How do you shake up a show going into its 16th season? By giving it contemporary flair.
For the season premiere of Dancing With the Stars, three of the 12 new celebrity hoofers — gold medal figure skater Dorothy Hamill, General Hospital's Ingo Rademacher, and the Disney Channel's Zendaya — were assigned the contemporary genre for their first dance, instead of the usual cha cha, waltz or fox trot.
The new genre allowed the contestants to do the kinds of lifts that aren't allowed in most ballroom dances and, even when they are, usually don't appear until much later in the season. And it paid off: Zendaya finished the night in first place while Hamill and Rademacher landed on the top half of the leader board.
But some of the pro partners were not so thrilled to tackle the new genre. Most of them have never had formal training in contemporary dance and will have to teach their stars movements that are foreign even to them. "I wasn't the happiest about it," said Tristan MacManus, who danced with Hamill. "But if we want to win this thing, we're going to have to do contemporary at some point. So it was good to get it out of the way early."
The other problem for some pros is that they have a relatively luxurious period of time, three to four weeks, to prepare their stars for the first dance. After that, it's one week or less. Pro Val Chmerkovskiy, who danced with Zendaya, says he could have use the extra time to get his partner's body used to the precise frames and footwork of the Latin and ballroom dances. "I was definitely thrown by doing contemporary," he says. "I would much rather have had that time to work on [Zendaya's] heels, getting her ready for the ballroom [dances], rather than working on a completely different genre."