Working with a celebrity on “Dancing with the Stars” is like being part of a “mini-marriage,” says professional Chelsie Hightower.
“You’re with them all the time. You see the best side and the worst side and you’re constantly pushing them,” she says.
Some celebs want to work eight hours a day “and that’s definitely feasible. But you have to figure out how much your celebrity can handle. They’re not trained dancers.”
Currently appearing in “Dancing Pros Live,” a stage show that pits ballroom dancing champions against television professionals, Hightower spent seven seasons on “Dancing with the Stars,” one on “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Both shows, she says, have given dance enormous attention but their goals are different.
“So You Think You Can Dance,” Hightower says, “is really about the art form of dancing. It’s about dance in its rawest, simplest form. ‘Dancing with the Stars’ is about the celebrity and his or her journey.”
Personality, then, becomes a key factor, particularly when it comes to the audience vote. “They’re going to vote for the person they relate to the most,” Hightower says. “You’ve got to be sell-able.”
Injuries, romances and fights are all part of “getting attention.”
“After 19 seasons, people start to catch on as to what works and what they think the audience wants to see,” she adds. “I’m not like that. I’m not going to be someone to put on a show or create drama.”
Instead, the 25-year-old pro has focused on the work that lands on the dance floor and, in the process, she netted an Emmy nomination for choreography.
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Crafting dances, though, is only part of the “Dancing with the Stars” assignment. In addition to working with the celebrity, the pro has to help design costumes, choose the music and decide what props to use.
“You get your music Sunday night. You have a costume consultation on Tuesday and you have to rehearse five to seven hours a day.” Add in press interviews and it’s clear the job is more difficult than it looks. Even when a celebrity is voted off, the professional stays, performing in group dances and “bumpers” – dance turns before and after commercials.
“There’s so much that’s out of your control,” Hightower says. Gunning for the mirror-ball trophy, then, is almost impossible. “You try not to keep score. You’re a cast. You’re supportive of everyone. But, at the end of the day, it is a TV show.”
During her seven seasons on “Dancing,” Hightower worked with a range of celebrities – from racecar champion Helio Castroneves to singer Michael Bolton. Her best finish was fourth – with rodeo star Ty Murray.
Other work – like the “Dancing Pros Live” show – have kept the Las Vegas native off the show for the past four seasons.
Dancers are contracted from season to season and, often, the decision revolves around compatibility. “You never get a say as to who you dance with,” she says.
Still, shows like “Dancing” and “SYTYCD” have given aspiring dancers new goals.
“They’ve inspired the whole dance world to do new things and explore new places. You see 10-year-olds doing 15 pirouettes and it’s inspiring.”
Professional competitions were the apex when Hightower was taking dance classes. She won her first national title when she was 11, was a U.S. Worlds finalist in 2005 and competed on Team USA during the British Open.
At 18, she was chosen for the fourth season of “SYTYCD,” left an impression on the judges and returned as an All-Star and a choreographer.
She segued to “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009 and has been busy ever since.
“Thanks to these shows (viewers) are getting a chance to see how difficult, rigorous and demanding dance really is,” Hightower says. “When I was starting out, it was a longshot to break into the world of choreography and professional dancing. Now, there are so many options.”