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Stars That Truly Dance

By Sarah Kaufman

Two men stole my heart last night on Dancing With the Stars, and they couldn't be more different: one's a rookie, one's a pro; one's a big galumph, the other is a slim firecracker. But they share what I look for most in a dancer: honesty. Not flash or the hard sell, but something real--which is not, for the most part, what this show trades in. But that's precisely why I've fallen for Kurt Warner and Louis van Amstel.

Warner, the former NFL quarterback and a six-foot-plus hulk, is the newbie on this turf. But he brings what the raft of entertainers who comprise most of the cast lack: sincerity. He's endearingly earnest. His foxtrot last night with partner Anna Trebunskaya was not about himself, it was about the two of them together. It wasn't a self-indulgent display--it was teamwork. (Maybe that's a gift of the gridiron--in contrast with the celebrity mindset, Warner knows how to lead and how to depend on others.) Warner has a dynamite set of teeth and his smile is what you notice first, but then you're drawn in by his studiousness-- the way he cares about the steps and about using them to express something about him, and her, and the moment.

The foxtrot is not a flashy dance; its motor impulse is more akin to clockworks than, say, the hip-driven stampede nature of the samba. Warner's form was large-scale, appropriately, but he moved with ease; he has a skimming quality that's lovely to watch. I was struck by how he led with his hips, carrying his weight high and pulled up out of his legs--not a football orientation; how impressive it is that he's assimilated the difference! His arms are still somewhat fixed, but that doesn't bother me in the least. They're authentically fixed--he is, after all, an athlete first. What comes across most prominently is an inner grace--he's believably agreeable, he's not self-conscious, he's considerate of his partner and he's committed to their dance, from the inside out.

"You're so charming," gushed judge Carrie Ann Inaba, "and the two of you, your chemistry is fantastic." Pretty much sums up the winning ingredients, in my book.

Contrast Warner's presentation with Margaret Cho, who performed a samba with van Amstel. Thumbs up on the LGBT-terrific rainbow frock--and van Amstel sported a rainbow belt--but I didn't buy the rest of it. It's no surprise, I suppose, that Cho's all flash--that comes naturally enough, as a standup comic, a solo performer--but it's not a great shtick for ballroom dance. It doesn't play out well in her partnership; last night the two of them noodled around more apart than together. That wasn't so bad for van Amstel, whose hard-hitting strutting, all in keeping with the music, the atmosphere, the sambarific roll, I could watch all night--especially in that peacock-blue outfit. ("The return of Jack Lalanne," as emcee Tom Bergeron put it, somewhat cattily. But I wouldn't have wanted him in anything else.) Hips rocking, snapping like they mean it. Showing us how it'sdone, and then some. What's that T-shirt wisdom: Old guys rock? Sub in mature. And watch 'em rock on.

By Sarah Kaufman  | October 5, 2010; 9:20 AM ET
Categories:  'Dancing With the Stars', Sarah Kaufman  
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