Cameron Mathison Cameron Mathison

Here's something you don't know about Cameron Mathison: The Canadian-born soap star was diagnosed with a degenerative hip condition (called Legg-Calvé-Perthes Disease) at the age of 2. He spent six months in the hospital and the next three and a half years in steel-framed leg braces and crutches. And now, at age 38, he's on Dancing with the Stars.

"I think I'm ready," says Mathison, who has played Ryan Lavery on ABC's All My Children since 1998. "I think I'm in decent shape. But my hips are very tight. And my hamstrings. Between the traveling and juggling two jobs, I know that this is really going to kick my rear end."

It's certainly going to be a challenging schedule: Mathison will be spending three days every week in New York taping the soap (and rehearsing for Dancing), then flying back to L.A. to compete with his pro partner, Edyta Sliwinska, who just married another pro from the show, Alec Mazo. Does Mathison feel guilty about separating the newlyweds for half the week? "I feel horrible about it!" he says. "She seems like she expected it and I guess it's part of the job. But she hasn't complained. She's such a professional."

Despite the tricky logistics, this is exactly the scenario Mathison was hoping for. Last season, he says, he wanted to dance in the worst way. "But it was obvious that All My Children wouldn't be able to work around the schedule," he says, "so there was no serious offer. I know they talked to Susan Lucci from our show, too." And this time? "Because the offer came so early, AMC was completely on board and unbelievably accommodating. From their perspective, it's only going to help their show to see me dancing."

In fact, soap-opera life has already given Mathison a taste of the ballroom-dance world. Dancing with the Stars pro Louis Van Amstel was brought in to choreograph a wedding dance between Mathison and his soap wife, Melissa Egan, when they married on the show. "We spent a couple of hours with Louis learning the rumba," says Mathison. "I think I do have a bit of a natural way of dancing, but there are some things that just feel awkward."

And then there's the costumes, which on Dancing can be quite flamboyant for the men. "I'm not super-crazy about spandex pants and rhinestones," says Mathison, laughing. "I don't mind sleeveless shirts. I dress pretty simply, as a rule. So I'll look for a way to dress it up without sparkling too much."

No matter what they ask him to wear, he wants to learn one dance in particular. "My wife asked me three birthdays ago to take tango lessons. But we got pregnant (with their second child) and that never came about. So part of the deal is that I have to teach her to tango. I have to come through on my word."

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