Dancing With The Stars is an improbably goofy delight.

TV and popular culture.
June 9 2005 4:04 PM

Nobody Puts Baby in a Corner

Dancing With The Stars is an improbably goofy delight.


Dancing With the Stars (ABC, Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET) has taught me one important lesson that has nothing to do with fancy footwork. It's this: Never pitch a story with the lead already in mind. When I first proposed writing about ABC's new summer reality series, I thought the angle would be: This is one reality show that's unclear on the concept. Does ABC really think it can steal Fox's American Idol fire with yet another amateur hour, this one based not on ballad-belting on but on … ballroom dancing? What's next, an ice-sculpting competition? A nationally televised sketch-a-thon? Some art forms, I intended to opine, just don't work in the talent-show format.

Hunter: the next Rita Hayworth?

But after two weeks of watching Dancing With the Stars, I gleefully concede my error. Like the 13.2 million viewers that made last week's first episode the most-watched summer premiere in five years, I'm charmed. Dancing With the Stars is an improbable, goofy delight, more fun to watch than the bombastic American Idol for at least two reasons. The first: Unlike Idol wannabes, contestants on DWTS know they're amateurs. They harbor no fantasies of becoming professional dancers; they just want to learn a new skill, show off a little, and compete for this show's touchingly modest final prize: not a million dollars, not a shot at international stardom, but … a trophy! The fact that we see each contestant perform side-by-side with a professional ballroom dance teacher hammers the show's humility home, giving viewers the sense that, with a few weeks of training, we might be able to fake our own way through a decent cha-cha-cha.

The second reason DWTS makes for better watching than American Idol is purely kinetic: Bad dancing is simply more fun to watch than bad singing is to listen to. Not that all of this show's dancing is bad; the professionals assigned to each celebrity contestant are brilliant at fading gracefully into the woodwork as they showcase the limited talents of their partners. But the choreography and music are another story. Sprightly pop remakes of '70s hits like "Endless Love" and "You're the One That I Want," along with dance moves straight from the cover of a bodice-ripper, raise this show's cheese factor to somewhere between Muenster and Limburger.

Several participants are reality-TV veterans who have been kicking around the circuit for some time now, like grizzled carnies. Rachel Hunter, the former supermodel and ex-wife of Rod Stewart who won the role of Ginger on last season's The Real Gilligan's Island, is the female favorite in the competition so far. Last night panel judge Bruno Tonioli, a choreographer of music videos, praised Hunter's enthusiastic, if slightly galumphing, rumba to the skies: "Rachel, you have the potential of becoming a love goddess of the dance floor. Rita Hayworth. Think about that." Insatiable fame-slag Trista Sutter, a former contestant on both The Bachelor and The Bachelorette who later married her chosen suitor, the hapless Ryan Sutter, in a multimillion-dollar televised wedding, was the first contestant to be voted off the show last night, after a transcendently unsexy pas de deux with the suavely ponytailed Latin dance pro Louis van Amstel. (Think Nancy Reagan dancing with Fabio.)

My own personal pick to win DWTS's no-doubt dinky trophy in this first six-episode run: John O'Hurley, Seinfeld's J. Peterman, who navigates the show's lurid magenta dance floor with Shatnerian aplomb. O'Hurley seems to have a healthy sense of his own ridiculousness, and he also evinces a gentlemanly affection for his pro partner, the Danish dance champ Charlotte Jorgenson. As they stand around backstage waiting for the judge's ratings or the results from the impossibly complicated audience-voting system, O'Hurley likes to give Jorgenson's upper arms a comforting little rub, as if protecting her from a chill. But it's also hard not to root for Evander Holyfield, the four-time heavyweight champion of the world, whose massive 250-lb. frame serves as a distinct handicap in lighter-than-air dances like the quickstep he bravely attempted last night.

With its peppy DIY aesthetic and unapologetically middlebrow taste, Dancing With The Stars is a frothy, low-impact summer show. It doesn't ask us to keep track of 48 shipwreck survivors or multiple double-agent subplots; it doesn't claim to make us any smarter. It's as sparkly and insubstantial as a sequined cocktail dress, and just as much fun to twirl around in for a while.

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.



The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You

It spreads slowly.

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative


Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?