Gimmicks Galore on ABC's 'Dancing' with the...Props!

The reality competition heats up for the top 10 couples -- but are characters and comedy overshadowing the footwork?

Use this week's dance to tell a story. That was the assignment that cranky, oh-so-proper judge Len Goodman gave the contestants of ABC's Dancing with the Stars going into this week's round. Some stars, however, interpreted the directive another way: Break out the  gimmicks and over-the-top acting, and (maybe) nobody will notice your feet.

While the network tallies viewer votes, we give props to:

Jake Pavelka & Chelsie Hightower, dancing a quickstep to The Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian": Pavelka's not a professional entertainer, and his stiff physicality usually makes it obvious. But his Indiana Jones-type role, finding Cleopatra alive in her tomb, seemed to loosen him up. The goofy mugging! The strutting! The guy's next stop could be a Guys and Dolls audition! Granted, Goodman saw through the duo's reliance on garish props. "Overall the production was very slick," he said, "but some of the dancing was a little bit slack." Still, judge Bruno Tonioli admitted, "as a performance, very good."

Niecy Nash & Louis van Amstel, waltzing (prop-free!) to the ballad  "With You I'm Born Again": Nash wears her emotions on her sleeve. She dissolved into tears while talking in rehearsal about discrimination that interracial couples endured in the '60s. An earnest actress, she channeled the bittersweet emotions of falling for an "unacceptable" mate. If only her dancing were as perfect. "You must work now on better technique, gotta work on your feet," said Goodman. "Emotionally, though, you got it just right."

Evan Lysacek & Anna Trebunskaya, dancing a quickstep to "Hot Honey Rag" from Chicago: Playing a funny, corny husband-and-wife team, this pair didn't need mummy coffins, toy cameras or mops. They just danced well.

No props for:

Erin Andrews & Maksim Chmerkovskiy, waltzing to "See the Day": The beleaguered ESPN reporter wore a glittery blindfold as Maks led her, as if their waltz was a "trust exercise." No doubt, she figured she'd score points for this extra challenge. But the blindfold tensed her up, and the dance suffered. "The most boring start I've ever seen," said Goodman. "It's a waltz, sunshine."

Kate Gosselin & Tony Dovolani, dancing a paso doble to the Lady Gaga single "Paparazzi": “Its my story over the past two years," Gosselin had told E! News about the choreography. In the routine, Dovolani portrayed a relentless photographer with a giant camera, while Gosselin played her newly glam but highly irritated self. But poor Kate marched more than danced. Her hatred for paparazzi was visceral, but even an acting coach couldn't help morph her anger into graceful movement.

The last dance in the broadcast (Nicole Scherzinger & Derek Hough's slapsticky sailor-themed quickstep to "Anything Goes") was so slick -- the Pussycat Doll singer is a pretty experienced dancer, don't forget -- you know they were brandishing their prop mops afterward thinking, "We just wiped the floor with the competition!" And in conclusion, it must be said: the award for most sly use of a prop goes to soap star Aiden Turner, who struggled in rehearsal but melted in delight when his daughter -- an extremely cute baby -- was brought into the dance studio to help him celebrate his birthday during a break. All the while, we imagine voters coast to coast prepared to dial in, just to see more of that adorable cherub. Well played, Aiden!

PHOTOS: The Dancing with the Stars Cast Gets Ready to Rhumba!

What's been your favorite Dancing with the Stars performance so far this season? Chime in below!

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