Sometimes change is a good thing and on Dancing with the Stars change can even be a great thing. In the Most Memorable Year week, Derek Hough’s new strategy to help Marilu Henner succeeded. Rather than having Marilu learn all the dance moves in one go, Derek focused on a more fluid and minimal style and it worked.

Marilu received her highest scores of the season. She even ended up in second place on the leaderboard, coming in way ahead of the undisputed frontrunner Laurie Hernandez. This is an undeniable victory for Marilu and Derek, but there is still a long way to go. Derek should not being feeling too comfortable with Marilu’s ability to dominate the Dancing with the Stars leaderboard just yet.

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A Good Start (to a Long Finish Line) 

In his most recent blog post with TVGuide (where Derek first shared his more minimal strategy) the dancer confirmed that he is going with the new plan again for the upcoming Latin Week. “I’m going to try to take the same approach this week and let her feel out the dance again,” the Dancing with the Stars professional writes. “But it’s harder with the cha-cha because there’s more visible technique with the dance that you can see. This is one of the first dances where her legs will be exposed. So we’re working on refining her legs.”

Hough continued by writing, “From a technical aspect, I want her to work on the spotting, the settling of the weight on the floor, the hip action, the turns and making sure she keeps it small. But as an overall dance, I want to try to find moments where she can enjoy it and focus on the technique of the dance without over-thinking it.”

There is more working against Marilu and Derek than a difficult cha-cha. Marilu’s “Most Memorable” Waltz (embedded below) has definitely earned her safety for the next week of Dancing with the Stars. She’s so high on the leaderboard that it will boost her scores and more than a few viewers will be moved by the story of her mom. 

Derek and Marilu’s waltz is so good that it will probably keep her safe for a few more weeks, especially as long as other stars like Ryan Lochte, Amber Rose and Maureen McCormick are in the competition. Marilu is still a long way from being a semi-permanent star at the top of the leaderboard, however.

Too Late to Recover?

Marilu’s problem is the same one that is plaguing a lot of the stars on this season. She is way too much in her own head and as a result is either too stiff or too messy. Derek Hough has done so well on Dancing with the Stars because he has often formed immediate strong connections with his celebrity partners. Whether it is because of the age difference or because, as Marilu put it, she is intimidated by Derek, the two have not been off to a harmonious start. It’s likely this lack of cohesion, more than anything else, that is causing Marilu’s dancing problems.  

The silver lining with Marilu and Derek, unlike a pair like Maureen and Artem or Amber and Maks, is Derek has seemed to figured out the difference. Derek knows where things have been going wrong between Marilu and himself and is in the process of smoothing them over. He just can’t rest and assume things are fixed. 

“After having that breakthrough,” Derek writes, referring the waltz, “I think it kind of takes the pressure off of us. I know it does for me personally. I feel like a broken record, but I really just wanted her to experience that joy. I think Marilu is no longer scared of disappointing me!”


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Later he wrote, “All jokes aside, we talked about it. I said I understand and I said, ‘This is your experience. This is your journey. I’m here to help. I’m here to serve. This is yours. I want you to own it.’ I think she gets it now and we’re good. I don’t want her to be scared of me! I am probably the least scary person in the world!”

All of that sounds good, and as mentioned, at least Derek is now aware of the problem. Still, Marilu is “scared” of Derek because he is a much better dancer than her and he is used to (through no real personal fault) to his celebrity partners rising to his level. It’s one thing to acknowledge that fact and it’s another entirely to fix it. 

It certainly doesn’t help that Derek has an extremely busy schedule this season. As he constantly mentions during Dancing with the Stars, Derek is juggling a lot of balls this season, between Hairspray Live! and his postponed role on Broadway’s Singin’ in the Rain, as he coaches Marilu. Their relationship needs a lot of work beyond just the dancing steps and it seems unclear if Derek will have the time necessary to devote to Marilu. 

But what do you think? Can Derek and Marilu keep the ball rolling this season? Will she only get better from this point or was the waltz her peak? Do you think Derek has enough time to mend the fences of his relationship with Marilu?

Dancing with the Stars season 23 airs Mondays at 8/7c on ABC. Want more news? Like our Dancing with the Stars Facebook page for the latest updates!

(Images and video courtesy of ABC)

Derek Stauffer

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV

Derek is a Philadelphia based writer and unabashed TV and comic book junkie. The time he doesn’t spend over analyzing all things nerdy he is working on his resume to be the liaison to the Justice League.