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OTRC: 'Dancing With The Stars': Dance By Dance Recap - Race to the mirror ball trophy

'Keeping Up With The Kardashians' star Rob Kardashian and his partner Cheryl Burke during their freestyle dance on 'Dancing With The Stars' on November 21, 2011.

It's the beginning of the end for season 13 of "Dancing with the Stars." This grand finale will last three hours, over two nights; one quick, dance filled hour on Monday, and two hours on Tuesday (and I'm sure that will include a lot of filler!) For round one, Ricki Lake, J.R. Martinez, and Rob Kardashian are performing one dance they have not yet performed on the show; and then the all important, always fun freestyle! Here's how night one played out, from highest to lowest score:

Rob Kardashian and Cheryl Burke - 27 out of 30 for Waltz / 30 out of 30 for Freestyle / Total: 57 points

You read that right: the come from behind kid had the highest score of the night. It was his second dance, the freestyle that put him over the top. But he started with a romantic Waltz. Rob's biggest struggle has been when he's asked to be graceful and since he has the Waltz this week it's definitely a hurdle. Judge Bruno Tonioli visits their rehearsal, and he works with Rob on simply walking with grace, and intention. Again, we see just how far this kid has come during the ten weeks of the competition.

Bruno says Rob and Cheryl Burke's Waltz is full of expression; flowing, and glowing. Carrie Ann says he's the male version of Cinderella who has made it to the ball and who deserves to be here. (And that allowed Tom Bergeron to give Rob the new nickname "CinderFella"). We see three nines from the judges for a total of 27 out of 30.

Rob's Freestyle can be summed up with the very eloquent word of "wow!" Tom and the judges all reference that Rob is "peaking" at the right time and that is never more apparent than on this dance. Cheryl is so good at choreographing to her star's talent and personality; they start the dance a little slow, but still sharp, and then the momentum builds to a full out raucous party. Rob said he never imagined he'd be able to receive a perfect score on this show, but tonight, he did for this freestyle: 30 out of 30.

Ricki Lake and Derek Hough - 27 out of 30 for Cha Cha and 27 out of 30 for Freestyle / Total: 54 points

You want to focus on the dance moves at this point, but there's no getting around the fact that the first thing you notice is how svelte Ricki looks! Great red dress, super short, that shows off her legs? there are 40-something moms all around this country who are envious of her journey! But that doesn't take anything away from the actual cha cha that she performed with Derek Hough. The duo had a rehearsal visit from Judge Carrie Ann Inaba, who basically instructed Ricki to not shy away from her new found sexiness. They got strong remarks from all three judges, and strong scores of triple nines: 27 out of 30.

Ricki's dance highlighted what the Freestyle is all about. It had plenty of "real" dance steps (apparently Samba and Quickstep we learn from the judges) and also plenty of lifts and throws and spin to make it pure fun. Derek smartly started the dance showing a giant sized picture of the "old" Ricki. Then he had her burst through to show off the smaller and sassier Ricki: a literal "breakthrough." The judges praised the way Derek meshed the dance steps in his choreography, along with their entertaining chemistry. Score: 27 out of 30.

J.R. Martinez and Karina Smirnoff - 24 out of 30 for Cha Cha / 30 out of 30 for Freestyle / Total: 54 points

Well we can't blame the bad ankle this week! J.R.'s doctor okayed him to dance and he learned a fast and fun Cha Cha from Karina Smirnoff. Head judge Len Goodman paid a visit to their rehearsal, where he encouraged J.R. to use his hips to "work it!" Once he hit the dance floor, J.R. seemed relaxed and comfortable, and the crowd loved it. But the judges didn't. Apparently his musicality was off just a bit and both Carrie Ann and Len marked down points for being off time. Scores: 8-7-9 for a total of 24 out of 30.

J.R. more than redeems himself with his Freestyle routine. Karina has choreographed a dance filled with Latin flavor, and a few lifts/tricks that we've never seen before. There's one move at the beginning that left me breathless (and a little worried about Karina's safety). When they nailed the lift, it seemed to reenergize the two and they had a blast throughout the rest of their dance.

Both Carrie Ann and Bruno called J.R. the comeback kid, and I'm sure receiving a perfect score left him ending the night feeling a lot better about his chances. Score: 30 out of 30

Is it over? Oh, no, no, no my dance friends. On Tuesday night, each couple will perform their favorite dance of the season. The two couples with the highest combined fan votes, and judges' scores, then go on to perform the instant Samba. And THEN we will see who reigns as this season's champions!

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