Behind the Scenes with 'Dancing with the Stars' Long after reality shows seemingly hit their peak, Dancing with the Stars captivated millions of viewers, as celebrities transformed into ballroom dancers. Scott Simon went to New York to get some tango lessons from the show's contestants.
NPR logo

Behind the Scenes with 'Dancing with the Stars'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Behind the Scenes with 'Dancing with the Stars'

Behind the Scenes with 'Dancing with the Stars'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


"Dancing with the Stars" kicked off its fifth season this week on ABC. Don't pretend you've never heard of it. It's another hit-rich show that's been reworked for Americans in which professional dancers teamed up with the kind of celebrities who make people say, oh, yeah, that guy.

The show is astoundingly popular - 22 million people a week watch "Dancing with the Stars," which has reminded viewers that George Hamilton still has a tan and is still working, and has changed Tucker Carlson from being perceived as a bow-tie wearing dweeb into a dancing dweeb.

A new book based on the show has just been published. So we got together this week on a dance floor in New York with Joey Lawrence, the old cute child star from "Blossom," and professional dancer Elena Grinenko. We talked about what it's like to try to teach new steps to a partner that she'll have to perform with in front of millions of people in just a few days.

Ms. ELENA GRINENKO (Professional Dancer; Contestant, "Dancing with the Stars"): If you learn how to dance and you learn, and you go to the social studio in the purposes of you learning, lead and follow, then you can pretty much take any person from the ballroom environment and take them and lead them. So what they're going through is a little bit different. We don't actually get to spend time with them to teach them how to do basics' basics because you have such a limited time. You have to come out with a show. So you put the choreography together and this is - that's it.

Mr. JOEY LAWRENCE (Actor): Like the clip notes.

Ms. GRINENKO: That's it. Yeah.

Mr. LAWRENCE: I mean, it really is, you know.

Ms. GRINENKO: Yeah, if you're going to have to dance with this person again, you either have to practice or prepare routines with that particular person. I mean, because then you go through the social training of basic foundation. So when any pro could dance with any pro in, after probably five minutes talking and we could say, okay, we're going to do hip twist then Hockey Stick into the overturn and then double spin, and you'll be, okay.

Mr. LAWRENCE: As you guess, I just smile on that one.

Ms. GRINENKO: So it's like me talking Chinese to you right now.


Ms. GRINENKO: So, you see, I cannot…

SIMON: Oh, well, I have had half a chance…


SIMON: …of understanding Chinese. That's about it. I have no (unintelligible).


(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: I wonder if each of you have any kind of analysis that you've developed over the past couple of years as to what makes the show so popular aside - from you?


SIMON: And you.

Ms. GRINENKO: No, people, I think, people usually are very interested in what's happening in stars' life. In this magazine, that magazine, gossip, gossip paparazzi. They're drawn into that. I mean, it's like they make tons of money on selling all of that because people like to know what's happening in (unintelligible). I think, this show puts it in such a way that they could actually see celebrities struggle through something that they could go and do in a boring studio. They actually could see that it's not all nice and flowery for them.


Ms. GRINENKO: I think it's like one of the points why would they watch it. And then, the other thing is actually it became a family show because for people that are older generation, they would like to see that elegance as far as waltz and fox-trot that Fred Astaire…

Mr. LAWRENCE: Bringing them back their youth. Yeah, my…

Ms. GRINENKO: …back thing thing.

Mr. LAWRENCE: …grandparents, my middle pop…


Mr. LAWRENCE: …like, they used to go to dancehalls all the time, and (unintelligible) in the late '30s…


Mr. LAWRENCE: …and they haven't been around for the first time in, like, 50 years. They're actually a building a dancehall, you know. And it's a really exciting thing because we sort of - that elegance, that old European that are our kind of roots, we've lost a lot of that. And I think this sort of brings back a little of that glitz and glamour…


Mr. LAWRENCE: …the golden year of Hollywood, and sort of when people were out there with perfect posture and tails and top hats and gowns…

Ms. GRINENKO: They're all dressed up…

Mr. LAWRENCE: …you know, and there's a flavor of sort of super reality to it that I think…


Mr. LAWRENCE: …it's a good ride to go on, you know. And everybody can watch and likes it for different reasons…


Mr. LAWRENCE: …whether it's the hot chicks or…


Mr. LAWRENCE: …the amazing costumes or the guys with the muscles or, you know what I mean? And then there's the competition elements thrown into it, and it's real, and it's about going up and hitting that home run and if you can do that or not.

SIMON: Tango is the hardest, or most demanding?

Ms. GRINENKO: It really depends…

Mr. LAWRENCE: It's most foreign in my opinion because it's so - you have to stand, like, you have to touch the entire…

Ms. GRINENKO: Well, here if we (unintelligible).

Mr. LAWRENCE: …like, yeah.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. LAWRENCE: And that, and you can't break this.

Ms. GRINENKO: So you really have to know the steps.

Mr. LAWRENCE: When we did…

SIMON: I feel like I should look away.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LAWRENCE: I know.

SIMON: Excuse us. Excuse us.


SIMON: Do not disturb.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GRINENKO: When you do something like waltz, it's kind of flowing…

Mr. LAWRENCE: Flowy.

Ms. GRINENKO: …through. So if you go a little further or a little longer or not enough, that's okay.


Ms. GRINENKO: So tango is very much boom. And you have to hit that beat before you can move again.

Mr. LAWRENCE: And if you don't…

Ms. GRINENKO: Yeah. If you miss it, it's kind of harder. We have usually four lines of dance and tango has three. So we are like, right, this. So his leg is right in front of mine.


SIMON: I promised my wife you would teach me a few steps.

Ms. GRINENKO: Yeah, I'll teach you tango basics so she'll be happy.

SIMON: Seriously?



Ms. GRINENKO: Tango basics.

Mr. LAWRENCE: It's all you, man.

Ms. GRINENKO: Yehey.

SIMON: Really?


SIMON: I moved professionally and decorously close to Elena Grinenko. Doing the tango was a bit of a trapeze act. The limbs of two people have to move at precisely the same time, or watch out below.

Ms. GRINENKO: It has a certain rhythm to it so they are not all the same.

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. GRINENKO: So first two steps are slow.

SIMON: You begin with the left. Okay.

Ms. GRINENKO: They begin with the left foot for the men, yes. So you're going to go slow, slow, and now, you're going to quick, quick, slow.

SIMON: Oh, I see.

Ms. GRINENKO: The first two steps actually…

SIMON: So it was like that. Okay.

Ms. GRINENKO: …are pretty big.

SIMON: Okay.

Ms. GRINENKO: So go the big steps…

SIMON: All right.

Ms. GRINENKO: So big one, big one, now small, small together.

SIMON: Oh, okay. We've seemed to run up into simply different places definitely.

Ms. GRINENKO: Exactly.

SIMON: Yeah, don't worry about that, okay?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GRINENKO: So let's do it again.

SIMON: Okay.

Ms. GRINENKO: So we need to try to end up on the same position that we started.

SIMON: Right, at least in vaguely similar positions than before.


SIMON: Okay. All right.

Ms. GRINENKO: Not vaguely. It has to be exact.

SIMON: Have to be exact.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Right. Right.

Ms. GRINENKO: Ready?

SIMON: Okay.

Ms. GRINENKO: Go. They make it fun in social studios. They usually go T-A-N-G-O, so you tango.

SIMON: Oh, all right. All right.


Ms. GRINENKO: Ready?

SIMON: Okay.

Ms. GRINENKO: Here we go. T-A-N-G-O.





Ms. GRINENKO: Here you go.

SIMON: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Okay, thank you.

Mr. LAWRENCE: Wow. I mean, seriously and you have three days. I mean…

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. LAWRENCE: …three days to do it and perform it at a level that now…

SIMON: Right.

Mr. LAWRENCE: …you're six, seven (unintelligible) in the competition.

SIMON: In front of 60 million people, yeah.

Mr. LAWRENCE: Oh, it's, like, people are going, like, okay, this - you need to kill it, not just go out there and get through it. It's not a matter of getting through it.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. LAWRENCE: I mean, you get to the finals by killing it, you know, and not like just barely, I mean, it's unbelievable. It really is one of the most challenging things, I think, I've ever done. Like in terms of you just fish out of the water new, you know.

Ms. GRINENKO: But, like, to answer what would be the difficult dance, I think, for actually different people it's different. Sidestep is sidestep whether you're doing cha-cha, tango, fox trot or any other dance. It's a sidestep. Now, how are you going to do that sidestep, that's the whole (unintelligible).

SIMON: Very good. All right. Okay, that's the hard.

Who taught you how to dance?

Ms. GRINENKO: I started when I was 7, back in Soviet Union, actually. So my mom brought me into the dancing and that's it.

SIMON: So was it a studio, a teacher?

Ms. GRINENKO: It was - we called it - we had…

SIMON: Young pioneers camp or something.

Ms. GRINENKO: Yes. Yes, pioneer clubs.

SIMON: Was it really?


SIMON: I said that as a joke.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GRINENKO: My grandfather was against it, though, because it was all this waltz and all this, like, European. He used to call it capitalistic dancing. Why are (unintelligible) capitalistic dancing? Because he's a general of Red Army. So me doing ballroom dancing…

SIMON: Your father is general of the Red Army?

Ms. GRINENKO: No. No. My grandfather.

SIMON: Grandfather. Wow.

Ms. GRINENKO: So me doing ballroom dancing in the family of the general of the Red…


Ms. GRINENKO: …I mean, that was…

SIMON: I bet you're careful holding her in the tango with her grandfather, you know.

Ms. GRINENKO: So he was a little bit not happy with that.

Mr. LAWRENCE: Yeah, I'm sure.

Ms. GRINENKO: But I loved it. And I was my, I guess, my grandfather's granddaughter.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. GRINENKO: So you're going to go forward with your left foot.

SIMON: Forgive me in advance for any injury I cause.

Ms. GRINENKO: So I'm going to go back with my right. You're going to take three forward walks, forward, another forward and then you're going to go side.

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. GRINENKO: And tap it together. Yes, so you can go and do it again. Walk, walk, walk, side, stop.

SIMON: Oh. Okay.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: Elena Grinenko, a professional ballroom dancer, and Joey Lawrence, leading me in capitalistic dancing. Both are featured in the new exercise book "Dancing with the Stars: Jive, Samba and Tango Your Way into the Best Shape of Your Life."

And you can see a video of that tantalizing tango lesson with Elena Grinenko on our Web site, A-cha(ph).

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.