Whether you watch Dancing With the Stars or not, you’ve surely heard of it. Even if you haven’t seen much of the show, you are quite likely familiar with the concept of various celebrities being paired with professional ballroom dancers, and expected to compete against each other at a high level, condensing years of dance training into just 12 weeks all for our viewing pleasure.
The show actually began in the United Kingdom as a program called Strictly Come Dancing. It became so wildly popular that the format was eventually sold and exported to 43 countries, including the U.S. Attracting a global audience of more than 250 million viewers, the show has helped the world fall deeper in love with dance.
Now in its tenth year in the U.S., the show has been playing around with a series of changes, including a new host, new band, new set and new themes such as American Icons and Disney night. Former dancers turned judges, Carrie Ann Inaba, Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli are back for their 19th season on the judges panel. After much speculation about one or more of the judges being replaced, the long time panel was instead shaken up by the addition of former pro and two time DWTS champion Julianne Hough as a fourth judge. For the last couple of seasons the show has brought in special celebrity guest judges to spice things up as well as to fill in for Goodman, who is frequently overseas judging the British version. As per usual, they continue to mix up the roster of professional dancers with most (except for a few mainstays like Cheryl Burke and Tony Dobilani), playing musical chairs over the years.
There have been a bevy of other changes since the series initial debut in 2005. Most recently, the hour long results show on Tuesdays being eliminated entirely and condensed down into the two hour long performance show that airs on Monday. As a result the votes which determine who leaves the show are now tabulated from the previous weeks viewer votes combined with the present weeks judges scores. They have added group dance numbers, an instant dance, where the pair don’t know the song they will be dancing to until the last minute, and just recently in season 18 they implemented the switch; where the pros must leave their regular partners and forced to work with a new partner that viewers vote to pair them with. Another recent addition is asking the viewers to tweet in votes for which pro they want to see dance a special routine, to which style of music, with input on the costume as well.
Whether it’s your cup of tea or not, no one can deny the tremendous impact the show has had on the professional and amateur ballroom world, as well as the dance world as a whole. This along with other reality based-competition dance programs have turned this once exclusive, unknown world into a favorite pastime and family event for so many. It has made household names out of dancers who otherwise were unknown to the general public, and has re-invigorated stalled careers of many out of work entertainers. It has also undoubtedly sent drones of people running from their sofas to the nearest dance studio (whether to learn the basics for a special event or wedding, or in some cases to enter a world of rigorous training, sacrifice, glitz and glamor at a competitive level).
A huge part of the appeal of DWTS for many is watching non-dancers with two left feet start off not so great and then work hard to gradually become contenders, competing amongst the best of the best. It makes people at home believe that they can achieve the impossible when they watch inspiring examples of participants overcoming odds like dancing deaf or with prosthetic legs, and even watch those with little to no dance training become dancers right in front of their eyes. Some become great, while others simply lose a lot of weight. The common denominator is the trans-formative process over the course of the 12 week show, akin to watching a caterpillar’s metamorphosis into a beautiful butterfly. It is always inspiring to see such examples, which is why the underdog often becomes a crowd favorite.
This seasons cast is a mix of accomplished athletes, actors and more from the entertainment world. There are a few standout front runners like actor Alfonso Ribiero, and actresses Lea Thompson and Janelle Parrish. There are also those who must work harder for every step like pro race car driver Michael Waltrip, comedian Tommy Chong, and Olympian Lolo Jones. Who are your favorites? What would you change if you had the chance? Who will come out on top? Stay tuned to find out!