Monday, March 18, 2013

We're going dancing ... tonight

       Posted this on Facebook on Sunday night: Why all this talk/analysis of NCAAs? Dancing With The Stars' new season begins Monday night. That is the real Big Dance!
       Seriously, we love Dancing With The Stars. You can have the basketball tournament.
       It's not that I'm not interested in the NCAAs, or the NIT; I am. But other than the Northwestern State Demons in the NCAAs and the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in the NIT, I don't really give a flip of the channels who wins.
       Dancing With The Stars, now that matters. Beatrice and I wouldn't miss it. If we do have to miss a show or two, we tape them -- and watch them as soon as we get home.
        We've been watching since Season 4. This is how it goes with us in our TV watching -- Bea (or one of the kids) will find a show they like, and talk me into watching.
          I remember watching the shows in Seasons 1-3 from a distance on one of the TVs in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram sports department. The Season 2 contestants included Jerry Rice, the great wide receiver, and Michele Machado, who sat right by the TV, watched to watch her 49ers hero dance. He finished second that season.
Our favorite DWTS couple: Cheryl Burke and Emmitt Smith
(ABC photo from
         Season 3 included Emmitt Smith, which caught my attention but not my undivided attention. Just as he did with the Dallas Cowboys, Emmitt wound up as the champion; the man danced almost as well as he ran with the football. 
         I think Bea had watched some of the first three seasons, but she watched all of Season 4, and so did I, because Laili Ali, daughter of the great Muhammad, was one of the contestants. We still think that was one of the best seasons, although the seasons seemingly have gotten better and better lately. Tonight begins Season 16 (two a year, starting June 1, 2005).
          So we were just going to watch Season 4. Then Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was on the Season 5 cast. Bea really likes Mark; we think he's a great team owner (no matter what Randy Galloway thinks), and while he didn't last all that long in the dancing, he brought fun to the show.
         In fact, the show was so much fun, we got hooked..
         Watching from the start of seasons to the end, we have come to appreciate the difficulty of ballroom dancing, and appreciate the improvement so many of the celebrities have made within the seasons. These are nice-paying gigs, but they aren't easy ones. It's not easy to put yourself on a dance floor before millions of viewers when you can't dance.   
         Bea loved dancing, back in the day. I can't dance a lick, don't want to dance, don't like the embarrassment. I managed my father-daughter dance at Rachel's wedding, but gosh, it was Rachel; I had to do that. 
         Dancing is not why Bea and I got married. Glad it wasn't a stringent requirement. She's a nice lady.
          I can't sing well, either. Awful would be the description.
          But I love music and big bands, orchestras, Broadway music, Golden Oldies ('50s, '60s, '70s), Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Andy Williams, Glenn Miller, John Denver, Barbra, Dionne, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, The Highwaymen, Johnny Mathis, The BeeGees, Sarah Brightman, Andrea Bocelli, Neil Diamond ... did I leave out anyone?
          Of course, I did ... Barry Manilow. Yes, I love Barry's music. He's my favorite. And I don't like people joking about it (that's you, John Henry!).
           Barry has been a musical guest on Dancing With The Stars. A great night.
            Loved the variety/music shows and American Bandstand on '50s and '60s television. DWTS is a throwback to those. As much as we love the dancing, we love the music (and the orchestra, directed by Harold Wheeler, and singers).
            But, of course, it is the celebrity dancers who make the show what it is. You never know what to expect. But what we've come to expect that if they last a few weeks, the celebrities improve greatly.
            Some of them start in poor physical shape; some much overweight. We've seen them not only lose pounds and pounds, but become really good dancers. Kelly Osbourne is one example; she wound up as one of three finalists in Season 9. The zany Kirstie Alley, who finished second in Season 12, was another. 
            We've seen some dancers who were up there in age (Cloris Leachman, Florence Henderson, George Hamilton, Priscilla Presley, among others). Betty White, only 88 then, was invited, but declined.
            We've seen Disney kids who were, naturally, among the show's best contestants.
            We have seen many terrible dancers; it was obvious they weren't going to last long. We have seen heartthrobs we hadn't heard of who had female audience members screaming (Cristian de la Fuente, Gilles Marini, William Leavy); we've seen sex symbols (Pam Anderson, Holly Madison, Kendra Wilkinson) who were on the show because ... aw, you know why.
           We realized after a few seasons that supermodels -- Kathy Ireland was one -- weren't built for this show and were always among the first people eliminated. That was true with some athletes, too -- Monica Seles and Clyde Drexler.
            But athletes have ruled this show -- the list of champions includes football players (Emmitt, Hines Ward and Donald Driver), a speed skater (Apolo Anton Ohno), a figure skater (Kristi Yamaguchi), a gymnast (Shawn Johnson) and, almost unbelievably, a race-car driver (Helio Castroneves). And several football players proved to be nimble dancers; Jason Taylor and Warren Sapp came close to winning the unspectacular mirror-ball trophy. 
            Athletes know how to perform -- so much of the show is "selling" the dance -- and how to train. So do showbusiness types, such as Donny Osmond, the surprise Season 9 champion.
            We've come to love so many of the professional dancers, the teachers. We do miss Julianne Hough, who has gone on to a musical and movie career, and we don't think we will miss Maksim, the "bad boy" of the pros who says he's done with the show. 
            One thing we love, always, is the variety in the casts. ABC has been innovative that way, and also with a number of different twists in the format of the show -- the set, the requirements for the dancers season to season, the musical guests, etc.
            That's why last season, the All-Star season that brought back many champions and popular celebs from seasons past, was the best season yet. We again were rooting for Emmitt, who was as good a performer as he was dancer.
            We do appreciate one bit of continuity -- the host, Tom Bergeron, who is genial and timely with his comments (especially the ones that don't seem to be scripted), and the judges. They've been there from the start -- the effervescent Carrie Ann Inaba, the curmudgeonly Len Goodman and the flamboyant Bruno Toniolli.
             The judges are predictably unpredictable.  But Beatrice and I have come to guess their scoring pretty accurately.                    
             Judges as the judges often argue -- some of it obviously staged -- we've come to know that the pros and celebrities will quarrel. There have been some real head cases, drama queens and kings, among the celebs.
             Beatrice believes, and has always believed, that much of the show is scripted, to the point that some celebrities are signed only for a certain amount of weeks, that the show's producers/directors know who's staying and who's leaving (no matter how much they tell you the fans' vote counts so much).
             So we've gotten to know about the cha-cha-cha, samba, tango, Paso doble, Viennese Waltz, and the quickstep and jive (my favorites), foxtrot, Argentine tango, etc. But it's usually the freestyle at the end of the season that produces the "10" scores ... and the champion.
             Just don't ask me to dance. We'll just watch, and enjoy. Basketball comes later.



  1. From Don Birkelbach: To each his own. I issued a household ban on all reality TV shows a few years ago after being forced to watch a series of "The Bachelor." Can't believe the low standards of network TV these days. I am now forced to watch Lifetime movies, but it's more than a fair tradeoff.

  2. From Dr. Leonard Ponder: You never cease to amaze me. I would never have guessed that you were a "Dancing With The Stars" fan.I very much like your taste in music and the dances you listed were staples when I was growing up. ... I don't think I have ever watched a full episode of "Dancing With The Stars," but my granddaughter likes it. It probably won't surprise you that I will be watching March Madness again this year. I do, however, appreciate the passion you have for the show and what a great thing for you and Bea to do together. Now if you would just get up and do a couple of steps with her.

  3. From Rachel Smith: So, my parents are avid Dancing With the Stars viewers. In the blog post, my father, a retired sport journalist, explains why he is more excited about the new season of DWTS than about March Madness. I hope my husband is as eager to embrace new things in our later years as my father has proven to be.