• Kristyn Burtt

'DWTS,' Season 23: Does Youth Or Maturity Win The Mirror Ball Trophy?

Updated: Apr 8


What should a freestyle dance look like? It’s something I have pondered a lot the last few seasons of Dancing With the Stars because an angsty contemporary piece just doesn’t cut it anymore. 


Once Derek Hough broke the mold back in Season 16 with a stripped-down contemporary piece with eventual winner Kellie Pickler, the style has been overused and overwrought on the show throughout each season.


More: Halloween Night Isn't the Same Without Mark Ballas on 'DWTS'


However, pros who have strategized their choreography have made contemporary work well for freestyle in subsequent seasons. Derek with Bindi IrwinMaks Chmerkovskiy with Meryl Davis and Peta Murgatroyd with Nyle DiMarco are just a few routines that come to mind.

On the flip side, I enjoy the super-sized dance where pros just go bonkers with dancers, set pieces and choreography in a way that is authentic to their partner’s personalities. Mark Ballas did this best in Season 19 with Sadie Robertson; they may not have won, but you sure remember their Mario Brothers piece.


Jana Kramer and Gleb Savchenko had the toughest of weeks because he was ill with the flu. While I thought the tango was their best dance of the night, I don’t think their contemporary showed off enough of their journey. It didn’t feel special; it felt like any other week. I know that a lack of time, probably hindered some of the cleanup rehearsals needed for Week 11, but Jana should be proud of her work this season.


More: 'Dancing with the Stars': Let's Talk About Laurie Hernandez


For Calvin Johnson and Lindsay Arnold, their enthusiastic freestyle hit all of the right notes. While the couple has been notoriously and unfairly underscored by the judges all season, this final dance remained true to their partnership — fun and full of content. Lindsay has developed into a promising choreographer at the age of 22 and I hope she shares that talent beyond DWTS.

The final two couples each made a strong statement for the win. While both had a few minor missteps in their Redemption Dances, they each hit a home run when it came to the freestyle dance.


More: James Hinchcliffe Is The 'Dancing With The Stars' Comeback Kid


Val Chmerkovskiy wisely utilized Laurie Hernandez’s youthful energy for their final piece. Her sparkling personality was seen throughout the dance. She moved with a freedom we hadn’t seen consistently this season, but she let her joy shine through when it truly counted. I also want to commend Val for not taking the easy route with Laurie and throwing in a million gymnastics tricks. He showed off her skills as a dancer, not as an Olympian.


Sharna Burgess has impressed me as pro for thinking outside the box. This is when a contemporary piece truly works. She had James Hinchcliffe perform alone at the beginning and the end of the dance to a monologue. You wouldn’t be able to trust a lot of contestants to confidently perform something that emotional, but James succeeded. It was a moving and authentic moment for the couple, who also had their share of bumps in the road with Sharna’s injury and James’ missteps late in the game.


How do you vote in the end? Do you go for youth or do you go for maturity? Their fan bases are equally vocal this week. Val and Sharna proved their mettle as choreographers. How does this season conclude? It’s the Sophie’s Choice of Season 23.

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