiery, it isn’t sexy.” And yet the couple made it all of those. Can you stand up for a Viennese Waltz? Mary certainly did. And I did too (figuratively, of course – I didn’t really stand up alone in my living room to applaud, but had I been in the studio, I damn well would’ve jumped to my feet).

Which goes to show, thankfully, that it’s all about what the dancers bring to the routine. Karla and Jonathan made hip-hop a yawn, Kupono and Kayla made the waltz a thrill. Sometimes, we get the uncomfortable feeling – and the judges have noted this – that it’s all the luck of the draw. Pick Mia Michaels out of a hat and you’re safe – pick cha cha and you’re guaranteed bottom three. Not this week.

Speaking of Mia Michaels’, I have to agree with Toni (otherwise not the most exciting or insightful judge herself) that I too would be praying to draw Mia’s name. I’m of the mindset that she can do no wrong (thus far) and her routines are always fresh, clever, whimsical, quirky, and simply entertaining.

This week was a rare misstep for me: I enjoyed it of course, fun music and attitude. I’m a Evan/Randi fan and they did the work well. But there was something terribly uncomfortable about the idea that Mia would structure a dance around bringing attention to Randi’s behind. The slow-motion butt-slap that Evan delivered, then turning Randi’s cheeks to the camera felt downright gratuitous. An anti-feminist dance choreographed by a strong, no-nonsense woman who generally treats the female in her work with dignity and equality.

Not that the show could ever be applauded for espousing feminist ideals. One need only look at the costumes to come to that conclusion.

Last week, I commented on the prominence of Cat’s fashion. This week, the shocking fashion was showing up on the dancers themselves. Ballroom has always been a proponent of “skin to win,” and those frocks are getting dangerously tiny. Perhaps because ballroom was so prominent this week, I noticed it more. But, seriously, Melissa, Caitlin (in Paso Doble, channeling her earlier Bollywood look) and Asuka in her solo, were just a few sparkles away from a gentlemen’s club. Blame the show? Or is it an inherently ballroom issue? That’s a dissertation waiting to happen.

So, okay, Asuka and Jonathan got the boot. It’s about time. That kid can do some mean flips and not much else. Do you have a different opinion on the matter? Post your thoughts! I’m out of town next week, but will meet you back here for Week 8.

Until then…