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Culture Television


Star-struck dancing

ABC creates a hit by pairing B-list celebrities with professional dancers

Ballroom dancing once was a national sensation. Classically trained dancers like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dazzled moviegoers with elaborate numbers in big-production musicals in the 1940s and '50s, and audiences agreed that no one could move like Gene Kelly.

A few decades later, Jerry Springer pitifully gave it a try. The king of tabloid talk shows is a recently ousted contestant on Dancing with the Stars, a wildly popular, live dance competition that pairs professional ballroom dancers with celebrities who have no formal dance training. The show, which airs Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m. ET, is ABC's top-rated series this fall.

The couples perform two ballroom dances (tangos, waltzes, mambos, and the like) each Tuesday night. The following night the couple with the lowest score is eliminated. (The scoring system combines three judges' scores with viewers' votes.)

The celebrities are mostly B-list (like Harry Hamlin from L.A. Law and Joey Lawrence from Blossom), and some are painful to watch. But the show does entertain when a handful of couples prove they can actually dance. NFL legend Emmitt Smith is light on his feet, and Mario Lopez (Saved by the Bell) tackles complex routines with ease. The show reminds viewers that good dancing is good art (and a lot of hard work).

ABC translated the show from a similar BBC series called Strictly Come Dancing. But ABC's version is all-American: Contestants wear embarrassingly skimpy costumes and judges are obsessed with which couple has the most sex appeal.

But despite the show's flaws, it may be producing at least one positive result: USA Dance, a national ballroom dancing organization, reports that interest in ballroom dancing lessons has spiked since the series began. That's good. Maybe some couples will start spending their Tuesday nights dancing with each other instead of in front of the tube.