'Dancing With the Stars' Starts Shrugging Off the Rules for Its 'All-Stars' Season

Derek Hough Shawn Johnson - P 2012

Derek Hough Shawn Johnson - P 2012

The rules are breaking on Dancing With the Stars. And it's probably for the best.

Going into the third week of the ABC series' All-Stars season, little had been different from previous cycles -- other than the familiar cast's histories with the show and the debatably useful introduction of "half points." But after a few notable differences during Monday's performance show, the energy level seems to be shifting.

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Most of the remaining 11 couples seemed to make an effort to bring new elements -- including a live donkey -- to the ballroom. Bragging rights, however, go to Derek Hough and Shawn Johnson. The duo tackled a Quickstep that barely resembled any of the hundreds of others previously tackled on the show.

They ignored the cardinal rule by frequently breaking hold, but it didn't much matter. The springboard flips, perfectly synced steps and stage diving had the entire studio on its feet by the end. The judges, even the ever skeptical Len Goodman, praised the adventurous moves, calling it the best dance in the show's history -- though they did dock them points for ignoring convention.

What Tuesday's double elimination will decide is whether or not that score actually matters.

"One thing I've learned on this show is that I want to have really good dances that I can go back to and enjoy," Hough said backstage. "I don't go home two years from now and look at my sevens or my nines and my eights."

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The math behind the weekly results places just 50 percent of the stock in the scores, with the rest coming from votes. And during a season where the scores are so evenly matched, a memorable routine that doesn't necessarily get to the top of the leader board may be the best strategy.

"[The scores] are slightly redundant in a few areas," added Hough. "But I really wanted the judges to love it."

Emmit Smith and Cheryl Burke, who haven't topped with scores since the premiere, agreed that if the dancers are up to the choreography, they shouldn't be holding anything back on account of rules.

"It's just about entertainment at the end of the day," said Burke. "They did it cleverly. If you're going to break the rules, break them. Go 110 percent."

All might be welcome to bend the rules a little next week. In a new element announced during the broadcast, those who make it to the fourth week will get to pick the dance styles for their rivals and many of the styles offered will not be ones previously showcased on the strictly ballroom competition.

Does that mean there might be hope for hip hop or other popular genres on Dancing With the Stars yet? The addition of Paula Abdul to next week's judges panel certainly lends itself to wishful thinking.