Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy

Dance expert Benji Schwimmer — he's the brother of pro Lacey and the winner of the second season of Fox's So You Think You Can Dance — has already picked his champion of the new season of Dancing With the Stars: 60-year-old Kirstie Alley

 

"She just redeemed her career," he said after watching the Cheers veteran light up the ballroom with the best cha cha of the night. In fact, Benji and his father, Buddy Schwimmer, a well-regarded California dance teacher and choreographer, have already handicapped the three stars who will make the finals: Alley, The Karate Kid's Ralph Macchio, and Disney Channel star Chelsea Kane. "He's a good performer," Buddy said about Macchio, after the 49-year-old stunned the judges with his fox trot and received the first standing ovation of the season.

 

But if these three are going all the way, they'll have to stay healthy and injury free. So far, so good. And that's probably because during the last two seasons, producers have imposed strict rules on the amount of training the stars can put in the weeks leading up to the first show. The producers learned their lesson the hard way after season eight's Nancy O'Dell (who had serious knee problems) and Jewel (who suffered stress fractures in both legs) had to withdraw from the competition before performing a single dance in front of the cameras.   

 

"What we found was that the celebrities were killing themselves, they were training so hard," said executive producer Conrad Green. So pre-show training was cut from as much as five weeks down to three weeks, max. Then, more rules kick in: During the first two weeks of the show, the stars can't do more than five hours of training a day, they must take a half-hour break every two hours, and they have to take a day off every week.

 

"We don't recommend that people do even that much," added Green. "The real danger is coming to this cold and doing seven days a week, eight hours a day.  You can just screw yourself completely."

 

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