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Over the weekend, I had the chance to watch Shawn Johnson and Mark Ballas in one of their final rehearsal sessions before tonight’s live premiere show of Dancing with the Stars. It was the first time I had seen Shawn since the Atlanta stop of the Tour of Gymnastics Superstars and at first it was strange to see her out of her normal element. In dance workout wear and with her hair down, I saw a side of Shawn I hadn’t seen before. In gymnastics training sessions, Shawn almost always had a very serious training face on and rarely ventured out of that persona. In this rehearsal session, it was clear that she still has a determined mindset and a focused approached, but she and dance partner Mark Ballas intertwined light-hearted fun moments with serious dance training. She remarked to me a number of times about how much fun she was having in this process, and the huge ear-to-ear smile on her face also spoke volumes.
After chatting with Shawn and Mark for a while, they asked if I wanted to see the first dance they’ll be performing on the show. We’d all been laughing and joking around while chatting, and all of a sudden, they moved into their opening pose, cued the music and sailed into another world. I have to admit that watching them perform their Waltz, I got chills. I won’t tell you too much about the dance so that it will be a surprise, but I think she and Mark have done an incredible job and I can’t wait for you all to see it tonight.
They also showed me their work on what will be one of their next dances if they stay in the competition – the Salsa. It’s obviously a completely different style and vibe from the Waltz and once again I was impressed with how they were able to seamlessly go from this moving Waltz performance to the lively Salsa within minutes, and again completely capture the spirit of the dance.
I think one of the things that most struck me during the day was seeing how Shawn has really let a lot more of her personality come out through this process. Like most competitive gymnasts, for years and years Shawn trained gymnastics at a relentless pace that required a great deal of sacrifice and now she’s getting the chance – literally and figuratively – to let her hair down, relax and just have a great time through the process. She talked about how much she is enjoying living in Los Angeles and how she could envision herself living here one day.
Shawn and Mark seem to have a great friendship that comes across right away and a great connection on the dance floor. I also can’t say enough about how welcoming, hospitable and talented Mark is. He’s won just about every dance title out there and deservedly so. He’s trained in so many different style of dance and performs each style masterfully and with a unique flair. He also has some training in gymnastics under his belt from younger days, so keep an eye out for that to be incorporated in a couple of dances!
I think a lot of people don’t realize that the professional dancers on the show do all of the choreography. In Mark’s case, he’s also involved in every detail of the performance – from the music selection to bringing the stylists the ideas for what he wants the costumes to look like.
I hope everyone will tune in to Dancing with the Stars tonight on ABC (8 EST) and support Shawn and Mark. Shawn talked to me a lot about how this is totally out of her element but has loved the process of learning something entirely new. She also talked about how some of the skills from gymnastics that she thought might translate over really don’t. She commented about how in gymnastics, she twists to the right, but in dancing, she has to spin to the left and she’s still trying to get used to that as well as the spotting techniques that she is not used to. For tonight, she said she’s feeling a combination of nerves and excitement and is eager for people to see what she’s been working on.
I’ve really enjoyed the last several seasons of Dancing with the Stars and I now have an even greater appreciation for the show, its professional dancers and for the training required for the celebrities to learn these dances in such a short period of time. It’s one thing to see their performance on TV, but in person you notice all of the intricacies and details that go into the dance. The heart and soul that has gone into all of the work also really came through. I can’t wait to be in the studio tonight to see them perform for a live television audience that will be in the tens of millions, that I hope will include you!….
Shawn and Mark, thanks for the invite to come out to Hollywood for rehearsals and the show, and here’s to a great run on the show!