Monday, September 21, 2009

Dancing Pros Make Key Adjustments


Each season of 'Stars' brings new challenges

by Mike Hughes TV America

This is what life is like, if you're dancing with the stars.

Chelsie Hightower is rushing through Los Angeles traffic. She just finished a class, is heading to a rehearsal with "Dancing With the Stars" partner Louis Vito - and has an interview while she's driving.

"It's just go, go, go," she said. "That's what my life is."

And Tony Dovolani is juggling coasts. He flew home for his twins' first birthday and their sister's first day of school; then he was back for "Dancing" rehearsals with Kathy Ireland.

Life is crowded, he said, especially when he's obsessing over choreography. "You have a lot of sleepless nights, being up at 4 in the morning worrying about it."

These two seem like opposites - a young blonde, 20, from Utah, in her second "Stars" season; a veteran, 36, from Kosovo, in his eighth. Together, they offer a glimpse of the show's dance pros.

At times, things work splendidly. For instance:

• Dovolani received a 2006 Emmy nomination for his choreography of a jive piece. In his first "Dancing" season (the second for the show), he finished third with pin-up star Stacy Keibler.

• Last season, her first on the show, Hightower finished fourth with rodeo star Ty Murray; Dovolani finished third with former "Bachelor" choice Melissa Rycroft.

This time, Hightower is with Vito, a snowboard champion. "I thought he'd be kind of chill," she said. "(But) he's just a really good guy and a very good, hard worker."

Athletes do thrive on the show. In one three-season stretch, they had two firsts (Emmit Smith and Apolo Anton Ohno) and a second (Jerry Rice). "They know what it is to be good at something," Hightower said. "And they have a real work ethic."

That's the part that varies from star-to-star. Each sets the time and place for rehearsals.

Last season, Hightower flew to Texas for intense work with Murray. His wife (singer Jewel) was rehearsing at the same time, until an injury stopped her. "My heart kind of broke for her," Hightower said. "We were all bummed out; she'd worked so hard on it."

Some stars have limited rehearsal time. "If you only have three hours a day, you go with it," Dovolani said. "If you have seven hours, you go with it."

He also adjusts to height. Dovolani (6-foot) has ranged from the 5-foot Marissa Winokur and 5-2 Susan Lucci to the 5-10 Ireland and 5-11 Keibler. "That makes some difference in terms of balance and footwork," he said. "You need to work with each one differently."

Mostly, he's just happy to be a dancing pro. "I grew up in the former Yugoslavia, watching Fred Astaire movies," he said. His dad (a top executive) encouraged him; he went from folk to ballroom.

The surprise came when he moved to the U.S. at 15. In the land of Astaire, things were scarce.

"For years, we didn't see any ballroom dancers on TV," Dovolani said. "It was a secret society."

He found the Fred Astaire Dance Academy and has gone on to win five national and international titles. Meanwhile, ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" brought new attention.

At times, he's been warned it would be difficult. A Broadway choreographer told him Winokur was a bad dancer; Ireland said the same thing about herself.

Dovolani disagrees. "Fred Astaire said everyone is born a great dancer."

Still, some seem born with more greatness than others. Hightower grew up in Utah, a place where dance is big. Top teachers were flown in from New York; she won a national championship at 11.

She finished in the top six in the 2008 season of Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance." The tour led to her next break: "Katrina saw the show and talked to me," she said.

That's Katrina Smirnoff, a "Dancing With the Stars" pro. Soon, Hightower was changing shows, networks and dance styles. Her go-go-go life was going faster.

No comments: