Louie Vito, Chelsie Hightower

Len Goodman can tell Louie Vito how to dance, but he can't tell him how to wear his hair.

"Some people like it and some people don't, but I'm not going to change it," the Dancing with the Stars contestant tells TVGuide.com. "I'm not going to cut my hair and have everyone see how bad it looks short! I'm going to save these luscious locks."

After impressing the crowd with a respectable foxtrot on Monday's season premiere, the snowboarding Olympic hopeful got an earful from the head judge about his shaggy mop of hair and its lack of ballroom-appropriateness. For the record, Vito, who will perform the jive this week, just had it "trimmed." And if you ask his partner, Chelsie Hightower, he's not supposed to have ballroom hair.

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"It's not normal ballroom hair, but this isn't a normal ballroom competition," she says. "Louie is Louie. He doesn't want to change who he is. He just wants to add ballroom to who he is. I want Louie to be comfortable because he'll dance much better if he's comfortable."

Vito, 21, who had never seen Dancing before and has zero dancing experience, is still trying to find his footing and more importantly, his posture on the hardwood since snowboarding calls for bending over, not standing tall. "Ultimately, as long as you've never danced before, you're not building bad habits. Unfortunately for us, he already built a bad habit with snowboarding!" Hightower says. "Luckily, there wasn't anything more than that, so that was good."

One advantage from snowboarding? Balance, which will pay dividends on the floor, Hightower says. But mostly, she's impressed by Vito's work ethic. "You may not think of a very disciplined athlete, but snowboarders are athletes. They know what it takes to be good at something and how much work they have to put into it," she says. "I was definitely surprised by his work ethic and with his determination. He improves very quickly, which shows he really does want this. He's doing great and I'm really proud of him."

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"I know a lot of people were wondering how I was going to be, like, 'Is he going to try? Is he cool? Is he going to be focused?'" Vito says. "That's why I wanted to get out there and work hard and turn a lot of heads, which I think I did, and hopefully people continue to ride with me on this and continue to support me."

No doubt competing on Dancing will give his once "rebellious" sport greater mainstream exposure ahead of the Vancouver Olympics, for which Vito hopes to qualify during the Grand Prix series in December and January with his arsenal of double-cork 1080s. Some people — non-snowboarding fans — don't understand why he's doing Dancing so close to the Games, thinking it would compromise his training.

"Snowboarding, you just go out and have fun and do whatever you want. I'm not going into the gym for seven hours a day and lifting weights and doing my routine," he says. "It's more of a lifestyle than a sport. If I wasn't doing the show, I'd just be chilling. I've been snowboarding all summer and if you snowboard too much, you could kind of lose the drive by the time trials come around. You could get burnt out."

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Besides, doing Dancing doesn't mean there's no time for snowboarding either. Vito, who was originally approached to do the show last year but wasn't cast, hopes to hit the slopes in Colorado with Hightower one weekend, and wants to get his buddies out to attend a show or two. "They're all watching. I got texts from Scotty Lago, Jack Mitrani, Luke Mitrani. They're excited. I'm just going to be myself on here and see what happens."

That means same hair, brushing off judge Bruno Tonioli's "dancing hobbit" comment ("I've been called worse," says the 5-foot-6 Vito, who, incidentally, had returned from New Zealand last month) and only a few dates with the spray-tan booth.

"Some guys love that stuff. I'm not really a spray-tan kind of guy. I'm always covered up in my sport," he says. "I'm just trying to get an overall tan so I'm not glowing on TV. I don't want to be albino!"