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Yamaguchi's Rumba lands her on top

Skater turns up the heat on "Dancing"

Kristi Yamaguchi and partner Mark Ballas performed a sexually provocative Rumba that dazzled the judges and charmed the audience.
Kristi Yamaguchi and partner Mark Ballas performed a sexually provocative Rumba that dazzled the judges and charmed the audience. (courtesy ABC Television)

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By Linda Przygodski
(04/15/2008) - In a barely-there, lavender, sarong-inspired costume, Kristi Yamaguchi let her hair down on Monday night's episode of ABC's top-rated Dancing with the Stars.

"This past week, I definitely felt more pressure; it went up ten notches," said Yamaguchi, who has dominated the top of the leader board for four straight weeks. "It was a little awkward because I am a married mom with two children. I think I need a little alter-ego. I don't want to be myself [in the dance], this is a dance where you are basically looking at two lovers out on the stage, and it has to be believable. I can't be shy in any way. So, I thought it would be helpful if I turned into someone else completely.

"We're playing characters -- I am KristiAnne and he [partner Mark Ballas] is Mercutio."

Yamaguchi's fictional-character route seemed to be just what a shy girl needed. With partner Ballas, she delivered a sizzling, sexually-provocative Rumba that shook up the judges, brought down the house and titillated Yamaguchi's husband, Bret Hedican.

In rehearsals for their number, Hedican, with he and Yamaguchi's two children Keara and Kiyomi, visited the dance studio to see how the former figure skating champion was doing in preparation for Latin night.

"Wow. Looks good," said Hedican of the Rumba. "You [Ballas] tend to be drawing something out of her [Yamaguchi] that I haven't seen before."

To that, Yamaguchi squealed with schoolgirl delight.

"I think I had a breakthrough," continued Yamaguchi. "I had a moment where I realized I just had to let it go or we weren't going to get anywhere near 10s this week."

Well, there was no danger of that.

The duo received two perfect 10s and a nine -- for a total combined score of 29 out of a possible 30.

"Wow. Kristi, I have to commend you; you really took a risk this week," gushed judge Carrie Ann Inaba. "There was so much emotion. I was worried that you had hit a plateau, but you haven't. I'd say you gave up some of your steps for some of your movements, but at this point, that was a good call."

Judge Len Goodman agreed: "You cast off the shackles of your inhibitions like Mark cast that ribbon out of your hair. Three words: FAB-U-LOUS."

Despite running neck-in-neck with NFL's Man of the Year, Jason Taylor, last week, Yamaguchi began distancing herself from the competition Monday. She and Ballas were the only team to score a 29; the next-closest scores were only 27s.

"You're Kristi YUM-A-LICIOUS," preened judge Bruno Tonioli. "What incredible chemistry between the two of you -- it really is two bodies becoming one. It was a South Pacific pearl. Stupendous!"

Another couple will be voted off on Tuesday's elimination show.

(Note: Priscilla Presley was voted off this week on Dancing with the Stars)