Arguably, the best part of watching Dancing with the Stars is the cadre of professional dancers who are tasked to teach celebrities who have never danced before to compete in a televised ballroom competition. Over the seven seasons of the show’s existence, we’ve gotten to know these dancing pros and have watched them in awe as they flawlessly perform week after week. They are class acts, these dancers, for their dedication to the show, to their craft and to us, their fans.
One of these special dancers is Tony Dovolani. I got the chance to talk to him about the journey he has been through with his partner Susan Lucci this season. He’s had quite the busy fall, with the arrival of his twins and the challenging schedule of teaching and performing two dances for the first week of competition, not to mention the long commute between New York and Los Angeles every week. He talked about the kinds of challenges that beginners face when learning how to dance, he gave his opinion about some of his competitors this season and he spoke at length about why he is not just a performer on Dancing with the Stars, but also a fan. His passion for the art of ballroom dancing is as apparent as his costumes are spectacular.
Tonight, Susan Lucci and Tony Dovolani will be performing the jive, and Tony promises that it will be a good one.
Another thing that Tony is busy with these days is the Ballroom Dance Channel, a groundbreaking online and mobile destination for anyone seeking to learn how to move like the pros. Users have the opportunity through the Ballroom Dance Channel to take step-by-step dance lessons from award winning professionals – including Dancing with the Stars‘ own Tony Dovolani – for popular styles including rumba, cha cha, tango, salsa and waltz. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about learning how to dance can be found right here: http://www.ballroomdancechannel.com.
This is Debbie at BuddyTV, and today I’m talking to Tony Dovolani, one of the professional dancers of Dancing with the Stars. I was just wondering, the format for this season was slightly different. How much more difficult was it to learn two dances for the first week?
It’s hard enough to learn one dance, but to learn two dances and to be able to have them ready for the first week, it drove the celebrities nuts. And you know what? It drove the teachers nuts too because it was twice more importance as far as choreography and as far as getting ready and so on. It was a nice twist. We needed something different for the seventh season. I really think we should throw a twist in there and this was a good one.
Did you have the same amount of time to learn the two dances that you used to have for just one?
Exactly. They gave us an extra week, but really, a week for an extra dance is never enough. It was five weeks that we had to get ready two dances, but it most certainly challenged the best of us.
What are the kinds of difficulties that most beginners have when they start to learn ballroom dancing?
One of the things that is different is that, right away, your coordination, your balance, your posture, as far as taking direction, all that stuff comes into play. If you notice, everybody, if you put a few drinks in them, they could go to a club and maybe cut a rug. But as soon as you give them direction as far as putting rhythm to it and actually doing the same thing twice, it normally makes it more difficult.
Also, for the second week, all of you had either the paso doble or the rumba, which I gather is one of the more difficult styles. Is that true?
That is true, actually. The paso doble and the rumba, they are very difficult because those are two dances that normally expose a person’s weakness or their strength. Doing the rumba, that’s part of the reason why everybody, all the teachers, took extra time as far as making sure that everything gets done properly. We actually extended all of our rehearsals from four-hour rehearsals to six-hour rehearsals because, not only did we have a difficult dance to do, we also had one less day to do it in.
This season, you’re partnered with Susan Lucci, and how has it been rehearsing with her?
Being partnered with Susan Lucci, I’m a big fan of hers to start with, and then on top of it, to get to dance with her was quite an incredible journey so far. She’s such an incredible icon. She’s the queen of daytime. And to be as humble as she is and as normal as she is, she’s a genuine, genuine person, and I really feel that I’m blessed. You know, this season, I was blessed with my twins, and then on top of it, I’m dancing with Susan Lucci, and on top of it, I’m in New York, which means I’m home – I get to stay home – I think somebody’s looking out for me.
Oh, you had twins recently?
Yes, I had twins recently, a boy and a girl, and it’s just been an incredible journey so far.
Thank you very much.
Which teams have really surprised you this season?
Actually, I was very surprised with Warren Sapp. Warren Sapp is amazing. As big as he is, he is so agile. He’s so quick on his feet. That goes to show you why he was such a great defensive back.
You know, with Lance Bass and Lacey Schwimmer, I’ve found them to be a very strong team, but they haven’t been getting the high scores that some of the other teams are getting. What’s your opinion on why this might be happening?
The reason I feel why this might be happening is because they’re not sticking to traditional ballroom dancing. See, one of the jobs that we have as teachers is, if they tell us we have paso doble or rumba, then our job is to create a doble or a rumba. And their style has been a little more contemporary and very modern and not really sticking to the roots of the dance. So therefore, the judges don’t like it and they don’t give them good scores, but obviously the audience likes it and they keep voting them back in, and that’s all, I guess, that really matters in the end, right?
Is there a rivalry between Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance?
No, I don’t think there’s a rivalry. I’ve never been aware of it. I think they’re both great shows. Our show has a completely different audience. Our show is about an everyday person learning how to dance, and So You Think You Can Dance is more for dancers that go out and compete against each other, so it’s a little bit different. The beauty of our show is that it sticks to ballroom dancing, to the very classical social dance that Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers and Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse brought to life. In American culture, especially during wartime, this is exactly what entertained us for years, and now, it’s even entertaining us in this day and age. So really, our show is completely different than So You Think You Can Dance. In fact, it’s different than any dance show that’s on TV. It brings you back to understanding how a person’s body learns and brings people from different walks of life, doing the same thing and seeing them go through the challenges of learning it. In the other shows, you are dealing with dancers, so it’s one choreography versus the other, where this one, it’s one person, one personality, how a person learns and how a person progresses, it’s very entertaining. I have to tell you, I’m a fan of our show. I know I’m on it, but I’m actually a fan of our show because I go home and I watch every single person’s practice and I watch every person’s journey. I get intrigued by it and to me, that’s more entertaining than anything else.
I just wanted to compliment you on your choice of costumes every week. I always notice that you have really sparkly things and you like to do the deep V-neck, which I think is cool.
Thank you very much. The dance itself has to speak and the actual costumes have to speak through the dance too. So therefore, I always try to come up with interesting ideas that for the dancer makes it a little more interesting, right? [laughs]
And I’m sure the audience appreciates it as well.
So far, people do thank me quite a bit. [laughs]
Can you say anything about Monday night’s performance? What styles are you going to do?
On Monday, we’re doing the jive and we’re really, really excited about it. This is going to be one of those great dances for Susan. It’s going to be incredible. Actually, they’re doing jive and Viennese waltz. I’m just looking forward to the entire experience with her. She’s such a sweetheart to work with. It’s been a journey with her, and I’m enjoying it, and so is she. We’ve become friends out it, which says a lot more than just teaching her.
-Interview conducted by Debbie Chang
(Image courtesy of ABC)