Duality reigned Monday on "Dancing With The Stars: All Stars." On a night when many of us were still thinking about the damage wrought on the East Coast by superstorm Sandy, the all-star dancers were asked to blend different styles of dancing into one seamless whole.
It was an odd, confusing night as television's frothiest show tried to have fun while acknowledging the devastation inflicted on communities in New York, New Jersey and elsewhere on the East Coast. Adding to the distraction was Tuesday's presidential election, which means no elimination show Tuesday -- but a double elimination next week.
As contestant Kirstie Alley put it: "I've been thinking more about Sandy than dancing."
Olympian Shawn Johnson had even more duality in her life, when sidelined pro Mark Ballas stepped in to be her partner this week after Derek Hough injured his neck. Ballas was Johnson's partner on her first appearance on "DWTS" and took her all the way to the mirrorball trophy. Hough and Ballas are childhood friends and two of the best choreographers on the show -- which meant they couldn't agree on the routine in practice.
"It's like having two chefs in the kitchen," said Johnson. "It's really confusing me. I have two dances and two partners."
That didn't stop Johnson from getting her best scores of the season -- three perfect "10s" from the judges after she and Ballas delivered a swirling fusion of tango and paso doble.
"That was fusion!," said judge Carrie Ann Inaba, "So seamlessly entwined."
On a topsy-turvy night, stars who have been bumping along the bottom or gliding in the middle suddenly rose to the top. Melissa Rycroft and Kelly Monaco both delivered dances that should keep them in the game a little longer.
Rycroft combined the cha-cha-cha with the tango and was told she "had never been sexier" by judge Bruno Tonioli. Monaco, the soap star who is still working the romance storyline with her much younger partner, Valentin Chmerkovskiy, fused the foxtrot and cha-cha-cha into a tight routine that wowed the judges.
As the ladies soar, the strongmen frontrunners don't seem so invincible. Ice skater Apolo Ohno took his shirt off during a cha-cha-cha/paso doble, but continues in the bottom half of the draw. And NFL legend Emmitt Smith -- who looks butch even in a fuschia-colored outfit -- was "in his head a little bit," as judge Inaba noted after his rhumba-samba.
The best of the male contestants, Frenchman Gilles Marini, went south of the border to combine an Argentinian tango and a Brazilian samba that was praised by the judges.
"That's how we do it the South American way," gushed judge Bruno Tonioli.
Which leaves Kirstie, the always entertaining grand dame of the show. How do you solve a problem like Kirstie Alley? As readers of this page know, we were pretty emphatic that Bristol Palin needed to go sooner rather than later. Now, we have the Kirstie phenomenon, where her fans are keeping her around too long. Her partner, Maks Chmerkovskiy, is able to manhandle Alley across the floor. But truly, she's not of the same caliber as the remaining, stronger, younger, more accomplished dancers. Still, she sure is fun to watch, and her backstage comments are wicked and sharp.
As Kirstie correctly noted during a rehearsal chat with Maks, easily half the stars who have won the mirrorball trophy were not the best dancers of their particular seasons. Wink, wink to my fans.
But Monday's quick step-samba was filled with "incidents," as the judges noted, and her samba "fell apart." Kirstie called her scores of three "8s" from the judges "generous."
Can fan favorite Kirstie survive a double elimination next week? Who can stay uninjured as the season grinds toward the finals? Is Kelly and Val's love real or just a cheap gimmick? Can anyone stop juggernaut Johnson? Will jovial pro dancer Tony Dovolani, always a bridesmaid, finally get his hands on the trophy with the help of rising filly Rycroft?
So many plotlines, swirling like a ... oh, never mind.