October 29, 2007 12:00 AM

Dancing with the Stars pro Tony Dovolani is turning up the heat off the dance floor, criticizing recent calls from judge Carrie Ann Inaba and presenting her with a ballroom rule book after their televised “lift” disagreement.

Dovolani tells PEOPLE that Inaba is ill-equipped to call out the illegal lifts which the former Fly Girl-turned-judge has been frequently pointing out this season: “She does not understand what ballroom dancing is. She’s never done it herself.”

Inaba has chided dance teams–notably Jane Seymour and Dovolani’s waltz–for maneuvers which lift both feet in the air. Dovolani says the moves fall into a “grey area” which Inaba is not trained to navigate. “She’s the inappropriate judge to pick on the lifts,” says Dovolani. “She does not have a ballroom background.… She really comes from the hip-hop world. While we have the utmost respect for her as a dancer–it’s not as a ballroom dancer.” Calling Out Carrie AnnHe was so frustrated after Inaba called out the lift on Seymour’s Viennese waltz during their Oct. 15 performance that he presented the judge with a ballroom rule book the next day. “Because she does not know anything about ballroom, I figured she should at least read the rule book,” says Dovolani. I highlighted the parts I wanted her to read including the description of what a lift is.”

What was Inaba’s reaction? “She laughed about it and gave me the finger,” he said. “I thought it was a very ladylike gesture. I laughed because I thought I hit home. And then I paid for it this week because… we got the lowest score from her.”

Inaba could not be reached for comment, but a source close to the judge says both the rule book presentation and the gesture never happened. The source went onto to point out that the official rule book for the show is different than the rule book for ballroom dancing.

Partner Seymour has been equally baffled by Inaba’s ruling, posting an item on her blog last Thursday addressing Inaba’s critique.

On the bright side, Dovolani says the lift controversy shows that dancers feel the pressure to turn up the routines this season, heralded by many as the most competitive season ever. “There is no lift crisis.… We’re in a big season,” says Dovolani. “As professionals we have to push the envelope.”

But Dovolani also wants the judges to realize that Seymour, at 56, should be praised for her competitive moves, not punished. “I wish the judges would take into account that Jane is 56 competing against women who are more than 30 years younger than her,” says Dovolani. “When Jerry Springer and John Ratzenberger would go out there, they would basically show up… Jane is actually dancing.” –Bryan Alexander


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