'DWTS' Premiere: So Snooki Turns Out to Be a Pretty Good Dancer. Who Knew?

Season 17 kicked off with a few pleasant surprises -- and some really good moves!

Twelve celebrities trotted on stage for the debut episode of Dancing with the Stars, Season 17. Who surprised us? Who turned out to, you know, actually know how to dance? 

Believe it or not, one the most talented performers was... Snooki! Perhaps it's because we've witnessed her fall on her face in a drunken stupor so many times that we were pleasantly surprised to learn that Ms. Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi is actually rather light on her feet. When the Jersey Shore star took this dance floor (as opposed to the usual one at her favorite N.J. club, Karma), the party girl schtick fell away, revealing a capable cha cha dancer who seemed to have no trouble keeping up with her pro partner (new guy Sasha Farber). Judge Carrie Ann Inaba liked her "tone and form." Len Goodman offered praise for her energy and tiny stature, calling her a "pocket rocket" (apparently not realizing that this was a euphemism for something else). While he qualified it with the phrase "for a dancer," Goodman even gave her accolades for her well-placed legs. Watch here:

Less surprising was the crowd's (and our own) heartfelt response to the 74-year-old, terminally ill Valerie Harper. No one expected her to out-dance her competitors, but she and her partner Tristan MacManus delivered a respectable foxtrot -- and received an ecstatic audience ovation and tearful praises from the judges for it. "How can you criticize a national treasure?" asked Bruno Tonioli. Answer: You don't. Watch here:

Amber Riley was a natural on the dance floor, as expected -- she and partner Derek Hough landed at the top of the leader board. A sweet surprise? Seeing her Glee castmates cheering her on in the audience so early in the season. Watch here:

Jack Osbourne also had his famous family in the audience (Ozzy Osbourne, Sharon Osbourne and former DWTS contestant Kelly Osbourne). Not only did he come off as charming in the pre-performance clip, but he danced well, too. "You were fabulous," Goodman said after he danced the foxtrot with his partner, Cheryl Burke. Watch here:


Pretty Little Liars' Brant Daugherty and Peta Murgatroyd quickly established themselves as Season 17's Val Chmerkovskiy and Kelly Monaco -- i.e. the gorgeous, showmantic pair with sexual tension in spades. (Hey, why not? Monaco got all the way to the finals during her season!) Watch here:


Speaking of sexual tension, Bill Nye (the Science Guy) kicked off a string of nerd jokes with one about the chemistry between him and his partner, the beautiful new pro Tyne Stecklein. (She looked horrified, naturally.) Watch here:

But Nye's gentle humor (he's basically a nice TV science teacher) went a long way toward endearing him to the audience. Sadly, his dance skills couldn't keep up. "This formula is not going to get you the Nobel Prize,” said Bruno, of course. Oh, Bruno. You need a better joke writer.  

Ah, but here's the best news for fans: The re-energized show (new format, eclectic, recognizable stars) attracted over 16 million viewers, which was 22 percent more than its premiere last fall. 

Jennifer Graham Kizer is an Atlanta-based writer who covers pop culture and watches too much TV. Luckily, iVillage gives her an excuse to watch even more. Follow her on Google+.

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