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Paige VanZant switches up on DWTS

Things are getting close on Season 22 of Dancing With The Stars, but UFC strawweight Paige VanZant and her partner Mark Ballas continue to reside near the top of the leaderboard.

On last week’s Disney-themed episode, Team Pow Right in the Kisser closed out the show with a Toy Story-styled Quickstep to “You’ve Got a Friend In Me” and brought the house down, earning high praise from guest judge Zendaya and rave reviews from the show’s resident trio of Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli. Their scores reflected the comments, as the duo was awarded nines across the board, tying Ginger Zee and Valentin Chmerkovskiy for the high score of the night.

This week offered the potential for a shake-up to the standings, as it was “America’s Switch Up,” with viewers voting for new pairings between stars and professionals, creating a situation that feels like a return to Week One, where partners have to get comfortable with each other in a hurry.

Vocabulary changes, dynamics are different and chemistry has to be manufactured in a matter of days or else the dances are going to be off and teams that have been rolling could stumble – without dancing with one another.

For instance, current leader Wanya Morris, who switched partners with Von Miller to dance with Witney Carson (Von danced with Lindsey Arnold), received his first round of criticism from the judges, receiving sevens from Len and guest judge Maksim Chmerkovskiy and eights from the more forgiving Carrie Ann and Bruno for a total of 30; a good score, but not the chart-topping numbers Wanya and Lindsey have been pulling all season.

Of course, there was also the potential that some of the new teams would crush their performances as well, as the penultimate pairing of the night did.

Nyle DiMarco and Sharna Burgess delivered a Viennese Waltz that left everyone in tears at the exact same time that it got really, really dusty in my living room. True story. Dust. Out of nowhere. Weird.

The reviews were fantastic and the scores were even better, with Len offering up the first 10 of the season and Nyle and Sharna earning a 37, the top score of the night.

Making things more interesting this week is that VanZant’s top female competition, Ginger, was paired with her pro, Mark, creating a one-week situation where Team Pow Right in the Kisser were competing against each other at the top of the standings. And their Salsa was really, really good, earning a combined score of 32 to put them in the lead through the first four pairs.

But here’s the thing: if there was anyone on the show that wasn’t going to be fazed by switching partners for a week, it’s VanZant, who danced with fill-in partner Alan Bernsten in Week 2 when Ballas injured his back during rehearsals the day before the show. VanZant and Bernsten scored a 24, topping the leaderboard for the week, so the switch-up might not be an issue.

This week, America decided to pair “12 Gauge” with Sasha Farber, the regular professional of Facts of Life star Kim Fields, for a Rumba that forced VanZant to really work outside her comfort zone for the first time all season.

Whatever hesitation there was in rehearsals was gone when they hit the floor, as the new partners produced a Rumba that earned big applause from the audience, but mixed reviews from the judges.

“You are more than capable of winning the show, in my opinion,” started Maks, who was focused on technique and correct movements all night. “This is a Rumba and there was one step from Rumba in this routine. I have a problem with that.”

“You’re sexy and I know it,” gushed Bruno. “Not just that, you played it beautifully. It was sensual and romantic. I loved it. You were really dancing from your heart and I loved it.”

Carrie Ann was on-board with this one-week version of Pow Right in the Kisser as well, telling VanZant, “Your quality of movement is so multi-dimensional; you’re able to be fierce and feminine in one moment. I love watching you dance and I think as a partnership, you guys were really spot on tonight.”

But Len wasn’t as excited by the performance, even though he still had good things to say about VanZant overall.

“You’re a lovely dancer – you’re clean, you’re precise, you’ve got beautiful timing,” he started. “But you’ve got to work more on selling it to me and be more emotional. I want to see it coming out more. I want to see you dance more. It was acceptable, but it wasn’t exceptional.”

Despite his somewhat critical thoughts, Len joined Carrie Ann and Bruno in awarding the group an eight, while Maks gave them a seven, bringing their total to 31 and leaving them in the middle of the pack for the week.

No eliminations this week, so tune in next week to see how things go when Team Pow Right in the Kisser is reunited.

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