The buzzing started in the outer hallways. At CBS Television City, home to ABC's Dancing with the Stars, 12 new celebrities were about to make their grand entrances. So what if two of them are exceptional athletes (Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Helio Castroneves), four of them are as much at home on a concert stage as they are in their own living rooms (Wayne Newton, Marie Osmond, Melanie Brown, Sabrina Bryan). And one of them could buy and sell most of us without moving a muscle (Mark Cuban). The only question tonight was: Who can move?
You started hearing names. Jane Seymour. Helio. Mel B. And that little blond from Disney's Cheetah Girls, Sabrina Bryan. "I'm afraid of the men," says Bryan, moments after the show. OK, whatever. Because from the moment Bryan attacked the dance floor, the ballroom was electrified. It was as if you were watching a performance at the semi-finals, not opening night. Jennie Garth surprised with her fluidity in the cha-cha. Model Josie Maran overcame opening night jitters to dance a perfectly acceptable fox trot. But when Bryan arrived, third up, her fierce performance was nothing short of astonishing. And the crowd? On their feet. A standing ovation.
"I was just freaking out," says Bryan, who worked the press line with her exceptional pro partner, newcomer Mark Ballas (former competitive partner of fourth season champ Julianne Hough), and two of her Cheetah Girls comrades, Adrienne Bailon and Kiely Williams. Bryan says she was a wreck. "I said to Mark right before we started, ‘Can't we just go home?'"
It's a shame that the producers didn't do a split screen and train another camera on the judges. Because the three arbiters of proper dance could hardly contain themselves. They were looking at each other as much as at Bryan, stunned by what they were seeing. Bruno Tonioli was clapping in the middle of the performance, pounding on the table. "My jaw was literally hanging down," says Carrie Ann Inaba after the show. "I'm not even sure what I said when she was done. It's such a joy to see someone do so well. I'd imagine [because of the Cheetah Girls] that she has a great fan base. But what I like is that she's not going to get that audience vote because she's popular. She's going to get it because she's really good."
"She was the star of the night," says Joey McIntyre, who was in the audience. McIntyre, who was the very first competitor to dance on season one, had just come off the latest Dancing with the Stars national tour. "She was awesome."
Whether it was Bryan alone or the combination of a string of surprisingly strong dance performances — Marie Osmond, Jane Seymour and Mel B. weren't exactly chopped liver — the male celebrities started squirming in their seats. They would "shoulder" dance. They stood up and sat down. They high-fived each other and responded to lovesick cat-calls from fans in the audience. "Wayne, I love you," yelled one woman from the balcony." In fact, Newton got more attention than any other male celeb. "That makes me nervous," he admits later. "Because I don't want to let them down."
At first glance, it may seem that — once again — the cards are being stacked in the men's favor. It's a given on this show that the male celebs have an easier ride because their moves don't have to be as flashy. Ask any pro and they'll tell you that in ballroom dance, the woman is always the focus of each couple. The men support, guide. But the women? More eyeballs on her. More pressure.
So to see the men sitting on the sidelines the first night — and getting an extra day of practice before their Tuesday-night performances — made it seem as though they were getting yet another lucky break. "Maybe it was, for some of them," says Inaba. "But for others, sitting there watching tonight was kind of brutal. I was watching Helio and he was sweating. He was swilling water. Because these girls are good. So for him, I think it was more nerve-wracking."
But for Mark Cuban, billionaire owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, the dancing can't start soon enough. Still recovering from a hip replacement in late June, Cuban says he's lost 20 pounds and feels great. "I kept saying, ‘I can't wait, I can't wait, I can't wait,'" he says. "I'm so ready to go. Last night, I couldn't sleep. I kept dancing in my sleep, or trying to. I just want to go out there and have a great time."
Will he have any lucky charms on Tuesday night? "My wife and daughter will be here tomorrow," he says. "And it'll be my daughter's fourth birthday. That's all I need."
Yeah, but can he move?
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