The upcoming season of Dancing with the Stars is going to be a wild ride! Not only is the deck stacked with 10 standout athletes competing for the mirrorball, it's also only going to be a four-week show!
From the Olympics to the MLB to the NBA, Season 26 is going to show off several all-star athletes movin' and groovin'. Some names are newer to the national spotlight like recent 2018 Winter Olympics medalists Mirai Nagasu and Adam Rippon, while others you've no doubt been familiar with for decades; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for instance!
To get an idea of how this special season will go down, TV Guide spoke with Abdul-Jabbar and his partner Lindsay Arnold (the reigning Dancing with the Stars champ) about their upcoming debut and how they're managing that insane height difference.
What is your dancing background, Kareem? Have you ever done any ballroom before?
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: I had the basics for jazz and tap just like when I was seven or eight years old. I enjoyed dancing in high school. My ballroom dancing, the only thing I've ever done has been some Latin. Salsa, Mambo, Cha Cha, that type of thing. My dad was a musician, and he used to play Latin music. I learned that kind of dancing and also some of the dances from the Caribbean. My family's from the Caribbean.
Were you psyched to be paired with last year's winner?
Abdul-Jabbar: Yeah, it's great! You know, she's gone through it so much and has enough experience really that it's going to make it easier for me to learn because of everything that's she's been through. I'm very fortunate to be partnered with Lindsay, and I really appreciate that they did that for me because I'm bringing a whole lot of years into it. It's like a concession to the oldest guy participating.
And Lindsay, seeing as you are coming off that win, does that just give you more momentum going into this season?
Lindsay Arnold: It feels very good going into the season being the reigning champ, especially going into it with my partner as Kareem Abdul Jabbar. I mean, come on, he's a champion, he's a legend, and it's so cool that we get to be partnered together. I think it's going to be very exciting for people to see this side of Kareem, and I'm really honored that I get to be the one to teach him how to dance and to show America that side of him.
Abdul-Jabbar: What I've found is dancing is kind of like basketball. It might be a team of two, but you have to learn each others' strengths and weaknesses and anticipate their moves and do everything you can to make your teammates look good. That common ethos, I think, really benefits me and our team in this effort.
Kareem, what's one big thing you've learned so far?
Abdul-Jabbar: Everything that I'm learning about, the spacial memory of it, it's amazing stuff. I didn't realize how critical it was because it always looked to me, when people are dancing, it looks so natural and it just works out that way. But it doesn't, it takes a lot of coordination, planning and practice. It's humbling, but it's been fun. Lindsay has been great to work with, so I'm still very enthusiastic about it. I want to equip myself well, and I have to represent for the Baby Boomers! What can I say?
You guys obviously have a pretty sizable height difference. How does that play into your choreography?
Arnold: Well, we're making it work first of all. It's the biggest height difference that we've ever seen on the show.
Is it really?
Arnold: It is, yeah, the biggest height difference. So that's definitely a challenge. When you dance, there's a lot of dances where you have to be closer in height to do them, but we are getting creative. We're making it work. It's actually really exciting for me as a choreographer because I love pushing the boundaries and trying new things, and that's something that we're definitely going to do this season. I'm excited for it!
How does the shorter season affect your strategy, since I know a lot of people depend on showing the judges how much they can grow week to week?
Arnold: Yeah, it's very different this time around. Two people are going to be going home every week, so it's different than our normal season. We're not going to be kind of focusing on getting better week after week, it's kind of like you've got to come out with your best moves and then show off every single week. Our strategy is - first of all, we do want to get better because this is Kareem's first time doing all of the dances that I'm teaching him, so we know that it's going to be a progress, and he's going to get better as we go on, but we want to try to be as strong as we can Week 1.
Can you give us a preview of your premiere performance?
Arnold: Our first dance that we're doing is the Cha Cha, which is a really fun style. It's quick, and it's fun, and I think it's going to be a really good style for Kareem and I. We are going to have less weeks this season, so we might not get to all of the dances, so I'm very excited that one of them we got to do was Cha Cha. One that I'm really looking forward to doing is Salsa because Kareem has a little bit of experience in that, so hopefully we'll get the chance to do that. Everybody's got to vote to keep us in, so we can do the salsa.
Are you nervous at all about getting judge criticism on live television, Kareem?
Abdul-Jabbar: Not at all. I mean, look at how many times I had to be on live television being judged by the outcome of a sporting event. There's never any way that you can determine that, but you just got to go out there and do it. That whole issue of performance, I think, is something that will help me because I'm not going to have stage fright or anything close to that. I think I can be a reliable partner. That's the whole idea of the teamwork we're working on.
Have you guys gotten to check out any of the competition so far? Are there any other couples you're keeping your eye on this year?
Arnold: You know what, everybody is actually on the road. Everybody is traveling, so we haven't really had a chance to all rehearse together. So Week 1, that Monday is going to be the first time we see everybody else in there move, and it's really going to be cool to see that. I always really love the first show because you'll see people, and you maybe didn't expect them to be great, and they'll be awesome. That's my favorite part of the show, the first week, everybody watching each other.
Do you guys know what any of the theme nights are coming up? Give me some spoilers about this year!
Arnold: Honestly, as far as the show goes, we are just as much in the dark. Every single week is going to be a different theme obviously, but they haven't really given us any of those. I think the typical one we usually have is a most memorable year dance, where we talk about the celebrity's most memorable year. I'm guessing there's going to be something similar to that, but we really are still going to find out about it as we go along. We'll have to see. You'll have to tune in to find out.
Dancing with the Stars premieres Monday, April 30 at 8/7c on ABC.