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'Dancing' with each other

I tuned in near the end of DWTS last night (my own reality having gotten in the way, no news there), and caught only the last 30 minutes -- but what golden moments they were. I felt lucky to have seen a couple of true transformations. First, Kurt Warner, who has shed his shell and learned how to truly move. That was a seriously terrific jive, with partner Anna Trebunskaya looking adorably snazzy in her retro pinup shorts, but completely 21st century in her speed and precision. And his! That football footwork, his total athleticism. He was light, quick, looked amazing in those snug trousers, and just danced the heck out of those two minutes.

Next stunner was Bristol Palin. The trip to her Alaska home, where Palin introduced her partner, Mark Ballas, to her mother, was utterly beside the point--the real story is that Palin's dancing continues to fascinate. She is unmanaged and completely charming. Let's hope she stays that way. Ballas deserves a pot of gold for the yeoman's work he's doing -- he is perfect for her. Their quickstep was dancing the way it's supposed to be -- you were caught up in it, in the steps, the sweep, the changing dynamics, the human moment -- not a bit of blinding razzle-dazzle. The way he swept her around the stage like trailing silk -- ladies, don't we all dream of that?

Partnerships have been on my mind since returning from a brief trip to San Francisco recently, where I met up with modern-dance choreographer Mark Morris over lunch. Morris, like many dance professionals I know, is quite keen on the dance reality shows on TV. (His favorite, like mine, is Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" -- which he says he watches with his phone in hand, so he can text friends during the broadcast.) We talked about how hard the professional partners work on DWTS, making the nondancer "stars" they're paired up with look good.

"But that's what every dancer in the world does," Morris said. He's right, of course, and I've been thinking about how a good portion of the work of a dancer onstage is to make his or her partner look fabulous. It's good to keep in mind next time you see a brilliant pas de deux -- you're seeing not just the technical strengths of the individual dancers, but also -- and less obviously, and equally importantly -- their wisdom and skill in showing off their partners. Dancing is a democratic art, whether on a proscenium stage or a TV studio. It's an instructive model to live by.

By Sarah Kaufman  | September 28, 2010; 8:21 AM ET
Categories:  'Dancing With the Stars', Sarah Kaufman  
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