For DWTS's Massey, second time proves to be a charm

ON THE MOVE: Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer stole the show.
ON THE MOVE: Kyle Massey and Lacey Schwimmer stole the show. (Adam Larkey)
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By Sarah Kaufman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 22, 2010; 11:44 PM

Here's the message from Monday's "Dancing With the Stars" finals episode: Do what you love and the money - or in this case, the mirrorball trophy - will follow.

You could hardly ask for three contestants with less in common than the slender, intense onetime dancer and movie star Jennifer Grey, the young mother and total nonperfomer Bristol Palin, and the laid-back, rotund TV actor Kyle Massey. But for me, their showdown for the championship of Season 11 came down to one of the top criteria for any dancer: Who looked the most comfortable on the dance floor? Who was moving from the heart, and not just the hips? My vote goes to Massey.

Each pair performed a "redemption dance," a do-over of a style they had blown at some point earlier in the season, and a freestyle number that, as its name implies, could be anything they chose.

In both, Massey and partner Lacey Schwimmer showed us what popular dancing is all about: the happiness of a gut response to music. Their foxtrot was clear and smooth, with a propulsive onrolling rhythm, and in it, Massey proved he was fully the equal of Schwimmer, a seasoned professional born into a dance family. (Her brother, Benji, was a winner on Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance" and her father was a competitive swing dancer.) By that I mean he actually moved his feet, skating along in the varied rhythmic patterns, just as much as she did; he didn't just stand there like a maypole, planted and available for swinging upon.

You had a good idea that their freestyle was going to sparkle from the rehearsal scenes. Schwimmer told us her goal was, sensibly enough, "to bring out Kyle's personality," and Massey said he knew he wanted to dance to "Tootsee Roll," the irresistibly boppy hip-hop tune by 69 Boyz. In the finale, they wore matching yellow-and-blue-striped outfits (his was a humongous T-shirt and shorts; hers consisted primarily of a spangled bra) and the effect was adorable. Their old-school number felt like a celebration; it was extraordinarily jolly, from start to finish.

Massey, a person of high spirits generally, went even further here - he skidded with abandon to the floor, something a nondancer might be apprehensive about, and kept pace with Schwimmer at every stomp and turn. They were on equal terms, perfectly matched in style, in their powerful body types and in their exuberant temperaments, and they made each other look good. You knew they loved it out there.

Compare that with the two other couples. I have admired Grey's dancing as much as the judges have, but Monday night she traded in her season-long verve and elegance for stiffness. She was restrained in her paso doble; possibly because of the neck injury that has plagued her. Her freestyle with partner Derek Hough was theatrical and impressively athletic - she seemed to be up in the air more than on her feet, and her form, as always, was clear and definite.

Yet while Grey tossed in a few references to "Dirty Dancing," including a watermelon, her dancing lacked the quality that made her so memorable in that movie: her physical abandon, her looseness and her relaxation, which had less to do with her youth than with her willingness to relinquish herself to the movement. That's what Massey had in spades, and Grey couldn't recapture it.

Then there was Palin, poor thing. Her matchup with Mark Ballas has never been an easy one, but they surely hit bottom on this episode. Perhaps he's trying to make up for her lack of skill, but the way he skitters frantically around her, he resembles nothing so much as a hungry flea. She, meanwhile, looked simply tired.

In the freestyle portion, Palin clearly hated the idea of shimmying to the "Cell Block Tango" from Broadway's "Chicago" - a show, she admitted in the rehearsal clip, that she'd never heard of. Instead of Ballas's bullying, what she needed was Schwimmer's common sense - a partner sensitive enough to bring out her personality, to work with her on a dance she could love. Instead, she had someone who wanted to shove steps down her protesting throat.

Still, she didn't embarrass herself, considering the setup in a cage and the skimpy black teddy were all entirely wrong for her.

The judges blamed her for not living up to their memories of "Chicago," which is their problem, and Ballas's fault, not hers. If only she'd been able to do what she loved.

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