Each season a new slate of celebrities draws viewers to “Dancing With the Stars” but behind the scenes it’s the professional dancers who must find a way to take each of their famous partners — whether they’re accomplished athletes or devoted to a sedentary lifestyle — as far as they can in the competition.
Julianne Hough, who was paired with radio talkshow host Adam Carolla this season, thinks it’s about finding a way to incorporate your partner’s personality.
“Sometimes you’re working with someone who hasn’t been very athletic, but in Adam’s case he’s just a natural performer and people love watching him so you work to bring that out in every dance,” says Hough, who took her celebrity partners to the championship on seasons four and five. “The great thing is that there’s nothing he won’t try.”
Sometimes showmanship and panache aren’t enough. Carolla was eliminated after a performance that incorporated a trip around the dance floor on a unicycle.
While conquering an unusual feat may or may not make you a standout, most of the professional dancers see a bonus in having some athletic experience.
“This year I’m working with Kristi Yamaguchi and knowing she has that mindset of an athlete, that she’ll push herself through practicing for hours a day, that makes a difference,” says Mark Ballas. “If someone isn’t ready for that they could be in for a little shock at first.”
Edyta Sliwinska, a pro who has been with the show every season since it started, thinks athletes have something else going for them besides being used to the extreme physical demands in their work.
“They’re used to being coached and that makes a huge difference in terms of how much you can get done,” says Sliwinska, whose partner for the season is Jason Taylor, defensive end for the Miami Dolphins. “Someone who is an athlete is used to getting serious right away and that makes it easier because sometimes you have a partner who wants to joke around and it’s hard to make them focus on learning the dances.”
This year’s competition has been especially meaningful for pro Fabian Sanchez, who has been working with Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin.
“Watching Marlee work so hard to learn these dances while dealing with being deaf has inspired me,” says Sanchez. “When you see your partner give everything they have, then you have to take what you’re doing to the next level and give them some really professional moves to learn.”