Television

Bristol Palin Makes Her 'Dancing' Debut With 'Mama Told Me Not To Come'

Mark Ballas, Bristol Palin, Brooke Burke

Bristol Palin -- she would be the one in the fringed dress -- stands with her partner Mark Ballas (left) and host Brooke Burke (right) as she receives her scores on the first night of ABC's Dancing With The Stars. Adam Larkey/ABC hide caption

itoggle caption Adam Larkey/ABC

Bristol Palin's debut as a contestant on Dancing With The Stars on Monday night ended neither in embarrassment nor in triumph, but in an 18-point cha-cha that put her near the middle of the pack — in a heart-pounding tie with 76-year-old Florence Henderson, but comfortably ahead of David Hasselhoff and The Situation.

It wasn't clear exactly how Palin would be billed; she's not the first "celebrity" without a simple identifier like "singer" or "NFL superstar" to put beside her name. The show went with "teen activist."

BRISTOL PALIN

Bristol Palin started her routine in this sparkly suit. Adam Larkey/ABC hide caption

itoggle caption Adam Larkey/ABC

But it wasn't her teen activism that formed the har-har joke of her first routine; it was her mom, Sarah Palin. (That's not a guess; she and her partner talked about it during rehearsals, and the idea was to make her look kind of like her mother.) (Uh, up to a point.)

Bristol took the stage with her hair in a bun, wearing a conservative suit. Well, it was conservative except that it was covered with sparkles, because this is Dancing With The Stars, and that's the law. Of course, the suit was also less than conservative in the sense that once the dance began (to Three Dog Night's "Mama Told Me Not To Come" as performed by the house band), it was torn away to reveal a red fringed dress considerably more appropriate for the cha-cha.

BRISTOL PALIN, MARK BALLAS

Bristol Palin and Mark Ballas performed the cha-cha to "Mama Told Me Not To Come." Adam Larkey/ABC hide caption

itoggle caption Adam Larkey/ABC

Bristol isn't a great dancer, but she's certainly not as awkward as some of the other people who debuted on the show last night. (I'm looking at you, Michael Bolton.) Her biggest problem in rehearsals was the perfectly understandable fact that, called upon to perform some of the moves the cha-cha requires, she felt profoundly silly. (If you've ever had the word "shimmy" said to you as a direct order, you probably know what she was feeling.) It's always tough for people who have no performing background to speak of, in either entertainment or athletics, because they always seem a little adrift.

Other "highlights": Jennifer Grey performed a Viennese waltz shamelessly set to "These Arms Of Mine," so that she could cry about her memories of dancing to it with Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. (She then danced it very well, which went a long way toward making up for the manipulative choice of music.)

David Hasselhoff shook his massive-amounts-of-moneymaker to "Sex Bomb" (hey, I didn't pick the music) while looking like he might pass out at any moment. Margaret Cho flapped giant gold wings (in which she then became comically entangled) during an ill-conceived waltz to "We Are The Champions." (Bet you didn't even know that was a waltz!) Rick Fox, a former NBA star now working as an actor, overcame the disadvantage of being massively taller than his wee partner and delivered a surprisingly graceful performance.

And, of course, Jersey Shore star The Situation repeatedly showed off the dance move one can only assume is called "the disco point." In fact, he showed it off so much that one of the judges gently told him that pointing is over.

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