Courtesy of Dancing with the Stars. Donald Driver and Peta Murgatroyd. (ABC/ADAM TAYLOR)
I’ve been a fan of “Dancing with the Stars” since its inaugural season in 2005. I studied a bit of ballroom in college so I was thrilled to see the dance form featured on TV, and I fell in love with the premise of the show: people pushing themselves out of their comfort zone and trying something new and possibily humiliating. As a huge (HUGE) Packers fan, I’ve paid special attention this season watching our own Donald Driver in the spotlight. Driver is a shining example of another aspect of the show I love: the athletes who show how challenging dancing really is.
You’ve heard us say it a million times: dance is a sport, and the success of athletes on "Dancing with the Stars" only drives that point home. They’ve won the show more often than any other group. Past winners include professional footballers Emmitt Smith and Hines Ward and Olympic champions Apolo Anton Ohno, Shawn Johnson and my childhood hero Kristi Yamaguchi. There’s something about knowing that many of these athletes are in their prime and still struggle with the long hours, physical strain, and sheer workload in the demanding life of a dancer. Think about it, how many times have you seen doctors on the show?
I’ve also always been intrigued by the parallels between how athletes prepare for their performance on the field and on the dance floor. I’ve heard them use words like “practice” and “focus” and “perfect” on the show. I’ve seen them stand off in a corner and give themselves a pep talk, and I’ve seen their disappointment if they didn’t come through the way they had hoped. I see similar sights regularly here in the studios. Courtney Kramer told me during the run of The Nutcracker she would rehearse her Snow Queen variation every day in her "spare time" to make sure she maintained the stamina needed to perform the choreography to the best of her ability. Dancers, like athletes, have that mental edge. They know what it takes to perform at a high quality, and are willing to do the work to get them there.
Another factor I appreciate about “Dancing with the Stars” is how these athletes, especially the NFL and NBA superstars, introduce a lot of male viewers to dance. The first season featured former boxing champ Evander Holyfield, and not long after the NFL’s leading rusher Emmitt Smith took home the coveted mirror ball trophy. I dare anyone to challenge the machismo of either of the two, or of our beloved Donald Driver. Men play an important role in dance, demonstrated so effectively this season by David Hovhannisyan in Dracula and Marc Petrocci in Peter Pan. I’ve heard Director of Community Outreach Alyson Chavez tell it to countless classrooms: ballet tights are just like football pants without the pads. I’d like to see any of those football players jump as high as David or Marc, much less spin twice or land on one foot.
I have to admit it’s been fun for me to have so many friends, especially of the male variety, watching “Dancing with the Stars” this season. They've started saying things like, “Driver’s posture was way better” or “DD’s dancing matched the music more.” These are only a step away from making comments on frame and musicality. Say what you will about the show, and what qualifies some contestants as "stars" and whether or not the best dancers make it to the end. If it gets people talking about dance, and teaches them about the athleticism it requires, I say bring on the 1-800 voting lines.
(Marc Petrocci as Peter Pan. Photo: Mark Frohna.)