"Dancing with the Stars" comes to Philly

By Joe Donato,
all rights reserved © 2008


It was 6pm on a weeknight when I got a call from a friend and student of mine, who, just minutes ago, had two extra tickets for the Dancing with the Stars tour at the Wachovia center that night, drop in her lap. She had no one else to go with and she called me right away. I wasn’t feeling well at the time, and was actually planning to stay in for the night. But after some thought, realized it might be one of those rare opportunities to not pass up. I made the right decision. For those of you that were intrigued by the tour, but missed it, here's a recap of the parts that really moved me:

 First off, the place was packed. Honestly, I did not expect that. We’re all aware of the success of the TV show, but I was a bit skeptical about the tour being a success, especially with tickets price averaging over $50 each. I was wrong. They danced to a full house. It was amazing to see how excited all these people were to see this show. The crowd consisted largely of women over 30, but there was still a fair share of youngsters, as well as men who know what their ladies want, and do what they can to give it to them.

The second surprise for me was seeing one of my former students competing in the pre-show. About a dozen Local dance student couples competed in the beginning for a “dance-off” sponsored by Arthur Murray studios of Narberth. I didn’t actually realize it until intermission that it was actually him, dancing with a former colleague. Talking with him during intermission, I discovered that students from all the local studios in the area auditioned, and a precious few had the opportunity to show off their stuff for a crowd of thousands. Even from that distance, they looked like true professionals.

After all the local couples danced, two finalists were picked and competed against each other for trophies. Joey Mcintyre, Drew Lashay, and Joey Lawrence debated over who should win. They ultimately called it at a tie. But what was so unique about that tie? Well, that’s the third surprise. Was it because two local dancers got to dance for a packed audience right in their hometown and both got trophies? No. It was because one of the couples chosen was a man in a wheelchair, and the other couple was made up of two children. I can see why they chose a tie, but regardless, these were not pity votes. They weren’t the sexiest dancers in the room, but the two couples had better technique, and lead and skill than many of the actual stars of the show. They earned those trophies! (You might be able to see some of their performances at unidancesport.com)

Throughout the show there were some really great choreographed performances, which even for, the perfectionist critic in me, was quite satisfying. It’s not that they didn’t have good choreography on the T.V. show, I guess you just don’t see as much of it. The Samba routine was by far my personal favorite. Not too overbearing, not to frilly, and not to fast. The "Jerry Springer-esque theatrics were kept to a minimum, but the joy was not lost. Very true to the Samba spirit. Which brings me to the fifth, and most satisfying, well-needed surprise.

Unlike what I had heard so often on the the T.V. show, the music was not only live, but it was really great. The rumba had real latin rhythm instruments, and the swing had real horns and live big-band vocalists singing! (Joey Mcintyre also performed off of his CD, which was novel I suppose). That has to help the dancers. I know it certainly helps me, and all my students: music you're supposed to dance to, that actually makes you want to dance.

 Another refreshing surprise was that when it came time for each celebrity to say a few words, that’s exactly what they did; they only said a few words! Just when I was ready for them to start into a long, melodramatic speech, they were pretty much wrapping it up and bringing out the next act. With all the drawn out hype I’ve come used to on the T.V. show, that was soooo refreshing. Not once did I ever find myself muttering under my breath “get to the dancing already!”. More times than less, I was saying “wow, even more great dancing and singing?”

Another personally memorable moment was when Harry Hamlin did a Waltz with his wife Lisa Rinna. They were both contestants on the show in different seasons, and did not get to dance together until the tour. Now, after all the other incredible choreography, I can’t say their technique was much to write home about, but it didn’t matter, because the the smile on their faces had me picking up my pen. Waltzing like that with your significant other, was certainly the secret envy of most of the people there, and surely a sacred joy for a few lucky ones.

With all that as the icing, I was affirmed in two beliefs. The first being that this “dancing” thing is definitely more than a fad born out of youthful ambitions or vain pursuits. It is part of the fabric of life and something I hope I continue to practice and excel in for the rest of my life. And second; if two children can master the Tango hold, and a man in a wheelchair can flawlessly lead a professional in complicated latin turns and floor spins, and two middle-aged, and extremely busy Hollywood professionals can find the time out of their schedules to Waltz with each other, in front of a crowd of thousands, then there’s certainly hope for the rest of us.


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